It seems that not all weeping and wailing when people mourn their loved ones is due to sorrow at their loss. In parts of Nigeria, much of the weeping is caused by the thought of the funeral expenses.
Despite the economic downturn in Nigeria, a lot of people in the country see funerals as a means of showcasing affluence. Many funerals in parts of Nigeria have become extremely expensive and reviewing funeral expenses is now top of the agenda in many of the 36 states in the country.
Depending on the religion and culture, burial rites can last from a few hours or days to up to a week or more.
Elaborate funerals are common in largely Christian southern Nigeria but such ceremonies are non-existent in the Muslim north. Unlike in the south, the bereaved in the north, however rich, spend little or nothing on funerals.
In the south, there are special funeral rites for chieftaincy title holders and they are given lavish burials. Both in the south east and south west, death is seen as another means of showcasing wealth and families that hold inexpensive funeral ceremonies are viewed as poor and held in contempt.
In some places in the south, corpses are left in the morgues for years, accumulating high fees, primarily to give the bereaved time to find the money to hold the expensive funerals demanded by society.
Some rich, bereaved families now hire paid mourners to mourn on their behalf. Caskets are becoming very expensive and are usually gold plated to show off the affluence of the bereaved. Other costs include the wake and religious service; post-burial events, for example receptions with high-profile musicians; gifts for guests and sympathisers. Drink and food all add to the frighteningly high cost of funerals.
There are now special cemeteries for the rich in Lagos, Nigeria’s former capital city, and now the commercial nerve centre.
A show of affluence is now obligatory, causing misery for less wealthy families when burying their dead. Many families in the south, especially the middle class and poor, undergo real financial misery when they lose their loved ones.
There was a celebrated case in the south east of Nigeria, when a wealthy man loaded the casket of his late mother into a hummer jeep and lowered the expensive SUV into the grave. He stationed security operatives to keep watch over the grave.
The burial of former Nigerian Vice President Alex Ekwueme on February 1st, 2018, is another example of an elaborately expensive funeral. He died in London at the age of 85 on November 19th, 2017.
The cost of the funeral put the family of Ogochukwu Ekwueme, the seventh son of the deceased, under intense pressure.
Professor Sam Smah, a philosopher at the National Open University of Nigeria (Noun), told 7Dnews that rich people in the south now set aside money for elaborate funeral ceremonies after their death.
Smah said that some people have started saving for their burial to save their children embarrassment. “This is not very good. We have to be simple and keep the family together and give children breathing space.’’
“What is a burial? A person who is dead is dead and should be buried in a simple manner that doesn’t cause the bereaved family additional expenditure and debt.”
Industrialist Godwin Ezeemo, National Patron of Igboezue International, condemned the practice among the Igbo people in the east of hosting flamboyant funerals.
Ezeemo told 7Dnews that such funerals were anti-Igbo culture and that the trend has led to a lot of problems among the middle class who make up the majority of society.
“A lot of businesses have been crippled as a result of this trend as many people want the kind of funeral that pleases their guests.
“Often, the bereaved sell off their inheritance to have a suitable funeral for their loved ones and sometimes even borrow money to have special clothes made, buy expensive caskets and things like that.”
“These practices are not part of our culture, they’re adopted from other cultures, especially the Yoruba culture in the south west. It’s not a helpful custom,” he said.
Ezeemo urged Igbos to drop the current funeral practices along with others that are not only corroding their values but impeding socioeconomic development.
Chief Pius Okoye, the National President of the Igbos, gave assurances that the fight against the high cost of funerals would be won, telling 7Dnews that efforts were in progress to get the five states in the south east to enact laws that would achieve this.
Leaders in parts of Nigeria have started putting measures in place to create a level playing ground for funerals, making them affordable for all.
Some traditional rulers and churches in eastern Nigeria have ordered that corpses should not be kept in mortuaries for more than two weeks. They have also set guidelines on funerals and receptions.
The Chairperson of Tiv Area Traditional Council (TATC), in Nigeria’s Benue, His Royal Majesty, Professor James Ayatse, has constituted a 15-member committee to look into the problem of expensive funerals ceremonies in Tiv land.
According to a statement on November 7th, 2019 by Freddie Adagbe, Media Assistant to Ayatse, the committee has three months to submit its report. The mandate of the committee is to find ways of reducing funeral costs.
Ayaste told the committee that funerals have been turned into expensive ceremonies alien to Tiv culture and that there was a need to address the problem as the trend is causing poverty.
“We are eradicating such borrowed cultures, values and traditions that are not beneficial to the growth and development of Tiv people,’’ said.
The Otaru of Auchi, Aliru Monoh, in Edo state in southern Nigeria, has banned expensive Islamic burials in the mainly Christian state. Momoh said that his palace had been inundated with complaints of mounting funeral debts.
"The recent burial system in Auchi is anti-Islam. We have to restore Islamic values and burial methods. Any Muslim who dies must be buried the same day without any ceremonies,” he said.
The Assembly in Anambra State, in southeastern Nigeria, enacted a law cutting funeral expenditure on April 9th, 2019. It was sponsored by Charles Ezeani, a lawmaker representing the Anaocha constituency.
“It is no longer acceptable for people to be enmeshed in debt because of burial.
“In some cases, people have to sell property at a cheap rate so they can bury their dead ones and after the burial, they actually don’t have enough money for food,” Ezeani said, adding that it was imperative to draw a line between “mourning” the dead and a “fiesta” and that expensive caskets should no longer be used.
The lawmaker said that funeral rites constitute between 60 and 70% per cent of the socio-cultural activities in the state and that the new law curtails the outrageous demands on the family of the deceased.
Prof Peter Ejiofor, former Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, told 7Dnews that expensive funerals must be stopped and regulated.
“It has become a curse for anyone to lose a loved one,” he said.