dead person's hand

Medical student flees anatomy class after finding friend’s body on table

Enya Egbe thought he knew what to expect in his anatomy class. That day, the students were working on corpses and he was ready — or so he thought. That afternoon, seven years ago, burned into his mind. The students at Nigeria’s University of Calabar grouped around three tables with a cadaver on each one. But when the sheets fell away, Egbe screamed and ran out of the room. 

His group was assigned the dead body of his friend of over seven years, Divine. Egbe didn’t know he was dead until that horrible moment. “We used to go clubbing together,” he said. “There were two bullet holes on the right side of his chest.

Finding a Friend on the Table in Anatomy Class

Oyifo Ana was one of the many students that ran after Egbe. They found him crying outside.  “Most of the cadavers we used in school had bullets in them. I felt so bad when I realized that some of the people may not be real criminals,” Ana said. She added that one early morning, she witnessed a police van unload bloodied corpses at their medical school, which included a mortuary. 

Egbe contacted Divine’s family. They had been searching for Divine since the previous night, hopping from police station to station. They didn’t know what happened to their relative after learning he and his three friends were arrested by security agents on their way home. In the end, the family succeeded in getting the body back. 

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What’s most horrifying about this story is that it spotlighted what could happen to victims of police violence. In Nigeria, current laws allow “unclaimed bodies” to be sent to medical schools. It also allows executed criminals to go to these schools — although there hasn’t been an execution since 2007. 

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Moreover, over 90% of the bodies in Nigerian medical schools are “criminals killed by shooting,” according to a 2011 study in Clinical Anatomy. Meaning, they were suspects shot by the police or security personnel. Plus, three out of four of these people are from the lower socio-economic class. “Nothing has changed 10 years later,” said Emeka Anyanwu, co-author of the study and a professor of anatomy at the University of Nigeria. For this reason, Enya Egbe’s horrific experience in anatomy class remains relevant. [1]

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Unlawfully Shot Suspects

After the protests against Sars and police brutality in Nigeria, the government set up judicial panels to investigate cases of police violence. (Sars —Special Anti-Robbery Squad — is a police unit notorious for violence and abuse.) Many people had relatives that had been arrested and they hadn’t seen them since. 

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However, police spokesman Frank Mba stated that he was not aware of situations where police officers disposed of bodies at mortuaries or anatomy class labs. Plus, many officers in the allegations defended themselves saying the suspect had shot at them too.

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In 2009, however, trader Cheta Nnamani admitted to assisting security agents in disposing of corpses they had killed or tortured while he was in Sars’ custody for four months. One night, for instance, he had to place three bodies into a car. After doing so, the police chained him inside the van and drove to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital where he had to unload them. Nnamani was threatened with these corpses’ fate.

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However, the privately-owned Aladinma Hospital Mortuary put a stop to these deliveries of alleged criminals. The police rarely had proper identification of the persons or had notified their relatives. “Sometimes, the police try to strong-arm us into accepting bodies but we insist that they take them to a government hospital,” said Ugonna Amamasi, the administrator of the mortuary. “Private mortuaries are not authorized to donate bodies to medical schools but government mortuaries can.

Getting Justice

Divine was lucky that his friend discovered his body in anatomy class. Divine’s relatives gave him a proper burial, but most victims aren’t. Their relatives won’t know what happened to them, if they died and if they ended up in a medical school like Divine was. Of course, this is completely unlawful. Senior lawyer, Fred Onuobia explained that lawfully executed criminals’ bodies go to their relatives. “If no one shows up after a certain length of time, the bodies are sent to teaching hospitals,” he said. 

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Anatomists now lobby for a law for mortuaries to keep full records of corpses donated to their classes, as well as the family’s permission. “There will be a lot of education and a lot of advocacy so people can see that if I donate my body, it will be for the good of the society,” said the association’s head, Olugbenga Ayannuga.

Egbe now works in a hospital lab in Delta State. He had to finish his studies a year after his peers because of the trauma he endured. He couldn’t enter anatomy class without imagining Divine by the door every time. Fortunately, Divine’s family got some justice by helping the firing of some of the officers involved in Divine’s death. [2]

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Keep Reading: Trial Looking To Bring Clinically Dead ‘Back To Life’

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Sources:

  1. Medical Student Flees Anatomy Class After Finding Friend’s Body on Table.Newsweek. Jack Dutton. August 2, 2021
  2. “Nigerian student shocked to see friend’s body in anatomy class.BBC. August 2, 2021
Sarah Biren
Freelance Writer
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender.
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