It is March 18, 2021 and the body of Emmanuel Pelumi Onifade, 20, still lies cold in a morgue, held hostage by the Lagos State government, unseen by his mother. The last time Mrs Bose Onifade heard from her son was on October 23, 2020.
Just two weeks ago, she had gone to do a DNA test that would prove she is Pelumi’s mother. But since Pelumi’s death in October 2020, she has had to take sleeping pills at night.
No government official has given her any explanation as to what happened to her son, who worked as an intern with Gboah TV, an independent online broadcaster. Pelumi was covering the #EndSARS protests in Lagos when he filmed the viral video of Olusegun Abiodun Bolarinwa, President of the Yoruba Youth Forum, shooting at a crowd of protesters in Abule Egba on October 20, 2020.
At her home, as we sit down outside, her daughter, Phoebe, brings a picture of Pelumi. When I ask her what she thinks when she looks at her son’s picture, she goes silent, takes a deep breath, looks temporarily lost and cries.
“Since I didn’t see him again, I cannot see him again, I am just keeping his picture,” she laments. “Just like that, they killed him; they just took him far away from me. All the time I look at his picture I have sorrow in my heart.”
FIRST AND ONLY SON
Pelumi was her first and the only son of her three children. He had slept in a church on October 23 and spoken with his mom before he went to Abbatoir the next day to conduct some interviews. On that day, she was told that Pelumi was arrested by the police and task force. This was the beginning of an unbearable loss. Not before long, the name Emmanuel Pelumi Onifade was going viral; he was missing.
Bose received phone calls from friends who wanted to know what was going on. She herself was unaware of what was happening. She went to Ikeja, Palmgrove, Onipan — from one police station to another.
“I went out as a mother. I couldn’t sit down when I didn’t see my son for up to a week. Later I heard that they shot him and they didn’t carry him to hospital,” she said.
Bose later learnt that her son, Pelumi, was shot on October 24 where he ran to hide when he was conducting interviews. “It’s the place he went to go and hide, that’s where they went to shoot him.”
All the while, Pelumi’s youngest sister, Phoebe, listens. When her mother starts crying, she runs inside the house to get a handkerchief, and even helps her mother wipe her tears away. It is a tender act of love, care, and protection, just the same way her brother would have done.
Eventually the police directed Pelumi’s friends to Ikorodu mortuary where his body was deposited. Till today she doesn’t know who took Pelumi’s body to Ikorodu mortuary. Pelumi’s phone and his Gboah TV jacket were missing. Last week she was called to the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses & Lekki Toll Gate Incident but was asked to come on April 10. The police and task force have claimed ignorance of the existence of Pelumi.
Pelumi was a first year student at the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED) and would have been in his second year. His decision to find something to do was to support his mother, who is a caterer. He never gave her any problems, Bose said. And before he spent money, he would inform her.
“It’s not easy to bring up a child through primary school, secondary school and higher institution and they just take the child just like that. They don’t know if that’s the only child someone has,” she weeps.
Right now she has been told that the power to release Pelumi’s body lies in the hands of the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Since Pelumi’s body was moved from the mortuary in Ikorodu, she doesn’t know where they have kept it. The double pain of losing a son who was just starting out in life, in whom she hoped she would rest and enjoy the fruit of her labour, is compounded with the government still holding on to his body, denying Bose of closure and keeping a painful emotional wound open.
At a point, as Phoebe consoles her mother and asks her not to cry, she herself starts crying. Both mother and daughter console each other. Phoebe goes to the house, and from inside I can hear her sobbing. The loss of her older brother is unbearable. With inconsistent income, the only justice Bose seeks now as she struggles through the loss of her son, is the return of his body.
FIJ contacted Gboyega Akosile, Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos State Governor, for comments, but calls to his line went unanswered. Similarly, a text message to his phone was also not replied.
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