Published On: Tue, Sep 1st, 2015

Life inside the morgue: Myths, truth about the dead

A whole lot has been said about the dead and their activities inside the morgue. Some of which we find amusing and others way too frightening but is there any truth in what many of us have come to believe to be true? To satisfy your curiosity and clear the misconceptions, CHINWE AGBEZE took a trip to a couple of morgues in Lagos state and spoke with those whose sole duty it is to ensure that human corpses are in one piece from the moment they are deposited in the morgue until when they are finally laid to rest in peace. Her report…
In modern times, when someone checks out, they are immediately refrigerated in the morgue to delay decomposition pending the time of burial. This of course is exclusive to Christians as Muslims waste no time in burying their dead. Popularly referred to as mortuary in this part of the world, a morgue is used for the storage of human corpses awaiting burial, identification, removal for autopsy, disposal by burial, cremation or other method. One won’t be wrong to also call it a funeral home.
A visit to a good number of morgues in Nigeria, one would be scared to die. The manner in which dead bodies are handled and the bad odour emanating from these morgues even from a distance as a result of erratic power supply without any aid from generating sets make both the job and the place dreadful.
When Hallmark made a stopover at general hospital’s morgue in Isolo, the place could be mistaken for a residential building and that won’t be entirely wrong because in truth it is a residential building but one which houses human corpses. Outside looks squeaky clean and no offensive odour could be perceived anywhere close to this morgue. The environment is a beautiful picture away from the scary and gory images on people’s minds that have refused to go away, only those who visit the morgue are lucky enough to get those pictures off their mind.
The reception was neat and receptive so was all the attendants. Those that came for pickup were seated patiently while others who had their ‘parcel’ ready were making their way out with clear satisfaction displayed on their faces. No doubt this morgue from all indications is definitely not one of those in a sorry state.
The manager of the morgue who also doubles as an embalmer, Mr. Raymond Akao (not real name), a cheery young man in the neighbourhood of 30years who is highly passionate about his job told Hallmark the morgue has been around for a little over a year.
“This morgue was erected last year. The previous morgue was in a very bad state so it was demolished and the corpses given mass burial after much notice by the government. A lot of people think mortuary jobs are for uneducated and never-do-wells but this is far from true. They see it as a dirty business but fail to understand that shit business is a serious business and money gotten from it never smells.”
Mr. Akao tells us more about the cost implication of depositing a corpse in the mortuary, duration permitted, what becomes of the corpses that have overstayed their welcome and how much corpse they can take.
“We charge N30, 000 but it depends on how the corpse is, if its messy from an accident scene, the pay is usually higher than that. N700 is the fee for daily cleaning and N2, 000 for the final dressing. The maximum duration is 8months and those that stay longer than necessary are handed over to the government.
“The cooling chamber which is where the corpses are preserved takes a maximum of 120corpses. I cannot say how many corpse we get on a daily basis because it differs”
Responding to questions about the activities of corpses inside the morgue, the manager of the mortuary said there’s no truth in them all.
“In the olden days, most of the people working in the mortuaries not educated and to make people treat them with more respect, they come up with these lies. They will say they speak and interact with the corpses. They knock and enter with their backs.

This is just a way to get people to part with some money and shower them with more gifts. “I and my colleagues sleep and wake up here. Some people use to come here and say they are disturbing me at home. They said we should bury him on time. Seriously, they might see but for us in this mortuary, I don’t think any of my staff has seen a ghost. Actually to my knowledge, I’ve not seen any. It is even much better embalming at night because my mind will be more relaxed”
Outside the morgue, Mr. Kayode Idowu, an undertaker with over twenty-five years experience was waiting patiently for the casket which he said is heading to Benin, the Edo state capital for burial the following day. He was reluctant to give his name but offered the name of his company which was boldly written on his ambulance for all to see. To him, this is a family business as all his siblings are in this business.
“My papa been dey this business, na so me and all my brothers learn am. I use am train all my children and the money is good. Before I dey charge N25,000-N30,000 for one trip but as people wey no dey registered for our association don dey charge N15,000, na so I come reduce hand but the business no too bad. I dey make am small small even my brother wey dey work for Ikeja mortuary”
In his many years of transporting corpses to various destinations, Mr. Idowu says he’s yet to witness a strange encounter with any corpse because his hands are always clean but admits to have used preventive measures when he was new in the business.
“Nothing concerns the driver about that; it’s those that wicked the dead body that the ghost dey worry. Even as a driver, if you normally make a bloodshed or your hands are not clean, it can affect you. When I enter new, I’m afraid that’s why I normally put palm fronds at the front and back of my ambulance then take ‘kaikai’. The kaikai will make my eyes to be high, then I go misbehave anyhow but after sometime, I stop dey use am and nothing don do me”
Impressed with this morgue, Hallmark moved to Lagos University teaching hospital but locating their morgue was an ultimate search as it took quite some time.  The morgue hid in an isolated area as if it was ashamed of itself but it sure had every cause to be judging from the discoveries we made.
On getting close to the gate, the security men were quick to secure the locks and referred us to go get a note from the PR before we can be allowed in refusing to say more than that for fear of losing his job.
On if he has seen a ghost strolling in or out of the building, this guard who refused giving his name responded, ‘If I dey see ghosts, you go still find me for here? I don stay for this job for five years now. These ghosts no say na help we dey help dem mek their body no spoil, so dey no dey worry us because if dem worry us, we go leave their body run and e go spoil. If dey wan play, dem go go another mortuary go play but no be for here”
When pushed further, with seriousness written all over his face, he cracks even more ribs.
“Na just on dis Saturday wey pass. Around 3am I see one small boy wey been dey play with tyre wey big pass am. The tyre even big pass trailer tyre because I never see dat kain tyre before. When I call ask the boy why e dey play for this time of the morning, the small boy just eye me up and down come disappear”
When asked if he was not under the influence of alcohol about the time he saw what he claimed he did see, Mr. anonymous said he was no baby adding that the ghost left a mark behind.
“As I big like this, how I no go know wetin I see? The tyre sef wey the boy been dey play with dey here day break. I go report for admin office so they come carry the tyre commot. They still hold the tyre reach now”
He was too scared to divulge more as he claims his boss has a target on his back and will be quick to hang him to dry but he certainly has no plans of giving him that joy.
With this point made he said a little above the whispering voice he’s been using all this while, ‘Go meet the PR for main building to collect gate pass if you wan enter this place else we no go fit attend to you’ and again in whispers, “Dem wire this place and anything we talk for here dem go hear am for where dem dey so I no want wahala. Abi u get another job for me?”

Why this restriction if they have no cockroaches in their cupboards? But alas, the handwriting on the wall was so clear that one can read them all with their eyes half-shut and from a long distance too. Inside the compound, few people stood with their hands firmly wrapped around their noses and they were not even inside the building! Mr. anonymous ignorantly confirmed that their generating set was not in a good shape and power supply as we know in the country is epileptic, so the chances of being let in are slimmer than slim itself.
However, Hallmark proceeded to the PR’s office to get the “almighty pass” but the response after a long wait didn’t come as a surprise. Everyone in the office had their hand or paper fans in motion because there was no light. If these human beings here are not enjoying power supply, who are those bodies in their morgues to complain when they lack the slightest energy to even fan themselves cold?
After being asked the same question a couple of times by the secretary to the PR and again by a medical doctor, the PR’s verdict not pass returned, ‘You have to write an application but it will take a long time before we will allow you inside the mortuary’ but the word on the doctor’s face was ‘Never’!
Outside the morgue, what do people believe about human bodies awaiting burial and what is fuelling such beliefs?
Mr. Michael Marvelous, a businessman while narrating his own experience inside the ambulance conveying the corpse of his cousin to the village for burial insists that most morgue attendants are being economical with the truth for reasons best known to them.
“I was in an ambulance taking my younger cousin to Owerri. When we got to Ore, the car stopped and refused to start so the driver gave me hot drink and told me to go and talk to my brother. After talking to my cousin, I poured some of the hot drink on the casket, drank some and the driver drank some as well. We started the car and it moved at once. I don’t know why the people working in the mortuary are lying but that one is their business because most of us know what the truth looks like”, he said.
Mr. Uzoma Oforka, a property consultant who claimed he had a pat on his shoulder from a supposedly dead body said what will sound even amusing to a ten year old kid but he clearly was not amused.
“I went to visit a friend of mine who works in the mortuary sometime last year. While we were talking, a corpse that was covered removed the wrapper. Annoyed, my friend told the corpse not to take it off again else he will call her people to come move her out and surprisingly she complied. After seeing this, I was shaken and decided to take a cigarette. I went under a tree were other people were seated talking. Another man who sat behind me burnt my shirt with his cigarette but instead of apologizing when I told him, he just stood up and walked away. I almost confronted him but those people there told me he was a spirit from another mortuary who came to chill out”, he said.
Well, the corpse we did see at Isolo General hospital never moved a muscle when the morgue attendant adjusted the sheets a bit in the embalming room neither did those in the cooling chambers get violent when we failed to announce our presence on the other side of their door before making a grand entrance or for not walking backwards.
Irrespective of our divergent beliefs about the dead, one thing is indeed crystal clear; we really have no worries to nurse once their casket hits six feet under the ground because by then, they sure will have only one option which is, to rest in peace.

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