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Religious leaders, residents, govt heading for a showdown over cremation

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By Ishola Balogun, Moses Nosike & Ebun Sessou
Our mortuaries are overfilled — Lawmaker
It is unimaginable to have the corpse of a beloved one cremated. It is antithetical to our culture, it is retrogressive and unacceptable.” these were the words of religious leaders, and residents in Lagos state reacting to the plan by state to legalise voluntary cremation of the dead and unclaimed corpses in the state.

Despite various face-lifts in virtually all mortuaries in the state hospitals, as well as concessioning of some of them to private companies for effectiveness and decency, the government of Lagos state appears hell bent on taking the cremation option to decongest mortuaries in the state.

Recently, the bill sponsored by the chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Health Care Services, Suru Avoseh scaled the second reading on the floor of the Lagos State House of Assembly.

Hon. Avoseh argued that the bill is aimed at tackling congestion in public mortuaries. “The intent of the law is on unclaimed corpses and voluntary cremation. We are not praying for our dead to suffer but this has been happening somewhere. It is not peculiar to Lagos State alone,” he stated.

Already, religious leaders have rejected the move saying it runs contrary to the norms and culture of the society apart from being at variance with the laws of God.

While the Catholic Church has asked the Lagos State House of Assembly to allow the dead rest in peace by throwing out the proposal on legalising voluntary cremation of unclaimed dead bodies in the state-owned mortuaries, the Administrator of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, in a statement, said he would not accept any move to legalize cremation or the desecration of human corpse in any guise.

The CEO, Hope Worldwide, Nigeria, Ola Clement said it is conflicting with our culture. “I think the best way to go about it is for government to engage the people in discussion on those areas that affect our culture. Personally, I don’t have problem with that if our mortuaries are filled up.

But if the people that elected government into positions said they don’t like it, government should look into it. Most important thing, let government engage the people in finding lasting solution to the problem.”

He continued: “In this part of the world, people like to know where their deceased family members are buried for future references especially for the family members who were not around during burial of the deceased. So if you burn their dead ones such families would not be happy.”

he rationalised that some of  the deceased died as a result of poverty, and that their families might not afford the hospital bills.  Burning corpses is Asian culture, he said.

Rt. Rev. (Dr.) Felix A.O. Onomeregbor, the presiding Bishop, Felix Onomeregbor Prophetic Voice World Outreach, Lagos in his own view stated that it’s a taboo to the society and culture. “If mortuaries are filled up, government should provide places for burial.” He asked government to take the responsibility to bury abandoned corpses in cemeteries rather than bringing the idea of cremation.

“The people will not accept it here. This is one way government can help the dead and their families who don’t have the resources to claim their deceased family member. If you look at it critically, are they happy to abandon them in mortuaries?

He added that the spirit of the dead will not forgive anybody that takes part in it.

Nicholas Ojinnaka, the Executive Vice Chairman, Resort Insurance Brokers said: “It’s a situational decision. In this case, government and the people have to decide which one is better done. I support the idea of government because the people that died in Dana Air crash for example what would their families do. The tanker that exploded in Uyo where many Nigerians were roasted.”

The government is therefore urged to build more modern and affordable cemeteries in various parts of the state and rehabilitate the old ones that are already in very bad shapes or condition.

One of the reasons advanced forward by the government is unavailability of land to build more cemeteries. Those who spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the issue insisted that government rather is using lands to build expensive estates in order to make money. “It is only in Africa that we have no respect for the dead.

Go to Atan and Ikoyi cemeteries, for instance, they have been over-taken by weeds. Security is another issue entirely. The dead deserves to rest in peace,” said another religious leader who preferred anonymity.

They also blamed the poor state of mortuaries on the insensitivity of government. They said if a body is cremated, it is regarded as disrespect for the dead, blaming the government for shying away from its responsibility of providing an enabling environment.

Dele Asaju, a christian and member of CAN opined that, once a person dies, his spirit goes to God. “What we are seeing, on the floor is just the body. Even, the Bible says that we should give dust to dust and ashes for ashes,” he stated.

For Reverend Peter Diji, Life Fountain Bible Church, cremation is not biblical and should not be acceptable. He said, “Embalment and burial are biblical and in a situation where there are unclaimed corpses in the mortuaries, then it is good for the government to embark on mass burial.”

And if the government is saying that the communities are afraid of corpses being buried in their communities, then, the government should look for alternative by providing an empty space that is far from the community”.

Nigeria Reggae Gospel Artiste, Buchi Atuonwu, has a different view on this issue. To him, the issue is more of cultural than spiritual. He maintained that it didn’t matter whether or not the body is cremated or buried, what matters is where the soul of the man in question is going.

The attention should be focused on where the spirit of the man goes, and not where the body belongRev Fidel Candy also shared the view that there is no portion of the bible that states the dead should or not be burnt.

He said, “What is important is where the spirit of the man goes and not what happen to the body on earth. To him, there is nothing wrong in the bill but, it depends on the individual and the choices of the people must be respected, he said.

Rt. Reverend Isaac Ayo Olawuyi, Methodist Church Nigeria, Diocese of Lagos West. In his opinion, it is expected that the culture of the people is respected. His words: “Cremation is an imported culture into the country. Nobody would be comfortable to see his beloved being burnt to ashes, because cremation to an ordinary man is sending the person to hell.

He said, “Globalisation is gradually taking its toll on us and we are dancing to its tunes. And with the rapid development in the country, it might be difficult to secure a land in the environment. This act could be acceptable to some people but it is anti-cultural.

AbdulRasaq Olatunji, who spoke on behalf of Association of Muslim lawyers, said: “This idea apart from being against our religion, it is also against our culture. If you say there is a crematorium in Ogun State, we know that there is no such law in Ogun State. So, we are not in support of this particular bill.”

He continued: “If it is true that land in Lagos State has been exhausted, why can’t the state government liaise with other neighbouring states and ask them to give it land in order to be used for mass burial.”

In the same vein, speaking on behalf of a Muslim group, AbdulMojeed AddulKareem, said the proposed bill is against Islamic faith and will not only be criticised by all Muslims in the state but that it will not see the light of the day.

The lawmakers visit to mortuaries

Deputy Speaker, Lagos House of Assembly, Hon. Kolawole Taiwo  explained that during investigation by the House on the state of mortuaries, it was found that they were overfilled and that urgent measures needed to be taken to dispose unclaimed bodies causing health hazards to residents of such areas.

“We went abroad with Nigerian experts to study the issue of cremation in USA. We saw the way they cremate, they respect their dea. They said it is 100 percent free from health hazards, even families were allowed to perform their rites before the cremation”.

Hon. Kolawole hinted that the bill suggests that once the corpse is unclaimed for a week and becomes unrecognizable, it should be passed on to the crematorium.

The Leader of the House, Dr. Ajibayo Adeyeye who did the overview of the bill emphasized that the bill if passed into Law would not be made compulsory for every Lagosian.

Hon. Dr. Adeyeye explained to stake holders that the bill consists of establishment of crematorium, approval for cremation (and for voluntary persons), in approval of cremation corona cases, disposal of ashes, procedure for cremation for still birth or exhumed corpses amongst other details.

An audio-visual presentation displayed at the Public hearing showed a corpse already packed in flammable box been passed into a computerized machine that will incinerate the body at a certain high temperature for an hour after which the ash residue will be given to the family of the deceased.

Lagos Island Mortuary face-lift

Gone were the days when the stench oozing out of the popular morgue harassed residents and passers-by in the area as a result of poor facility in the state owned mortuary.

Right now, it is a different story as it wears a decent look, free from bad odour.  Although, entry was difficult as the security guards subjected visitors to a rigorous search with interrogation.

We gathered that recently a mass burial was carried out to decongest mortuaries in the state and that gave a big ultimately changed the situation.

According to our investigation, the mortuary that was known for congestion in the past is now operating at optimum capacity.

Source told Saturday Vanguard that once people failed to claim the bodies of their deceased family member after one-week-period, it becomes a burden on the society, adding that government would have to moved all unclaimed bodies for mass burial.  Our source said: “allowing corpses to stay longer than necessary poses more danger to the environment.”


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