From Gyang Bere, Jos
Rest in Peace! Like the people of Abonnema in Asari Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, residents of Chika-Bondon community in Kaura Local Government Area of Southern Kaduna State are worried that they have not been able to say those words to one of their own, Elder Nuhu Duniya, who departed this world on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. That is, nine good months before High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, the Rivers State billionaire and philanthropist died, on December 27, 2018.
But some differences exist in the two cases. While the delay in the burial of Lulu-Briggs was owing to protracted family litigations, Duniya’s own has nothing to do with legal tussles, although his eldest son, Ambassador Iliya Nuhu Duniya, had, reportedly, often threatened court action if he is pushed to the wall on the issue of his father’s burial. But so far, he has not been able to carry out the threat. Rather the delay in his father’s burial has something to do with his insistence that he must raise a befitting house where the man’s body will lie in state before internment.
Secondly, whereas a date has now been slated for Lulu-Briggs state burial, March 13, 2021, one is yet to be fixed for Elder Duniya, said to be a highly respected community leader. As a result of this uncertainty, the community now lives in fear, frustration and despondency. Members of the community are said to be worried that the development which is not part of their culture, if allowed to continue, could attract curse to the immediate family in particular, and the community in general.
Genesis of the controversy
Elder Duniya, who was a community head, church leader and morale booster in the community while alive took ill and died while staying with one of his sons, Sabo Nuhu, a police officer based in Kagoro, Southern Kaduna. Following his death, his remains was deposited at the General Hospital, Kaura, with one-week embalmment done on his body with the hope that the burial would be conducted within the period.
But it was gathered that when the immediate and extended family gathered to fix the burial, his eldest son, Iliya Nuhu, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Mali, among other postings, put on hold all the preparations, noting that he would like to give his father a befitting burial. The community initially agreed to have things done his way. But they became alarmed when the wait became protracted, too prolonged for comfort. They felt the delay ran contrary to the principle of the man who was nicknamed “Abidoka” which translates in English as: “do things according to the law,” when he was alive.
It was gathered that the traditional ruler and some concerned citizens summoned the Ambassador for a meeting where a burial committee was set up to help draw up programme for his father’s funeral but he categorically stated that until he built a befitting house, nobody should talk about burying his father. And, that has been the situation for more than two years.
Sources have it that he actually started building the house, but later ‘abandoned’ it halfway after bringing it to the roofing level. As things stand now, only God knows when it will be roofed, and have finishing work like fixing of fittings, plastering, flooring and painting done on it. Having been left in the lurch, the community is worried that the restless spirit of the late Duniya who served his people diligently could be roaming about and doing some havoc while his body remains uncommitted to mother earth.
A lawmaker’s grouse
Not surprisingly, this development has set tongues wagging. Looking and sounding frustrated, a member representing Kaura Constituency in Kaduna State House of Assembly, Hon. Yusuf Mugu, and a cousin to the bereaved, spoke at length while lamenting what he sees as the extremely long stay of the body in the mortuary for no other reason than ‘building a befitting house.’
His words: “Baba Nuhu Duniya died almost three years ago. In fact, by March 21, 2021, the corpse would have laid in the mortuary for exactly three years since he left this sinful world. I don’t know why nobody is willing to allow his remains be buried so that his soul can rest in peace. His children, particularly the one who was a civil servant, a career ambassador whose last posting was Mali, for whatever reason he has, is yet to allow their father to be buried.
“Actually our family wanted to bury the man who was a first cousin to me but he said no. He said he wanted to do certain things and those certain things would have been involved so many things. We saw him trying to put up a structure but we felt that the burial can take place while the building is going on. Whatever is his reason for trying to build a house before burying his father is not part of our culture; it has never happened before. Like a joke, since March 21, 2018, the corpse has been there and there is no proper explanation to the people about why things should be so.
“Each time a decision is taken on the burial, he threatens legal action against other relations that are interested in the burial. He seems to have also caused some of his siblings to agree with what he is doing for whatever reason. At a point, people started entertaining some doubts as to whether the corpse is still there or not. They kept changing mortuaries as a story has it. Although we are related, as we talk now, we don’t know where exactly the children kept the corpse and so it has become a source of worry.”
He explained that the issue has been discussed at various levels with the paramount ruler of the community. “At a point, we had a clan meeting to that effect and a committee was set up. That effort was frustrated by the Ambassador. It is believed that he has a powerful wife that controls him. But it has become a historical antecedent that people talk about a corpse lying in the community that is yet to be buried for years. It is disgraceful to us and we just pray and hope that the corpse is still where it can be found.
“But if, for any reason, it cannot be found, we will definitely take court action at the appropriate time when we exhaust our patience since he is not saying anything. The building he embarked on for over two years now there seems to be no progress, yet the corpse is lying somewhere, presumably. He died while staying with one of his sons who is a police officer at Kagoro. He was the one who took care of him until he died. I didn’t know whether they managed his case in a private hospital or were in and out of hospital. But the summary of it is that he died while with his son, a police officer called Sambo Nuhu. They took the corpse to the Kaura Local Government General Hospital and gave them a 7-day notice and promise within which the corpse would be removed and buried. That’s how the frustration on the burial plan started. At some point, they would say the corpse was no longer there. At some other time, they would say the corpse had been returned there.
“People have lost interest in the whole thing. Each time there are efforts to carry out the burial, he would frustrate it and say he would not bring the corpse so that relations would not have access to it. Several efforts had been made to carry out the burial. I had been part of it but our efforts are being frustrated and he has not given us any concrete reason other than that he is his father and he will bury him when he wants. At a point, he said we should allow him and his siblings to discuss. And when they did, instead of giving us a time-frame when the burial will take place, they keep asking for more time to sort out how the burial will be.”
A community’s taboo
The lawmaker described the incident as a taboo to the community and said the dead man’s children’s action is against the cultural beliefs and values of his people. “There has never been anybody who died in the community and the corpse was kept that long,” he explained. “We only keep corpses for few days except in cases where other relations live very far and two or three days would be given or, at most, one week.
“This is against our culture and tradition; we have never experienced this kind of thing. It is more of a curse on the siblings or the person who has refused to allow the burial. Everybody is disappointed by what is happening. The community expected that if the Ambassador and his wife have decided for whatsoever reason not to bury the man, other siblings should have taken up the matter for their father. The same Ambassador at a point in time disowned the man. I learnt that at a point, he said before people that Baba Nuhu was no longer his biological father. Could this be punishment for whatever that had happened between them? I don’t know.
“Our paramount ruler does not believe in keeping a corpse that long. But at a point, he felt that it is a family issue. We allowed them at the immediate family level to take a decision but it couldn’t work. We went to the extended family level to sit down and take a decision. Arrangements were made. But we suffered frustration from the children who were not cooperating, particularly the Ambassador and his wife. At a point, the Abwat Clan made up of a conglomeration of many houses met and took a decision to make the arrangement and put in place a burial committee but it didn’t work.”
A cousin’s worry
Like Mugu, a family member, Haruna Bulus, also a cousin to Ambassador Iliya Nuhu, is worried over the development. “I don’t want to talk about this corpse issue again because I don’t know what is happening,” he said with some air of nonchalance. “We tried at the house level but it didn’t work. Several committees were set up at the larger house level. But they were frustrated. I can’t say exactly where the corpse is right now. But it is against our tradition to keep corpse that long. As far as our house is concerned, we don’t keep people for more than two days. People have tried their best to lay him to rest but it is not working. Everybody has lost hope.”
A community leader’s take on the implications
Expressing similar disappointment and frustration, former National President, Electricity Employees and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), 1988, Elder Takai Shama added that with the way things are he would not be surprised if the community demands to inspect the corpse to ensure that every part is complete before it is buried.
Elder Shama who is an alumnus of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) described late Elder Nuhu Duniya as an honest and truthful person who wants everything done according to the law of the land. Warning of the implications of keeping his corpse that long, the man waxed spiritual when he said: “Spiritually, it has counter-value because in any community where corpses are toyed with, it will attract curse first to the immediate family, extended family and to the community and even the state and nation. That is why in certain places, if the power to handle a corpse, especially by the immediate family is abdicated then the government takes over. And, if government does not take over, especially at a time like this then that government will be regarded as inhuman and godless.
“Humanly speaking, God has a limitation of relationship between the living and the dead. It is biblical. It is not everybody that is allowed to go close to a corpse and so when a corpse is being kept in a community for too long the immediate family has a responsibility and after some time their responsibility expires and the protocols go like that. If government comes to the knowledge, it must give an order for the corpse to be buried in the interest of everybody’s future because where there are no regards for the dead, there is no God there. Even a priest that goes near a corpse has to perform certain ablutions in order to qualify to go into the temple.
“In my tradition, there are also protocols. My clan is the priestly clan of this community and I happen to be the Secretary. I don’t want to know how you came about the story but I want to salute you for taking the pains to come this far to verify the truth. I have talked to many people in the community about this issue and there is the fear that a lot of rituals is likely to be associated because in every culture there are guidelines. First of all who even declares somebody dead? We have met with the traditional authority and held meetings for over two years now and the whole thing look suspicious and hidden; it is like there is a hidden agenda.
“My fear is that any day that corpse is going to be buried people are going to inspect it to be sure that it is complete. People could dismember parts of the corpse to make fortune out of it. What I am saying is that the corpse should be inspected to make sure that it is complete, not necessarily that it is in the habit of the community but because of the country and society. The question people are asking is: where is this corpse? People want to know where the corpse is. I am a public relations practitioner. I have the right to ask. Who has the responsibility to tell us where this corpse is? Somebody must speak. Help us find out where this corpse is.
“Nuhu was a very honest man. He followed the rules while he was alive. That was why he was nicknamed “Abidoka,” meaning “follow the law.” Nobody has told me where he broke any law. He would have been somebody too important in this community but for the fear that he was too truthful. People thought that he should not be given too much responsibility in line with the present-day state of things in Nigeria.”
A son’s take on the matter
His biological son, Sabo Nuhu who took care of his father for about two years before he died said he has done his best to ensure that he was buried within one week of his death but as things stand now, they are beyond what his power can do.
His take: “I have elders, uncles and brothers. I am junior among them. I don’t have much to say right now about it. Even though I am worried like others that the corpse is staying too long, there is nothing I can do. The issue is beyond me. The reason for me to be at home is because of my parents. I thank God that my father gave me his blessing before he died.
“I have received his blessing so I should not drag about his corpse again. My father is gone; the only thing remaining is to bury him. Whether he is buried or not, he doesn’t know what is happening. I was formerly based in Abuja; it was because of his condition that brought me closer to home. When I saw that his condition was critical, I went to the village and took him to Kagoro. He stayed with me for two years and died on the 21 March, 2018 at about 2.30am.
“It was a painful death. I thank God for his consolation. I took his corpse to Kaura General Hospital and asked them to do embalmment for one week while we went on with the preparation, after which the elders intervened. The whole thing is beyond my control. I know that what I was supposed to do I have done it. I don’t have anything to do now. I believe the corpse is still at the Kaura General Hospital. Since the issue is beyond me, I care not to know where the corpse is.”
Issue a private matter, ambassador son insists
Ambassador Iliya Nuhu said he finds very strange the idea of people crying more than the bereaved or owner of the corpse. “It is a private affair,” he said over a telephone conversation. “Whenever I am through with the preparation, I will bury my father. I don’t know how you came about the story. But it is a private matter. I have not finished with the preparation. As soon as I am done, I will bury my father.” Asked to give possible timeline when he would be through, he answered: “I don’t think I have a timeline or any rule or any time-frame to bury my father.”