By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
April 15, 2016
It is the sort of news story that keeps you wondering what sort of country we, Ghanaians, live in. To hear Defense Minister Benjamin Kunbuor tell the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) that Mr. Claudio Alvarez Zapata, a Costa Rican national, who was the captain of an unnamed Nigerian vessel in 2008, when the Latin-American native took seriously ill and was admitted to the 37th Military Hospital, Ghana’s flagship health center, owes the humongous sum of $170,000 is simply farcical. The fact of the matter is that Capt. Claudio Alvarez Zapata died some three days later while on admission at the hospital (See “Military Hospital Keeps Venezuelan Corpse for 8 years at cost of $170,000” Classfmonline.com / Ghanaweb.com 4/14/16).
This story is quite fascinating because the hospital authorities and the Ministry of Defense, Foreign Affairs and the Interior could have taken several steps to resolve this problem. Now, Dr. Kunbuor says that a crucial part of the reason for the unduly long delay in the legitimate disposal of the mortal remains of Capt. Zapata has to do with the fact that the country does not have Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laws that stipulate the process or means by which the remains of foreign nationals whose relatives cannot be located are to be disposed of. I am quite certain that in the 8 years that the mortal remains of this Costa Rican national had been in the possession of the 37th Military Hospital authorities, other foreign nationals had perished on our land whose friends and relatives had been promptly located in order to have the remains of these deceased foreign nationals properly and legally disposed of with dignity.
For starters, had the Ghanaian authorities established a good record-keeping regime for such purpose, the first stage in the process of locating relatives of Capt. Zapata ought to have been to track down the owners of the Nigerian vessel of which the Costa Rican native had captained to get them to take responsibility for the mortal remains of their deceased employee. The Nigerian vessel owners could then have worked out the details of the means and processes by which to return the remains of the Costa Rican national to its country of birth or origin. I am also quite certain that the Latin-American country of Costa Rica has at least one diplomatic mission in the West African sub-region, if not in either Ghana or Nigeria. The passport or any documents confirming the nationality of Capt. Zapata could have been presented to the relevant Costa Rican diplomatic mission for the requisite assistance.
In other words, there is clear evidence of gross incompetence in the several links in the procedural chain by which relatives and friends of Capt. Zapata could have been located. Now, the very idea of keeping Capt. Zapata’s mortal remains for nearly a decade without any apparently serious attempt being made to legitimately and honorably disposing of the same is embarrassing enough for the leaders and people of a major African country like Ghana. But to come up with a mortuary bill of nearly $200,000 for such bizarre and patent case of gross administrative ineptitude is simply scandalous. Whoever heard of any corpse’s owing any amount of mortuary bills, let alone the corpse of a foreign national whose friends and relatives were never located?
We are not even told precisely how Ghana’s Defense Minister arrived at the definitive conclusion that Capt. Claudio Alvarez Zapata was a Costa Rican national, and not the national of any of the dozen, or so, countries in Latin America, or any of the Spanish-speaking countries dotted around the globe, for that matter. But I, nevertheless, perfectly appreciate why it was possible for the corpse of Capt. Zapata to have been kept on ice at the 37th Military Hospital for so long. After all, isn’t this the routine fare or mortuary culture in Ghana? In my own maternal ancestral village of Akyem-Nkronso (I have never been to the place, by the way), for example, one of my late uncles, a chief and the traditional Royal Mausoleum Custodian of Akyem-Abuakwa, had his mortal remains iced for exactly the same number of years as Capt. Zapata, because the various legitimate claimant lineages of the Nkronso Royal Family could not decide on which household’s turn it was to present a candidate to succeed the deceased chief. I belong to the Amankwaa-Pam lineage.
The point I am trying to make here is that the unnecessary and unhealthy fetishizing of the dead and their corpses may have a lot to do with this patently unsavory regime of freezing up corpses for such unduly long periods of time. It is also revoltingly unsanitary. In this aspect of our lives and cultures, the Muslims and the Jews, among several other religious and cultural groups, do us proudly.
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