Onipanu, a town in Idanre Local Government Area of Ondo State, is currently fizzing with a crisis. The cause is the death of a 28-year old pregnant woman, following a tree felling accident on a remote farm in the town. The victim, identified as Justina Joshua, died on 8 June at the General Hospital Idanre. Her death, SaharaReporters learnt, was due to internal injuries sustained in the accident. The mishap occurred when a logger, using a chainsaw, cut a tree and the branches fell on Justina, an indigene of Akwa Ibom State.
The victim and her six-year-old nephew were said to be harvesting maize when the incident occurred. The logger, an indigene of Onipanu, was said to have fled immediately he discovered that the woman was affected and remains on the run.
SaharaReporters gathered that the deceased, who hailed from Ukwok in Ini Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, lived with her lover Sunday Effiong at a settlement in Ako School Camp in Onipanu.
Effiong, 35, hails from the same local council as the deceased but was not legally married to her. The woman, however, bore him three children.
Following her death, chiefs in the community have refused to allow the family of the deceased take her corpse away for burial in her hometown.
Justina’s body is currently at the Idanre General Hospital morgue.
These chiefs are basing their refusal to release the corpse on the local tradition which, according to them, stipulates that anybody killed in such circumstances must be buried under the tree that caused the death.
“It is our age-long custom and tradition in Idanre that whoever dies under the tree must be buried under that same tree to avoid evil recurrence,” Claudius Ademehintoye, the Olu of Onipanu, said.
Sources said Ademehintoye has been threatening to deal with the leaders of Akwa Ibom community in the state, using juju, if they attempt to forcefully take the corpse away from Idanre.
SaharaReporters learned that the chiefs are unwilling to reveal the identity of the logger that caused Justina’s death.
Effiong, the partner of the deceased, told SaharaReporters that he is under enormous pressure from members of Justina’s family, who are demanding her corpse.
“Her family is demanding that I should get her corpse to their village in Akwa Ibom and I should be prepared to marry her before she is buried.
“I wish these chiefs would quickly release her corpse to me. There is nobody to take care of these children for me. Already, the absence of my wife is taking its tolls on us,” he said
Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer and human rights activist, has taken up the case, vowing to challenge the local chiefs, who have seized a corpse.
On Monday, this medium gathered that the lawyer and some leaders of the Akwa Ibom community in Ondo State visited the Owa of Idanre, Oba Fredrick Aroloye, hoping to persuade him to order the release of the corpse. The effort was futile. The delegation to the palace was said to have been ill-treated.
“The leaders of the Akwa Ibom community and the state and their lawyer came from Akure to the palace to discuss how to resolve the issue and get the corpse out of the morgue, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
“The lawyer, who was the spokesman of the delegation, was shouted on by chiefs and women in the palace,” said a palace source.
SaharaReporters also contacted the lawyer, who confirmed his visit to the Oba’s palace with a delegation of the Akwa Ibom leaders, adding that the local chiefs refused to listen to them.
“There is nowhere it is written that the custom and tradition of a community supersedes the constitution of a country. Even, the woman who happens to be the victim didn’t die on the farm; she gave up the ghost at the hospital. Why make an issue out of none?” asked the lawyer.
The lawyer added that the Idanre community has given them conditions, which are unnecessary.
“Now, they are placing a stringent condition that we must sign an undertaking before we can move the corpse from the community and that they will hold us responsible if anything happens afterwards.
“But, we told them what we want is the unconditional release of the corpse of this woman to her people in Akwa Ibom so they could give her a befitting burial.
“They should also make funds available for her funeral rites since she was killed by their subject and finally, they should produce the killer, who is now a criminal on the run,” he told SaharaReporters.
Young Akpan, President of the Akwa Ibom community in Ondo State told SaharaReporters that the tradition of Akwa Ibom State stipulates that if a person dies in a strange land, the corpse must be taken home for a proper burial.
It was learnt that the head of the Ukwok clan in Akwa Ibom State, John Ukpong, had already written to the Owa of Idanre, requesting that the corpse be released for burial.
Investigations further revealed that some chiefs in Idanre, on the instruction of the Owa, have been making efforts to induce the police officers in charge of the case at the Olofin Divisional Station in the community, all in a bid to shield the man who caused the accident.
The Divisional Police Officer [DPO] in charge of the Olofin Police Station told sources close to SaharaReporters that the case has already been transferred to the Criminal Investigative Department [CID] at the State Police Command Headquarters in Akure.
"The DPO was under undue pressure. That was why he transferred the case to Akure," a source at the station said.