By Jude Atupulazi
Let’s get this straight. The idea behind the new Law on Burials in Anambra State is good, very good. It came at a time that something needed to be done to save us from the madness associated with burials in these parts; for how, indeed, can one rationalize the disrespect shown to a dead person by having its body thrown up and down and even sideways by uniformed personnel hired for that purpose? How does one rationalize a poor person with hardly enough to eat borrowing money to give an ”expensive” burial to his dead? How can one begin to understand the logic behind blocking streets just because someone is conducting a funeral ceremony? What, indeed, is the essence of spending lavishly on food and drinks and expensive souvenirs all in the name of burying somebody who is oblivious of all that is happening around him? I’ve long been mulling over these and none made sense to me, except to think that many people are becoming mad at the same time.
It was therefore gratifying when I heard that our lord bishop, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, was leading the crusade for the cutting down of expenses at burials. Before then he had led by example by effecting it in his diocese.
But the bishop knew that for this to be a success, it had to have a legal cloak; hence the effort to have the State Assembly work on it. This was done and assented to by the governor and it has led to what we now have as the Anambra State New Burial Law.
What does the law say? Let’s first take a look.
- All burial/funeral ceremonies of indigenous deceased persons must be registered with the town union of the deceased persons. Registration fee is NGN1, 500 (Good)
- No person must erect any billboard, banner or posters of any kind of deceased persons in the State. 100k fine or 6 months jail term or both for violation. (Good)
- Persons are allowed to erect only directional posts (such as the ones leading to the venue). Must not be erected before seven days to the burial date and must be removed not later than seven days after the burial date. 100k fine or 6 months jail term or both for violation. (Still good)
- Corpse must not be deposited in the mortuary or any other place beyond 2 months from the date of death. 100k fine or 6 months jail term or both for violation. (Not bad)
- No blocking of road/street because of burial except with the approval of the appropriate local govt authority. (Nonsensical)
- No public display of casket for purposes of fabrication and sale. 50k fine or 1 month jail term or both for violation. (Makes sense)
- Deceased family must clear outstanding levies owed to the community or religious body before the funeral ceremony. (Okay o)
- There must be no wake of any kind for any deceased person in the State. All vigil Masses, service of songs or religious activity for the deceased person prior to the burial must end by 9:00pm. There must be no food, drink, life band or cultural entertainers during and after vigil Mass, service of songs or religious activity for the deceased person. (It’s ok)
- All burial/funeral ceremonies for any deceased person in the State must be for one day. (Good idea)
- All burial Masses/services must start not later than 9:00 am and must not last more than 2 hours. (Good)
- No preserved corpse must be exposed for more than 30 minutes from the time of exposition. It could be kept in a room under lock and key. (Yes)
- All condolence visits after any burial/funeral ceremony must not exceed one day. (Not bad)
- During a condolence visit, no person must give to the deceased person’s family, as a condolence gift, any item exceeding money, one jar of palm wine, one carton of beer and one crate of soft drink. (Good but how do you determine if the money given does not cover more than
the drinks presented?)
- No deceased person’s family must give out any souvenir during burial/funeral ceremony. (Good)
- For Ibuna Ozu Nwa Ada, there must be no demand of more than 10k by the maiden family of the deceased woman. (Is there even need for any payment?)
- Undertakers at any burial ceremony must not exceed 6 in number. There must be no dancing with the casket by the undertakers. (This dancing ehn?)
- Wearing of special uniform/aso ebi is restricted to: (1) immediate family of the deceased person, (2) church groups, and (3) umunna, umu ada and iyom di, where applicable. (Who’s left?)
- Provision of food/drinks is not compulsory. It is at the discretion of the bereaved family. (This is hypocritical)
- No burial on any local market day of the town. For Nimo, no burial on Oye Market day. (Why single out my town?)
- Umuada of the deceased person’s family must stay only on the day of the Wake and the burial/funeral. (Good)
- No more custom of Ndi Youth demonstrating with the picture of the deceased person within the town. (This has been a vexatious practice)
- No destruction of cash crops, economic plants, household utensils/ properties by Ndi Youth, condolence visitors, masquerade or any other person. (Good riddance to bad rubbish)
- No use of any type of guns except Nkponana. (Should there be even this?)
- No brochure of the deceased person except for Order of Mass/service. (Good)
- All condolence registers during any burial/funeral ceremony must be kept at a convenient corner on the premises. (Before nko?)
- There shall be no second funeral rites after burial except in the case of legacy. (Yes, not necessary)
- Commissioner for Lands is required to create State burial ground in every community. Rejected corpses and unidentified corpses will be buried there. A “rejected corpse” is a corpse deposited in a mortuary for more than two months. Every mortuary attendant is bound to report to the Ministry of Health any corpse that has stayed beyond one (1) month from the date it was deposited. Failure to notify the Govt is an offence. (Supported)
- There will be Monitoring and Implementation Committees. Members will be paid such remuneration as may be determined by the town union of the town. The Town Monitoring Committee is responsible for (1) registering all deaths in the town, (2) giving clearance for every burial/funeral ceremony in the town, and (3) submitting records of the implementation of the Law to the Department of Town Union and Chieftaincy Matters in the State. The Implementation Committee must be present at any burial ceremony to observe the implementation of the Law. Obstruction of the Committee is an offence and attracts a fine of 50k. (Good)
- Contravention of the provisions of the Law is an offence punishable by 100k fine or six months jail term. (Are you serious?)
- Magistrate Court has jurisdiction to try offences under the Law. (Noted)
Now, having gone through the contents of the document, you can agree with me that the intention for making this law is good and highly commendable. However, the entire thing is flawed abinitio and seems destined to flop even before it takes off. This is because of the gaps that have been inadvertently created which will most likely be exploited by the rich and powerful to make the law ineffective.
The major blow to the law, to me, is the prescription of N100, 000 fine or a six-month jail term for offenders. Now, can easily pay that and move on, especially these days when funerals have become sources of revenue. Thus one can elect to pay N100, 000, knowing that one can make ten times that amount from condolence visits. If that be the case, how can the law be effective?
what is N100, 000? Even the poor can easily pay that and move on, especially these days when funerals have become sources of revenue. Thus one can elect to pay N100, 000, knowing that one can make ten times that amount from condolence visits. If that be the case, how can the law be effective?
For me, if the makers of the law had wanted to make it effective, rather than a hundred thousand Naira fine, it should have been nothing less than five million. When such fine is paid to a community, the community can take 70% and the state will take the rest. Then the community will channel the money into a project. This way, communities will be eager to go after offenders, knowing they will gain. Conversely, not many people may like to spend up to five million Naira in fine alone.
Again, why should streets be closed at all on condition of permission being granted to mourners? This is nonsensical. No one has the right to obstruct others from moving freely simply because one is celebrating or mourning. In the past regime, this was frowned at and no one was ever allowed to do so; permission or not. If any bereaved family is in need of space, they should use adjoining compounds, rather than blocking the streets. But now, because there is a loophole here, many will exploit it by obtaining permission which is the same thing as paying money.
You see, for any such law to succeed in these parts, there should be no loopholes to be exploited by the rich and powerful. Expecting the rich to baulk at the idea of paying a hundred thousand Naira is the display of the highest level of naivety yet. Many will pay it and move on and knowing we are in a society where no one wants to be seen as the weakest, it will be realized at the end of the day that every family will choose to pay the fine.
Besides, how plausible is it that some of the high and mighty in our midst can be jailed six months for violating this law? Who will arrest them? Have those who parade themselves as parallel monarchs in certain communities been arrested? How many politicians who defy the no siren order have been arrested? In the same as way it is proving difficult for government to bring such people to book, it will be equally difficult to prosecute the rich and powerful who defy the Burial Law; after all, man pass man.
Again, I quarrel with the section of this law that allows bereaved families to determine whether to cook food or not. Why leave this loophole when we know that cooking food is part of the major expenses incurred during funerals? Who wouldn’t like to cook? Who would like to be thought of as so wicked as to not give food to people who have come from afar to mourn with them? Certainly few people will.
For these reasons, I like to view the state’s burial law as one beautiful nonsense. Beautiful because there is need to address the madness called funerals; nonsense because the law was destined not to work from the beginning.
This law should be reviewed immediately if we are to be taken seriously; else, some people will just be breaking it and laughing at the government.