It has been a longstanding tradition in Igbo land for funerals to be lavish, especially for titled men and the elderly. However, the tradition has often left families of the deceased in huge debts compromising their living standard, a situation a recent bill in Anambra State is trying to curtail. But not everyone is happy about it.
Since the dawn of civilization,the traditions of lavish funerals have been entrenched and are responsible for some of the greatest monuments in the world today, from the Pyramid of Djoser, Pharoah Kufu’s great Pyramid at Giza and even the Taj Mahal of India.
Even, communist Russia seemed to forget the plights of workers when it expended huge resources for the Mausoleum of Lenin.
In Anambra State, the tradition of lavish funerals has been long standing, and over the years, the boundary of what a befitting funeral should be has continued to be pushed.
Often ceremonies are planned weeks, months or years in advance with bodies preserved in morgues until the funeral is held. Often, the families of the deceased go into huge debts in order to stage a befitting funeral. Often this has resulted in mortgaging the future of their children to meet social expectations, and score social points. This has become worrying for the state government.
Recently, the Anambra State House of Assembly passed a bill to ban expensive burial ceremonies, reduce cost of burials and the duration of mourning in the state.
The bill, when signed into law, will cap the duration of a corpse staying in the morgue at two months from the day of death, meaning all burials must be conducted under that period. It also stipulates that no person shall subject any relation of the deceased person to a mourning period of more than one week from the date of the burial ceremony.
This is designed to tackle the tradition in parts of Igbo land where widows a restricted from movement and withdrawn from societal affairs for some periods before and after the burial ceremony.
But this is not the first time an attempt has been made to curtail funeral excesses. The late president general of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife had insisted the ceremonies were useless to the dead and only lad to unnecessary waste of resources by the living.
For him, keeping a deceased in a morgue for months, or years in some cases as repugnant.
Incidentally, at Ikedife’s own funeral, Senator Ikechukwu Obiora during the day of tribute for Ikedife in Nnewi,recently said that, funeral ceremonies are more for the living and avails the bereaved emotional distraction at the lowest moments in their lives as it provides opportunity for commencement of the process of healing and closure.
Participations in funerals, he said, helps to refocus attention to mortality, while speeches, orations and tributes contribute to the discourse on public morality.
For some people, like Mr Emeka Nworah, a coffin maker, the bill will not affect their business as it won’t stop people from buying coffins but it will be unpopular for other reasons.
“The only reservation we have is the possibility of the law clashing with age-long traditions of the state, which demands that dead person be given befitting burial,”he said.
“During burial ceremonies many people are engaged in the preparation and putting them out of jobs will be dangerous to the government,”he said.
His words are echoed by another undertaker in Nnewi, who does not want his name in print. This one is optimistic the bill may not be signed into law because it is contrary to the traditions of the people.
He said some traditional rulers have started faulting the bill, because of lack wider consultation before passing it as the practices cannot be stamped out by law but by consultations with traditional rulers and town unions.
“Government cannot tell somebody how to bury his loved one. Churches have tried it but could not achieve any meaningful result,” he said.
Some of the traditions the bill seeks to regulate are flamboyant celebrations that may cause destruction of property, gunshots, praise-singing, blocking of roads and streets during burial ceremonies with provisions for defaulters to be punished by law. It also limits burial ceremonies to be only for a day.
Sponsor of the bill, Charles Ezeani, representingAnaocha 11 Constituency, said that the bill made provision for a monitoring and implementation committee that would enforce the law as well as their responsibilities.
He described the bill as “an important and great achievement by the 6th Anambra Assembly,” as it had put to rest the high cost of burial and funeral activities in the state.
The speaker of the House, Hon. Mrs. Rita Maduagwu, commended the quick passage of the bill, saying it would “moderate burial expenses in the state.”
For Prince Isaac Onuka, Chairman, Anambra State Inter Party Advisory Council IPAC, the bill is a good development but one that shouldn’t be the focus of the House.
Citing situations where Awka roads would be blocked because of a funeral he does wonder though how the government will control the rich from burying their dead the way they wanted
“There should be regulations to check the excesses in burial ceremonies, but that should not be the priority of the house,” he said.“We have unelected Local Government Officers and what is that house doing to make sure there are elected members in the local government.We have cult activities ravaging the state,cult boys killing themselves in Awka and many places, the house is not saying or doing anything about them.”
Sir, Clem Ofoedu of Quincy Farms Limited, Abagana that the culture of spending too much on funerals.
“A lot of people spend much money on burials, they go on borrowing, selling property and mortgaging the future of their children in the name of giving befitting burial to their dead ones,”he said.
According to him, in some cases those whom they borrowed money to bury, died in poverty, uncared for and unkept while alive.
“How do you stop a rich man who wants to do his father’s burial for a week? How do you stop a successful man from using gunshots to bury his titled father? How do you stop him from hiring praise-singers at the burial ceremony, infact the law is just for the poor,”he said.
Another person worried about the implementation of the law, if signed, is John Eya, a motor spare parts dealer in Nnewi.
“This law appears to me to be [targeted at] the poor only because the implementation committee may not be able to enforce it when a rich man violates it,”he said.
But for the former Vice Chancellor, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Prof. Pita Ejiofor, he is full of praise to the Anambra State House of Assembly for passing the bill.
In a statement in Awka,he described the bill as commendable as it would go a long way in saving the people from making unnecessary expenses in burying their dead ones.