David-Chyddy ElekeÂ writes on the progress in the fight against expensive burial ceremonies in AnambraÂ
Mrs. Magdalene Okonkwo (not real name) is a petty trader in Eke Awka Market, she deals in tobacco, kolanut and alligator pepper. She is popular among consumers of tobacco because of the quality of tobacco she sells, but for a month, her shop has remained under lock, frustrating her customers’ quest to buy tobacco.
Her neighbour in the market, a man who sells provisions has become tired of explaining to her numerous customers that Madam Magdalene has just buried her husband, and that custom demands she stays indoors for three months, and is also forbidden from engaging in any business throughout the period of her mourning.
Her neighbour however does not think that was a problem. His problem is that Madam Magdalene had six children, all of whom were still in school at various stages and were too young to carter for themselves. Her husband had died as a bricklayer, and did not leave much for her to take care of the children with. The neighbour and her customers wondered how she would cope taking care of the children, but were more pained that the called tradition of her husband’s people have denied her the right to
Be coming to the market to work for what to take care of her family with. Through the three months of mourning her husband, she is not expected to visit public places, markets or social gathering. She will also wear the same clothe; in most cases, it is either white or black cloth.
On the other hand, Chief Lawson Nwuba (not real name) is a big time importer of building materials in Onitsha building material market. Just a week ago, he held his late mother’s burial in his hometown in Anambra State. The burial ceremony may have come and gone, but his fellow businessmen who were in his hometown to sympathise with him have not stopped talking about Nwuba’s influence in the state.
Chief as he is fondly called, did not leave any stone unturned in the preparation of his late mother’s burial. For himself and every member of his very large family, he settled for an expensive white lace material, which was sewed by one of the best tailors in Onitsha. He also gave out uniformed pieces of cloth to all his friends, supporters and associates as the official uniform for the burial. That was not the end, Nwuba went to the governor’s lodge where he picked up the body measurement size of the governor and made him a tasteful up and down cloth using the official burial uniform, which he delivered to him with an invitation card.
Music was provided by the best highlife musicians, over four bands in all, while cooling vans stocked with assorted alcoholic beverages stood in strategic places in the compound. Food was in excess and in assortment too. The gold plaited casket in which his mother’s corpse arrived would have made some people wish for death, but the attraction was the display by the pall bearers who engaged in acrobatic display, throwing the casket high in the air and catching it as it came down as if it were an empty plastic box. Indeed, for a long time, people will continue to remember that burial ceremony, and that was what Chief set out to achieve when he planned it.
Just a week after the burial, Chief is already in distress as his foreign partners were calling for him to remit the proceeds of the last shipment to him before a new consignment would be sent. Chief told them to be patient with him as he just finished the burial of his mother, while also urging them to send another consignment so he can pay double for the next batch. As he dropped the call, he turned to his neighbour in the market and said, “rapu ndiochaa, fa makwanu ife anako”, meaning; don’t mind these white people, do they know how much it costs to host a burial ceremony? His neighbour concurred that this aspect of their tradition was above the white man’s understanding, and proceeded to hail him over the success of the ceremony, saying “Chief, e bu Odogwu”, meaning Chief is a warrior.
These and many more are some of the things the people of South-eastern Nigeria face in the burial of their loved ones. Burial ceremonies have become a test of oneâ€™s might, and these have left many families in pains as they will do anything to ensure that their relatives were buried amidst expensive ceremonies as a show of their wealth. While many borrow, others sell off assets that could form a shield for them in rainy days, just to conduct burials. Many others have at most times been caught and paraded for stealing, and they confessed to engaging in such acts to raise money to bury loved ones.
These may have been reasons for the recent fight for the abolition of expensive burials by the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Paulinus Ezeokafor. Ezeokafor, a modest clergyman has been in the forefront canvassing for the abolition of expensive burials, and has recently taken his campaign a notch higher. Last year, the campaign led to the abolition of preparation of food, printing of invitation cards, brochures or distribution of souvenirs at burials of relatives of priests and other religious parishes in the diocese.
The Bishop may have found a willing ally as recently, the Anambra State House of Assembly had joined the campaign. A bill sponsored by the member representing Anaocha II State Constituency, Hon. Charles Ezeani had sought to regulate the expenses in burial ceremonies. Ezeani said he was moved to sponsor the bill having carefully studied and found out that burial ceremonies now constitute 60-70 per cent of social gathering. He said he also found that 98 per cent of those who were given such expensive burials never enjoyed expensive outings from those who spent on the burial ceremony. He added that such ostentatious ceremonies have plunged many families into difficulty, hence the need to regulate them.
The bill which has passed it first and second reading recently had a public hearing, where Anambra indigenes added their voices to the call. Ezeokafor, who was the key resource person at the public hearing supported the bill, and gave reasons why it should be done away with.
Ezeokafor, while addressing the lawmakers expressed gratitude to the member representing Nnewi South 1 and the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Culture and Tourism, Hon. Kingsley Iruba who convened the public hearing for appointing him as a key resource person on the public hearing on the above mentioned bill. He said 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, noting that if it remained unchecked, it 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 have folded up, marriages have broken down, children have been out of school, and sudden deaths have 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 bishop said he had remained undaunted in the fight to salvage the poor from the stranglehold of the vicious circle of extravagant funeral ceremonies, noting that in 1996, his predecessor, Most Rev. Simon Okafor, undertook an extensive study of the issue which involved experts in the field, noting that since then, the Diocese had not relented in its effort. “I always seized any available opportunity to speak on the dangers of wasteful burials and funerals among our people. I have insisted that what we should be talking about is how to give our people decent and befitting living and not befitting funerals by which we mean mindless display of extravagance.
“Last year, I instituted a burial and funeral committee at the diocesan level charged with the responsibility of studying the way our people go about burial and funeral ceremonies in the diocese and bringing out recommendations aimed at curbing unnecessary wastes. I centred my Lenten Pastoral Letter of 2017 on the same issue. I titled it, ‘Our True Home Is in Heaven (Phil 3:20): Befitting Burial and Funeral for the Deadâ€™. In the work, I dwelt so much on the theological, pastoral, moral, socio-cultural, psychological, and economic implications of expensive burial and funeral ceremonies,” he said.
The bishop had already banned the production of brochures in the Catholic Diocese of Awka, with effect from May 1, 2017. This is just as he had last year banned priests and religious faithful from cooking and sharing souvenirs during the burial of their relatives, all in a bid to reduce the cost of burial and funeral ceremonies. The money used for this he said could be better applied to helping the living. â€œWearing of mourning dresses/Asoebi has turned into a practice used for display of wealth and importance. Surely, it is a sign of mourning, but the way it is abused has left much to be desired. I have always discouraged the faithful from this.”
In all, the campaign seems to have gained ground as the entire Assembly has thrown its weight behind it. Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. (Mrs.) Rita Maduagwu, assured that the bill would be given speedy passage, and that when passed, would be seriously implemented, noting that their duty was to make laws that would help the people. She called on traditional rulers and religious leaders to help in the dissemination of the information about the bill, noting that there was no need spending extravagantly during burials. The traditional ruler of Awka Kingdom Igwe Gibson Nwosu, aligned himself with all, noting that he would be the first to implement the bill in his domainÂ when passed into law.