Mistaken identity: How Igbo christian was buried in Muslim grave in Kano
When Chief Basil Chukwumeze Obiefule Ejesi died on December 26 last year in Kano State, his family members and kinsmen had hoped to carry his remains back to his hometown in Amucha, Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State for burial.
But his final journey back home turned out to be a very long one as he was mistaken for another deceased person and buried in Kano in a grave marked for a Muslim, one Abdullahi Obinwa, who hailed from Anambra State, but changed his faith while in Kano.
The late Ejesi, who was said to have been born in Kano some 60 years ago, was survived by his wife and children, among them a pharmacist. He lived in his own house at Number 18 Aitken Road in Sabon-Garri Area of the state capital.
A family relation of the deceased, Mr Felix Ezeala, told the story of the fatal error of mistaken identity of Egesi who was finally buried at Amucha on January 30, 2020, saying that his late towns man had suddenly taken ill and was rushed to the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, on December 24, last year, where he eventually died on the morning of December 26, following complications related to hypertension.
“His corpse was taken to the mortuary section and the deceased tally number was 22. Two of his immediate relatives were there, in the person of Felix Nwanze and Bath Ejesi, his cousin. They registered their names as the people with the tally number and who would visit the corpse and see how it was, until the time to take it to the East.
“A wake-keep was arranged to hold on the 24th January 2020. However, when the relatives of the deceased went to the hospital on that Friday – that date was billed for his wake-keep, they were shocked at their finding.
“They went there with his casket and the clothes for his dressing, but when they went there with the tally number, hoping to see the corpse in good condition, surprisingly the Chief Morticians, one Abdulwahid Buhari, told them that the corpse had been released to Hisbah.
“They asked him what had the corpse of their brother to do with Hisbah? They were told that it was an order of a Sharia Upper Court, situated opposite the Emir’s inside the city. They were totally confused. It was at this point that they called on my attention to the development.
“When they called me, I was equally uncomfortable with the development. I know the late Basil as a complete gentleman to the core. He was not a troublesome person during his lifetime. I wondered in my mind. What could have led to his corpse being taken away by Hisbah?
“We then decided to go the said Sharia Upper Court to establish what had transpired. All of us went to the Sharia Upper Court. We inquired from the registrar what had actually transpired. He said yes that it was from this court that they issued the order.
“He explained that there was a complaint that he was a Muslim and had died and that they (Hisbah) wanted to bury him according to Islamic rites, but his family had refused.
“But we told the registrar that there was a mistake because our brother’s profile did not fit into what he had described as our brother Basil who had died as a devout Christian.
“At this point, the registrar asked us to go and come back when the judge who gave the order would return. He said that the judge was not around to give us the comprehensive details of the judgment.
“At that moment I called the Director of Department of State Services to intimate him on what was going on. I also called the Commissioner of Police to also to intimidate him.
“But before the judge could come back, we went back to the hospital and met the Chief Medical Director. He called the acting HoD of the Pathology Department. He asked him about the court order that was minuted to him, including what exactly transpired?
“He brought out the paper and what the paper read was one Abdullahi Obinwa. He then said that if the name of the intended corpse was Abdullahi Obinwa, how come they released the corpse of one Basil Ejesi to Hisbah?
The pathologist responded that he only minuted on the same memo to the Chief Mortician for appropriate action, saying that the Mortician was in the best position to answer the question about the mix-up. Then, they called the Chief Morticians and asked him to bring the record.
“In the record, we saw the exact name of our brother written, his age, 60 years was also written and his tally number. It was there that they discovered that it was a wrong corpse that they released to the Sharia police.
“Then we went back to the court, with the Chief Legal Adviser of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, one Barrister Nasidi, alongside the acting HoD of the Pathology Department and the Chief Mortician. The judge told us that they acted based on the application made by Hisbah in respect of one Abdullahi Obinwa, who had been a Moslem since 1978.
“The judge said that his order was very clear to them that when they get to the mortuary, they should ensure that the corpse they were to take was that of the late Abdullahi Obinwa and no other person’s.
“He added that his order included that they were to get three witnesses to also confirm and sign the paper that it was Abdullahi’s corpse. He showed us documented evidence that he actually gave those orders.
“The judge said that he made room for the family of the said Abdullahi Obinwa to be contacted, saying that they contacted his wife, but they returned to say that his wife was not cooperating.
“He said that he sent for the wife, but she refused to come. And even when they gave her paper to write why, she wrote something that was immediately clear.
“It was there and then that they decided to take the corpse to the Gandu Albasa Mosque and call on the Chief Imam who knew the late Obinwa well enough. Again the judge said that he ordered that the Chief Imam should also get three others to reconfirm the deceased and after their signing the papers, they should bring them back to him for the record of the court.
“The record he showed indicated that they went through all the directives of the court and returned the signed papers. It was then that they buried the man on 20th January, 2020.
“The judge then asked us what we wanted. In response, we demanded for the corpse of our late brother. At that point, he explained that he could not ask for the corpse to be exhumed immediately until he has heard from the other party. For equity and justice to prevail, all the parties should return back by 9:00a.m on Monday.
“On Monday, we set out to the Sharia court in the company of the wife of the deceased and his first son, who is also a pharmacist. On arrival, we were met by those who gave the wrong information to the judge. When the life photograph of our late brother was presented, it became clear that a mistake had occurred. The person who helped out the most was the one who went and brought an album of the late Abdullahi Obinwa.
“It was now easy to compare the two deceased persons. They showed them to the judge and the judge showed it the complainants who immediately confessed that they had made a mistake. There and then the judge rebuked them for their mistake and drew our attention to the fact that he acted on the information given to him, pointing out that he neither knew the late Obinwa or the late Basil.
“The judge, however, observed that only a superior court has the power to upturn his judgment. But I think the lawyers there, including the legal adviser of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, and our own lawyer reminded him that ab initio his order was improper as he had no jurisdiction over Aminu Kano Teaching hospital, which is a federal establishment.
“Somehow, the lawyers settled their thing and the judge reasoned with them. He thereafter wrote a letter to the DPO at Sharada, asking him to provide cover for the Hisbah officials and the staff of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital to go and exhume the corpse from the cemetery and hand it over to his family.
“He ordered that they should open the corpse, invite the family to see and certify that what they were about to be given was their brothers corpse, while saying that he would not like another complaint to arise from the present order.
“The deceased was exhumed, taken to the hospital and he was okay. Nothing was tampled with. His body was complete when we received it. The Hisbah officials gave us a paper to sign that we met his body in good condition for which I was a signatory.
“The body of the deceased was released to us and departed from Kano on Tuesday in the morning by 8 O’clock and arrived at Orlu by Wednesday. The corpse was buried on Friday by 12:00 midday in his home,” he narrated.
THE IMAM’S SIDE OF THE STORY
According to a BBC report, Aminu Adam, the Chief Imam of Gadun Albasa Mosque, who led in the burial rites, admitted that he made an error.
“We were told that Abdullahi Obinwa was number 22 on the mortuary and when I went to identify the corpse, Basil Ejensi looked like Obinwa, who had lived with us for 40 years.
“They were both chubby and not too tall, but there was no beard. When I asked the mortuary attendant, he said that they sometimes remove beards from bodies so I assumed it was Obinwa,” he explained.
THE MISSING CORPSE OF LATE ABDULLAHI OBINWA
It is a tradition of Igbo people outside Igbo land to take their corpses home.
However, problem always arises if the deceased had changed his faith or had been converted to another faith during his life-time.
The thinking of members of the host community was that if the corpse was taken to Igbo land, the deceased would certainly not be buried according to the faith he had professed during his life time.
That was the case of the said Abdullahi Obinwa, who hailed from Onitsha in Anambra State.
Checks conducted by Sunday Sun showed that the deceased came to Kano years ago through the invitation of a sister who was also not a Christian.
He was the Secretary to the council of the former Eze Ndigbo, Igwe O. T. Nnadi and played a role in the Igbo traditional association in the state in those days. He was a professed Muslim who had lived in Shagari Quarters in the 90s.
A source from the late Obinwa’s community in the state told Sunday Sun that towards the later part of his life, he moved out of Kundila Estate to a predominantly Christian residential quarters on Ijebu Road in Sabon Garri Area. It was gathered that he was sick for some years and eventually gave up recently.
When he died, the source said, his corpse was taken to the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, from where he was quietly conveyed to his hometown a few days before the court order from the Sharia Court reached the hospital.