Traditional demands are pushing mourners into extravagant funerals in Nigeria, thus creating a big financial burden for poor families, as expenses include provision of befitting coffin, good food and other logistics. Though the cost of funerals is shared among the bereaved family members, they are still difficult to bear. In many cases, families go borrowing to cover funeral costs.
From the purchase of expensive caskets and the making of family uniform, popularly called ‘aso-ebi’ in the South Western part of the country, to slaughtering goats, cows and other animals (as tradition demands) for a massive feast, funerals in Nigeria are huge parties of sorts.
In virtually every community across the country, the resources invested in funerals are exceptional, compared to other traditional rites.
Why is funeral big deal in Nigeria?
According to Matthew Shobowale, a Christian, many people, due to age-long custom, believe that funerals in Nigeria are not only occasions to mourn, but also opportunity to celebrate the life of a beloved.
Shobowale added, “Never had there been a drab in the conduct of funeral rites in this part of the world, as Nigerian funerals are social events attended by a large number of mourners, which could run into hundreds as it is often considered to be merrier with more attendees.
“That means the dead person was very friendly, charitable, sociable and was having good rapport with the people within the society.”
Hole in pocket of bereaved
Persons that unfortunately find themselves in the somewhat obligatory situation of honouring the dead can also be found groaning under a huge financial burden.
Across Nigeria, bereaved families are under compulsion that is often exerted on them by extant tradition to host lavish funerals. They are expected to host extended family members, who visit from afar, even overseas, and could stay for weeks. Other costs include slaughtering of domestic animals to honour the dead, renting a hearse and tents, hiring pallbearers, as well as arranging transportation to the cemetery for mourners.
Kelvin Onukanshi, a federal civil servant, lamented, “I am still struggling to survive. In the midst of my struggle, I lost my father a few months ago. As a high chief, it is incumbent on me, as the first son, to renovate the house where he would lie in state. That is a huge cost, as the building has, by far, been dilapidated.
“As a high chief, I am required by tradition to officially announce the demise of my father to the elders of our kindred, as well as the church, before commencing burial arrangements. Money is involved in all these. Where do I get it from with my meagre salary, as most of my siblings are also struggling?”
Mr Onukanshi was busy looking for how to raise money to renovate the house before breaking the news of his father’s demise to his people, all in the name of trying to accord his late father a befitting burial. He may be one of the hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, who would want to spend lavishly to bury their beloved ones, even if they died in abject poverty.
Most Nigerians believe that whatever it takes to give the dead a befitting burial should be done to fulfil tradition. From Ijebu Ode to Benin City, Port Harcourt to Uyo, and Onitsha to Enugu, the story remains the same.
On why funeral expenses are high in most Nigerian communities, Mrs Esther Omosigbo, said, “Many days are used in organising funerals and a lot of money is spent on sympathisers and relatives in the provision of accommodation, food and drinks. Sometimes, the corpse is kept in the morgue for months. All these make the funeral expenses high.”
Again, since some families would not want their dead to be buried anywhere, except their ancestral home, they transport their dead relatives from farflung cities, and even countries of Europe and America, back home. This adds to the funeral burden.
In some instances, there is publicity about the death of a relative in the mainstream media. This is not chicken pea. Some family members mount giant billboards at vantage points to inform people about the death of their relatives. This can jack up the funeral budget.
Omosigbo added that the conduct of wake may lead to high funeral expenditure. According to her, during Christian or other forms of wake, sound systems are hired, assorted food and drinks served. Also, other items may be distributed to keep people awake during the vigil.
Mark Uweru, a statistician, said wake could be scrapped in the funeral plan.
His words, “Apart from the fact that activities taking place during wake increase the expenditure on funeral, it also affects the health of those involved. Sleep deprivation has been linked to health problems. One way of reducing funeral expenses is to abolish vigils, so the attendant cost can be cut off.
“Another way to reduce the cost of funerals is to shorten the period the corpse is kept in the morgue. The longer it is kept at the morgue, the more relatives have to pay for its preservation. When this is done, it will cut down the funeral expenses.”
He also advocated the interment of dead persons wherever the death occurs to eliminate the high cost of transportation.
Expensive casket and ornaments
To display wealth, bereaved families go as far as burying the dead with expensive caskets, most times imported from the United States of America,as well as precious stones and ornaments.
A story was told in the Second Republic, when Nwaeruru, the wife of then Governor Sam Mbakwe of Imo State, died. She was reportedly buried with gold. But robbers came in the night, dug up the coffin and carted away the gold.
Newton Okafor, a trader, advised mourners to avoid the use of expensive coffins, which increases the expenditure on the funeral and attracts men of the underworld.
Thieves loot graves because of the attractiveness of the coffins and ornaments used in burying the dead.
Okafor said, “People should plan to hold burial and final funeral rites on the same day to avoid extra cost. Holding such ceremonies on separate days incurs additional costs to families.”
He added that it is cost-cutting for bereaved families to prescribe inexpensive dress code for the funeral, especially for family members, as it is expected to be worn by family members and friends after the burial merely for remembrance purposes.