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Stench of Death in Nigeria Hospital Hurts Livelihood

Traders who speak to Blueprint use scented handkerchief to cover their noses, Maiduguri, Nigeria, June 4, 2012. VOA / Kareem Ogori

Traders who speak to Blueprint use scented handkerchief to cover their noses, Maiduguri, Nigeria, June 4, 2012. VOA / Kareem Ogori

ABUJA, Nigeria - Residents of Maiduguri, Nigeria - the home city of the militant sect Boko Haram - have endured an onslaught of bomb blasts and gunfire the past three years. Maiduguri hospitals say they are stretched to the limit and locals say the stench from the morgue is making them sick and destroying their businesses.

Hassan Ibrahim is a butcher in Maiduguri, with a shop near the city’s main hospital. He says nowadays, when people stop by his shop they often leave in disgust, accusing him of trying to sell foul meat.

Ibrahim says he tries to explain to the people that his meat is not bad. The smell comes from the nearby mortuary, which is packed with the bodies of militants and security personnel who have been battling on the streets.

Inside, there are also bodies of innocent victims caught in the crossfire or civilians killed in bomb blasts.

Workers in Maiduguri say the morgue is often full, and corpses rot in the hallways. Sometimes, they cannot be identified or moved without chemicals.

Add to this, the heat in the city, which this week is expected to be between 36 and 42 degrees Celsius, and the lack of electricity, a long-time and nationwide problem, and what is left is a gruesome combination of loss, discomfort, illness and economic despair.

Borno State Health Commissioner Salma Anas Kolo says the state is working to address what she calls an “emergency” situation, by adding staff, more powerful electrical connections, and generators to the hospitals.

In a speech in Maiduguri, Kolo says the government is also working to expand the mortuaries, a tragic sign of the times. She says that even with the extra power, remains cannot be kept cold if the morgue is filled beyond capacity.

Part of the reason for the over-crowding is that the bodies of suspected Boko Haram members are often left unclaimed, as families are terrified that they too could be accused of Boko Haram involvement by the security forces.

A seller near the main hospital, Muhammad Rabiu, points to other stall-shops, saying one by one sellers are quitting due to illnesses they blame on the smell.

Rabiu says other sellers are leaving because customers avoid their market, and those that do come, do not stay long.

In other parts of the city, away from the stench, observers say residents are not faring much better. Maiduguri’s economy has been crushed by the violence, and they heavily militarized city has a 7:00 p.m. curfew every night.

The plight of the already poor city began in 2009 when Boko Haram and security forces began to battle, leaving hundreds dead. That year Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf was killed on the streets.

Human Rights Watch says 550 people were killed in Boko Haram attacks in 2011, and the Associated Press counts 530 deaths this year.

The militant group calls itself the "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad" in Arabic but, as the story goes, locals in Maiduguri dubbed them “Boko Haram” which means, “Western education is a sin” because members are forbidden Western books and media.

The group rejects the name, and analysts say it was, originally, just a local joke.