Human body, according to scientists, begins to degrade whenever life-sustaining processes that include blood circulation and metabolism stop functioning. Life in such body will end and feast on the dead body will begin for worms and bacteria that live in soil.
The lifeless body usually undergoes some unpleasant changes, such that skin and eyeball will decay. The hair and bones will also turn to dust in line with the law of nature.
But it is always a mystery when a corpse refuses to decay after many years in the grave. This occurred at Apata, Ibadan, Oyo State, recently. A lifeless body of Pa Joseph Olukotun, buried in 1978 was exhumed 39 years after, and it was still found fresh with the shroud and the casket.
Immediately the news broke, thousands of people in Apata, Omi-Adio, Odo-Ona, Felele, Oluyole and Ilugun rushed to catch a glimpse of the body that refused to decompose 39 years after he was buried.
The people were allowed to feast their eyes on the body for about three hours before the body was taken to a cemetery for re-burial with the same casket it was initially buried with in 1978.
Mr. Olayiwola Olukotun, 65, a retiree of Carlsberg Group, is the first surviving son of the deceased: “My father was a Christian and not the sort of today’s Christians. He believed in helping people and he would always tell you to be open to people, and he had a motto translated to mean; ‘Do good at all times to people’. He was a devout member of St Michael’s African Church, Apata.
“But what touched my mind apart from the body being intact is that, even the shroud and the coffin were intact since 1978. We used the same coffin that we used to bury him 39 years ago to re-bury him at Arigbajo, near Ifo, Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State on Wednesday, November 22, 2017.”
Did the family embalm the corpse before burial in 1978? Olayiwola answered: “Based on the fact that I was not in Nigeria in 1978, I presumed he must have been embalmed. I am not sure of this. But my elder brother, who could have embalmed him, was also dead. Even, if he was embalmed, what about the shroud and the coffin that were intact?”
Daily Sun also sought to know why the corpse was exhumed for re-burial: “My mum, who is 101 years old, in readiness for her final journey back to God said we should not bury her in Ibadan.
“We gave it a thought that why would our mother be buried in Arigbajo and our father in Ibadan? So, why can’t we bury the two of them together in Arigbajo because my mother is the only surviving wife? My father had two wives, but one died before his own death.
“My father and mother are from the same Arigbajo village. We decided to have a land to bury my dad and mom on the same ground. We needed to do it before the death of my mother. Also, I had an inspiration when I read the Bible and Joseph said; ‘When I died and I am buried, make sure you take my bones to my people in Israel.’ I believe that is what we have done.”
Pa Olukotun left Arigbajo to work with Post and Telecommunications (P&T), Dugbe, Ibadan, from where he was transferred to many places including Kaduna, Zaria, Lagos and Osogbo: “My father had children born in those places and we are nine in total. He died at the age of 89 years in 1978.
“We did not exhume his body by ourselves. We engaged the services of people that specialised in such exercise. We gave them money to do it and other things they asked for, we gave them. But what they did and did not do as far as traditional rites are concerned, I don’t know. The financial cost of exhumation and re-burial cost about N350,000.
“When I saw his body and coffin intact, I said it can only be God. I went to Apata in the morning of the day we exhumed his body from the grave with a bag to pack his remains.
“After discussing with some medical personnel, they told me I might be lucky to find his hair and nails and some bones. Surprisingly, the coffin was intact. The people we employed to do the exhumation could not open the coffin, until I came from Abeokuta. I asked them to open it and the man was just there.
“The flesh must go and that is God’s command. There was no flesh anymore. But the bones, skeleton, the hair and the skin were still intact. But there were patches on some parts of his body.
“He was like a dried fish and everything inside the cap was intact. Those that prepared him for burial in 1978 wore a cap for him. The skull was right inside the cap. The sucks were intact. The bones of the fingers were intact, and the hand. It can only be God.
“My mother is a woman of 101 years. I won’t bother telling her because what we have done is to prepare her final journey back to God.
“When we discovered the way my father’s corpse was 39 years after he was buried, it brought back memories. People who knew him when he was alive said he was too good. I would say whatever you plant, you would reap. We, his children, have been able to reap some of his good works.
“He would always ask you before you sleep everyday, ‘ask yourself if you have done any good today,’ probably that was why God rewarded him. Those who trust in God, even when they died, he shall preserve their bodies.
“When he was alive, he took care if his body seriously. He would eat five times daily. The meals might be small portions at a time he would ensure he completed the five rounds. He would also ensure that he ate fruits always. Then, he would make sure he emptied his stomach twice everyday. He would go to the toilet in the morning and in the evening.
“He was a treasurer of African Church St Michael’s, Apata. I want to admonish everybody to do good at all times. Let us take care of our body, and also train our children. Baba took care of us and we too gave him that respect.”
Dr. Diran Obadina, who is based in the United States of America, is a son of Pa Olukotun’s closest friend, Pa Samuel Osoba Obadina, who breathed his last 14 years before the death of Olukotun. When he heard about the development, he requested for the video clip of the mystery and he said thereafter:
“As I watch the video, I am completely filled with emotion. My entire life flashed right before me. I remembered clearly moments between the death of our dad and Pa J.O. Olukotun. What can I say? Can anyone say enough of his good deeds? Pa J.O. Olukotun set the platinum standard for fatherhood and friendship! He was true; he was committed; he was loyal; he was dedicated; he was God loving; he was God fearing; to the very end!
“He stood a father to us after the passing of ours. I am unable to remember a day he did not make that short trip to the Obadina residence with his all familiar walking stick and chewing stick to say ‘E ma kaaro o,’ which is Yoruba way of saying good morning.
“As a true father, he checked report cards, praising, advising and rebuking. He was ever so positive and ever so true! In a lot of ways, he played a huge role in my life, shaping me and my outlook to life. He held both families together, his and ours, in a way it was and is difficult not to see us as family.
“All these and more flashed through my mind as I got dressed to take a walk in this brisk autumn morning. Tears flowed freely from my eyes. It is of course true that to live in the hearts of those you leave behind is not to die. May our beloved father, Pa Olukotun, continue to sleep well in the Lord.”
Another son of Pa Olukotun’s closest friend, Kunle, stated: “He was a father figure to us when we lost our father, Pa Samuel Osoba Obadina, 14 years prior to his own demise in 1978. They, our father and Pa Olukotun were best of friends, turned into family during their days! It happened that they both worked for the then P&T, Dugbe, Ibadan, in the 50’s right through to the 60’s.
“They built the same kind of houses, replica to each other, side by side, at Apata Ganga in Ibadan. Our street is named after my father, while his after him. He was a very pleasant, amiable, God-fearing, and religious man. I am what I am today all because of him! I could write a book on him! He was one of the administrators of my dad’s estate.”
But Dr. Soyinka Somuyiwa, who specialises in general practice since 1984 told Daily Sun: “From my own experience, if a dead body does not decay, it shows the area where the corps is buried does not have termites.
“Generally, dead bodies decay. When they decay, it is due to termites. From my own medical experience, termites have not reached the place. It may take years for termites to get there, and they may not reach there at all.”
Cartainly, Pa Olukotun’s case was not the first one. In Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox, it is believed that such bodies could be referred to as incorrupt or incorruptible. It is a belief that divine intervention allows some human bodies avoid the normal process of decomposition after death as a sign of their holiness, specifically saints.
Incorruptibility is thought to occur even in the presence of factors, which normally hasten decomposition, as in the cases of saints Catherine of Genoa, Julie Billiart and Francis Xavier.
In Roman Catholicism, if a body is judged as incorruptible after death, this is generally seen as a sign that the individual is a saint. But not every saint, however, is expected to have an incorruptible corpse. Although incorruptibility is recognised as supernatural, it is no longer counted as a miracle in the recognition of a saint. Embalmed bodies were not recognised as incorruptibles. Incorruptibility is seen as distinct from the good preservation of a body, or from mummification.
The Chief Imam, Alhaji Yekini Adeojo Mosque, Ibadan, Sheik Salaudeen Busair, told Daily Sun: “We have references that God preserves bodies of some people after their death. It is a show of power of God.
“We have references for it in Islam in Quran chapter 10, verse 92, which says: ‘So, today, we will save you in body that you may be those who succeed you a sign. And indeed, many among the people, of your signs are heedless.’ It is part of the signs of God for coming generations. It shows that there is life in the grave.”
A minister in the Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria, Revd Tobi Akinbo, described the development as one of the mysteries of life: “God is real. If anybody says there is no God, then the person is ignorant. This thing that happened is beyond medical or scientific explanation. How would you explain the story of a boy that died and was unknowingly taken to the grave of Prophet Elijah for burial, and immediately the lifeless body of the boy touched Elijah’s bone, the boy woke up?
“This is a pointer to human beings to fear God. God can preserve the body, which is the mystery of God in preserving. We believe very strongly that those that God preserves their bodies like this were good persons during their lifetime.”