Extravagant funeral: Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor of Awka Catholic Diocese is leading the crusade against it.
Last Wednesday was a day to remember. It was the day the Catholic bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, stormed the Anambra State House of Assembly to advance his case for the reduction of funeral expenses.
Hear the bishop: '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.'
Bishop Ezeokafor had led by example much earlier by banning priests and religious in Awka Diocese from lavish entertainment at funerals of their loved ones.
This decision had been hailed by many people who also wanted the bishop to go the extra mile of extending the same sanctions to the general body of the faithful.
He has also decreed that no family will leave their dead for over two months without a Christian funeral.
There is also a plan to ban the production of funeral brochures in the diocese. These are all part of efforts to stem the tide of unnecessary extravagance associated with funeral ceremonials in these parts.
The bishop's example is laudable indeed at a time when stupidity is threatening to take over common sense. To say that our people have ridiculed funerals is to state the obvious. Even the way dead people are thrown about by undertakers in the guise of showmanship is nauseating. It is indeed a wonder that no dead person has jumped out of their coffin to go after those undertakers.
But I blame families who allow their dead to be treated that way. They may think it is showy or grand, but I say it is grand stupidity. Why isn't the dead allowed to rest in peace?
The worrying thing is that despite public outcry against this new phenomenon, it seems to gather strength each day. Today entire roads are blocked because a family wants to bury their dead in grand style, not minding that no member of that family bothered to visit the deceased while alive and suffering.
It is these people that the bill seeking to end expensive funerals will affect. But then, how heavily will it affect them? I gathered that offenders will merely pay the sum of N100, 000 or risk a six-month jail term. This is where the House of Assembly hasn't done well. Even paupers can raise N100, 000 so long as they can have their way. How much more the rich?
When I saw the punishment for offenders, I could hardly believe it. To me, it would have been better if no one was arrested than for sitting to approve the paltry fine of N100, 000. There are people who can gladly pay a million just to be allowed to ''celebrate'' their dead in every newspaper in Nigeria and beyond, as well as in TV stations. But at least the one million naira will be useful to the state as revenue.
This is the only black dot on the bill which I hope will be quickly corrected if we really mean business.
The expenses incurred by families here in burying their dead are just too much and really make no sense. This is why we need to borrow the style of the Hausa Muslims who do not respect class or position in burying their members. No matter who you are or what you are, you must be buried same day that you die.
When the bill becomes law, I want a situation where anyone seen holding up traffic because they want to impress the public by using hired dancers, criers or flower girls and a motorcade, will be arrested and the corpse confiscated and returned to any mortuary. Haven't we all fallen victims of traffic jams caused by a long line of vehicles conveying the dead to the church? Such is usually accompanied by a retinue of mourners (often fake) a musical band and flower girls as though a wedding is going on.
Anyone who approves this kind of show is no better than a motor park tout. This is anti-Christian to say the least. Burials or funerals are supposed to be occasions for sober reflections, not partying and loud noise.
The actions of the so-called rich have negatively affected everyone now, such that today, even poor people borrow money to bury their dead. No one wants to be seen as poor and it is almost taboo for anyone to fail to give what is seen as a befitting burial to their dead.
Those who try to resist by burying according to their capacity are laughed at. That is how bad things have become.
For those who were not born long ago, they should ask their parents or grandparents how deaths were received and how the dead were mourned. When someone died, villages seemed deserted. Children stayed indoors and there was always a palpable feeling of fear and even awe. Today, children have even lost their fear of the dead and dying, such that one sees young people taking videos of people being lynched and sharing such pictures with their friends in the social media.
For this expected legislation to work therefore, there should be very strict compliance to it by everyone, no matter one's status in society. And of course, the sanctions imposed should be hefty so that whoever breaks them should feel the pain.
Expensive funerals have become a madness that must be cured. They have misled a lot of people and are still doing so. The essence of mourning the dead has been bastardized. Everyone now looks forward to being buried in a grand style, rather than thinking of how to make heaven. It's as if the more expensive the burial, the greater the chance of the dead making heaven. How absurd!
I therefore cannot thank my bishop enough for leading this crusade against the raving madness of our time. Someone has got to speak up and that's what Bishop Ezeokafor is doing. He sure needs our support.
There should not be the situation where we hail him publicly but return to do the same thing he is fighting against, just the way we go about the dust to dust thing. This is where many so-called Christians display a lack of faith or double standards. They bury their dead like pagans and then go to church to do thanksgiving.
I remember the day in church when a priest halted a family midway to the altar as they danced and sang to do offertory. The priest had heard how they secretly performed pagan rites for their dead and waited for the time they would come to church. When they eventually did, he shamed them publicly by driving them back with their gifts. He did not mind who or what they were.
This is how I expect defaulters of the crusade against expensive funerals to be treated. It is certain that the first group to run foul of this law will be the politicians and the business class. These are groups who usually invite the entire world to the funeral of their dead. When you see those who turn up, you think there is a fashion pageant going on. Exotic foods are served, streets are closed for days and those unfortunate enough to live near them will have their ear drums blocked by the noisy music blaring from loud speakers.
This is not what we want. There must be life after funerals. Those who borrow to bury their dead often starve for months before they recover.
People must learn to care for loved ones while they live and not to lavish money upon their death. It is morally reprehensible and defies logic.
We must join hands in ensuring that the crusade being championed by Bishop Ezeokafor succeeds. Its success will breathe a whole new life into society. It will bring us back to reality and perhaps, make us to act a little more like human beings. Thank you, Bishop Ezeokafor, the bishop of the masses.