Africa

Nigerian woman dies twice,Buried in Nigeria, resurfaces in Benin Republic, dies again

Ekanem-recanateHer story reads like a thriller: the type only a great novelist could spin. However, the somewhat grace-to-grass context and the many twists and turns of her life’s tale could make some of the classic tragedies spun by dramatist extraordinaire Sophocles of ancient Greece appear less calamitous. First she died in Nigeria, was properly buried and forgotten, then suddenly she appeared in Benin Republic with a new life. Now she’s dead again. And then the real dead end.

To be candid, ruminating on this woman’s chequered sojourn on earth invoked Figure it out for yourself, the title of one of scores of crime thrillers by James Hardley Chase; for, at the end of series of fragmetary sequences; you are still left wondering, if you got this one right. Initially, telephone numbers rose flying around, purportedly belonging to one of her believed children.

But then, on one occasion during which the said son was reportedly traced on phone, he told them that his mother died a long time ago and that he was not going to come to claim the corpse of another woman. He had moved on with his life in the northern part of Nigeria. Today, nobody owns up to still having the contact address of phone number of this mystery son. The same story is told of the documents removed from the late woman’s home. The official of the Nigerian community allegedly handed everything to the Beninoise authority. Confusion and more confusion.

Such was the variegated nature of this subject’s life that at some point, she served in the officer cadre of one of the nation’s armed forces only to die unloved and abadoned, and her corpse unwanted. This was a woman that actually lived overseas at some point; she apparently enjoyed the famed, good life as a spinster; and, at the domestic level was married and had children.

Sadly, however, everything eventually went so kaputt that she died a lonely and forsaken woman. So unwanted was she, that her children and practically every other family member did not only shun her in the twilight of her life but denied her outright, when informed she had passed on and that her body was waiting to be claimed in a morgue in a neighbouring foreign country. The deceased gave up the ghost a few minutes after midnight on May 2, 2011; and, her remains were immediately deposited at Morgue Le Pardon, the only funerarium in Djeregbe. Djeregbe stands roughly 10 minutes’ drive from Porto Novo, capital of Benin Republic; and, coming from Seme-Krake, near Nigeria’s extreme south-western frontier; Djeregbe is barely five minutes’ drive after turning right at Porto Novo roundabout.

The fees for leaving a corpse at this morgue is CFA2,000 (N700) per day, but after the first 10 days; the cost rises to CFA3,000 (N1,050) daily. Counting from May 2, the mortuary bills hit CFA20,000 by May 12. With CFA3,000 daily subsequently, by June 30 the bills had climbed another CFA147,000; bringing the total to CFA167,000 or N58,450 at the current exchange rate of N350 to CFA1,000. Furthermore, by July 20, the bill had risen by another CFA60,000 (N20,000 approximately), thus bringing the total to N78,450. Add CFA33,000 (about N12,000) for another 11 days to July 31; and, we were talking of over N90,000. By August 30, the figure had exceeded N120,000.

However, it must be pointed out that the woman’s offspring have not abandoned the body due to financial implication. The deceased was a very wealthy person, and the sale of a fraction of her estate will easily raise the money to pay off any bill accruing from her death and funeral. It would therefore seem that the offspring’s rejection of any relationship with the dead woman arises from fear of exposure of kinship to one who was sick or worse still, for other reasons which; as some are wont to conjectutre, could even be considered sinister. If the contents of a video, we shall soon refer to, are anything to go by; the woman was allegedly initiated into a secret society sometime in 2005 by some juju worshippers in Akesan Town, Lagos. In deed, the initiation was embedded in a house-warming ceremony.

It is hard to say, whether or not she was conscious of what she was walking into at the time; for, even on film she was barely lively, instead of jubilant, whereas she was the celebrant of a house-warming ceremony. Interestingly, any one watching the recording of that event would immediately notice the absence of guests during the Lagos celebration; which contrasts sharply with what transpired, when she held a similar party in Djeregbe near Porto Novo in Benin Republic. Truly, there are many twists and turns to this convoluted tale. Could a woman that died years ago in Nigeria die again in Benin Republic? Could someone or some people have done her in, in order to inherit her wealth? It is believed that apart from the house she owned near Porto Novo, the woman also had some landed properties in Lagos; receipts and building plans of such estates were found among her belongings, according to a reliable source.

Interestingly, too; a receipt was found confirming she had secured a sepulchre for her burial in London, the same respondent added. If documents reportedly found among her possessions are to be believed; there was hefty life insurance dividend to be picked by her heir in the event of her death. Is it possible that such dividend had since been claimed, while the woman was languishing in pain, misery and loneliness; whereas a funeral had been held for her? If so, who collected such benefits; and, who signed her death certificate, and where was it issued? Where and when was she buried? Also, who organised a bogus funeral party to mark her departure from planet earth; when the woman was still alive?

Her health had deteriorated drastically over the week preceding her transition, but she wouldn’t stand any talk of going to see a doctor. However, late in the night of May 1, her condition was so bad and the woman so weak she couldn’t even protest, when one Isideen and another of her tenants put her atop a Zemidjan (a motorbike) to take her for urgent medical attention. It would seem that workers at the first hospital the young men took the woman to refused to admit her and directed Isideen and co to take her elsewhere.

All the while, the woman; sandwiched between the two men on the bike to prevent her from falling, had been panting profusely. As the men rode toward another clinic, the woman suddenly exuded a loud sigh: she had just breathed her last. Alarmed, Isideen and his co-tenant started shouting “Mummy, Mummy”, but no response came; for the woman had given up the ghost. Now, instead of depositing her at a hospital, the young men were compelled to take the body to the only morgue in town For roughly five years, the lady lived in her storey building with five tenants in Quartier Yekponawa, not too far from Djeregbe’s Quartier Zongo neighbourhood. She called her house, which stands roughly 200 metres off the highway linking Cotonou to Porto Novo, La Ville Romuero.

The highest-paying of the woman’s tenants was charged CFA15,000 (about N5,000) monthly. Three other tenants paid CFA10,000 (N3,500) each, monthly; while the rental for the fifth occupant was CFA7,000 (N2,300) for the same period. Strangely, this landlady occupied the uncompleted upper floor of her two-floor house. This top floor was mostly unroofed and many rooms lack windows and doors, yet she chose to live in this quarter, while giving out the finished rooms on the ground floor to tenants. Curiously, she kept none of her valuables upstairs, where she lived. Her belongings were divided between the rooms of two of her tenants, one of them Isideen. She occasionally ate in the rooms of these two tenants. Her moveable property included five sealed boxes, a few bags and other boxes that were not locked.

It was inside one of these unlocked boxes that a video recording of the woman’s funeral, purportedly after her death decades ago, was found. Sources told Daily Sun the woman probably suffered phychological, if not psychiatric, challenges years before her transition. Once, she had an acquintance called Samson; but, it would seem the woman sent him packing sometime before she died. Sadly, no one could locate Samson now; and, none was sure that even he had any clue as to the woman’s relations or friends. After parting ways with Samson, the woman neither went visiting anyone nor did anyone ever came to visit her for all the years that she lived in the compound. No one remembered ever seeing her cook. “Mummy rarely ate any food”, said one respondent. One of her tenants, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed she drank frequently: Guinness was her preferred brand, but when out of pocket; the woman settled for native gin.

In fact, she showed signs of bloating a few weeks to her death, we were told. Some respondents’ conjecture is that the late woman had at least two sons, whom; going by photographs taken decades ago, must be above 40 years today. Among such people’s guess is that Mr. Percy (surname withheld) is a man believed to be one of her children. From this man’s first name, Percy, it would seem she had him for a Christian. However, there is another man, Ahmed, believed to be her son as well. It seems likely Percy and Ahmed were sired by different men. One respondent told us, “Mummy spoke excellent French, English and Yoruba”; however, another throw-up of some, that spoke with Daily Sun in and around Djeregbe was that the woman probably hailed from Calabar. They hinged their guess on the lady’s abhorrence of filth. Further probe into the woman’s origins led to the discovery that her maiden name sounded like one from “the Calabar area”.

Alhaji Yusuf Salami, President of Nigerian community in Porto Novo, who had accompanied local police personnel to the late woman’s house and the morgue, where her body was deposited; confirmed her maiden name hinted at Calabar origins. Unfortunately, Alhaji Salami said he could not recall that name. He said that after being contacted, he had done the best he could as leader of the local Nigerian community and had properly briefed the Nigerian embassy of his findings. Subsequently, he had washed his hands off the matter; which now lay with the Nigerian embassy and Beninoise authorities. “If you want any information on this matter, please; go to the Nigerian embassy”: this was Alhaji Salami’s advise to us, when we contacted him on phone. After deeper probes, we were at some point told that the deceased was Miss Margaret Ekanem Utip. We were also told that her husband’s grandfather was a half-caste, and the man’s white grandfather, Mr. Audifferen (first name not known) died in 1933. However, the most baffling of all is the 2005 ceremony in Lagos, celebrated as Warming of late Margaret Ekanem’s House.

In 1979, one Miss Omodele Ayo Audifferen, who lived at Number 1, Odo Ogun Close in South West Ikoyi; was a student of Federal School of Arts and Science (FSAS), Victoria Island, Lagos. A student’s ID card, signed December 12, 1979, carries the portrait of a pretty young lady that probably morphed into a charming woman. While studying for her A Levels at FSAS, she was in the group MSD, which means she was of the Morning Session classes and that her subject combination was Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Successful products of FSAS SD groups usually went on to study medicine, pharmacy, biochemistry, life sciences and related courses And, going by leads; which include epaulettes that show the wearer went through the rank of Mid-Shipman before being promoted a Sub-Lieutenant, found among the deceased’s belongings, the late woman belonged to one of these professions. Moreover, she probably served in the Medical Corps of the Nigerian Navy, going by some leads. Could this be the late one, whose body is lying unclaimed in Porto Novo? Interestingly, during the house-warming ceremony, dubbed House-warming ceremony of late Chief (Mrs.) Ekanem Audifferen; the woman was variously called Doctor and at least once addressed as Mrs. Abidu. In the same video, the said Mrs.

Abidu was described as “the last child of late Chief (Mrs.) Audifferen”. This late Chief (Mrs.) Audifferen could well be one-time Miss Ekanem Utip, who hailed from Oku in Ikot Offiong, Calabar. Born in Beua, now known as Victoria, in Western Cameroon; the young Ekanem Utip had her primary education at Government Secondary School, Beua from 1933 to 1941. The house in question stands at Number 10 Kassim Achiomu Street in Akesan Town, off LASU Road; going by the address found on the cartridge of a video recorded by SOAJ Video and Film Production, which in December 2005 gave its studio’s address as 220 Ijegun Road, Ile-Ibadan Bus stop in Ikotun, Lagos. Curiously, a year after that purported posthumuos housewarming took place, she turned up in Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin Republic.

It remains unclear, where she resided in those days; for Samson, who might know; having served the woman for years, could not be located. In any case, in 2006, she bought a house, which was still under construction in Djeregbe and made home there. The late Mrs. Abidu was probably sibling with one-time Master Ekundayo Essien Audifferen, who was baptised on August 5, 1961 at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos. Ekundayo Essien Audifferen subsequently had his Confirmation and First Communion at the same church on June 4, 1978, a year before Omodele Ayo enrolled for Sixth Form studies at FSAS, Lagos. The duo were probably related to one Mr. S.B. Audifferen, resident of House 18, Nevern Rd, SW London; going by an address found on the envelop of a letter sent by one Dr. Audifferen from Number 10 Boyle Street, Lagos. On Nigerian Embassy Cotonou The unfolding saga of Nee Audiferen’s life and eventual death in Benin Republic as well as the fact that her body is still lying in a local morgue four months after her passage has once again thrown up doubts about the efficiency and diligence on the part of officials of Nigeria’s foreign missions. It could be recalled that Nigerian Embassy Cotonou had come under severe criticisms in the past for its staffers’ lackadaisal attidtude to work.

In deed, Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou was virtually loathed by all; Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa communities alike. September 2 marked 120 days since the former Miss Audiferen died. Questions would be asked as to what the Nigerian Embassy Cotonou has done over the four-month period with regard to unveiling her identity and subsequently getting the dead woman’s relations to come and collect her body for burial.

At least one official at Nigerian Embassy Cotonou had mooted the idea of selling the deceased woman’s house. The explanation for this seems to be to raise money to pay morgue fees and other bills, Daily Sun gathered from reliable sources. However, perceived foot-dragging on the part of the local Nigerian mission in treating the matter has fuelled speculation that those contemplating the sale of the woman’s property had erected hedges to prevent access to information on the dead woman. That way, according to conspiracy theorists, those hoping to reap where they did not sow could then sell the woman’s belongings at give-away prices to themselves under the excuse that no relative of the deceased could be traced.

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