With our current population explosion, policies must be formulated to take care of the growing problem of burying increasing number of people, especially those who do not own land or live in their ancestral homeland. The business of ensuring correct burial is the constitutional responsibility of the local government. The fourth schedule of the Nigerian constitution says the main functions of local governments include the establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute and the infirm. Throughout the nation, ranging from those areas where government-operated public cemeteries exist to the areas where communal cemeteries are common, there is a major problem. Both Public Health Laws and Islamic injunctions specify the manner in which graves should be dug, the dimensions and the procedures for burial. It is quite clear that these regulations are being flouted on regular basis.
In some parts of the South the situation is so bad that public cemeteries have become a haven for ritualistic behaviour. Stories of activities in government-owned public cemeteries are too macabre to relate. And in some parts of the North stories of bodies being washed up from burial graves and consumed by scavenging animals are becoming an increasing occurrence. Some experts make the distinction between graveyards, burial grounds and cemeteries. Graveyards were normally found in church premises, burial grounds are communally operated and normally found in the rural areas, and cemeteries are government operated and normally found in the cities. All are however resting places for the dead and in need of regulation and regular inspection.
In other parts of the world loved ones freely walk into a cemetery to pay regular respect to the dead without giving it a second thought. But in some parts of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general burial grounds are sometimes associated with magic: evil, pain, hell fire, juju, damnation and voodoo. People pray and hesitate before entering. In some parts of the country, because of the stigma attached to being buried in a public cemetery, more and more people are being buried in their homes. This has led to the public health problems of cities being turned into sprawling burial grounds with a grave in almost every building. Furthermore private boreholes and wells are being dug in the vicinity of graves which pollute the water below ground. This is an increasing problem as public water supply has dried up throughout most parts of the country and citizens are now forced to dig sub-standard boreholes and wells merely to have access to portable water. The reports about the increasing number of washed up bodies suggest that graves are not being dug to correct specification in secured places in the affected areas.The alternative to the sub-standard cemeteries or burial grounds is the private cemeteries springing up in some parts of the country. However, these are sadly becoming the business of extortionists as they charge well above half a million naira for a vault and up to N10 million for “preferential locations”. Recognizing the problem, the Lagos State Government has passed a law legitimizing cremation, but this practice is against most African cultures. It is often said that you can judge the living by the way they treat the dead. If this is true, then our nation is in a poor state. Government must live up to its responsibility of ensuring that all burial grounds of whatever nature show respect to the dead. The society as a whole must ensure that this is done. Nigerians deserve to be buried correctly in places with serenity and sense of calmness. They deserve to rest in places where there is neatness, cleanliness and spotless beauty.
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