Alleged Ritualists’ Den in Edo: Police Discover Dismembered Body Without Skull, Say Proprietor of Controversial Morgue Not Trained Mortician, Operating Illegally

The owner of the controversial morgue where over 23 mummified bodies were discovered in Benin City, Edo State, Gabriel Chukwu Otu, may not be innocent after all of alleged criminality as a thorough investigation ordered by the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, has strongly indicted him.

Giving an outcome of the investigation jointly carried out by detectives of the state police command, and officials of the ministry of health on Monday, Olawore Oluwole, deputy commissioner of police, DCP, in charge of the Criminal Investigative Department, Edo State Police Command, said the principal suspect was neither a trained mortician, nor licenced to run a mortuary by the state government. Oluwole said Otu only worked as a mortuary attendant in some hospitals. He said 10 persons were arrested and interrogated in connection with the case.

Recall that some youths and members of the Edo State Security Network in the area had on Wednesday August 17, 2022, stumbled on a bungalow at Asoro, Ekehuan Road, where mummified corpses and shrines were discovered. They promptly alerted the police who immediately stormed the scene and took away the three suspects apprehended by the local vigilantes.

However, following the controversy that trailed the discovery of the alleged ritualists’ den, the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, on Friday August 19, intervened, and gave the police a marching order to unravel the true situation within seven days in order to douse tension in the state capital. Controversies arose hours after the shock find, when a report surfaced on social media alleging that the house was not a den of ritualists, but a registered morgue which was relocated from its original place at a hospital along First East Circular Road, Benin. The report claimed the shrines found in the house were for the personal protection of the owner being a practitioner of African traditional religion, ATR.

Concerned about this development, at a joint press conference by the state government and the state police Command, held at the Police headquarters, Governor Obaseki, represented by his Special Adviser on Media Projects, Crusoe Osagie, appealed to Edo people for calm while the matter was being thoroughly investigated, especially as it concerned the purposes and ownership of the building. Results of preliminary investigation are out.

Speaking at a media briefing on Monday to give an update on the outcome of investigations as promised by the governor, Oluwole reported that “Following investigations by the command’s team and health personnel led by the commissioner for health, some documents were recovered portraying to be an approved location from the ministry of environment and sustainability.

“However, the principal suspect, Gabriel Chukwu Otu, later reported and made statements; and some other hospitals and mortuaries were equally visited. “Another fact revealed is that the mortuary is not a layout for trado-medical institution.

“Investigations revealed that Otu did not acquire formal training but only worked at different mortuaries as a mortuary attendant.

“Otu had no certificate to practice as a mortician, or any certification from the traditional board, as well as the ministries of health and environment. The building used is not certified by the ministry of health or environment.

“In the course of investigations, two suspects, Yusuf Lawal, and Victor Obeche were discovered to be scavengers, and a passerby. Twenty-three mummified bodies, and one dismembered body without a skull were found, and it depicts an unlawful possession, and violates section 329 of the criminal code.

“There were also sacrilegious effigies found at the scene; some inside, while others are outside. These depict criminal elements in his possession, and against section 213 of the criminal code. Some specimens were extracted and have been sent to experts for forensic analysis”.

“A person said his mother was among the mummified bodies, while another said his mother and child were reported missing in February this year, and would like to see the corpses to lay claim to them.

“In the course of our investigation, no fresh corpse was found, but some shrines were found at the premises of the alleged ritual den. The shrine, with the dismembered body at the site, connotes a message”.

Oluwole also disclosed that in the course of investigation, there were interface with medical personnel, lawyers, members of the public, representatives of the Benin Traditional Council, families of those who deposited corpses, as well as pathologists.

The police called for calm among residents, while investigation into the incident continued.

Consequent upon this development, the state government has given a September 9 deadline for mortuary operators who were yet to obtain operational licences to get approval from the ministry of health.

Obehi Akoria, the state commissioner for health, urged owners of mortuaries who have registered, to present their proof of registration to the state ministry of health by Friday, September 30.

According to her, “The Edo State ministry of health is using this opportunity to reach out to all persons who own or operate mortuaries, or embalmment homes to come to the ministry of health, directorate of regulation and monitoring, with evidence of due registration if they were duly registered.

“However, for those who are not duly registered, we are giving till the close of business on September 9, for them to present themselves to the ministry of health, where we will give them the basic requirements for operation of mortuaries, or embalmment homes in the state”.

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