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Elaborate burials in Igbo land cause much pain. May this be the beginning of the end

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Elaborate burials in Igbo land cause much pain. May this be the beginning of the end

The Anambra House of Assembly brought relief to bereaved families this week as it passed a law to reduce the expenses incurred in organising funeral and burial rites in the state, and to prosecute offenders.

Five key stipulations of the bill include:

  • In the event of death, no person shall deposit any corpse in the mortuary or any place beyond two months from the day of the death.
  • No person shall subject any relation of the deceased person to a mourning period of more than one week from the date of the burial ceremony.
  • The bill did not just stop at providing checks on the number of days recommended for burial ceremonies, but also condemned the elaborateness and fanfare associated with burials in the contemporary Igbo society. These attractions do not only affect financial resources but equally affect public peace and order in the form of destruction of property, gunshots, praise-singing, blocking of roads and streets during burial ceremonies.
  • More cheerful is that the bill provides that burial ceremonies in the state shall be for one day.
  • Another laudable stipulation of the bill is 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.

To maintain strict compliance, the bill also provides for a monitoring and implementation committee that would enforce the law as well as their responsibilities.

The law has elicited positive responses across Igbo states. There are expectations that other state assemblies in the region would tow the path of the Anambra assembly.

Backstory: In the past, burial occasions were mournful periods for bereaved families who reflected on the passing of a loved one and the vacuum it would create in the family and community.

But things have degenerated. In one instance, a youth that was cut down in his prime overseas for a drug-related offence was accorded a burial that even kings in Igbo land could not attract. The event was obscene and tongues wagged about the flight of the Igbo value system.

Even the church that could have been expected to be a centre for relief has not done better. In some denominations, the bereaved family is expected to present a cow to the body of elders in the event of the death of an elder. The church hands down lists containing outrageous demands to bereaved families, and failure to meet the church’s demands could attract severe sanctions ranging from refusal to conduct the burial tires to deducting at source whatever was due to the bereaved family.

Why it matters: Bereaved families, especially those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, go through untold hardships just to bury a dead relative. Sometimes, in a bid to fulfill burial demands, they have to put precious family assets and properties on sale, foisting even more penury on them as they are unable to fall back on anything afterwards.

The worst hit are widows grappling with the death of their husbands and yet subjected to various inhuman treatments during and after the burials. Their movements are restricted for a long period of time in the name of mourning the dead. In many cases, relatives of the husband cash in on the opportunity to sell off property to the detriment of the widow and her kids.

Bottomline: This is a law that is long overdue. Implementation will be crucial. All hands have to be on deck: the church, the media, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders.

Once more, kudos to Anambra State Assembly for blazing the trail.

Ukegbu is a writer and PR/Media Consultant

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