By Jude Atupulazi
All societies respect the dead. That is why in our clime, it is said that one does not speak ill of the dead, no matter what transpired between the person and the dead. It is also the reason a dead person’s wish is always respected. Thus, if a dead person wished while he lived, that he should not be put in a mortuary, the children respect that. In the days of old, parents and elders were equally respected and shown love and care during their lifetime. When they died, it was believed that they died happy, knowing that they were loved and cared for. Today, sadly, things have gone awry. Parents and elders are neglected in their lifetime, only to be buried like kings and queens at death.
But even in death, despite the money splashed at the funeral, the dead are today given neither respite nor respect. They are left in the mortuary for months, simply because the children or relatives want to replace the mud house the dead lived in with mansions, just to impress the public. Even those who have no money, go aborrowing in order not to be seen as worse off than others. They do this despite the possibility of their starving after repaying what they borrowed before the funeral.
Thus, this societal malaise is caused by both the rich and the poor. No one wants to be seen as too poor in sending their dead off in a blaze of glory; thus they devise means to show off.
It is not surprising to therefore see undertakers throwing coffins up and catching same; or swaying such coffins dangerously sideways. I have heard reports of how sometimes such coffins fall. I can imagine what will be in the mind of a deceased old man or woman when their coffin is thrown the way basket ballers throw their balls. That is not even all.
Bereaved families now go out of their way to make a mockery of their dead by way of showmanship.
I recall one morning when I was driving to work what I saw just before the Enugwu-Ukwu General Hospital. I saw four white figures, with wings flapping, dancing gracefully to the beating of a band ahead of an ambulance carrying a corpse.
The white figures were supposed to be angels accompanying the deceased to heaven. It did not matter whether the deceased believed in angels, or even in God, while he lived, but it sufficed for the revelers to do things that caught the eye to show they were ”equal to the task”.
It is also normal these days to see youths blocking roads and wielding dangerous objects with which they cause road users to part with money. This often leads to heavy traffic. It is also known that sometimes criminal elements use that to snatch people’s phones and disappear.
Those behind this kind of charade do not stop at road shows. When they get home, food and drinks are lavished on people for days. Before then, newspaper advertisements are made which gulp thousands of Naira. Bill boards are splashed with pictures of their dead. Radio and TV announcements are made intermittently. Yet, in some cases, while those they are ”celebrating” lived, they never saw such show of love and concern. They never lived in glass houses nor were driven in expensive cars. But when they die, they are driven in the flashiest ambulances; some are driven in chariots and there is no doubt that some may have been flown in helicopters. To me, this is all an exercise in crass stupidity.
Last week, what appeared a glimmer of hope was enacted at the Anambra State House of Assembly when a Bill seeking to put an end to the stupidity of expensive burials was passed. It came in the wake of an earlier attempt by the Catholic bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, to curb the trend by directing that priests of the Catholic Church and the rest of the religious desist from extravagantly burying their dead.
He had also reduced the number of months the faithful could put their dead in the mortuary to two months, rather than ad infinitum. This was even as he directed that funeral brochures be reduced to just a piece of information about the dead person. But that was only restricted, not even to the entire Catholic Church in the state, but to just Awka Diocese.
But the development in the State Assembly came as a welcome relief to many who had been horrified at what they had been witnessing at burials.
The Bill by the House is seeking for a law to control burial/funeral ceremonial activities in the state.
Sponsored by the member representing Anaocha II State Constituency, Hon. (Engr.) Charles Ezeani, the Bill was passed after due consideration by the House, thus making it unlawful for people to spend too much money in burying their loved ones.
The Burial/Funeral Control Bill was aimed at cutting down the cost of burial activities in the state by providing that in the event of death, no person shall deposit any corpse in the mortuary or any place beyond two months from the date of the death, while burial ceremonies in the state shall be for one day.
It further stipulated that during burial and funeral activities, the family of the deceased shall provide food for their kindred, relatives and other sympathizers at their own discretion.
It placed a ban on destruction of property, gunshots, praise singing, blocking of roads and streets during burial ceremonies in the state, with defaulters to be punished according to the law.
No doubt, many people must have received this news with a lot of enthusiasm, especially as it will curtail the activities of those who block the roads, extorting money from people. To the extorters, that will surely be bad news. But there is need for us to maintain some level of sanity here.
Funerals are supposed to be occasions for sober reflections. Occasions when we remember that someday it will be curtains for us. But our people have turned the entire essence on its head, such that some people would even be wishing to die.
Those who will feel miffed by the Bill, especially when it is signed into law, should channel the money they waste to more useful things. For instance, rather than waste millions on funerals, they could use it to build a road in their village and have such a road named after the deceased. They could elect to establish an education foundation in memory of the deceased and use it to help the poor. They could use the money to support hospitals by way of donation of equipment. They could use the money to rebuild dilapidated infrastructure in their village schools. They could use it to set up young people in business. The list of what they could do with the money is endless.
Society will better appreciate them for doing those noble things which will stand the test of time. But providing food and drinks aplenty for people will only last for that period.
But by far the worst thing is what the wasting of such money will do to the impressionable youth who will grow up believing in a life of useless opulence. This is why I think that a huge penalty ought to be involved so that those willing to defy the new funeral law, when it comes into being, will pay heavily; heavy enough to provide money that will be used to develop their communities. In this respect, I suggest that those who default should be made to pay a fine of not less than five million Naira. Government should use this fine to set up a project in the immediate community of the defaulter. I say this because I know that there are people who will elect to pay fines in order to live out their fantasies of giving their dead a ”befitting burial”. At least, when such people default, the community will benefit in a far reaching way; much better than a situation where a few individuals will get drunk and stagger home or end up in the gutters.
I’m happy that the Catholic Church in Awka Diocese is already championing this call. With this latest development in the state, other dioceses and churches should key in and help in restoring sanity to our society.
These are borrowed cultures from other places which serve no useful purpose. If we must borrow, we should do so from the Muslims who perform the simplest funerals. When Abacha and Yar’Adua died, they were buried same day. No gun shots were heard; no drums were beaten. People did not line up their streets with cartons of wine and food items as condolence items.
Left for me, no food of whatever taste should be cooked at any funeral. Mourners should just come and go and allow the bereaved families to face life after the funerals, rather than add to their woes.
The Church should even ban the wearing of any uniforms, except maybe by the deceased families. It is tantamount to a sin to waste food and money on the dead when they did not enjoy such in life or when such money will better benefit the living.
It is a crying shame that people should be stupidly showing their affluence when they should be reflecting on life and praying for the souls of the dead.
I welcome this Bill against stupidity with all my heart and I give kudos to all those behind it. The next step is to walk the talk so that it doesn’t end up as mere empty talk.