By Our Reporters – Enugu
Last week Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano signed into law, a bill by the State House of Assembly regulating burial expenses in the state. Before now, burial ceremony is one activity that is very expensive in Igbo land, particularly in Anambra State.
In some instances, family members had to borrow money to enable them give what they call befitting burial to their departed ones. It almost turned to ego thing, just to prove that they have arrived.
In other cases, families sell their landed property to finance burials.
This became a big problem to Ndigbo and many clamoured for a change but who will bail the cat? The people of Anambra State were therefore elated when the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Reverend Paulinus Ezeokafor began the campaign to stop expensive burials.
He started with the church by abolishing the use of brochures during the burial of priests or their relations and banned the wearing of uniforms and cooking of food. The Anglican Church soon joined with a lot of modifications in ways of conducting burials.
To ensure that his campaign succeeds, Ezeokafor lobbied the state House of Assembly to enact a law abolishing expensive burials in the state. Glady, the lawmakers saw the need to end the exorbitant amounts spent by families in burying their dead ones, and then decided to pass a bill for a law to control burial and funeral ceremonies in the state.
The bill was sponsored by the then member representing Anaocha 11 constituency, Chief Charles Ezeani.
During the public hearing on the bill, Bishop Ezeokafor and other prominent people in Anambra State made presentations that guided the lawmakers. After months of painstaking deliberation, the bill was passed.
To show how important the state government took the issue of expensive burials, Governor Willie Obiano, on May 14, 2020, accented to the new burial law.
Highlights of the new law, which provide that all the communities in the state must have burial grounds, showed that all burial/funeral ceremonies of indigenous deceased persons must be registered with the town union at a fee of N1, 500, while erection of any billboard, banner or posters of any kind of deceased persons would attract N100, 000 fine or six months jail term or both.
The only exception to the provision was directional posts leading to the burial venue, which must not be erected before seven days to the burial date and must be removed not later than seven days after the burial date, otherwise the offender would be liable to pay the fine.
What the law says
The law also mandates the Commissioner for Lands to designate a burial ground in every community where rejected corpses and unidentified corpses would be buried.
The law also makes provision for the monitoring and implementation committees and members of the committees would be paid remunerations.
Other provisions of the law include that:
- the corpse must not be deposited in the mortuary or any other place beyond two months from the date of death;
- no blocking of road/street because of burial except with the approval of the appropriate local government authority; and
- no wake keep of any kind for any deceased person, while religious activity for the deceased person prior to the burial must end by 9:00pm; and there must be no food, drink, life band or cultural entertainers during and after religious activity for the deceased person.
Similarly, all burial ceremonies must be for one day and the burial services must start not later than 9:00 am and must not last more than two hours, just as no preserved corpse must be exposed for more than 30 minutes from the time of exposition. It further provides that all condolence visits after any burial ceremony, must not exceed one day and no person must give the deceased person’s family a condolence gift exceeding money for one jar of palm wine, one carton of beer and one crate of soft drink.
In the case of women, there must be no demand of more than N10000 by her maiden family, while wearing of special uniform is restricted to the immediate family of the deceased person and church groups. Burial ceremonies shall also be for one day only. The law stipulates that Magistrate courts in the state have the jurisdiction to try offenders.
Bishop Ezeokafor, in an interview observed that the extravagance displayed by the people during funeral ceremonies in the state had reached a point that necessitated an effective legislation to control the excesses. According to him, if it remained unchecked, expensive burials would lead people into pitiable situations and bondage.
“I have seen families sell their real estates, property, and personal belongings, in order to meet up with the expectations of society as regards funeral expenses.
Businesses had folded, marriages had broken down, children had been out of school and sudden deaths had been recorded, simply because people could not wriggle out of the devastating effects of the huge expenses incurred during the funerals of their loved ones.
“The money used for extravagant burials could be better applied in helping the living. The faithful already know this, and I have received countless phone calls commending the move. Wearing of mourning dresses/Asoebi has turned into a practice used for display of wealth and importance”, Bishop Ezeokafor said.
Mbazulike doubts implementation
Noble as the law seems, there are still doubts by some people on its implementation. One such person is elder statesman and First Republic Aviation Minister, Chief Mbazulike Amechi. According to him, the law regulating burial expenses would die at that point it was made.
Speaking with South East Voice, Chief Amechi said that he had only read the draft but yet to see what was passed into law. But he said that whatever was passed into law would not stand the test of time as it will die a natural death from the point and the day it was passed.
“I have seen the draft of the law and all the rubbish they said there; I have not seen what was actually passed as law by the State House Assembly.
If they have passed it as a law, the law died where it was made. I wonder why people who do not stay in this country and the state will come and be making rubbish law for us, things that should not be heard of.
“How can anybody make such law, did they consult the communities before making that pronouncement, are they going to tell communities and families the way they want to bury their dead; is it their business, what concerned them about how people should be buried.
“People will go in the night and drink and wake up in the morning and make and pass irrelevant laws that do not give meaning to the lives of the people.
“They will leave important things that affect the lives of the people and be chasing shadows. Is it the employment they should be creating for the people, instead of employing the people they are sacking people from their jobs and be talking rubbish about the way communities and people should bury their loved ones.
“They pass laws without consideration of the people’s tradition and their feelings; they should face and be concerned with what affects positively the lives of the people.
“They should provide infrastructures, jobs and not sacking people from their all jobs. The House of Assembly that is passing that law, what are they doing about people that were sacked from their jobs for no justifiable reasons, is this period when people should be sacked from their jobs?
“They do not have direction and that their law against expensive burial ceremony has died a natural death.
“They should reinstate the people they have sacked from their jobs, provide infrastructures for the people and think of other things that will positively affect the lives of the people and not how people should bury their dead. It is not their business and the money is not coming from their pockets and those burying their dead are not asking them for assistance.
“Communities have their ways of burying their dead and they cannot stop them and so that their law died at that point it was pronounced.
It has no meaning to the people and will never mean anything to them, I am against the law”, Mbazulike Amechi declared.
Law against practice in Igboland — Oba regent
In his reaction to the law, the Regent of Oba community in Idemili South Local Government, Anambra State, Prince Noel Ezenwa, said an issue such as burial rights in Igbo Land is as complex as the use of cola nuts for libation in most Igbo fora.
He said the new law goes against the normal practice in Igbo land, where guests are welcomed into homes by offerings of food and drink. Who is to say how anyone of us should entertain our guests? How will this be implemented?
“Implementation of our laws and pledges has always been a challenge nevertheless the state government will require collaboration and an understanding with the traditional rulers and President General of the Town Union on how to respectfully guide the populace through the mine field of old concept.
“On the surface, any idea that tends to cut cost or expenses is generally welcomed. The exorbitant nature of events in our clime is not limited to burial ceremonies alone. Birthday and wedding ceremonies fall into the same category.
“Families are now spending hundreds of millions of naira for their children’s weddings, some of which the marriages do not last more than one year anniversary.
“My belief is that the state should have issued guidelines rather than laws. It is important to note that Individual communities, as well as the church have at various times made and issued guidelines to cut down the exorbitant costs involved in funeral ceremonies.
“In saying this, I believe the guidelines are to encourage the members of the different communities that it is okay to bury their loved ones within their means, as against being pressured by societal norms to host exorbitant burial ceremonies they cannot afford.
“An issue such as burial rights in Igboland is as complex as the use of colanuts for libation in most Igbo fora. In Igbo land, there is the concept of “befitting funeral,” such that the families of kings and the successful among us choose to be buried in style.
“Indeed, many of our most successful citizens who have gone to the great beyond, made their own plans and financial arrangements for their families and friends to give them a burial worthy of their status.
“This new law goes against the normal practice in Igboland, where guests are welcomed into homes by offerings of food and drink. Who is to say how anyone of us should entertain our guests? How will this be implemented?”, Ezenwa said.
We won’t welcome such law in Imo
Also, a traditional ruler in Imo State, Eze Matthew Onweni of Ogbor community in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area disagreed with the law, saying it will not be welcomed in Imo State. He said the people should be allowed to do their burial ceremony within their own capacity.
According to Onweni, any attempt to control the burial ceremony by law could destroy some of the traditional rites for the deceased.
“The way one wants to do his burial is left for that person to organize it in his own way and not that Anambra people are doing this, then Imo people should join them and do the same thing.
“If I want to kill two cows for my father who died and I have the money, I will do it. Such things are not supposed to go into law; for instance one can decide to give his maternal home three cows if one’s mother dies.
“We should not support this kind of law. People should be allowed to do their burial within their own capacity. There are traditional rites for the deceased and you must do it and if you don’t do it, that person will come to attack you. It is our tradition and we will not allow it to be destroyed”, Eze Onweni emphasized.
But the Igbo National Council, INC, led by its President, Chilos Godsent, supported the law but expressed worry that it has no institutional framework to determine how much people spend in their burial ceremony.
“We have had preliminary discussions on this issue; in order not waste the state funds, we have asked where is the framework, the institution on ground to implement it.
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“This is just the same blunder the National Assembly committed, I think in 2011 when they said that they wanted to regulate the election campaign budget and the thing ended in that way.
“Just like what the Anambra State House of Assembly said that they want to do now, I ask where is the institution on ground or the framework for this to determine how much one spends in burial and the sustainability of such laws.
The INC is in support that there should be drastic reduction in the burial expenses in the Igbo nation. We are supporting it because it has pushed some people to the extent of selling their land to meet up with the expenses for burial ceremony.
“Most people have gone to borrow money, just to showcase how affluent they are and it has led so many of them into bad society and originations”.
Enugu’s royal fathers laud Anambra State Govt over ban
From Enugu State, two monarchs, Igwe Hebert Ukuta of Igga Ancient Kingdom in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, HRH and his Likke Iheaka counterpart, in Igbo-Eze South council area, Igwe Christopher Nnamani commended the Anambra State Government over ban on expensive burial ceremonies in the state.
The two royal fathers who spoke at the university town of Nsukka, described such ceremonies as “a show of waste,” and enjoined other state governments to enact similar laws in their states.
According to Igwe Ukuta, such funds used in erecting new buildings or renovating old ones when someone dies should have been used to care for the person while he or she was alive, adding that burial ceremonies should be for mourning of the dead, not frivolities and show of class.
“Burial ceremonies should be for mourning of the dead and not frivolities. All those money spent during burials should have been used to empower the person when he or she was alive, if the person is not well to do or make life comfortable for the person.
“The money wasted could be used in training the children of the deceased in different areas of life or sponsoring them through schools; not wasting the money when the person is dead. It is not when the person dies that you would remember to build houses or renovate old ones and buy expensive cars and engage in other frivolities to impress people; all these are waste of resources. If you observe closely, some of those people being celebrated at death must have died of lack of attention and quality heathcare.
“If other state governments can emulate what Anambra State has done by enacting similar laws, it would help in reducing unnecessary expenses during burial ceremonies”, Igwe Ukuta said.
For Igwe Nnamani: “I see no reason why somebody should finish the earnings of his years of labour or his father’s wealth just to organize elaborate burial ceremony. Anybody who dies would not be resurrected because of the nature of high-class burial he was given.
“I want Enugu State Government to enact same law to save our people from unjustifiable expenses. It is wrong to build a new house because you want to bury someone who was starved while he or she was alive just to show that you have made money.
Will the person’s ghost live in the house? What of those that hire casket carriers (undertakers)?
These things do not depict our culture as a people”, the monarch said.
The President General of Aku General Assembly in Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area, Enugu state, Mr. Fidelis Odo welcomed the law and lamented the high cost of conducting burial and funeral ceremonies in the state.
He lamented that people are selling land and other properties which was meant to safeguard the future generation to do burial of a deceased that has no economic value to the society.
According to him, Enugu State House of Assembly should emulate Anambra and enact a law that would regulate the burial expenses in the state, urging them to reduce the expenses to the barest minimum.
He also said that his community would support the enactment of such law to allow people that don’t have much money to burry their relatives without selling lands or other properties to do burial.
He maintained that if such law is made and binding on all citizens, the present and future generation would benefit from it.
“As the President General of Aku general assembly, I have given my full support to Enugu State House of Assembly to enact a law regulating burial expenses in Enugu State like Anambra did.
“If they would reduce the burial expenses to the barest minimum, it would benefit both present and future generation. The Aku people will be in total support. Once it is made a law, it is binding on everybody whether you like it or not.
“The burial expenses now are terribly high. People are selling land to do burial ceremony. People do sell properties that are supposed to safeguard the future generation to do burial for a deceased who has no economic value again”.