The Edo civil society groups have reacted to viral reports claiming that the building where mummified bodies were found in the state is a ritualist den.
The group explained that the building is a morgue, not a ritualist den as claimed by the police.
Recall that on Wednesday, August 17, it was announced that the Edo State Police Command uncovered the building which residents described as a ritualist den (read here). About 20 mummified bodies were recovered in the uncompleted building at Ekenhua road in Benin City.
However, following investigations, the leadership and members of Edo Civil Society Organisations, led by its Interim TEC Chairman, Leftist Austine Enabulele, released a statement to set the record straight.
They explained that the building is a morgue recently built to accommodate corpses evacuated from an old facility where the operator had been given a quit notice.
The group added that the fact the bodies found in the building had name tags should have been an indication that the place is not a ritualist den but a morgue.
The statement signed by Aliyu Unweni, Interim Public Relations Officer of the Edo Civil Society Organisations (EDOCSO), reads: "It has been over 24 hours that the news of a ritualists’ den was discovered in Benin City allegedly. It has flooded the social media and mainstream media spaces making it viral. The news became worrisome to us as Edo people have no history of ritualism or its likes. More troublesome to us is the fact that, it was the Police Public Relations Officer of Edo state command that led a media report on same which would have suggested that proper investigation would have been carried out to arrive at what was reported in the media.
"Immediately the news got to us, we quickly dispatched a team of investigators to unravel the true situation of the matter and report accordingly for a follow up. Below were the findings of the investigation team.
"1. The said building where the mummified corpses were found is not a ritualists’ den but a newly built morgue to house evacuated corpses from an old facility because the operator had been given a quit notice there.
"2. The operational name of the morgue is St. Gabriel Funeral Home with other offices at No. 24, Ist Federal Road, Benin City. It has branches in Anambra state, Ebonyi state, Murtala Mohammed way and Ist East Circular road where the corpses were moved from.
"3. The shrine discovered was said to be a traditional form of worship by the proprietor as a spiritual protection for himself and the business.
"4. The police didn’t conduct investigation before addressing the media thereby raising an alarm of a ritualists’ shrine.
"5. As at the time of putting this report together, the police had not visited other branches of the morgue in different parts of the city.
"6. The videos of corpses in circulation revealed that some of the corpses had name tags and medical equipment were visible as well in the building. Further interview with one of the morgue personnel in another of their branch office revealed that there is a register of all the corpses in the facility and that some of the owners have started to call to take away their deposited corpses.
"7. Our team of investigators were denied access to the morgue by members of the vigilance group that have been stationed there.
"Flowing from the above, it is now convenient to state that, the insinuation by the police that it is a ritualists’ den is hereby debunked and dismissed as false alarm and an attempt to paint the good people of Edo in bad light. This is not to state that, the morgue might not be an illegal one or does not have the requisite permits to operate a morgue which should be subjected to thorough investigation by the police. A call placed to the proprietor phone was answered by a police officer who stated that he is with them.
"This is a clarion call to members of the fourth estate of the realm who were expected to launch investigation into the issue by engaging the proprietor and the arrested workers to ascertain the true position before broadcasting and publication hook, line and sinker the position of the police. This falls below what is expected of investigative journalism and the doctrine of hearing the other side of a story. How the news hit the airspace would make one to believe it is a case of who plays the piper dictates the tone. The game needs to be stepped up.
"This development had shown that Edo state government lacked own intelligence gathering mechanism to filter stories as it was seen sharing same misinformation from the police to the de-marketing of the state and her people to the outside world. Edo state government should have been seen mitigating against the spread of such negative story from the state, instead it was a major promoter of it. This is disappointing to say the least.
"We want to reiterate again that Edo state is peaceful, loving and most accommodating in the whole of Nigeria. They are not known for human rituals historically. The state is open for visitation and business opportunities. Citizens can move anytime of the day without fear of the unknown.
"We await the final outcome of police investigation on subject matter and we believe it will be bold enough to put the record straight by stating the true position of the issues. Going forward, the police authority should always carry out investigation before engaging the media. Crimes are not fought with media propaganda."