The Holy writ enjoins us to let the dead buried their death. But in parts of Igboland, this entreaty is obeyed in the breach, as people starve their living to bury their dead. Burial ceremonies in several parts of Igboland are expensive, so much so that some people have incurred huge debt after the burial of their loved ones. Others sell their property to ensure they give their relations “befitting” burials. There have been calls of late for something to be done to curtail excessive expenditure on burials in Igboland.
When the campaign to regulate burial expenditure started, it was the poor that were crying but now, even the rich cry, because some imported cultures have eroded the Igbo simple way of giving their departed ones peaceful and solemn farewell.
The church has tried but to no avail, especially in Anambra State, where burial has become the biggest event or ceremony for the people, resulting in unhealthy competition among people and families.
One can comfortably come into a village and without any assistance give the number of burials that had taken place recently by simply counting the number of houses that were repainted, some even keep the dead in mortuary for up to a year or more to start and complete new house before burial will take place.
Not even the sermons by the church could change anything because some of the churches see the period as harvest time, as the bereaved family has to pay all the debts they owed in the church before they will be accepted, while some would be made to make donations for the building of the church and bring their friends on the burial day to do same.
One of the proponents of the law against expensive burial and funeral rites in Igbo land and Anambra in particular, the Catholic Bishop of Awka, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, had in a presentation at the public hearing by the House Committee on Information, Culture and Tourism on the issue 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.
He said: “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 banned the production of brochures in the Catholic Diocese of Awka, with effect from May 1, 2017, just as he last year, banned priests and religious faithful from cooking and sharing souvenirs during burial of their relatives, all in a bid to reduce the cost of burial and funeral ceremonies.
The boom in the business of the undertakers seemed to have upped the craze for expensive burials as they introduce innovations every other month that could even make the living to want to die.
However, some reprieve came the way of Anambra people as the state House of Assembly last week, passed the burial and funeral ceremonial activities Bill aimed at cutting down the cost of burial activities in the state.
Sponsored by member representing Anaocha II Constituency, Charles Ezeani, the bill provides that in the event of death, no person shall deposit any corpse at the mortuary or any other place beyond two months from the date of demise, while burial ceremonies in the state shall be for one day.
Also, it stipulates that during burial and funeral ceremonial activities, the family of the deceased shall provide food for their kindred, relatives and other sympathizers at their own discretion while it places ban on destruction of property, gun shots, praise singing, blocking of roads and streets during burial ceremony.
The bill also made it clear that from the commencement of the law, no person shall subject any relation of the deceased person to a mourning period of more than one week from the date of burial ceremony, stating that defaulters shall be punished according to the law.
While some people see the passage of the bill as a step in the right direction, others believe that it will amount to muzzling the people’s custom.
President of Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU), Chief Alex Onukwue, is one of the supporters of such legislation, he called on Governor Willie Obiano not to waste time in accenting to it.
Onukuwe said his community in Aguleri had before now done something to moderate the cost of burial.
“Of course, some people who have money will say no but with time, we will get used to it. The State House of Assembly has said that you don’t need to keep a corpse in the mortuary for more than two months; that is good. As a matter of fact, we are even looking at one month. I will urge His Excellency the Governor to sign the bill into law and then of course, I urge the religious houses, the churches to also take a cue from this and see how they can bring their own cost down too.”
A traditional ruler in Imo State, Eze Abdulfatah Emetuma of Umuofor kingdom in Oguta Local Government Area lauded the bill and called for its replication in all the South East states.
“I want incoming lawmakers in Imo to emulate their Anambra state counterparts, it is crazy for somebody who died of hunger; the relation goes borrowing just to satisfy the public,” Emetuma said.
In Ebonyi, the traditional ruler of Amagu Ikwo in Ikwo Local Government Area, Eze Dominic Alo, also expressed total support for the bill intended to curtail excessive expenditure on burials.
Like Emetuma, the monarch said he would want such law to be replicated in his state, noting that it would help to checkmate reckless lifestyle displayed during burial ceremonies and at the same time, reduce cost.
“It will reduce this nonsense that is happening and also, the law will prohibit excessive consumption of drinks. It will also checkmate the consumption of cocaine and other hard drugs. If the law will include that, I think it will be alright. I support it entirely,” Alo said.
The traditional ruler said that on his part, he has been preaching against excessive expenditure during burial rites in his community.
In Enugu, the traditional ruler of Ihe N’ Owerre, in Nsukka Local Government Area, Igwe George Asadu looked forward to enactment of such law in his state.
Such law, he said, should be “applicable to Enugu state and the entire Igbo land because we are giving more time to burials than taking care of the living.”
The traditional ruler of Ukwulu, Igwe Peter Uyanwa who also commended the passage of the bill stated that there was actually no tradition in his area that directed people to mourn or keep corpses for a year.
While the President General of Obosi community, Chief Dan Igbokwubili Obii, applauded the passage of the bill, he however, expressed fears about its enforcement.
“Passing a bill is one thing, enforcing it is another thing and that’s the most important aspect. How do we enforce it?” he queried.
He therefore, suggested that the Presidents-General of various communities be given the mandate to enforce it, because according to him; not even the law enforcement agencies can enforce it.
Regardless, the traditional ruler of Ehere community, near Aba, Eze Young Nwangwa and the ASATU National Legal Adviser, Chuka Odenigbo believe that such law would infringe on the customs and traditions of the people.
Odenigbo, who is former President-General of Umudioka in Anambra state, described it as nonsensical bill.
“My take is that is a nonsensical bill in the sense that it is only unreasonable to, considering our culture and custom say that it is only one day that you will allow people to carry on with burial, forgetting that there are some other commitments within the community. There are titled people like Ndi Ozo, they have their day of attending and they are saying what is the government interest in saying it must be a day, is it government that is sponsoring the burial? All this is a private affair.
“The only thing the government would be saying is the blocking of roads during burials which again is done only in Onitsha and Awka. They don’t do it in the rural communities. So, I think that bill was just for someone to put his name on the list; that is not our problem.
“The governor should not accent to it, it is just nonsense; you can’t even enforce such a law. It’s impossible; that law is as good as dead on arrival.”
According to Eze Nwangwa, expensive burials did not start today, what really happened was that it has become competitive. He explained that it is more expensive to bury a woman than a man in Ngwa land because in-laws would have to be reached and as he put it, this is not done with empty hand.
The monarch said: “There are certain things customs demand must be done before someone is buried and those things must be met before burial commences. For instance in my place, custom demands that there are certain categories of people his children must meet with and you do not see those people empty handed. Killing of cow is one of those things you have to do for them. But where you do not provide the cow, nobody will take you to court for prosecution but the fact remains that any man who did not kill a cow for his father when he died, should not eat any provided by other people under the circumstance. That offender according to custom may pay with his life”.
He likened burial in Igbo land to marriage which he said has become so expensive and no law enacted can reduce it.
For the paramount ruler of Okpankuma community in Njaba council area of Imo State, Eze Vincent Duru, any law restricting individuals from spending excessively on the burial of their loved ones may not have any effect as it is only those who have money that could buy expensive caskets or slaughter five cows or more.
He also pointed out that it not in the place of the traditional institution or government to dictate what a man should spend to give his or her parents befitting burial unless when it has to do with the traditional burial rites.