From Kanay Jubal, Abuja
The discovery of the corpses of eight Cameroonian refugees in their Calabar road home in Ikom, a suburb of Cross River State, on Saturday, July 25, 2018, shook the town, struck fear into the hearts of refugees and set tongues in the sleepy town wagging.
More worrisome, is the fact that the corpses included a grandmother, her daughter, a two year-old infant, a three year-old toddler, a pregnant woman and three teenagers.
The father of the babies, who lives in Danare, a village in the hinterland, told NeptunePrime that he did not hear of the deaths, until someone came on bike to inform him because there is no network where he resides.
According to the father who gave his name as Atim, the deceased included two year-old Excellence Atim, three year-old Rejoice Atim, Ntah Patricia, Ntah Oyong, a pregnant woman,Ntah Agnes, Confidence Eban, Ntah Sophina and their grandmother Ntah Elizabeth.
Ikom is a border town in Cross River and is quite easy to access by Cameroonians fleeing violence in the southern part of their country and for Nigerians who wish to go over the boundary to do brisk business.
When NeptunePrime visited the scene, shrill cries of sympathizers rented the air as the ambulance conveying the remains made its way past the crowd which had converged on the area. Given the nature of Ikom, it did not take long for the news to spread to all nooks and crannies of the town, making the grief-stricken crowd to thicken.
Though the cause of multiple deaths is largely unknown, theories have however, been bandied around since the bodies were discovered. While some say they died from food poisoning, other suggest that Nigeria’s porous boundaries may have allowed some spies to cross over the border, wipe out the household and get away with it because, according to them, the phones belonging to the adult in the house were without their SIMs when they were found.
But, according to a Cameroonian health-worker simply referred to as Enow who works with the Comprehensive Health Centre, the reasons could not be far from carbon monoxide poisoning or food poisoning.
Enow was one of those who loaded the corpses into the ambulance, so they could be taken to the morgue of the Holy Family Hospital Ikom, where the autopsy would be carried out and cause of death ascertained.
“When we got there, the bodies were in different positions. About four of them were lying, the baby was on its mother’s lap and, even someone was sitting on a chair when the tragedy struck,” he explained adding that “The situation can be guessed, but we cannot say anything at this point.”
The district police officer of Ikom called for calm and warned those bandying theories about to hold their peace and stop spreading panic. He insisted that nothing could be known, until an autopsy is conducted.
“These things have to be investigated before anything can be said. Therefore, I have nothing to say about the cause of death. I want to assure all refugees that they are safe and secure and no harm will befall any of them. They are a part of us and no one can do them harm as they dwell amongst us, but we have to follow the official channel to find out the cause of their death. I want to advise those who are saying all sorts of things and causing panic to desist from it; it is not in the interest of anyone to say things they are unsure of,” he counseled.
In his response, the Medical Officer of Ikom local government, Dr Odigie Obeyce, said there were signs that pointed to carbon monoxide, but nothing could be confirmed.
“For now we have not confirmed anything, but there are signs that it could have been carbon monoxide poisoning. I think they may have moved their generator too close to the house and shut the windows, so they had limited supply of oxygen, given that the space was too small for the eight of them.
“Whatever the cause, it is sad. But these are my thoughts for now. When the autopsy is done, I will contact you. I should not be saying these things, but because of the theories bandied around, we must not let tension brew; so I have to say what I think for now.”
It is almost a week since the tragic occurrence and no word has been heard of the cause of death.