A mere ego within a family left the corpse of the patriarch for 15 years in the morgue before burial.
Forty-eight-year-old Jerry Ajenre has been working as a mortician at St. Felix Hospital and Embalmment Centre, Mgbidi, in Oru West Local Government Area of Imo State for the past 13 years. Having joined the services of the organisation in 2006, Ajenre was saddled with the burden of looking after the remains of Pa Felix Ngobiladi Odinukaeze, whose body was deposited in the morgue two years before he joined the services of the hospital. And for those 13 years of his service, Ajenre kept looking after Pa Odinukaeze’s remains to ensure that it remained in good shape pending when his family decides to give him a final resting place.
But the wish of Ajenre for an early disposition of the corpse appeared to be a mirage because of squabble in the family of Pa Odinukaeze which prevented them from allowing their father to rest in peace and his remains being in the morgue for 15 years.
Incredible as the story might sound, each member of the family justifying why they could not bury their father’s remains 15 years after his death.
Born into the family of Odinukaeze in Umumbaneto of in Isi-Mgbidi Autonomous Community in Oru West Local Government Area of Imo State, late Pa Odinukaeze made a mark in the civil service where he retired as a staff of the Nigerian Postal Service. Having retired, Pa Odinuakaeze retreated to his village where he died on March 24, 2004, at the age of 83.
If he had wished to have a decent burial as a successful family, having married three wives with scores of children, that wish was to become a mirage as that has become a subject of controversy for 15 years until a court action instituted by the Dr. Felix Iwudibia, owner of St. Felix Hospital and Embalmment Centre, forced them to finally put his remains to rest on April 29, 2019, probably making him the “oldest living corpse” in living memory.
According to the stories weaved together by his children, trouble started in the family when their breadwinner died without writing a will. Leonard, one of the children of Pa Odinukaeze’s second wife said when their father died, he informed the first son from the first wife, Emeka, who instructed him to deposit the body in the mortuary pending when the burial arrangements would be finalised.
He said, “It was a very unfortunate situation. My father married three wives and when he died the first son, Emeka, made it difficult for us to give him a decent burial. We called Emeka and on his instruction, deposited our father’s body in the mortuary and handed the tally [evidence that a corpse was deposited and must be produced whenever it will be removed]. He left [to overseas] with the tally and when we asked him when our father will be buried, he said that we should not worry him; that he is the first son and will decide ultimately when our father will be buried. Our father was then putting up a storey building that had reached lintel level. Emeka made us to understand that our father’s wish was to be buried inside that building. He asked us to exercise patience so that he could complete the project and bury our father there, according to his wishes. We relaxed, waiting for him.”
Leonard pointed out that after years without hearding from Emeka and most of them had travelled overseas in search of greener pastures.
“After I returned, we put pressure on Emeka to announce the burial date of our father. Emissaries upon emissaries from the extended family and the women to Emeka proved abortive. He told them that as the first son, he has the prerogative to bury his father as he wished.
“The ding-dong continued until 2017 when the owner of the mortuary took us to court, asking us to come and remove our father’s corpse for burial and gave us a bill of N2.2 million. Emeka then replied that it was no business of his how to settle the mortuary fees because he was not the one that deposited their father’s remains in the mortuary,” Leonard explained.
According to him, his siblings from the same mother pleaded with Dr. Felix that now that the matter has become a matter of adjudication and he had denied that he was not the one that deposited the body in the mortuary, he should allow them to take the remains for burial and negotiated a reduction of the mortuary expenses and was cut to N1.4 million.
But, Leonard said even after the amount was paid, Emeka was still evasive and another of his elder brother determined to put the whole controversy to rest called the youth and elders of the village to give their dad a resting place. He said Emeka was absent because the youths were determined to deal with him for creating the controversy and allowing the issue to linger for 15 years.
Leonard’s story was corroborated by his youngest sister, Ogoo, who said that their father died when she was very young. Now married with kids, Ogoo said that she never envisaged that her father’s remains would be in the mortuary for this long.
According to her, their father had a lot of properties both in their community and beyond.
After many efforts, Daily Trust on Sunday was able to locate Emeka. He initially refused to comment as he said the matter was in court and would not want to be charged for contempt, but thereafter opened up on the matter.
According to him, the ultimate wish of his father in his twilight years was for his remains not to be deposited in the mortuary, but to be buried immediately and inside the building he was putting up. Emeka said: “When my father died and I was informed, my decision was to bury him immediately according to his wishes, but my brothers without informing me deposited his remains in the mortuary. This is my grouse.
“As the first son, the onus was on me to carry out his wishes or on the contrary, my opinion should have been sought on what to do with his remains. I had expected that even without my presence, my father’s last wish would have been carried out and every expenses incurred defrayed by me, but my brothers went ahead to do otherwise.”
Despite the man’s burial, Emeka said that he still intends to pursue the legal case to its conclusion. He accused some members of the family of colluding with the owners of the mortuary, claiming that it was not Dr. Iwudibia that instituted the suit against him, but was used as proxy by his brothers.
Ajenre, the mortician, was not happy the way the whole thing. As a member of the Odinukaeze, Ajenre said that the whole community became a laughing stock. “Each time there was a gathering or burial ceremony, some people would ask you when are you going to bury our patriarch. But I still preserved his remains and when Leonard finally came to remove the remains, he could not believe that his father’s remains could still be recognizable.”
On why it took him such a long time before he acted, Dr. Iwudibia, said he waited so long to allow the family to settle their issues, adding, but when they were not forthcoming, I had to go to court to persuade them to do the needful.”
Pa Odinukaeze may have finally rested in peace, but the controversy generated by his demise will be a source of discourse for many years to come.