Resting in peace or burning to ashes…

• How Lagosians view Cremation Law recently passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly
By Tope Templer Olaiya and Abdulwaheed Usamah
“THE world is becoming a fast changing planet and climate change is just the least of the matter. When I was a child, homosexuality was a crime in the United States of America. As I grew up, it became acceptable. Now it’s legal. I am thinking of leaving America before they make it compulsory, but I am bothered about some disturbing news from Lagos, particularly random kidnapping and the cremation law recently passed by the Lagos State government.”

This view expressed by a Nigerian in the Diaspora, Anthony Roberts, sums up the global trend of change and citizens’ reaction it. Nothing suggested that the signing of the Cremation Bill into law would be stormy. But as it turned out, the cremation law, which seeks to make cremation a legal and acceptable way of handling corpses has attracted widespread outrage from the public.

This move by government, though optional for residents, has been seen by some as one of the radical policies of Governor Babatunde Fashola. The bill survived several readings and stormy debates at the House of Assembly before it was passed to the governor for assent.

With its passage into law recently, living with the reality of the cremation law has not whittled away the contentious issues the subject seems to have generated, which especially borders on people’s beliefs.

To many, the practice of cremation, which is a process of burning the human corpse to ashes and sprinkling the ashes into the sea as predominantly practiced in India and other parts of Asia, is alien to African culture. Africans not only cherish their corpses, but also as a mark of respect, spend huge sums of money to give befitting burials to the dead.

Apart from the huge expenses incurred in buying expensive caskets and clothes for funeral ceremonies and entertaining guests of the bereaved, the significance of the dust-to-dust rite is momentous.

Here, following religious injunction, the bereaved family, who survives the deceased, take turns to pour sand into the coffin or body of the dead, which is six feet below them to perform the symbolic ritual of bidding goodbye to the body, void of its essence – the soul, on its homeward journey to its final resting place.
What cannot be divorced from government’s bold move is the metropolitan nature of the state, hosting people from diverse background. Thus, the challenges of managing the growing population of residents amid limited land space tend to dictate the kind of decisions taken by the present administration.

While opting to be cremated is a voluntary choice, which must be passed down by the deceased to his survivors, government is concerned about future availability of lands for the customary six-feet tomb.

Cremation is not an alternative to a funeral, but rather an alternative to burial and other forms of disposal. At cremation, the remains is reduced to fragments that do not constitute health risk. Disposal can either by interment or preservation.

While others prefer to pour body fragments into the sea, most people reluctant to make the dead a distant memory, keep the ashes in flowerpots or carry them around in chain pendants. And if the ashes were to be interred, space and land would not be a problem, as caskets would no longer be needed.

This, however, goes against all known culture and religious beliefs, particularly in Christendom, which preaches that there is a place called hell reserved for sinners and the perverts. To Christians, therefore, it is double tragedy subjecting the dead after a turbulent life to torment before hell.

For Alhaja Aminat Mudashiru, a 60-year-old woman herb seller at Agege market, not in her lifetime would any member of her family be subjected to cremation.

“If my children decide to do that to me because the law has allowed it, I would not rest in peace and if I don’t rest in peace, the living cannot live in peace too. If I die today, I would rather prefer am taken to my village where there is enough land for me sleep and rest in peace than be burned to ashes, ” she said.

Fearing that government might wake up someday to amend the cremation law from being optional to mandatory, an Arabic teacher at Ikeja Junior Secondary School, Laitan Sambo, said Muslims have nothing to fear because the Koran contains rules that guide every aspect of life.

“In Islamic, there is a standard rule on how funerals should be conducted. Even if the portion of land reserved for Muslims all over the world were to be a plot, it would still contain everyone because we don’t bury our dead with coffins. We just wrap them in a white cloth and multiple bodies can be laid to rest at a time. Even members of the same family who die at different times can be buried in the same grave,” he said.

Cemetery in Lagos

Cemetery in Lagos

Reacting to the new law, Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr. Ola Makinde, said the law only provides a choice for Lagosians to either cremate their dead or bury them in the normal way. The clergyman immediately rejected the mode of burial saying nobody should 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 in their will to be cremated when they die. The government should think twice; they should pass laws that people will obey. We should not copy the white people foolishly.”

The Director of Media, Catholic Church, Lagos, Gabriel Osu, towed this line of thought and lamented that the rights of the living and the dead were, and are often violated in the country. For him, the cremation law is anti-poor and anti-dead.

Waxing emotionally, Osu urged those who passed the law to live by example by allowing their dead loved ones to be cremated first to show that they are really serious about the issue.

“Something is wrong. This law is not in the interest of the dead but for commercial purpose. Government should think of how to improve the quality of life of the people rather than cremation. Our customs and traditions do not support cremation.”


One thought on “Resting in peace or burning to ashes…

  1. FEMI BABALOLA says:

    If my memory serves me well, this law came into being when available Lagos cemeteries became overloaded or rather overcrowded and bones of the buried loved ones had to be dug out to make room for the fresh ones! It was contemplated as an option to the usual six-feet-below burial for moslems, christians, the traditional-believers and atheists. But Lagos had since moved on to be a megacity with galloping population from all over the world, including the Asians.
    If Lagos must maintain its megacity status it, therefore, becomes imperative tor it to cater for its numerous people especially the Asians who might want to cremate their own as is normal practice with them.Hence the cremation law grafted into the books.I am not trying to hold brief for BRF and co. here though.
    One may actually ask what really is wrong with cremation of the so called ‘loved one’ who long before his/her death had been fully abandoned in all ways? People suddenly wake up only after the person is gone to publish poetic obituaries in national newspapers and arrange fantastic burials ! And they usually died ‘after a brief illness’ although the actual cause of death is hunger and lack of medical and social care. .A visit to the available cemeteries would show how much we care even for the dead we are trying to protect. Most of them are overgrown with weeds! All African believers feel cremation is like subjecting the corpse to the situation in hell- a place reserved for the sinners and so would resist it with the last drop of their blood. I have no doubt governor Fasola is aware of this.
    What i feel is more important is how we take care of our loved ones while they are still alive as we cannot be too sure where they go after here. A man/woman buried in a rich cemetery might just be roasting in hell while the one whose bones are being excavated for another may be in heaven depending on how they are scored/ judged.

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