By Jude Atupulazi
Sometime this past week, the social media was awash with a Bill against expensive burials in Anambra State which was sponsored by one Hon Ezeani in the House of Assembly last year. Somehow, it was not assented to by the governor and it never became law.
Feelers I got from top sources alluded to the impossibility of enforcement as the chief reason the bill failed to fly.
But one needed to see the way the social media celebrated the bill when it was reposted. It shows how much people are against expensive burials that are prevalent now; something people believe to be a borrowed culture, specifically borrowed from the Western part of Nigeria.
Today burials have turned to shows where the dead are often tossed about in their caskets such that on a few occasions, the caskets had fallen and exposed the corpses inside. What a disrespect for the dead! Those who lived like paupers are buried like kings, queens, princes and princesses. Those who lived in mud huts are made to lie-in-state in mansions. Food which the dead hardly ate are wasted in their funerals. Indeed, the whole show is gaudy, disrespectful and shameful. But who will listen?
Perhaps, this was what forced the Catholic bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, to not only come out with restrictions in his diocese, but to approach the State House of Assembly to enact a law against expensive funerals.
That approach he made to the house was what birthed the bill being circulated on social media as though it was done this year. It was actually in 2019 that it was passed by the house, only for the governor to withhold his assent. Thus, it came short of being passed into law. What this means is that we will have to continue living with this malady. We will have to continue watching people toss the bodies of gentlemen and women about in their coffins. We will have to continue stomaching all manner of indignities meted to the dead, knowing that there is nothing we can do about them.
But can we really not do anything about them? I think we can; even though it will be difficult, very difficult at first. We can do something individually and collectively.
For instance, we can on our own decide not to waste money on funerals in which we are involved. We can decide to do away with the so-called aso ebis, the live bands, the expensive souvenirs and needless expensive coffins that will be attacked by termites immediately they touch the earth six feet below. We can do away with lavish entertainments. Indeed, there are many things we can decide to shun as individuals. The heavens will not fall if we do things like sane people.
Collectively, we can as a community, place restrictions on the conduct of funerals. We can place heavy sanctions on defaulters and use the money to develop our communities and that is if we must go for money. If not, we have always had our ways of dealing with such matters, modernity or not. In this respect, communities can decide to bar its people from going for condolence to the home of any family that defaults. This has been done in many communities with great success and nothing says it cannot be done again.
But knowing how ''powerful'' some people claim to be and actually are, passing a law against it at state level will just about seal it. That was why people were happy to read about such a bill in the first instance.
Reading through the bill, one is bound to see areas that will be truly hard to enforce as some people may claim that their fundamental human rights are being tampered with. But wouldn't it have been better to pass the bill into law first and then manage it?
At this juncture, let me share with you that bill. If not for anything, as you go through its letters, just pretend that it has been passed into law and that people are complying. A part of your mind may be telling you that you are fooling yourself but don't listen to it. Just read it and enjoy.
1. All burial/funeral ceremonies of indigenous deceased persons must be registered with the town union of the deceased persons. Registration fee is NGN1, 500
2. No person must erect any billboard, banner or posters of any kind of deceased persons in the state. N100k fine or 6 months jail term, or both, for violation.
3. Persons are allowed to erect only directional posts (such as the ones leading to the venue). Must not be erected before seven days to the burial date and must be removed not later than seven days after the burial date. N100k fine or 6 months jail term, or both, for violation.
4. Corpse must not be deposited in the mortuary or any other place beyond 2 months from the date of death. N100k fine or 6 months jail, term or both, for violation.
5. No blocking of road/street because of burial except with the approval of the appropriate local govt authority.
6. No public display of casket for purposes of fabrication and sale. N50k fine or 1 month jail term, or both, for violation.
7. Deceased family must clear outstanding levies owed to the community or religious body before the funeral ceremony.
8. There must be no wake of any kind for any deceased person in the state. All Vigil Mass, service of songs or religious activity for the deceased person prior to the burial must end by 9:00pm. There must be no food, drink, life band or cultural entertainers during and after Vigil Mass, service of songs or religious activity for the deceased person.
9. All burial/funeral ceremonies for any deceased person in the state must be for one day.
10. All burial Mass/services must start not later than 9:00 am and must not last more than 2 hours.
11. No preserved corpse must be exposed for more than 30 minutes from the time of exposition. It could be kept in a room under lock and key.
12. All condolence visits after any burial/funeral ceremony must not exceed one day.
13. During a condolence visit, no person must give to the deceased person's family, as a condolence gift, any item exceeding money, one jar of palm wine, one carton of beer and one crate of soft drink.
14. No deceased person's family must give out any souvenir during burial/funeral ceremony.
15. For Ibuna Ozu Nwa Ada, there must be no demand of more than N10k by the maiden family of the deceased woman.
16. Undertakers at any burial ceremony must not exceed 6 in number. There must be no dancing with the casket by the undertakers.
17. Wearing of special uniform/aso ebi is restricted to: (1) immediate family of the deceased person, (2) church groups, and (3) umunna, umu ada and iyom di, where applicable.
18. Provision of food/drinks is not compulsory. It is at the discretion of the bereaved family.
19. No burial on any local market day of the town. For Nimo, no burial on Oye market day.
20. Umuada of the deceased person's family must stay only on the day of the wake and the burial/funeral.
21. No more custom of Ndi Youth demonstrating with the picture of the deceased person within the town.
22. No destruction of cash crops, economic plants, household utensils/property by Ndi Youth, condolence visitors, masquerade or any other person.
23. No use of any type of guns except Nkponana.
24. No brochure of the deceased person except for Order of Mass/service.
25. All condolence registers during any burial/funeral ceremony must be kept at a convenient corner on the premises.
26. There shall be no second funeral rites after burial except in the case of legacy.
27. Commissioner for Lands is required to create state burial ground in every community. Rejected corpses and unidentified corpses will be buried there. A "rejected corpse" is a corpse deposited in a mortuary for more than two months. Every mortuary attendant is bound to report to the Ministry of Health any corpse that has stayed beyond one (1) month from the date it was deposited. Failure to notify the Govt is an offence.
28. There will be Monitoring and Implementation Committees. Members will be paid such remuneration as may be determined by the town union of the town. The Town Monitoring Committee is responsible for (1) registering all deaths in the town, (2) giving clearance for every burial/funeral ceremony in the town, and (3) submitting records of the implementation of the Law to the Department of Town Union and Chieftaincy Matters in the State. The Implementation Committee must be present at any burial ceremony to observe the implementation of the Law. Obstruction of the Committee is an offence and attracts a fine of N50k.
29. Contravention of the provisions of the Law is an offence punishable by N100k fine or six months jail term.
30. Magistrate Court has jurisdiction to try offences under the Law.
Now, having read through, imagine how much sanity there would have been if such a law were to be in place. I leave you to manage your imaginations.