•What Nigerians do in the name of burying the dead
By Benjamin Njoku, Chidi Nkwopara, Chioma Obinna, Ola Ajayi, Peter Duru, Olayinka Latona, Anozie Egole,
Death, according to Wikipedia, refers to the permanent termination of life-sustaining processes in an organism. This is when all biological systems of a human being cease to operate. Death occurs at any stage in one’s life and for whatever cause. When life has therefore come to an end, the next thing is to bury the dead. But there are strange things we do especially in Africa in the name of culture which suggest that we care more for the dead than we do for the living.
At burial ceremonies, the amount of money that is spent is such that if one tenth of it had been spent to take care of the deceased, he would have been alive. In some cases, the corpse of the deceased is kept in the morgue for several months or even years simply because the children and the relations want to raise sufficient money before fixing the burial date to be able to give the departed a befitting burial.
This is beside the fact that the deceased may have starved to death or the family was unable to raise money for the medical treatment that would have saved his life. It is now more expensive to die than to live
Raphael Nwamadi is a petty trade at Mushin market, Lagos, who is still struggling to survive. In the midst of his struggle, he lost his father, Sir Mike Nwamadi, a knight at Catholic Church, few weeks back. And as the first son, he is required by tradition to officially announce the demise of his father to the elders of his kindred as well as the church before commencing burial arrangements.
But instead of fulfilling the demands of tradition, Raph was busy looking for how to raise enough money to renovate their dilapidated mud house in the village before breaking the news of his father’s demise to his people, all in the name of trying to accord his late father a befitting burial to appease his soul.
Indeed, Raph is one of hundreds of thousands of Nigerians who believe in spending lavishly to bury their beloved ones even if they died in abject poverty. Most of them believe that whatever it takes to give the dead a befitting burial will be done in order to satisfy tradition. From Owerri to Lagos, Port-Harcourt to Benin, and Enugu to Ibadan, the story is not different.
Though burial and funeral rites differ across different cultures in Nigeria, most people, however, hold the belief that giving the dead a proper burial is an important tradition that must be sustained. In some parts of Nigeria, especially in Igbo land, burial rites last for a week or days. It is a tradition that is being passed from one generation to another.
Some people even run into debt while performing burial rites. Those who decide to have a moderate funeral ceremony are seen as poor, wretched and are not respected in the society. That is why many people would go as far as selling their family lands or incur debts just to give the dead a befitting burial.
Burial as a big business
These days, events have since proved eloquently that it is more expensive to die than to live.
The job of undertakers is now a huge business. All manner of caskets are built by the makers. Despite being very expensive, members of the bereaved family still go ahead to buy the caskets and hire the undertakers, to flaunt their wealth. The hospital where someone was said to have died, at a time, became a status symbol. There was a time it was fashionable that somebody died in either the Eastern Medical Centre, Enugu or University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, UNTH!
Stories were told of how several people who died in their rural communities, were quickly deposited in the refrigerated morgue of UNTH. Radio announcements that would precede the burial, would repeatedly claim that the person died in UNTH and his or her last journey would commence from the UNTH mortuary.
Explaining to Saturday Vanguard why the Catholic Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri, fixed a time frame for the burial of its adherents, Archbishop Anthony J. V. Obinna, noted with regret that bereaved families were facing a lot of unnecessary stress and strain to bury their loved ones.
“The showmanship associated with burials these days, is offensive. How can anybody explain why undertakers toss caskets up and down during burials? This is unacceptable to the church”, Archbishop Obinna said. Obinna insisted that the church would opt out of any burial that overshoots the prescribed time, no matter who is involved.
Mr. Dan Ukaegbu, who also spoke on the issue lamented that families spend huge sums of money for burials, possibly to show off. “Relations of the bereaved, including those from their maternal homes, slam all manner of bills on the immediate family of the dead. This helps to skyrocket the burial bill”, Ukaegbu said. He also recalled that “apart from the services of undertakers, caterers and live bands are equally engaged during burials”. Ukaegbu then appealed to religious leaders, royal fathers and town union executives to check what he described as “this ugly trend”.
Culture of hypocrisy
The importance that is attached to burial ceremony varies from one zone to the other. In the South West part of the country, it is a form of stigmatization that will linger long if anyone fails to give his or her parents a befitting burial. This explains why some people go to the extreme when burying their dead. Even when the parents before their death were not given much attention, they are celebrated with pomp and pageantry when they are dead.
Jide Jegede, a businessman, said the practice has more or less become a tradition among Yoruba.
“It is a practice we grew up to know that individuals should give his parents befitting burial. If you don’t bury your parents with fanfare, they cast aspersions on you. You cannot blame them, they see burial as the last respect you can pay to the dead ones. In fact, if your parents are sick and you go to some people to borrow money, they will not give you. But, they can empty their bank accounts to lend you money if the same parents die. So, it is a societal
“As for Godwin Engwu, he feels it is improper not to take care of your parents when they are alive and now spend millions when they die. It is wasteful to spend on the dead that is dumb and cannot feel anything”. In her own words, Abosede Olawuyi, a secretary, said it is good to have a befitting burial for our parents but we should not ignore them when they are alive”.
Prince Adeloye Aderogba who still has an 89-year old mum said for those who ignore their parents when they are alive but spend millions when they are dead, it is a curse. “I see it as a complete rubbish and a curse for someone to waste money on entertainment during the burial of his parents when such parents were wallowing in penury and squalor when alive.”
For Mr. Adeyemi Oyejide, it is unacceptable and it is against the law of nature to show off or impress your neighbours by spending millions during burial ceremony when you ignored the same parents when they were alive forgetting the fact that the same parents made you whoever you are today. Some parents even sold their property to ensure that their their wards get good education. You now become somebody of repute and forget those parents”.
Value for death than life
In his own contribution, 64 year old Clement Gilla, from Daudu Nyiev in Guma Local Government Area of Benue described it as an act that is propelled by foolish pride and ignorance rather than cultural practice. Gilla said, “I cannot say why the practice is common in our society today, though I know the practice has nothing to do with the culture of our people but I think it can best be described as an act that is fueled by ignorance and foolish pride.
If not, how can a family member or close relation falls sick and rather than make efforts to save his or her life, you’ll prefer to hold back and refuse to assist financially to save his life but when he gives up the ghost so much money starts flying from all corners. They sometime go about making demands of people to assist them carry out the burial but when the person was alive they never did that to save his live.
“In some instances people also willingly contribute to ensure that the burial turned out a grand ceremony, meanwhile the deceased never got help or financial assistance from anywhere to save his live during the period he had challenges with his health.
Speaking further Gilla said, “even in my community, where majority of the people are poor, where people live in round huts, whenever a loved one is lost, so much is expended to prepare a burial site and grave and much more is expended to marble the grave, yet these are people who can hardly feed. It is as bad as that. So for me I think it is just a function of ignorance and lack of wisdom”
Gilla recalled that in time past, the practice then never gave room for what is obtainable today.
“In those days, when somebody dies the corpse was immediately buried. There was no preservative for corpses like we have now. Nowadays corpses are preserved for a long time at the morgue while people sourced funds to celebrate a life they failed to save at the time it mattered most”.
It impoverishes bereaved family—–Rev Sunday Matilukuro
In his reaction, Primate of the First African Church Mission, Most Rev. Sunday Matilukuro argued that the culture of caring for the dead more than the living is a form of corruption that impoverishes the bereaved families. The primate who narrated his experience while serving in the South-south part of the country said, “it is a bad culture that brings colossal loss to the bereaved family and we are totally against it in our denomination because we see it as a culture that impoverishes the bereaved families.
This culture is very common in the South-South, where the bereaved families will be compelled to build house for the dead if the dead did not have a house while he or she was alive and this will automatically subject the corpse to stay in the morgue for several months. The aged ones or the sick should be well taken care of when they are alive and the bereaved family should not killing cows or cooking for the whole community when they are dead.
There is no amount of party you can do for the dead, all the merry making is just for show off and waste and not for the departed soul. This practice should be disallowed in the Christian fold, burial expenses should be minimal and more emphasis should be on caring for the living. Extravagant burial is a waste of money and it is disrespect for the dead. It is not part of God’s design for mankind, when someone dies, we should just do the needful, inter the body and stop wasting our resources.
Rev. Fr Cyril Ejiogu of Catholic diocese, Ikotun blamed the ugly practice on two factors namely cultural and economic factors. According to him, “To save the bereaved families from spending lavishly, the Bishop decided to give two weeks deadline in order to reduce burial expenses. “You will find out that in most cases, some people go to the extent of erecting new buildings when they want to bury their dead so that their friends will see where they stay especially when there is no befitting house in the compound. If the deceased did not enjoy the money when he/she was alive, is it when the person is dead that he will enjoy the money?”Rev. Fr Ejiogu queried.
Emphasis should be on the living and not the dead—–Odesola
In his contribution, Assistant General Overseer, to Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Pastor Johnson Odesola said:“I am of the opinion that we should take care of our parents, relations and loved ones when they are alive, emphasis should be on the living and not the dead. Somebody who is dead has gone to the other side and it is when these people are alive that they will appreciate the care we give to them and not when they are dead.
Old parents should be given good food, they should have access to good medical care because once they are dead, they don’t know what we are doing again. Buying expensive coffin, killing cows, cooking and engaging in other expensive things do not concern the dead any longer, we are only doing these things for ourselves and not the dead. Termites will destroy the expensive coffin; the food we cooked is not for the dead but for the people.
I am of the opinion that the culture of spending lavishly on the dead should stop, funeral expenses should be minimal as possible. The scripture even said “let the dead take care of the dead”, we should do all that is needed to be able to take care of our aged when they are alive.
Burial should be in moderation—–Very Rev. Stephen Tunde Adegbite
According to the Bishop of Ikeja, Methodist Church of Nigeria, Very Rev Stephen Adegbite, “it is not the best to spend too much money on the dead or the funeral although in Afrca we believe in life after death and that we should honour the dead but it should be done in moderation. If one refuses to take care of the aged ones when they are alive, spending millions of naira when they die is waste of money and the soul of that dead person will not be happy with such individual.
We had an experience in our church, where a very old man was not taken care of by his children and when he died, the children spent a lot of money but I scolded them in the church that they never took care of their father when he was alive. The man suffered a lot when he was alive, it was the church that was taking care of the man.
“Nigerians should be careful on how they spend money on the dead, the right thing to do is to have a sober reflection on our own life knowing fully well that one day, we will also be like the dead.
Wasting money on the dead is a waste of resources, it should be discouraged in its entirety. It is unfortunate that most people even collect loan to bury the dead and after the burial they will still be in debt. Most Nigerians spend money on things that are less important and leave the important ones and I pray that God will forgive us. Ministers of God must be courageous to discourage this practice, they should enlighten their congregation to take good care of their aged ones as we will receive blessings from our parents when we take good care of them.
Its foolishness to care more for the dead than the living—-Apostle Bamgbola
In his own submission, Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, Lagos chapter, Apostle Alexandra Bamgbola said lavishing money on the dead is a waste of resources, it is ignorance and foolish thing to do. If we must care for human beings, we must do that when they are alive so that he or she will know that we care for them.
Children should care for their parents when they are still very much alive as God commanded, throwing parties, killing cows don’t make any sense. It is all about wasting money and time because most of these people refused to take care of their aged ones when they are alive. As far as I am concerned, best care should be given to the living and that is when both God and mankind will appreciate it.
Need for cultural reforms
It is strange that we will be too busy to travel to go and see a sick family member but when the relation dies we will create time to go and bury him. We don’t mind spending a night at a neighbour’s funeral but it may turn out that this will be our first time of seeing the inside of their house and those who never bothered to know your village will be part of the funeral procession that will escort your corpse to the village.
People will rarely respect you while you are alive but when you die, they will want to “pay their last respects” to your casket. A woman who never received roses in her entire life will get a lots of roses dumped on her graveyard by those who are paying their last respects.
We have a culture of hyprocrisy, a cullture that is pro-death rather than pro-life. We need cultural reforms, we need to value life before death. We need to show love to people while they are alive, we need to show kindness when they need it while they are alive. Our presence at their funeral will never make up for our absence when they have the greatest need of us. We should do it now than regret later