The Anambra State Assembly last week tackled an issue that had dominated discourse in the state for some time. It passed a bill to control expenditure during burial and funeral ceremonies in the state. The bill, which was sponsored by Charles Ezeani, member representing Anaocha II Constituency, seeks to cut down the cost of burial activities in the state and to prosecute offenders. The bill also provides that “in the event of death, no person shall deposit any corpse at the mortuary or any other place beyond two months from the date of demise.”
It further added that burial ceremonies in the state shall be for one day. The bill also stipulates that “during burial and funeral ceremonial activities, the family of the deceased shall provide entertainment for their kindred, relatives and other sympathizers at their own discretion.” The bill further placed a ban on destruction of property, gun shots, praise singing, blocking of roads and streets during such ceremonies.
The issue of expensive burials has been a source of worry to many people in the state for some time. Not long ago, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese in Anambra State, Paulinus Ezeokafor, lamented what he called the high cost of burying the dead in the South-East region. Delivering his homily at the burial of the prime minister of Umuchukwu Community in Orumba South Local Government Area, the Bishop described the practice as an economic waste. He called on people of the region to “retrace from such extravagant expenditure on burial ceremonies as that would not make the dead go to heaven.” He said what was important was for one to be drawn to God.
The Bishop said, “All of us should strive to do good and be prepared for death as it comes like a thief. There is no repentance in the grave so everybody should work had to achieve heaven. We spend a lot in burial; we should bury the dead but not to the extent of spending that much.” The Bishop further ordered the discontinuation of cooking food and sharing of souvenirs to bishops and priests at funerals.
He added, “The order will soon be extended to the laity in Awka Diocese. We are starting with ourselves (the clergy). We are doing it to help ourselves and relatives. Even if the dead is mama father or papa father, there will be no cooking of food and sharing of souvenirs. We are to mourn with deceased’s families and thereafter go our separate ways. Times are hard, we should find a way of reducing burial costs to the barest minimum.”
The Bishop’s intervention was clearly for members of the society who are not well to do but are forced to hold expensive burials because of the demands of the society. It is therefore good that the issue is now being tackled through this bill. A State Assembly has the power to examine cultural practices and can prohibit those that are injurious to society. Fortunately, the bill’s sponsor said there is provision for the bill’s monitoring and implementation. The death of a loved one is a sad event and the burial should be a time to reflect on the life and times of the deceased. It is not a time for ostentatious celebration.
Also, apart from the loss a person suffers, it is unfair to burden him/her with expenditure that in most cases he cannot afford. Adherents of both Islam and Christianity believe in the Hereafter, so what is most important at such occasions is prayer for the deceased to find mercy and to rest in peace. There are some instances where the wife of a deceased man is made to sell property in order to give him a ‘befitting’ burial, after which the family can barely afford to feed. This practice must be discontinued forthwith and we urge other states to follow Anambra’s fine example. In these hard times, we should re-examine old customs that merely add to our suffering.