Stakeholders in the Anambra state project have expressed different views on the proposed funeral bill just passed by the state assembly as OKEY CHRIS reports.
Burial ceremonies have been age-long practices among the Igbo speaking people of the South-east and South-south Nigeria to the extent that it is the best and last honour given to a dead person. Even with the entrant of Christianity, the phenomenon did not change.
In the medieval days, however, investigation by Blueprint reveals that the first honour to be given to the departed was to commit the corpse to mother earth within 24 hours or embalmed at home awaiting the arrival of relations before being committed to earth. This was followed by other cultural/ religious rites for a day or two, thereafter, local wines, water and food were served.
Usually, funeral ceremonies of traditional rulers were heralded by rituals like gunshots, masquerade parade, cultural dances with assorted drinks and meats. This include prominent men and women conferred with chieftaincy titles.
Likewise, the burial ceremonies of Christians involved eating and drinking, group dancing and other religious exercises. This category includes Christian leaders like pastors, bishops, priests, knights and politicians with the exception of gunshots and masquerade parade.
Why the bill?
In modern times, it is even more difficult for people to bury their dead as most bereaved families deposit the corpse in a morgue for weeks, months and years despite the financial implication. Blueprint gathered that Christians usually term a corpse not deposited in a morgue till the date of burial approved by them as ozu kporo nku which implies ‘a dead corpse’ and could even impose a fine on the bereaved family. For not adhering to such doctrine, it was learnt that the laity may refuse to conduct or attend the burial ceremony.
Also unbearable is payment of fines and other compulsory levies allegedly owed by the deceased which the family members must pay before such can be buried, printing of posters/ banners, sewing of asoebi (uniforms), printing of souvenirs, announcements in the media and other official ways of informing the communities, groups, relatives, friends, personalities and institutions about the burial, hiring the services of ‘best’ cooks, undertakers, musicians, sound system, masters of ceremony (MC), Outside Broadcasting (OB) vans, cooling vans, among others.
Analysts believe these extravagancies often lead mourners into borrowing or obtaining loans, selling of lands and other property as well as committing crimes like robbery, prostitution and hard drugs just to give their departed ones a ‘befitting burial.’ Perhaps, this prompted the Anambra state House of Assembly to pass a bill precisely on April 9, 2019 to control burial and funeral activities in the state.
The bill entitled: Anambra State Burial and Funeral Ceremonial Activities Bill,
provides that in the event of death, no person shall deposit any corpse in a morgue beyond two months from the date of demise while burial ceremonies shall hold only a day. The bill also placed a ban on destruction of property, gun shots, praise-singing, blocking of roads and streets during burial ceremonies, adding that defaulters shall be punished.
According to the sponsor of the bill, Hon Charles Ezeani of Anaocha 2 Constituency, it provides that during burial and funeral ceremonial activities, families of the deceased shall provide food for their kindred, relatives and other sympathisers at their own discretion. Ezeani added that once assented to by Governor Willie Obiano, no person shall subject any relation of the deceased person to a mourning period of more than one week from the date of burial ceremony. He further disclosed that the bill put in place a monitoring committee that will enforce the law, saying whoever violates it shall be fined N100,000 or face six months imprisonment.
The Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, had at a public hearing for the bill organised by the lawmakers on April 5, 2017 said the extravagance displayed by the people at burial and funeral ceremonies in the state needed to be checked through effective legislation to avoid pitiable situation and bondage.
Reactions: For and against
Since the passage of the bill last week, opinions have been wild on the matter. According to the traditional ruler of Nawfia, Njikoka local government area, Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo, the assembly made a fundamental mistake of not consulting the traditional institutions who are the custodians of culture.
“The Anambra state House of Assembly erred. Igbo culture does not allow the traditional rulers to see a corpse. Therefore, they should restrict burial to two days after consulting with the Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council. The burial should be the first day while funeral take place the next day. They should not make it to be stringent so that whoever wishes to extend it to more days can pay a fine of N250,000 to the state government and N150,000 to traditional institutions as a way of generating revenue”, he noted.
The monarch, while calling on Governor Obiano not to sign the bill into law until amended, stressed that one major thing the bill should abolish is sewing of uniforms which, according to him, makes people to sell lands and property but said it should not restrict people from conducting burial for two days or more if they can afford it.
He also urged the lawmakers to quickly embark on consultation with traditional rulers across three senatorial zones.
To an Awka-born traditionalist, Mr Uzochukwu Uyanne, “It was insulting to treat the customs and tradition with impunity. This was the exact attitude of the Christian colonial missionaries. They treated our culture as worthless. Regrettably, our bishops, governors and professors are the ones destroying our customs and traditions this time.
“Who dare alters the Christian burial or funeral requirements? Clearances involve lots and lots of money. Otherwise, the deceased will not get the due Christian burial or funeral ceremonies. Now, one-day burial/funeral is too stressful, especially for the poor. Two to three days is in order. One-day demands that the requirements must be on the ground before the bereaved can start the ceremony. Greater risk! What if the Muslims-dominated federal government takes such actions?”
Also speaking against the bill, a policy analyst, Ms Ebere Wigwe, contends that the issue of expensive burial shouldn’t give Anambra state headache since the it has more important issues than burial.
“People should consider banning all these small churches disturbing our people who need rest immediately they come back from work. There should be heavily taxed or closed up. I have seen a lot of houses here in Anambra where occupants are both tenants and churches. Anambra state government need to review documents given to all these churches,” she added.
Similarly, a social media critique, Mr Stanley Chira, popularly known as ‘Oderaa Igbo,’ said the bill was a nuisance and warrants recalling the member who sponsored it.
Chira urged lawmakers to advance how to handle herdsmen menace. “Daily robbery on our streets, wasting our money in frivolous pursuit that is prevailing in our state. Burial levy is the least of our plagues. It should be on how to compensate those killed by herdsmen or the likes.”
However, the traditional ruler of Nwagwu, Dunukofia LGA, Igwe George Okah, described the bill as a welcome development, stressing that it is people-oriented.
Okah said, “In my community, people used to sell lands and property to bury their dead but I stopped it immediately I became Igwe. It is now two days in my town. We will gladly embrace the one day stated by the bill. The law is good because there are communities where burials takes place up to three or four days including merry-making. It is uncalled for; burial ought to be for sorrow.
“Flamboyant eating and drinking should also be avoided. Forcing people to give cows, foods and others should also be avoided. But because Igbo are very hospitable, the bereaved can give food to sympathisers at their own discretion. The only thing I think the lawmakers should revisit in the bill is gunshot because it is not evil. It is symbolic; useful in sending the dead to the world beyond, but blocking of streets and others should be banned. If you want to celebrate people, do that when they are alive not dead.”
Supporting the bill, Rotarian Mrs Joy Mbachi, who is the president of Aboatulu Kindred Meeting Women Wing, Abomimi village, Enugwu-ukwu, Njikoka LGA commended the legislators for being homely in their bid to reduce the burial cost in the state.
“My reserved views remain the fear of killing our tradition and culture. It would be reasonable to contend with reducing the cost like saying there should be no elaborate wake keeping and brochure. But the aspect of asking for stoppage of gun sound and mourning for a week should be revisited. Igbo are cultured people and hold our tradition to esteem as such, the consequence of annulling such tradition needs to be checked for possible repercussion.
“My call on women remains that since change is the only thing constant, they should accept the aspect of the bill that is progressive like reducing fashion display. I want the government to review the bill before passage and expunge the areas that affect our traditional rites like gunshots and giving at least three months for mourning,” Mbachi maintained.
She also suggested the implementation of the bill through community leaders and creation of awareness for people to be acquainted with the significance and benefits of the bill.
Also, the national president, Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU), an umbrella body of the town unions of the 179 communities in the state, Chief Alex Onukwue, disclosed that the body has set a committee to look into extravagant burial expenses in the state, saying they are in support of the bill.