Funeral rites across the globe and in Africa or Nigeria in particular are often influenced by culture, belief system and religion. From the moment anyone is pronounced dead, aside from crying associated with the vacuum created by the individual, what the person had done, whom s/he raised, position in the family, community and cultural concerns among many other things come into play in the decision of final funeral rites.
Prior to modern day arrangement, some cultures take like a week or more to finish burial rites. Depending on who is involved, a lot of expenses are involved. For the northern Nigerians, where burial rites are mostly influenced by Islamic religion, corpses must be buried that same day, if this is possible and it must be before the sun sets. This is irrespective of whether the individual is a king or a peasant.
For Muslim up north, it is only in exceptional circumstances that burial is delayed till the following day. Not much fun fare is attached. There are no expensive coffins, as Muslim do not bury their dead with caskets. In most cases there are not many investments in the grave used by Muslim as well.
In the Southern part of the nation, predominantly non-Islamic region except for a few, funerals are big deals with several events which attract huge financial resources. Funeral in some instances is accorded a similar level of prominence as a birth and marriage. This is especially so if the deceased had lived a long life, was rich, had a prominent position in the family or society among other factors.
Funeral ceremonies may reveal social status. Many wannabees had even run into millions of Naira debt just to give what is considered a ‘befitting burial’ to the departed soul. Before the 2000s, the choice of a burial place did not take a lot of expenses like all other aspects of the funeral programme. What used to take a whole lot of chunks of money were clothes (for the corpse and family members), casket, the musician, venue of service, guest entertainment locations, ambulance that carried the corpse, the kind of bands that lead the processions of cars to different venues etc Then these all showed the class and status of the dead.
Of note is that many family members never recovered for a long while from the debts incurred during a family member’s burial. Interestingly the amount spent on burials when compared to what was spent on the dead, especially while still alive or suffering any health challenges are often alarming. That may be a discussion for another day. It is common knowledge that many save money for burial rather than for the well-being of relatives.
“The route to heaven” post 2000 in Southern Nigeria
Towards late 90s and early 2000 and beyond, the dynamic in burial places changed. Rumours about safety of corpses in many public and state-owned graveyards gained momentum. Money ritualists were caught with human parts. Some of these human parts were gotten from public graveyards or fresh dead bodies knocked down by hit and run drivers or scenes of accidents.
With the need and consciousness for safety of departed souls, many began to search for private funeral homes. This began the journey of the boom of private funeral homes in Nigeria, especially in Southern Nigeria. Within some months post 2000, the funeral homes business began to boom. Buying burial vaults for a family member or buying for oneself in advance became the fad among Southern Nigerians. Initially it was for the rich and seen as a status symbol. But over time the need to preserve the body of departed souls from being dismembered became a concern to all.
In southern Nigeria, private funeral homes are almost everywhere. From Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Oshogbo, Oyo, Onitsha, Benin, Port Harcourt, Ede, Uyo, Ikere Ekiti, Awka among many other cities are countless.
Funeral homes services start from mortuary service. The public mortuaries are not well maintained though cheaper. With funeral homes to keep a corpse for a day ranges from fifteen to fifty Thousand naira. But with the public mortuary, it can be as low as three to five thousand depending on the location and city.
Mortuary service comes with embalmment of body and casket costs. Funeral homes charge as high as Seventh-five thousand, equivalent to One Hundred US dollar for corpse embalmment. In terms of casket, people do according to their sizes. Caskets can be as low as One Hundred and fifty thousand or run into Millions of naira.
The funeral place, grave, often seems to be the most expensive of all these. Grave also comes in shades, single or double. An average price for a burial place in private funeral homes, anywhere in the Southwest is about Seven Hundred and fifty thousand naira (One Thousand US dollar at the parallel market rate). In Lagos the price ranges from Two Million naira (about three Thousand US dollars) to fifty Million depending on taste. This is outside other costs. One may not understand the implication of this until one realises this is a country where many live on less than a US dollar daily
What is too much for the dead?
The above question began to pop up in the heart of the writer since 2015 there about. Around July that year, a long distance relative passed on. Relatively young man around 40 due to a communicable disease he hid from the family until the case became irreversible. The individual passed on within a week despite family medical rescue efforts. To preserve the individual memory with the decision that his young children can visit his burial place when they were of age, a decision to use a private funeral home was reached. As of then, a single grave procured was around over a million naira.
Since I have been asking this question. In 2018 I asked Biodun, not real name, whose family wanted to go same route around 2018, what is too much? According to him, “This private initiative allows members of the public to honour their dead ones as well as gives rest of mind that your departed soul can rest without the fear of someone coming to cut some parts for sales”.
In 2020, Kola an indigene of Ijebu, not real name, also answered, “we all know social status is displayed during funeral ceremonies, many southern Nigerians have to succumb to these pressures” in 2022, Chinedu from Onitsha also affirmed, “Beyond the status, if you can safeguard your dead body from being dismembered with the fact that you can always come to do remembrance for the departed soul with a visit to the grave once in a while, which you are not guaranteed in public cemetery, why don’t you invest in this”?
Kemi, on the other hand, recalled an experience she had with the burial place of her Mum. “My siblings and I were still young, when the family decided to bury my mum in a public cemetery. After 15 years, myself and my siblings who are now adults, planned a visit to the place, no one could tell us the actual place. We also suspect they had sold the same spot and buried another corpse there. So we missed the opportunity of visiting the burial place of our mum for life”. If I have the money, why should I use a public cemetery all my life, Kemi concluded.
Anu, another lady claimed “it is not a case many of the public cemeteries in the urban cities are even cheap as it were. None in total: grave, slabs, concrete etc often goes below three hundred and fifty thousand naira. Except in the outskirts of cities or remote places, public cemeteries without security and rest of mind for the deceased families are not that cheap. So why don’t you up the game if you can with little investment above the public range”.
“Whatever you do, don’t die”
Given the costs associated with the burial in the southern Nigeria alone, a clergy of a young and fast growing church based in the southern Nigeria last year had to admonish every young man in a viral video, especially those who want to be everything for everybody at the same time to be careful how they go through stress just to make money.
Beyond the cost of the burial, the clergy encouraged “if you imagine how short your memory is with many people, you need to be you and live healthy. Only the immediate family will suffer for so long, especially if the individual is the sole breadwinner for the family- extended and nuclear”.
Given the fact that no known dead body continues to contribute to the development of the living from the grave, can we consider this obsession as waste? Can Southern Nigerians reconsider this act?
Oh I heard it is not peculiar to Nigerians alone and have been told if I ever watched funeral rites of any monarch in England and how much investments go into that? Where do we go from here then?
Pc: St Francis funeral Services
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