Monday, 24 February 2014
The Mortuary In Aso Villa
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English defines mortuary as a place where dead bodies that have been found are kept until they can be identified. The same dictionary defines morgue as a building in which dead bodies are kept before they are buried or cremated.
I have no beef with those who make the morbid distinction between these two. Here in Nigeria, we are yet to attain such sophistication. We stow all of our dead in one place we call mortuary. And that’s just fine by me.
Dr Myles Munroe, the Bahamian motivational guru once referred to the graveyard as the richest place on earth. You can’t argue with that assertion; what with the erstwhile Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof Babatunde Sofoluwe , an erudite scholar, about to swell the ranks of graveyard residents. I often wish I could be called upon to nominate prospective citizens of ‘richest place,’ because I have a ready, priority list of about 470!
If the graveyard is the richest place, then I submit that the mortuary, that half-way house between here and grave, is the safest. Here’s how I found out.
The National Hospital Abuja has always had the challenge of parking space. Years back when I was still a soccer fanatic, before the Eagles nearly broke my heart, I had this habit of parking in the hospital premises before proceeding to the National Stadium for a match. On one such occasion, having failed to find a place after an extended search, I was just about to drive out of the premises in frustration when I decided to try the hospital’s left flank. You can imagine my joy and surprise to find the parking lot in front of the mortuary almost empty. Since that fateful day, even on the busiest of days, that parking lot has never failed to serve my purpose.
On a few occasions, I’d forget to properly lock the car but I never entertained any fear it’ll be stolen or burgled. Yet it was in another part of the same premises that I lost my laptop when the car was ransacked.
It wasn’t difficult for me to decipher why. The mortuary, by virtue of its morbid function, attracts few patrons. Those who do come do so by default: with few and clearly-defined agenda. As soon as they’re done with the business that brought them, they’re off and gone. You won’t find people loitering around there; much like you won’t see people window-shopping in a casket shop!
What is at work here is simply fear: fear of dead things and everything associated with death. It is called necrophobia; quite a mouthful. It is a psychological illness that afflicts far too many people.
So when next your charismatic pastor declares he’s not called to bury the dead, don’t mistake it for a token of great faith. But by all means, don’t berate him. He’s merely manifesting a classical symptom of necrophobia, and that means he needs help.
If the parking lot of a mortuary is that safe, you can imagine how safer the inside is. If you wish to ascertain what deathly still means, get into a mortuary. I can guarantee the only sound you’ll hear will be the wild pounding in your chest!
If banks were located in mortuaries, there’ll be fewer robberies and far fewer bankers. If corruption was punishable by a long stint in a mortuary, we’ll be recording fewer crooks.
There’s a flip side to this scenario. Being such a secure place, the mortuary also serves as a depository of secrets: damnable secrets. When your secret is with the dead, you can breathe a sigh of relief; if your conscience permits.
There’s a mortuary in Aso Villa. I may not be able to pinpoint the exact location, but I’m certain it’s there. I might not also be precise about its size since it has undergone several expansions since it was erected during the regime of Gen Ibrahim Babangida. But judging from the level of activity it presently hosts, I can safely describe it as expansive. Like I indicated, the mortuary had already come on stream by the time of Babangida’s hurried and ignominious departure on Friday 27th August 1993.
It’s nearly two decades now and subsequent occupants of the Villa have had to remodel it to suit their idiosyncrasies.
But by far the most critical question is the content of the mortuary. What secrets are locked away in its chilly cabinets? Who deposited them and who stand to gain from their being kept locked away?
By virtue of its convoluted history, no single individual can (or will be willing to) provide an accurate account of its heart-stopping contents. But any keen follower of Nigeria’s chequered past can certainly hazard a guess.
The body of facts detailing how and why Nigeria’s freest and fairest election of June 12 1993 was wickedly annulled will surely be frozen there. So also would the dismembered and mutilated information that should lead to pinpointing the killers of Dele Giwa.
In 1994, the late maximum potentate, Sani Abacha had empowered a committee headed by the cerebral Dr Pius Okigbo of blessed memory, to probe the activities of the Central Bank. The report submitted by the committee had among other things returned a damning verdict on the profligate government of Babangida for frittering away a whopping $12.4 billion! The famed Okigbo Panel Report is surely cooling off there.
On assumption of office as Nigeria’s 12th President, Olusegun Obasanjo promptly inaugurated the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission headed by the erudite jurist, Justice Charles Chukwudifu Oputa. The result of that effort, better known as the Oputa Panel Report never saw the light of day. Obasanjo made personally sure it was stowed away in the Villa mortuary.
There was also a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Civil Disturbances in Jos and its environs in September 2002 headed by the now retired Justice Niki Tobi. A White Paper was subsequently published but someone promptly shoved it in to the now overstretched mortuary. That explains why a man indicted by that panel is comfortably ensconced as the Inspector General of Police.
Need I mention the KPMG Report on the Monumental Fraud and Corruption at the NNPC or the Ndudi Elumelu-led Panel that exposed the squandering of $16 billion in the power sector? How about Halliburton and Siemens?
By now, I’m sure you have a fairly good idea what is loaded up in Africa’s largest mortuary! You don’t need a soothsayer to know those that deposited the ‘bodies’ and those who profit from keeping a tight lid on the contents.
When President Goodlock Jonathan was campaigning in 2011, his most poignant slogan was his offering “a breath of fresh air.” In recent times, the stench from the ‘overloaded’ first mortuary has been wafting across the Nigerian atmosphere causing discomfort, embarrassment and even illness to residents. The distinctive stink has been known to hang on the fabrics worn by Nigerians who travel to other countries. And this has been a constant source of untold humiliation for many a Nigerian. So when Jonathan was promising a breath of fresh air, I took it that the malfunctioning mortuary was going to be honestly and comprehensively fixed. That what needed to be exposed will be exposed and summarily dealt with. I imagined Hercules had finally arrived to clean the Augean stables.
I thought those myriads of issues deleterious to the health and growth of the nation would finally be acknowledged and tackled in a manner only physicians and parsons know too well. The Good Book says, “He who conceals his sins doesn't prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
The mortuary, I’m certain now, is full of sins—our sins. I was under the impression that we were on the brink of a session of ‘uncovering and confession’ that would have ushered us into the place of mercy, thus guaranteeing bliss, peace and prosperity. That should have been much more than just a breath of fresh air.
One year along, I must come to the humbling conclusion that I got it all wrong. Maybe I misunderstood the message. Or maybe the message was deliberately couched to be misunderstood. Either way, the danger remains.
My fear is that one of these days, our culture of criminal negligence combining with the precarious power situation, will ensure the total and irreversible breakdown of the mortuary.
It is already bad enough at the moment. When that mortuary finally packs up, no one will be able to endure the noxious effluvium. Certainly not the privileged and pampered tenants of the Villa.