SUBAIR MOHAMMED writes on burying the dead in Lagos and the ostentation that comes with the process for the rich, reports Saturday Tribune.
Death is a fate that awaits all mortals. It is a path every soul must walk, regardless of creed, sex, education or social status.
An English poet and dramatist, James Shirley, described death as the ultimate conqueror in whose realm perfect equality prevails.
In his poem, ‘death the leveller’, Shirley suggested that all human beings are made equal by death. According to him, death is the ultimate equaliser.
But a survey by this paper at private cemeteries and mausoleums where the remains of some Lagosians are laid to rest suggests wealth and class even among the dead.
Maybe death isn’t the leveller, afterall.
Contrary to Shirley’s claim, death or how the dead are buried is not an equaliser. It is indeed a different world for the poor who lived in penury and is given an ‘anyhow’ burial.
While the rich are buried with glitz, conveyed in state-of-the-art motorcades and buried in multimillion naira mausoleums in choice private vaults and gardens, the poor are lowered into the belly of the earth devoid of pomp.
Without mincing words, the rich and the famous have it all, even in death. The Managing Director, Western Funeral Homes Limited, Lagos, Mr Oluwatosin Onamade, acknowledged: “It’s all about class. The rich spend fortunes to preserve the memories of their loved ones.”
It’s all about cash
Burying the dead in Lagos can come with huge financial burdens.
Onamade disclosed that according the dead a befitting burial in private cemeteries across the state could cost as low as N350,000 and as high as N10 million, depending on the financial status of the deceased and location of the burial.
This covers a casket, getting a vault and vault bearers and other burial processions, Onamade said.
He identified various forms of burial that are suggestive of affluence and, of course, penury.
He said: “There are classes among the dead as far as burials are concerned. There are different types of burial which not many people can afford but the most expensive of all the burials is the earth burial while the cheapest is the sky burial.
In earth burial, the earth is dug and the dead is buried therein with a head marker to identify it. This is the most popular form of burial and it allows for showiness and display of affluence. You can hold a church service and merriment, including a motorcade.
“This is the most expensive form of burial and because of its flamboyance and grandeur, many rich people opt for it.
In sky burial, the dead is taken to a desert where vultures and other animals feast on. This form of burial is common among traditionalists and poor people.
“It comes cheap and it attracts no cost. All you need to do is to bathe for the corpse, dress it up and deposit it where birds and other animals can have access and feed on it. This is the cheapest of all the burial plans you can ever get. It is often settled for by the extremely poor,” Onamade said.
He spoke further on the differences between the rich and the poor in death: “The burial of the rich generates memorial for members of the family. If a burial has substance, you cannot easily forget the memory of the deceased.
“But if the dead is buried shabbily, without any ambience and affluence, there would not be any memorial and it would be forgotten within the twinkling of an eye.
“If you intend to do a memorable burial for your loved ones, be assured that it is going to be memorable. But if you choose to adopt the poor process, the deceased will be forgotten eternally.
“If you follow dignitaries’ processes, the burial will be memorable and the names will be forever in the hearts of the family and loved ones.
“You see the vault of someone who died over a hundred years ago because the vault can be easily seen and is maintained by the people the deceased left behind”.
Located in the Akoka area of Lagos, Atan Cemetery is a residential location for the dead, rich and poor alike.
The cemetery, according to its Director General, Jude Aisuebidogun, covers about 25 hectares of the land area in Yaba Local Council Development Area.
The public cemetery, adjudged one of the oldest public cemeteries in Lagos, he stated, houses two or more private cemeteries which also render funeral services to the rich.
Aisuebidogun told our correspondent that burying the dead at the Atan public cemetery attracts as little as N10,000 for a temporary burial and N300,000 above for a permanent spot.
He added that Lagos residents are expected to pay between N3.5 million and N6 million for burial at the private cemeteries located within the cemetery.
He said: “This is Lagos, the state of class and excellence. And this finds expressions in everything we do, including burying our dead. There is class among the dead. Although Atan is a public cemetery, there are located within it some private cemeteries which offer funeral services to the rich.
“There are Ebony Casket, BMC and other private cemeteries. These funeral homes offer services ranging from burial and motorcade services to other funeral services.
“For the private cemeteries, the prices range between N3.5 million and N6 million while for public burial, it could go for as low as N100,000 and N300,000 and in some cases, N10,000 for temporary burial.
“The difference between the burial of the rich and the poor is that the graves of the rich are decorated with marbles while those of the poor are left plain. It finds expression only in the amount lavished on the tombstone and marbles. It is nothing more than a show of wealth.
“For me, all human beings are equal in death. The only exception is that the rich have more than enough to throw around on their dead. Meanwhile, with the little spent by the poor to give last respect to their dead, they are also assured of a befitting burial for their dead because at the end of the day, whether rich or poor, the dead are interned with dignity.
“The amount expended on burying the dead doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, what matters is giving the dead a proper and befitting burial which is exactly what we give to the public at Atan Cemetery.”
Lavish spending on burial is waste –Septuagenarian
A septuagenarian, Pa Peter Oliwaya, described as wasteful, lavish spending on burying the dead.
According to him, the amount spent on burying the dead is not as important as the quality of life the dead lived while on earth.
He said: “We are a wasteful country. Spending heavily on burying the dead and procuring a vault worth millions of naira doesn’t add any value to the dead. It doesn’t give the deceased a ticket to paradise.
“The quality of the vaults and burial chambers gives the impression that the dead would actually rest in peace but this is not so. What the dead face in the graves depends on what they did while on earth.
P“Whether you bury your dead in the remotest part of Lagos or outer Lagos, the fact remains that the dead is committed into the belly of the earth. There is class in the burial of the dead, particularly in this part of the world.
“The Yoruba spend fortune on burial. The money is nothing to them and I think they do that for the love of the deceased. In Yorubaland, we celebrate our dead but not to the point of being wasteful.
“Spending extravagantly on construction of tombs and funeral rites is not necessary. What matters is the burial, not the quality or standard of the tomb, because at the end of the day, the dead continues their journey alone in the grave, whether good or bad.
“What matters is how the dead lived while on earth. Once the dead has been given a decent burial, it does not matter whether you erect a mansion as a tomb or just cover up the earth. It is unfortunate that the rich spend more than necessary on burials, creating a dichotomy between the rich and the poor in death.”
Pa Oliwaya lamented the state of public cemeteries across the state. He said: “With the sorry state of public cemeteries across the state, if the dead could speak, they would complain about the filth, weed and the lack of adequate security within the cemeteries against evil native doctors who visit the cemeteries for body parts.
“The government should urgently upgrade cemeteries across the state. It is disheartening to see weed grow on tombs and burial chambers. In some cemeteries, the gates are broken and hoodlums have turned them into their abode, where they smoke marijuana”.
Befitting burial in Islam
A dead Muslim, according to Ustadh Yunus Al-Imam, Director, RightPath Arabic School, Lagos, has the right to a befitting burial.
According to Al-Imam, this is one of the rights conferred on Muslims by Islam. In the course of according a dead Muslim a befitting burial, however, the relatives must avoid extravagance and acts that are contradictory to the teachings of Islam and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet.
He stated that no form of cosmetic in the form of plastering of the grave or construction of mausoleum is allowed in Islam.
He said: “Befitting burial is one of the rights that must be given to a dead Muslim. The messenger of Allah (SAW) said: ‘Whoever follows the funeral of a Muslim out of faith and the hope of reward until the funeral prayer is offered will have one qeeraat, and whoever attends the funeral until the deceased is buried will have two qeeraats’. He was asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, what are two qeeraats?’ He said, ‘Like two huge mountains’.
“Muslims must not be extravagant in the name of giving the dead a befitting funeral. Dead Muslims should be buried in Muslim graveyards.
“The Sunnah is to put the deceased in the grave turned on his right side, with the face towards the qiblah.
“The grave should be made a little higher than the ground for recognition. Those present at the interment should be encouraged to seek forgiveness for the deceased. No plastering of grave.”
Traditional burial is different —Awise Ifa of Lagos Mainland
In the Yoruba traditional religion, according to the Awise Ifa of Lagos Mainland, Ifatokun Alamu Fashina, the dead is buried vin accordance with the dictate of Ifa and it comes with little or no financial burden on the bereaved family.
Speaking with this reporter, the Awise disclosed that burying the dead is sacred, as the diviner is consulted and the gods are appeased for the deceased to have a blissful life after death.
He revealed that burying the dead in the Yoruba traditional religion is different from how it is done in Islam and Christianity.
He said: “As traditionalists, we rely on Ifa corpus to bury the dead. Burying the dead is sacred, we don’t just do it. We consult Ifa who will direct our path.
“In Yoruba tradition, ‘Ifa Etigbin’ is the guide. This we do in public, accompanied with sacrifice to appease the gods, after which the dead is buried. With this, the dead will surely be accorded heavenly bliss.
“At the graveyard, we offer prayers before lowering the dead into the final resting place. In the days of old, there was no significant different between the burial of the rich and the poor.
“But with civilisation, rich people became showy. In the olden days, once a person died, they were wrapped in plain white cloth and buried in the earth.
“But with civilisation comes buying caskets with millions of naira and erecting mausoleums which, in the end, come to naught. Burying the rich and the poor within the Yoruba traditional belief system is the same.
“Importance is not given to the status of the deceased because it is held that we are one and equal before Eledumare”.