Recently I visited a familiar family to commiserate with the members of the household over the sudden demise of their breadwinner. The deceased man was gruesomely shot dead by a notorious armed robbery gang operating along Benin – Ore road. The widow and her four children were dressed in white attire and sat adjacent to one another. I saw the ugly marks made by the tears that were still running down their cheeks. The widow is yet to believe that her lovely husband is dead. In fact she is still day-dreaming. Before going to bed every night, she first of all goes to lie down on top of her late hubby's grave, calling, “Darling! Darling!! Darling!!!” Without getting any answer she rolls tearfully on the grave like a rolling machine. Her four children are still very tender. They also weep uncontrollably every night, looking for their daddy.
On the third after the burial, the bereaved family members sat at the balcony in a semi-circle discussing about the tearful burial and funeral accorded their deceased beloved one. Suddenly an unknown thief sneaked into their house from behind. He searched the widow's room thoroughly. In the process he came across the bulk of money realized from the funeral ceremony. Also he made away with the widow's golden jewelries. Unluckily, as he was about to jump down from the one storey building, he was caught red-handed by a passer-by, who raised an alarm instantly. Those who heard the distress alarm came out en masse and surrounded the building. A distress call was also made to the Police who reacted with dispatch. Six armed policemen encountered the unarmed thief tactically. He surrendered himself with his booty. The police officer who led the operation handcuffed the thief and then asked him, “Mr. Thief, why did you decide to steal from the dead? Are you a ghost?” The thief replied, “Officer, please temper justice with mercy. I am jobless and helpless which led me into stealing from the dead.” The policemen whisked him away to their station for further interrogation.
On another day I paid an unscheduled condolence visit to a family under my pastoral jurisdiction. When I came in, I went straight to the place where the widow was sitting with two women, one at her right hand and the other at her left. As I was praying for the repose of the departed husband of the widow, she did not blink her two eyes. Instead she was looking at me straight into my eye-balls. I prayed for the repose of the deceased and for God's guidance over the widow and her three little children. At the end of the prayer, her mouth was wide agape. She did not say 'Amen' as I expected her to do. Instead she boldly asked me, “Man of God, who are you?” Surprisingly I asked her in turn, “Why this question? Well, I am a Reverend Father.” She told me that experience has taught her a big lesson. She narrated how two men in white cassock came to her a day before to console and to pray for her. After the Pentecostal prayer, the Men of God demanded for a place to rest awhile before continuing their ministry. The unsuspecting widow offered them descent seats in her family sitting room. The two men of God were then offered a bottle of red wine and two plates of delicious rice and stew crowned with chicken thighs. They consumed them within few minutes. As they were masticating the bones, the house dog started barking from its quarters because it was being denied its right. After being satisfied, the two men of God in cassock thanked the widow for her hospitality. In addition they made a compassionate request for the sum of N50,000 to be used in repairing their car which broke down suddenly on their way. They promised to bring it back the following day. The widow trusted them as men of God and obliged them. The two thieves in cassock absconded and have not been traced till today. The phone numbers they gave the widow were forged. The poor widow cried hopelessly after this narration. I consoled her as much as I could. She still doubted my genuine identity until one of her brothers who knew me came in and shouted, “Father Chukwuma, longest time! It is unfortunate that death brought you here. Please pray for us!” The widow tearfully exclaimed, “Father, sorry for embarrassing you. It is difficult nowadays to distinguish between a chorister in hood and a graduate.” I smiled and told her not to worry because I was not in Warri.
My people let us beware of wolves in sheep's clothing! It is not everything that glitters that is gold. Some thieves disguise themselves nowadays in clerical attire with intention to dupe. They appear in churches or homes of the deceased whose family is well to do. But you hardly see them when a poor man dies. They line up with genuine clergy men to collect any monetary or material 'take away.' If food and drinks are provided, they eat and drink like gluttons. At times they come with sacks to steal any food item or drinks that are within their range.
Some of those employed for errands or those assigned to serve during burial or funeral ceremonies also steal from the dead. If you send them to market, they inflate prices in order to enrich their pockets. They also make away with some of the essential commodities bought by the deceased family or donated by sympathizers. Those at the kitchen hide meat, fish, crayfish, and other condiments provided. One certain time, an employed dubious cook threw a large portion of raw meat over the wall with the intention to collect it for home when darkness descends. Fortunately, a poor hungry woman was defecating close to the wall. She made the Sign of the Cross for God's answering her prayer of “Give us this day our daily bread.” She hurriedly stood up without wiping her anus. Like a kite she collected the large portion of cow meat and ran home before the thrower emerges. When it was dark, the dubious cook came over to collect the meat for home. She searched everywhere but did not find it. She cursed the person or animal that might have made away with the meat. Can this curse be effective? Who sinned actually: the dubious cook or the poor woman? If a thief steals from a thief, what do we term it?
Some relations, kindred and communities of the deceased manipulate the burial or funeral ceremony of the dead for their selfish aggrandizement. They give the deceased family a long list of costly and difficult material items to be provided for them without which they will foment trouble. They state categorically the number of cows to be slaughtered for the dead. Somewhere I asked a deceased family to give me the portion of the cow slaughtered for the dead so that I would take it to him in the world beyond. They laughed and ignored my plea. What irks me most is that if the deceased was sick before he or she died, hardly did any of those peer groups visit him or her at sick-bed. He or she might have died in penury. Some people specialize in befriending the dead for egocentric reasons.
There was a widow I visited to commiserate with her over the death of her husband. The late husband was an active member of my parish before his demise. Immediately I arrived, the widow wept uncontrollably. I consoled her and asked her to bear the loss with fortitude. As she was sobbing, she complained bitterly that she was bearing not only the pain of her husband's death. Her bigger problem was acute hunger and hardship. I did remember that a lot of sympathizers paid her family condolence visit with various monetary and material items. I did not mince words in asking her of the where-about of those condolence items. She complained that her husband's brothers and sisters carted away with the condolence money and other material gifts in the pretence that it is a taboo for a widow to eat or use those things. I spat on the floor and shouted, “Abomination! What a daylight robbery!” I convinced the widow that her husband's siblings were thieves and she should sue them in court for theft and for oppressing a widow.
When a married woman dies, the widower (husband) would sit at table taking note of all monetary and material condolence items. He eats and drinks as he likes without any restraint. But when a married man dies, the widow (wife) would be caged in a tight or hidden corner to avoid her seeing the condolence money and items. Often a fence is made around her to limit her movement. Even eating is made difficult for her. The 'umuokpu' (kindred women) sitting around her do not help matters. She must go out with an escort to avoid her entering into 'no go areas' in her own compound.
The children and relations of a certain not-well-to-do man abandoned him at sick-bed. He was sighing when he was dying. In fact, when he gave up the ghost his mouth remained in a sighing position because he died unhappily. During his funeral ceremony his children and relations decided to give him a befitting funeral, even though he lived an unbefitting life. As those children and relations were dancing with his picture and collecting money from sympathizers, the dead man appeared with 'koboko' and beat them mercilessly. They cried, abandoned everything and ran away without looking back. Till today no one knows their where-about. A cheat shall be cheated. Those who steal from the dead shall regret their actions sooner or later.