Life after COVID-19 would certainly be different. The chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, who is also Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said so the other day. Our lifestyles are bound to change in the face of adjustments the pandemic has brought, and will keep bringing, more so when it has been said that the fight against the virus will be a long haul. We no longer shake hands as a way of greeting, and, if it persists, it may stick. People no longer travel out for medical tourism because no country would let them in and no flights operate across the globe. Students take lectures online in order to catch up with their scheme of work, long disrupted by the stay-at-home option for preventing spread of the virus. The virus seems not to have unleashed its full weight, given that figures of tested people are low. If tests are lower than 100,000 people with infection at approximately 5 per cent, the implication is that more tests may reveal more infections. When I went to press, there were 6,401 infections, 191 deaths and 1,644 survivors. Many are still undergoing treatment for a virus that has no clear treatment protocol, except that people generally survive when their immunity receives a boots to ward off the virus. The nation is in a wait-and-see situation.
But life must go on in a different way. One of the cultural nuances heading for a radical change is burial ceremonies. Many people still holding on to the old ways have kept dead relatives in the morgue, waiting for the lockdown to end, to engage in usual elaborate burials. But there is a snag. In Lagos and Imo states, the governors received complaints that morgues are overflowing with corpses. The governors acted in tandem with the times. In Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu gave a time line for people to bury their departed relatives or have the dead bodies join the mass burial by the government, aimed at decongesting morgues in the state. His condition was that there would not be more than 20 people at the burial, including the priest or priests, as the case may be, and there must be no party after the burial. People were constrained to follow the instruction and lay their departed relatives to rest. They followed the instruction to the letter. In Lagos, the burial of Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya, music icon and one of the early impresarios of highlife music in Nigeria, would have drawn a large crowd. No such thing happened, given that the rule was kept to the letter.
In Imo, Governor Hope Uzodinma said the morgues in the state were full. Operators of morgues had appealed to him to lift the ban on burials because their facilities were overflowing, and now constitute a problem for them. The governor had to heed their call, and he opened a two-week window for burials in the state. His conditions were akin to those of Lagos, except that permission would be received in writing from the local government authorities to proceed with the burial. The essence is for the local government officials to monitor the process, and ensure that it did not take more than two hours to complete the event, in accordance with the guideline. They would ensure that not more than 20 people would be in attendance. Reports indicate that many people have shied away from availing themselves of the opportunity, forcing the mortuary operators to give an ultimatum to those who have deposited bodies in their morgues. People now hesitant to bury their dead are still enmeshed in the old way of doing things. They want to wait for the end of COVID-19 to enable them give their departed ones ‘a befitting burial’. The hard stance of keeping to what they know has held them down. Some people have put off of their weddings because coronavirus would not let them throw an elaborate party. I know someone who held his wedding after he sent text messages to his invitees to the effect that they had to choice than to withdraw their invitation to the event, given that the window of 50 people, still permissible at that time, would leave him with immediate family only. Had he insisted on a big party, the event would not have happened, not now that the number has been further cut to 20 people. He would have remained in the anxiety of waiting for an end that has not been foreseen. Some are still waiting with bated breath for events they have in the pipeline because they have yet to come to terms with the new way of life.
Those who insist on giving their departed ones a befitting burial should observe the status of burials being given to people now. Have they not been ‘properly buried’ because there was no party, and hundreds of people did not gather for the burial? Was Dr. Victor Abimola Olaiya not properly buried? Does it imply that the person whose wedding held with 50 people in attendance was not properly wedded? What constitutes a proper wedding or burial?
Circumstances could put a question mark on long-held values, and even bring them down. In my recent article about capitalism, I found that it came to be after the flu of the 16th Century or thereabouts and has become an enduring economic way of life. Our preconceived way of burials, weddings and sundry occasions have been questioned by the this pandemic, and we had better adjust to the new way of life than resist change and create greater problems for ourselves.