The controversial death of a Nigerian youth in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has sparked a row between his family and the company where he worked until his death, reports KUNLE AKINRINADE.
How did the accident that claimed the life of Mathew Idiata Okhuleigbe, a 33-year-old Nigerian who died in a factory in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) occur?
That has been the question on the lips of his friends and family members since the young employee of Madrid Marble, a marble manufacturing firm in Dubai, was said to have died during an accident at the factory on February 25, 2022.
It was said that a load pulling machine wrongly dropped a heavy object on Okhueleigbe and another unnamed worker identified as a Ghanaian, and they were rushed to a hospital where they gave up the ghost a few hours later. His family however alleged that there is more to their son’s death than meets the eye because he was not supposed to be on duty on the day he was said to have died from industrial accident.
“We first knew about his death through his roommate, who also works with the same company (Madrid Marble) on Sunday 27th of February, 2022.
“According to the roommate, he had been unconscious in the hospital since Friday, 25th February, 2022. The company hadn’t reached out to his family at this time,” said the spokesperson for the family, Miss Ifeoma Okonkwo, in a statement.
She claimed further that Okhueleigbe’s employers did not contact his family members until the family reached out to the company through one of its unnamed officials, who reluctantly confirmed the tragic death of their son.
Okonkwo added: “When we contacted the company on the telephone (the recipient claimed to be the Manager) on the 27th of February, 2022, we were told that he was dead but without any explanation as to the cause and time of his death.
“The company’s manager, after being told that we would be needing Okhueleigbe’s medical report and autopsy plus police report, was forced to answer the question on the time and date of death (7.00 pm, Friday 25th February 2022); as the same day of the purported work accident.
“On 28th February 2022, the company was reached via one of its managers, Khalid Khalaf, and asked about the details of the cause of the death, but the manager informed us that Sarjah Police Department was investigating the case at the time. When asked why the company was yet to officially communicate with the family since the incident, the said manager claimed that the company didn’t have the family’s contact until Saturday 26th February, 2022.”
She explained that after so much pressure, the police in Dubai eventually confirmed Okhueleigbe’s death, promising that his company would be contacted at the completion of investigation on the matter.
She said: “On the 1st day of March, 2022, Sarjah Police Department was contacted on the telephone to confirm the incident and investigation. The police department confirmed the death and informed us that the company would be contacted as soon as investigation was completed.
“On 2nd March, 2022, the police department was once again contacted (by the family) for a follow-up. We were informed that the investigation was complete and the company had been contacted.
“On speaking with the company again through the Manager, he confirmed that the investigation had been completed and that the police had requested that the company should come to retrieve the deceased’s passport and the report of the investigation.
“He promised to communicate with the Family in an official capacity. But the day passed and there was no call whatsoever from the company.”
Family demands circumstances of death
The family said that after waiting endlessly for the company to call back as promised, it was forced to place a call to the company, which in turn promised that the Nigerian Embassy in the country had been contacted over the matter and that an official of the embassy would soon speak with the family.
It was said that shortly after the telephone conversation, the company linked the family with a man described as an official of the Nigerian Embassy. According to the family, on interrogation, the said embassy official turned out to be an employee of the company where Okhuleigbe had the accident.
Okonkwo said: “On 3rd March, 2022, the company was called through the Manager to ask what was going on. He claimed that the Nigerian Embassy had been contacted and informed of the situation, and a representative from the embassy would be with him (Manager) in a few moments.
“He said he would speak with the family in an official capacity when the Nigerian Embassy’s representative was with him.
“After a few minutes, he called back, stating that the said Nigerian embassy representative was around and that he would like to speak with the family about the procedures.
“A new person (Mr. Ronald) took up the conversation, consoled the family and started asking the family if they wanted the body sent home or buried in UAE.”
The family, according to Okonkwo, is demanding an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the death of their son and refusal by the company to facilitate the representation of the family at the burial.
“Questions such as what was the cause of his death? How did the accident happen? Why was Idiata at work on a Friday (he used to be off work on Fridays)? Why is the police report, doctor’s report and autopsy report yet to be sent and lots more were asked. Every response to these questions was haphazard.
“Upon asking about the designation of the speaker and who he works for, he couldn’t give a response. We further asked if he works with the Nigerian Embassy, he said he doesn’t work with the Nigerian Embassy in Dubai. When asked if he works with or represents Madrid Marble, he responded by saying yes.
“Mr. Ronald stated categorically that the company was willing to send the body home and the benefits and insurance would be paid. He also promised that a member of the family could be sponsored to attend the burial if the family wanted the body buried in UAE.
“We agreed that the immediate senior brother be sponsored to attend the burial, but Mr. Ronald reached out to the family again on 4th February, 2022 stating that the company couldn’t get a way to process the visa.
“He also requested that the family could make a recommendation of any known agency that could process the visa. A reputable travel agency was recommended and linked to Mr. Roland.
“On 5th March, 2022, Mr. Ronald left a message as early as 7.00 am Nigerian time to inform a brother of the deceased, John, that the UAE government had given them a 5-day ultimatum to remove the body of the deceased (Okhueleigbe) from the morgue. He asked that the visa processing be expedited.
“After a couple more hours, at about 11:30 am Nigerian time, Mr. Ronald called again to inform the family that the government had given the company an ultimatum of three days to remove the body of the deceased from the morgue.
“He claimed that if the brother could not make it to UAE by 7th March 2022, the family should either accept that the body would be sent to Nigeria or buried in Dubai without the presence of the family’s representative.
“It is noteworthy that the company, through Mr. Ronald, was asked if there was any physical damage to Okhueleigbe’s body. He responded saying he was not allowed to discuss that.”
The Nation gathered that the remains of the Uromi, Edo State-born deceased were buried around 11 am (Nigerian time) on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, while the family was trying to perfect plans for the brother to the deceased to procure a visa and travel to the Arab country.
The statement added: “Sadly, around 6 pm on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, Ronald sent a Whatsapp message to John, the older brother of the deceased, explaining that he (Okhuleigbe) had been buried around 11 am.
“The message reads: I just want to bring to your notice that the forensic laboratory at Sharjah (Dubai) today ordered the two dead bodies (sic) including (that of) your brother to be buried, and therefore (sic) your brother is laid to rest today around 11 am UAE time.
“Secondly, the company wants to know who the monetary issues for your brother should be sent to. (Also), after the company finish (es) with the judgment, the insurance company also needs the contact and name of (the family member) which the money will be sent to.”
In his remarks, older brother to the deceased, John Okhueleigbe, said his brother left Nigeria about three years ago after graduating from University of Ibadan.
John added: “He wasn’t married. He left the country for the proverbial greener pasture almost three years ago and he was doing well.
“His death is a sad one because he was such a promising young man. More so, we still have aged parents who reside in Ibadan, Oyo State.”
He added that plans were afoot for him to visit Dubai to ascertain the true nature of his brother’s death and seek clarifications from his employers on the events that led to his brother’s death and hurried burial.
He said: “I am planning to visit Dubai to ascertain the veracity of the information provided so far by the company he worked for, and the events leading to his death from an accident in the company’s factory as well as reasons for his burial without his family’s presence, contrary to our agreement on the need to have the family’s representatives at his funeral.”
Friends and associates of the deceased have since flooded his Facebook Page with tributes, with many of them describing him as a humble and good person while he was alive.
Precious Amarachi wrote: “No story will ever be enough to explain how much of a good human being you were bro… Thank you for everything and may your gentle soul find rest with your creator… Till we meet to part no more.”
Ifeoluwa Oladeji Akintonde said: “Idiata, it’s so sad I had to write RIP. Just 2 days ago I was chatting with one of our friends about how we used to have a dance group when we were still in SPED some 14 years ago, I even asked her if she’s was still in contact with you, she said no, only for her to tell me today that you lost d battle to death.
“I am so sad right now cos u were a very good guy dat always had my back when we were in school. I did not believe her until I saw it myself….. u were a joy giver always happy and funny…. Rip Idiata…
In her tribute, one Eunice Nnkiyy Ezeh wrote: “This bro was a philanthropist…he’s always positive in everything he does. He singlehandedly bought me a make-up kit and more… chai.”
Company keeps mum
Efforts made by our correspondent to reach the company’s manager, Khalid Khalaf, who had been in touch with the family over the matter were in vain at press time. Khalaf did not return several calls made to him, while he did not also respond to a text message forwarded to his phone.