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Money Talk with Nimi: What is a “befitting burial”?

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Chike Okoye is a Nigerian student based in the United States. He works part time to keep up his college fee payments and sends money home regularly through Western Union to support his ailing father Chief Okoye and his siblings. When Chief Okoye had a stroke three years ago, which left him severely incapacitated, he had no medical insurance in place and very few relations or friends were in a position to, or were inclined to assist with the nursing care, physiotherapy and medication required; this took a huge toll on the family finances.

In October last year Chief Okoye died. As the eldest son, Chike was expected to travel home to take charge of arrangements. As his father was titled, expectations were high for a lavish funeral. The family house was in a state of disrepair so there was a need to refurbish the property. A team of painters and builders was dispatched to ‘touch up’ the compound, install air conditioning, a generator and spruce up the place just to keep up appearances. Chief Okoye’s remains were kept in the mortuary for three months, at significant cost whilst arrangements were being made.

“Well-wishers” expected to be fed for the weeks prior to the actual funeral and beyond, and reported daily as early as 7 AM. Some “elders” even suggested that the cow he bought was too small and that the portions being served were unsatisfactory and would never go round. Large colorful posters announced the passing of “a rare gem” and friends and associates placed expensive obituaries and goodwill messages in the print and electronic media to show association and sympathy.

Sadly, by the time Chike return to the US after the ceremonies were over, his financial situation was so dire as his finances were badly depleted, that he had to withdraw from college and secure a full time job to build up resources to be able to continue his education.

Funeral traditions vary in Nigeria according to community. For example, in some parts of the South-South and South-East, a whole week is set aside. The body lies in state in an elaborately decorated chamber and direct descendants of the deceased are dressed in expensive ceremonial garments. Family “uniforms” are also made available at some cost for immediate and extended family and friends to show a sense of community and belonging.

Guests turn out in large numbers for the duration of the festivities and are fed and entertained. They are usually grouped in specially designated areas reserved for In-laws, classmates, club members, friends, business associates, and members of the extended family. Buses are sometimes chartered to transport some of the guests back to their destinations. Family members may gather again on the 7th or 40th day and again a year later for yet another celebration to mark the anniversary.

Some people feel pressured to sell valuable assets, including shares and family land to give a ‘befitting’ burial to their loved ones. It is expected to display as much pomp and pageantry as a carnival does. “Critics” assess the funerals and those who do not meet up to expectation are viewed with some level of scorn.

An Anglican Bishop in Uganda once caused a stir when at a funeral he publicly denounced the practice saying it was “a form of corruption that impoverishes the bereaved families” leaving them indebted for years as they strive to meet up with societal expectations in catering for teeming crowds. At that funeral, the son of a poor widow was forced to slaughter the only milk cow he owned in order to feed guests at her funeral.

In Nigeria, The Anglican Communion and the Catholic Diocese have played a significant role in trying to encourage moderation and curb some of the excesses to drive much needed change in our society. In some areas, the dead must be buried within two weeks otherwise the church will not be involved in the funeral rites. There is a lesson to be learned from the Moslem faith where the dead are buried swiftly and ceremonies are usually completed with relative simplicity.

Sometimes the corpse may be kept in the mortuary for extended periods at exorbitant cost so that elaborate arrangements can be finalized or until when all the close relations, including the deceased’s children both at home and abroad, siblings and the extended family, are able to agree on a convenient date for all to attend the funeral. The date might change several times before consensus is arrived at whilst the daily fee for the mortuary continues to rise. For those with titles ceremonies can drag on for a very long time.

One must not lose sight of the lost man hours as people are absent from work for extended periods; even where they remain at work they are distressed and distracted as D-day looms.

In Nigeria, death is an extremely sensitive subject and we generally do not like to discuss our mortality. If you wish to be buried like royalty, pre-plan your funeral and set aside funds specifically for the event so that loved ones are not further burdened with a myriad of financial and other decisions at an already difficult time.

In a funeral plan, you can incorporate all your specific wishes; as regards where you wish to be buried, the preferred type of funeral service and rites, music, flowers, mortuary, casket, entertainment, clothing, and most importantly, funding including a spending limit. The plan should be revealed to a confidant that can see that it is implemented.
Funerals often take place in villages that lack even the most basic infrastructure; clean water, proper sanitation, basic healthcare, schools, electricity, roads. The contrast becomes all the more glaring when for the duration of the obsequies, the quiet simplicity of a sleepy village is transformed and bursting with the activity and opulence of the funeral ceremonies, which take place in an environment of extreme poverty and lack.

A death provides an opportunity to leave an enduring legacy, a watershed that allows one to make some basic improvements within one’s community. Imagine if instead of spending a huge amount on the funeral ceremony itself, 10% of expenses were applied towards an endowment fund set up in memory of the deceased, which could assist the community in funding the education of less able relations.

Sometimes it is evident that when the individual was alive, little was spent on their health and comfort. Indeed they may have survived, had funds been provided for prompt and effective medical treatment! Yet in death, so much more is spent to put on an elaborate display. That a funeral ceremony should cost more than the deceased ever spent, let alone earned, in his or her entire lifetime is totally absurd. The most befitting honour we can give a loved one is to provide them with love, care and attention during their lifetime.

It is true that we cannot divorce ourselves from the psychological and sociological orientations of our cultural heritage; indeed honouring our dead in a meaningful way, remains a matter of utmost importance. However, there may be a need to revisit some of the original values where traditional funeral ceremonies were not ostentatious, but were simple, yet dignified ceremonies for celebrating, consecrating, and remembering the life of the deceased, whilst taking into account socio-economic realities.

Photo Credit: carterfuneralhomesinc.com

Nimi Akinkugbe has extensive experience in private wealth management. She seeks to empower people regarding their finances and offers frank, practical insights to create a greater awareness and understanding of personal finance. You can reach Nimi via the following: Email; [email protected] | Website: www.moneymatterswithnimi.com | Twitter: @MMWITHNIMI | Instagram: @MMWITHNIMI | Facebook: MoneyMatterswithNimi

25 Comments

  1. Kola

    August 26, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Hmm, naija people that like to show off even when they have nothing, as in nothing at all. At my wedding in Uyo, my mother in law made my husband charter lorry buses to bring her and all her group of association women from Lagos and put them in a hotel for 4 days. Every second of the day she was calling me and asking me about food for these women. Half of the budget was spent catering to these people, and they were all frowning when it was time to spray and pay the dowry cause they said it was too much. Naija people both educated and uneducated like to show off to prove to who and what I don’t know, oh he gave his father a befitting burial, meanwhile you will go back and borrow to eat and pay school fees for your children. In general Nigerians don’t plan for what happens after they pass, when you broach the subject they will call you a witch that you want them to die. Hissss! I don’t subscribe to that rubbish, life insurance on both me and my husband, cause I no wan hear any story on top my 2 children that I brought into this world, that they will suffer.

  2. Amiphat

    August 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Spending ALL ones money to “send forth the dead” is one tradition I loathe and can NEVER agree with.

    I prefer a Muslim funeral which is a simple one where prayers are said and the deceased is buried ASAP – what on earth are you keeping a dead body for? Also, I am mourning the person that has passed and you expect to come eat, drink and make merry at death?

    Puh-lease!!!!!

    • Arewa

      August 27, 2013 at 5:09 am

      True. I’ve never been to a burial because most Northerners (Christian too) have fast, small simple burials.

  3. Ms Catwalq

    August 26, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I don’t expect many Nigerians to take heed and plan for their passing because the average Nigerian is afraid of death. However, I will say that if you plan for your life, and always want the best for your family, you should at least make attempts to guarantee that in your exit there is no problem.
    If the extended family refuses to attend or allow the burial in the traditional town because you have not “performed certain rites”; my dear, think cremation and call it a day. The loved one is gone. You don’t want to hurt more over where to put things in the ground that will rot.

  4. Ok o

    August 26, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    I used to wonder if the soul will not rest if they don’t give a befitting burial

  5. slice

    August 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    I say if u can’t afford it, say u won’t do it and anybody who thinks it must done should pay for it. Shior

  6. Aibee

    August 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    “.If you wish to be buried like royalty, pre-plan your funeral and set aside funds specifically for the event so that loved ones are not further burdened with a myriad of financial and other decisions at an already difficult time”

    Full Stop.

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      August 26, 2013 at 4:12 pm

      You just copied and pasted the very sentence I was going to quote… I mean, the matter dey very “simples”.

    • Omolola

      September 4, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      Well, my late grandfather actually planned his burial when he was 70 and set aside some money for the ceremony cos he sed he dosnt want to spend too much time in the mortuary all bcos they are saving towards a befitting burial(btw-he also read his will before his death). Fortunately(or unfortunately) he didnt die till 20 years later, d burial ground he dug was already bushy and the spot couldnt b used again for some oda reasons, the money saved wasnt enuff buh at least there was something to start from. He planned his life and his death to the last bit, He remains my role model

      1
  7. obitalk

    August 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I like this article cos its not your everyday topic. well written too.

  8. tons

    August 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    but we are all here talking, the people in the village are not reading this article and the ridiculous relatives who make these demands and say we will not let this body enter this ground, are not reading this article and lets face it, every family has some annoying uncle/brother/aunty or someone who is all about tradition (mind you they have no idea why the tradition is the way it is o) but it is tradition, or my favourite nigerian line, “that is not in our culture”, HISSSS!!!, and will be beating their chest on what must be done, meanwhile they have not produced one farthing!!!

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      August 26, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      This lady I know told me a story of how she went to Onitsha to bury her father. So after her first night, she was rudely woken up by the towns women (abi Umu Ada), who shouted at her for ignoring “the traditional rites”, because according to them she should be up everyday by 3am to dance round the village square and she had to do this for 1 week or else she’ll be fined. Now what they really wanted was the fine but this woman now vexed and she decided they were not going to see her money. That was how she took it upon herself to wake up by 3am everyday to go dancing for her father and she dey wake, na so she go wake Umu Ada make all of dem go dance. After the first 3 days, they were the ones who started begging her to say it was alright, the dancing is now no longer an issue and everyone doesn’t need to wake up everyday. She should just give them a little something for the group…

      The moral of this story – all that spouting off about “custom” or “traditional rites” is always an excuse to extract money.

    • winnie

      August 27, 2013 at 11:17 am

      Most people bring up all dis tradition jst 2 extort money frm dem, I can remember wen we went home 4 grandfather, my mum being d 1st son wife was asked 2 cry 2 fill a basin every early in d morning or she will pay a fine. I was so suprise hw can tear full a basin? Dat 1 passed cos she payed , d morning dey wia 2 bury my grand pa, all d in-laws will cm out nd present dia wrapper nd if ur wrapper is not worth ur expectation mehn u will av 2 pay fine nd buy a gud wrapper. I never knew dey wia d 1 collectin d wrapper not until I saw dem fight 4 d wrapper I was so suprise. Dis custom nd tradition of a tin is now a means of extorting money.

    • Ready

      August 26, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      You’re right! This article is nice, but it’s a little like preaching to the choir. The bulk of who need these will not have access to it! In some places in Ghana, they commission caskets that depict the person’s profession before his/her death. E.g. A driver would be buried in a car-like casket. Dude! Nibo? And this thing of keeping a body in a mortuary for the greater part of a year? Abeg.
      I know someone who has told her dad that his burial will be oyinbo-style. They do a church ceremony, lay the body in the ground, and return home for hors d’euvres while standing. No time. Why are we doing 2 service of songs, 1 wake keep, 1 “iwode” which apparently is people with lit candles searching for the spirit of the dead, then burial gangan. This person is dead…do something in his/her legacy.
      As for the elderly family members who are quick to tell us how “that is not how it is done”, with all due respect, sirs and ma’ams, pay up. In the words of the great philosopher Officer Rick Ross, “we talking money and you talking nonsense.”

  9. oluchy

    August 26, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Really, l wonder why the waste while some of the deceased died in abject poverty. MENTAL RENOVATION is needed!

  10. Cynthia

    August 26, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Great article, Nimi. The saddest part is when the money that is spent on a lavish burial could have kept the deceased alive.

  11. Foluke

    August 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    True talk. Heard that in Ibadan, a family had to rebury their father after Ajimobi demolished their house. Of course, part of the compensation pay was used for the ‘reburial party’ Naija sha! Anything for owambe!

    pholtharwrites.wordpress.com

  12. ao

    August 27, 2013 at 4:18 am

    PREACH!!!

  13. always happy

    August 27, 2013 at 5:22 am

    Its all part of our greed , guilt and appearances motivated culture/nation. The budgets for events be it wedding or burial are outrageous ……. all in an effort to cater to our ” I must consume not a morsel but wheelbarrow loads” in life and in death. Its still same maladies that have framed the choices our “ogas” at the top have made and continue to make that leaves the nation bankrupt financially, morally and spiritually. Sometimes the greatest ovation some folks get in their lifetime, is at the graveside…

  14. keke

    August 27, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Hmm christians should really learn something from muslims when it comes to this.

    • Dabota

      August 27, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      Very well-written article Nimi and speaks to the core of a big problem with my people. I decided a long time ago that I will treat my family and spend on them, give them gifts often whilst they are alive. I learned my lesson when I had to buy an expensive shroud for my eldest brother’s burial and spend a huge amount of money on catering and stuff. I asked myself, why OH why didn’t I ever think of throwing him a half lavish birthday party? I’d never thought to buy him even a shirt. Don’t get me wrong, whenever he’s visited me and my husband or called us for assistance we’d always given him something…but…I should have done more for him while he lived and could have enjoyed it. So since then? My family all the way. When anyone of them died, I did what I wanted to. All the extended family wants is to squeeze all they can out of your pocket. And they are open to negotiation when they realise who they are messing with has no guilty conscience buttons they can push.

    • Ella

      August 27, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      I agree with this statement to an extent. However some Muslims also have large parties on the 40th day after their loved ones’ demise.

  15. Busy Sade

    August 27, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    These things happen because we let them happen. If you say no, they can only rave and rant. Besides if you have already buried your parent before all the lunatic relatives arrive what will they be asking for if they did not contribute in the welfare of the deceased when he /she was alive, then they have no say on how he will be buried. The Yorubas say owo ti o si Jedi Jedi kan o le je. Meaning money that you don’t have can not be taken away or spent on frivolity.

    • iba

      September 21, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      sometimes the village people make it very difficult o. one cant bury an old man say in Lagos or the city he lived. nine out of ten times you have to take them home. village and then the in-laws or distant family members begin their own. some wont even let you begin doing stuffs until this money starts dropping left right and center.

      A friend told me how when they wen to tot he village to begin arrangement, the family some of who attended the meeting and all claimed they were not aware of their brother’s death. Meaning they wanted a formal gathering with drinks and all to be informed brother XYZ is dead o. Need i say that was the beginning of money dropping all the way.

  16. Bami

    July 2, 2015 at 9:33 am

    If I must say, it’s a stupid culture. Why spend exorbitant money on funerals. that when the person was alive such money was never spent on them in the first place. It needs to stop. Am sure with mediums like this, people will learn their lessons.

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