Nigerian national's body rots at Mumbai morgue as embassy turns a blind eye

Body has been lying at KEM Hospital’s mortuary for nearly four months and is severely decomposed, but cannot be disposed of without permission from the Nigerian embassy, which has not responded to the cops so far

At a time when the city’s morgues are under pressure to dispose of an increasing number of unclaimed and unidentified corpses, the body of a Nigerian national has been lying at KEM Hospital’s mortuary for nearly four months as neither his family members nor the Nigerian Embassy have come forward to take responsibility for his last rites.


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Oluwole Oserhemhen, a 39-year-old from Benin City in Edo State, Nigeria, was undergoing treatment in the city for cancer and succumbed to complications on May 25. In death, Oserhemhen seems to have fallen through the cracks of the system, which will not allow his body to be disposed of without the necessary documentation from the Nigerian authorities.

In fact, right after his death, his cousin Akwuobi Dominic, had tried to complete the last rites, but could not do so since he did not have the right paperwork. Since then, however, even the cousin is nowhere to be found and the Nigerian embassy has not responded to queries from the police either.

The morgue and police authorities are now at their wit’s end, as the body has been lying in storage for nearly four months and is severely decomposed, posing a health hazard at the hospital.

Background
Oserhemhen was undergoing treatment for chondrosarcoma (a cancer of cartilage-producing cells) at Tata Memorial Hospital, but when his condition began to deteriorate, he was shifted to KEM Hospital on May 22 by his cousin.

As per the procedure in a hospital transfer case, a medico-legal case was filed with the Bhoiwada police, and officers had gone to the hospital to take down the contact details of the patient as well as the family member (cousin Dominic) who had admitted the patient.

Three days later, Oserhemhen passed away and the postmortem found the cause of death to be septic shock and severe anaemia. The Bhoiwada police station in turn filed an Accidental Death Report (ADR).
Dominic was also informed about the death and the body was handed over to him.

This, said police officials, is when the ordeal began. Dominic even took the body to the crematorium but had to bring it back to the mortuary since he did not have the necessary documentation from the Ministry of External Affairs and the Nigerian embassy. After this, Dominic stopped answering calls from the police, who found no response from the Nigerian embassy either.

Police officials confirmed that the concerned relative stopped answering calls after the incident and cops even after trying to communicate to the Embassy of Nigeria in India twice in the matter of four months; they have received no response or a Non Objection Certificate (NOC) to dispose the remains.

“Since the relatives are not available, the body is now counted as an unknown (without a claimant) and has to be disposed of by us. However, the permission to dispose of it needs to come from the concerned embassy.

Twice, we tried to communicate with the embassy through MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) and MEA (Ministry of External Affairs), but there was no response,” said Senior Police Inspector Shirish Sawant of the Bhoiwada police station. Officials at the Nigerian Embassy were unavailable for comment.

What can be done?
According to JJ Hospital’s medico-legal expert Dr Vivek Tilwani, in such cases, the police can contact higher authorities. “The police officials can try to contact the concerned consulate officials in Mumbai, or they can seek permission from the Assistant Commissioner of Police. If he expresses inability to give permission, they can ask for a court order from a magistrate, since the embassy is not responding,” said Tilwani.

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