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Atoke’s Monday Morning Banter: Leave Us Not In Penury



I was not yet a teenager when I learned a huge lesson from Tunde Kelani’s film ‘Ti Oluwa Ni’le”: DEAD BODIES ARE STOLEN FROM OUR MORTUARIES.
In the movie, there was a curse placed on anyone who dealt with ancestral land; and these shifty city guys had connived with some village people to buy the land by hook or by crook. Anyway, the way the curse was structured, once one of the offenders was buried, the next one would automatically die. So basically, it was the burial of ‘Sanya’ that led to the death of ‘JP’. At JP’s death, third accomplice started panicking (I forget the name of the character now… people, it’s been 20 years since I watched it!) If JP was interred, it meant our guy was next. So, he went to great lengths to ensure that JP would not be buried. He went to the morgue to bribe Aderukpoko, the mortuary attendant. As money exchanged hands, the body was released to him. Just like that!

Now, that was a movie! But you know what they say about art imitating life? Yeah! So, in a chat with a friend, we were swapping morbid tales about grief and our coping mechanisms, and he mentioned that when his dad died, he would visit the morgue everyday. The purpose was to ‘settle’ the mortuary attendants to make sure his dad’s body was still intact by the time they were ready to have the funeral service. Apparently, body parts have high commercial value on the black market (You modern day Nigerian traditionalists, who visit your traditional priests who ask you to go bring all sorts of things for sacrifice, know what I’m talking about.) The cost of death is not just emotional, it actually has a financial impact, and bribing the mortician to keep the body in one piece is the least of the expenses.

I enquired about the cost of morgue services, and the prices ranged from 30,000 to 50,000 a week. You’re suddenly thrown into the quagmire of either quickly looking money for the funeral, or looking for money to pay lodging fees for the body. If you’re from a family where you guys want to close all the roads in your area, then you’re probably looking at a nice nifty sum of money if your corpse is going to be there for at least 3 months. After all, you’re the one who wants to make a big party out of the departure of your dearly beloved.

There’s the not-so-tiny problem of obtaining death certificates and licences. You know how we like to make everything so difficult in Nigeria? When you go to those local government offices to get those papers, you’d almost wish you could ask the dead to just come back… you’d be nicer to them. When that is done and dusted, you have to think of where to do the actual internment.

In the past, you could just bury your dead in the family compound, or village cemetery. These days, modernization forces us to reconsider the hazards of taking trips to go bury our loved ones. But you know how a lot of things just end up being ‘Devil and Deep Blue Sea’ problems? When you go to the village, the dead aren’t allowed to just die and go in peace. No! Their relatives are made to provide money for gin for libation. Then there’s all sorts of requests of the things that would be needed to escort the dead to the Great Beyond. Really guys… REALLY? We’re still believing these things in 2015?
My friend recently attended a burial ceremony in Nembe. (Google it! That’s what I did too. It’s in Bayelsa State. Yes, you can thank me later for teaching you about places in Nigeria.) Anyway, the village heads had listed a week-long activity schedule to herald the dearly departed into the Hallowed Halls of The Great Beyond. Every day they spent there meant money was going down the drain of all sorts of customary requirements…all for Mama to rest well. When the children of the deceased realized that this bottomless pit was going to leave them bankrupt as good as dead, they hightailed it back to Yenagoa. Rest in Peace Mama, we never ready to die.

However, burials in the big cities are not cheap. Let’s use Lagos as an example.

Who knew that a single vault costs between 300,000 and 500,000? That’s excluding the headstone, which comes in different variants of marble, granite and regular cement. These range from 300,000 to 1,000,000 depending the type of headstone you want to keep coming back to.

Then there’s the casket itself. I never really gave the costs of caskets a thought. I mean, the first one that really piqued my interest was Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s own. If I remember correctly, it was made of raffia and I was floored by its simplicity. Fast forward to many years later when I had to make enquiries about the costs involved and heard millions of Naira! Obara Jesus!!! For what? The grief blinds you and all you can think of wanting the best for your beloved. But if you were of sound disposing mind, can you imagine literally burying millions of Naira in the ground to DECOMPOSE? Things we do for love.

Of course there’s the option of cremation. Burn, baby, burn! In 2012, Lagos State passed a law making it legal to cremate the dead; but I don’t think that trend is going catch fire any time soon. (Excuse the pun? Did it work? I’m not sure. But let’s keep it moving.)
Here’s an excerpt from editorial piece published in This Day, in January 2013 titled “…As Lagosians Return to Ashes

Atoke CheeriosAccording a report, Director, Muslims Rights Concern, Prof. Ishaq Lakin Akintola insisted that the law is against the Islamic injunctions, which espouses respect for the dead. He also claimed that it as well ran fowl of the African culture and tradition.
He was quoted as saying: “We are not Buddhists in this country. In Islam, when a man dies, we buried him decently. The law will not only affect us but the Christians too and it is not in our culture. A Muslim who dies must have treatment and when you cremate, nobody will ask for forgiveness for him.
“The law is not likely to catch Muslims because of the way Muslims treat their corpses. Those to be cremated must be taken from the mortuary. My advice to Lagosians is that when their loved ones are missing, they should search for them diligently at police stations, mortuaries and other places before they are cremated as unclaimed corpses,” he said.
Similarly, Prelate, Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr. Ola Makinde according to the report said the law only provides a choice for Lagosians to either cremate their dead or bury them in the normal way, but noted that nobody would cremate him when he dies.
“The law is against our culture and tradition. Everybody has a choice of burial. My children cannot cremate me and nobody can compel me to be cremated. Cremation is English culture and it is not in the Bible. It is a type of culture where people write their will to be cremated when they died.

The big bad wolf of culture raises its head again. If someone is not stealing our dead bodies for cultural sacrificial requirements, someone is making us pay an arm and a leg to ensure that we can give our loved ones their last wishes. Culture won’t even let us try to explore the more economically expedient option of cremation!

For such an emotionally draining experience, one shouldn’t have to include the burden of unnecessarily extravagant costs. The dead is dead. There’s no need for you to add the complication of debts to the living. It’s simply not worth it.

Laugh. Love. Live.


Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Edyta Pawlowska

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.


  1. Becca

    April 27, 2015 at 9:56 am

    I don’t do rot & decay, I want to be cremated and my ashes turned into a diamond.

    • Jo!

      April 27, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      I love you.
      Me too! Cremation please
      Imagine the decay, maggots… *shudders*
      In fact, cremate me and turn me to a diamond (heard about this new process) I’ll leave money in my will for it if it’s too expensive. Then you can put me in a box and let me glow for eternity

    • QueenEsther

      May 17, 2015 at 11:10 pm

      Always said I’m going the cremation route. The things involved in burial ceremonies have always seemed excessive and totally unnecessary.

  2. lanya

    April 27, 2015 at 10:14 am

    I’ve never understood it, the need to be so lavish at burials in order to prove a point to ‘the people’. My uncle died recently and I know how much my dad spent in burying him. My other uncles didn’t really contribute much but if u had heard them telling my dad about hiring a liveband for the wake-keep and how the deceased wanted a cow to go down whenever he finally died. WTF!!!didn’t even come close to my reaction, it’s not like they even really liked each other. Mehn the struggle to please people that don’t feed you is real in Nigeria. Real

  3. AlfredM

    April 27, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Like this comment if you think Atoke’s articles are now BORING!

    • vibe

      April 27, 2015 at 11:48 am

      You seriously think this is boring? Dude, go check yourself

    • Jo!

      April 27, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      buffoon, go away

  4. Amiee

    April 27, 2015 at 10:25 am

    Atoke, I thought you were a huge fan of Grey’s Anatomy and would talk about how Shonda Rhimes f***ed us over (excuse my french)by killing the heart of the show Derek Shepherd. I haven’t been able to sleep well since watching that last episode on Friday. My heart literally stopped working and I am here just thinking about Meredith, Zola and Bailey and wondering if they are gonna be OK. Is it possible to sue a fictional hospital for a wrongful death?

    Back to the matter at hand, that missing corpse and body part gist is so very true, Lost my friend to cancer in 2012. Her mom was a widow when she died so there were some issues between her mom and her dad’s family over the treatment options my friend received. This issues continued after her death so she was in the mortuary far longer than usual. By the time they finally fixed a burial date and went to pick her corpse from the morgue, lo and behold, her breasts had been cut off, like hacked away. None of the mortuary attendants could say what happened. so they had them all arrested. They were only released after the mortuary owner offered to foot part of the burial bills.

    And Atoke, on the amount that Cakets costs, you aint never lied. A trip to Kakawa street on Lagos Island will show you that those them MIC and co undertakers make so much money from selling caskets alone. I have seen one which cost N1.8mil. It had gold studs all over it and was cushioned with soft velvet. It was beautiful to say the least but that seems like such a huge waste on money to me. Its like literally burying all that money in the ground to be eaten by worms. Forget that thing about it being to honor the dead. Person wey don die don die, honor or no honor .

    • Atoke

      April 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      Mehn! I’m so over Greys Anatomy. Shonda killed off McSteamy and Lexxie and I was unable to proceed with her callous ways. It’s why I never got into Scandal. I was still in my Shonda vexing phase when she started Scandal. I had forgiven her small when she started HTGAWM. Lol So I watched that.

      Sorry on the loss of McDreamy! Shonda is just heartless. If she could kill Lexxie and leave that useless roller blading Arizona… then there’s no point in watching Greys biko.

    • tee

      April 27, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      @ atoke exactly. i vexed gan ni when mc steamy and lexie died and just stopped watching after that season.

    • aaewhy

      April 29, 2015 at 6:54 pm

      Am just heartbroken don’t think I can continue like why would you, shonda needs to stop acting like a frog and killing all of dem off cause of personal reasons same way she killed off Harrison in scandal

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      April 27, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      The gruesome lenghts that native doctors and ritual practitioners will go to for certain body parts cannot be fathomed.

      When we buried my sister, we briefly considered burying her in the Port Harcourt cemetery but were specially advised to take her body back to our home in the village. She died as a virgin and apparently, that fetches good value for grave robbers who get their information from morgue attendants. The darkness in our society is deeper than many of us prefer to dwell on….

    • Matilda O

      April 28, 2015 at 8:14 am

      Uggghhh I thought I was the only one that was THAT affected by Derek’s death…. I think that Shonda was just too brutal with him…. no matter his diva’ish behavior she shouldn’t have killed him off like that… and the fact that Mer had to actually go and ‘kill’ him was just heart wrenching…. unashamedly, I admit I cried!! scratch that! I wailed!!!!!…. sigh… no matter what that show was the love story of Mc Dreamy and Mer…. they were meant to end up happy, Mer would be happy with her person, Derek!
      now all that is gone…. Shonda should have just left him in DC until the show ends, at least we would still have had hope for the perfect ending and happily ever after for Mer. SIGH!!!!

  5. oj

    April 27, 2015 at 10:29 am

    it’s a pity. we copy the whites in many things but not in the way they bury their dead. when the whites bury their dead (coffin in the ground or cremation), their friends and neighbors bring food and drinks and everywhere is sober.

    not naija o. when u go to bury ur dead, u’re expected to feed the whole village for a week and hire bands and spend the amount of money u never spent on the dead when he/she was alive..

    now, when someone u know dies, u’re thinking “na money o”, instead of grieving.


    April 27, 2015 at 10:57 am

    lol @ amiee’s first paragraph

  7. Tiwa

    April 27, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Nice piece. In my opinion, burial ceremonies are a waste of time and resources that could have been applied to better uses.
    when i die, i want my body parts to be donated to science (assuming they are still useful). any left over should be cremated; my children can share the ashes or spread it along third mainland bridge. i really cant be bothered.
    what matters most is to take good care of your family while u have them as opposed to sinking millions into a burial that will not be felt by the person

  8. Nikkyemezie

    April 27, 2015 at 11:25 am

    I still don’t get it, how burials turn to parties for a whole week
    The family cook and feed a town in the name of befitting burial. What happens after the burial….in Igbo land is quite outrageous!!! The umunna and umuada list nko???? Burials are meant to a time of grief and not a time of merriment. I remember one rich man that died last year and during his burial, the family shared plasma TV as sourviners!!! Are you kidding?? Too many wrong things done in burial sake!

    • rs

      April 27, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      plasma TV!!??? hope you collect your own too ooo

    • TA

      April 27, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      @ Nikkyemezie
      You got to give it up for Ibo folks. Lol! I have heard of a burial ceremony in the East where the family gave out table-top refrigerator as souvenirs. Am like WHAT!!! I still don’t get the idea behind going to a funeral and expecting to eat small chops and Jollof rice, and start fighting for souvenirs afterwards. I still don’t get it.

  9. Funmilola

    April 27, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Bn,could you please provide a dislike click……I dislike this comment a thousand times.

  10. anon

    April 27, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Hahahhahahaha, good one Atoke. I’m reminded of when my mom got the news of her dad’s death. She cried so bitterly that I was forced to ask why she was crying like that, knowing they barely knew themselves. She said she was crying cos she doesn’t have money for the burial, lwkmd

  11. ZEE

    April 27, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Plasma, Nnne? Seriously? Biko, where was I? Chai!

  12. Sabifok

    April 27, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Nice piece Atoke – the wastefulness of it all is the worst part of it..

    In the western world, you have opportunities to pay money into a fund that will go towards your burial expenses when you pass. Our banks need to introduce this (if these dont exist already).

  13. miss max

    April 27, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Did you guys ever see that home video ‘Died wretched’ (buried in 1m casket)?
    I don’t get the craze over funerals in this country, funny thing they will tag it ‘celebration of life.’ While i am not in support of cremation, i am also not in support of keeping a corpse in the morgue for more than two weeks.
    In some parts of Igbo land, i saw something new; a person dies, they bury without fanfare because no money, when money comes (from wherever), they have a carnival like doing all that would have been done and you’d think the person just died. Now, people print invitation cards for burial ceremonies. I like the northern Muslims style of funeral. Funerals should be a sober moment even if the the person lived for two hundred years. Our own too much, abeg!

  14. Manny

    April 27, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    This was in no way boring.

  15. mz_daniels

    April 27, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    What of the fact that you have to buy a Cow and present the head to the Umunna stating that you killed a cow for a great man ( if not, he won’t be happy in the other world). The Cow’s skull must not be cracked .My dad’s Umunna almost rejected the head presented to them cos the skull was cracked. the people who killed the Cow weren’t natives so they cracked the skull the wrong way.

    God help the husband of a woman who has lost her dad. After spending on the burial as Ogo concerned, there is the ‘ooh nna’ where you and your friends have to spray her with money and wrappers as she mourns her dad. This spraying will go on for long.

    But it’s a celebration of life

  16. babygiwa

    April 27, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Bros, pls review your definition of boring. This is very interesting.
    I actually don’t see anything wrong in burying the dead in grand style if the family can afford it but if na borrow pose runs, no o. No be by force to do one in town burial abeg.

  17. always happy

    April 28, 2015 at 4:33 am

    Its the mis-application of culture that gets folks in trouble. Culture says bury your dead with dignity and respect , no where did it say the size of the casket, the type of stone, or the number of interments or activities equate to how much dignity and respect you confer on the dead corpse. Aseju is our middle name as Nigerians, Asete is the consequence of Aseju and Aselagun is the end result of Asete going into debt, borrowing funds, spending your life’s savings to bury the dead.

  18. Telle

    April 28, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Great piece, Atoke. I think ceremonies are wasteful if the family doesn’t have excess money.

  19. Angee

    May 1, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    When i lost my Dad in 2013,i was still an undergraduate in my final year at the university and that was when i appreciated what a befitting burial is.I wish i could watch him sleep amidst Gold petals,a Diamond plated Grave and give him all the finest things of life just to say ‘Goodbye’. till date i complain about the grave cos they didnt use choicy marble as i expected.Yes it is Materialism,but what more can we give to the Dead? It might interest you all to know that when u go to an interior Tiv Village in Benue,Nassarawa,or Taraba state,the only Tiles you will find are those on the graves,this people live in thatched houses but can go any mile to give their Dead loved ones this Befitting Burial.Atleast you can look back someday and remember this people once existed atleast! Cremation is not an Option o!

  20. aj

    May 6, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    I prefer a simple burial to cremation.

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