FEATURE ARTICLE

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
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THE DEAD UNDER ARREST

s the end of the world so imminent? The unusual is beginning to happen. I went for a burial Mass somewhere which was supposed to start at 10:00AM. But I was stranded for over an hour. I was not alone. A good number of priests and religious were in attendance. Also hundreds of the lay faithful, friends and well-wishers of the deceased were around. The ceremony did not start at 10:00AM as scheduled. By 10:30AM, the remains of the dead woman have not arrived at the church. By 11:00AM everybody became worried. The question at every tongue was, "What is wrong?" Tongues started wagging.

An eyewitness from the neigbhourhood of the deceased broke the sad news. According to him, the corpse of the woman was taken to her paternal family for last respect. Unfortunately the kindred of the departed woman struck. They arrested the corpse and kept it under their custody because the husband failed to provide them the two huge cows demanded from him as compensation for the death of their daughter. They vowed that over their dead bodies would the corpse be buried without meeting their demand. If I were the widower I would abandon the corpse there and continue with the funeral ceremony. If the kindred want to eat the corpse, let them do so.

I went to another town to bless the corpse of a departed woman lying in state. Surprisingly, I was barred from entering the room. I learnt that the members of the Daughters' Association to which the departed woman belonged to kept her corpse under lock and key until their demands were met. They demanded for the provision of golden mourning necklace for each member by the husband of their departed member before their late member could be buried. The widower tearfully met their demand. Then they unlocked the door where the deceased was pitifully lying in state.

Next the group of daughters surrounded their late member. They dished out large quantities of soup and pounded yam to each person. And they started eating. For them, it was their last meal with the dead. When I came and saw them eating and drinking around the corpse, I shouted, "What an eye-saw! What an abomination! Please stop that!" I looked at the corpse lying in state. I saw sadness on its face. The daughters were eating while the deceased was starving and waiting for burial. I sprinkled Holy Water over the corpse and over the eating women. I blessed both the dead and the eating women and prayed that all may rest in peace. I concluded my prayer saying, "May the soul of our departed sister and the souls of these women eating around her rest in peace!" Confusion and murmuring broke out. The women began to pour curses on me for wishing them dead. I did not stay to argue with them because I had made my point. I just wangled my way out.

On my way out, I was asking myself, "How many of those men and women arresting a corpse because of self aggrandizement visited the dead when he or she was still alive to offer him or her a little consolation?" Someone will be lying in sick-bed for months or years without visit from relations, neighbours, friends and well-wishers. But immediately the person dies, they will flock the deceased house and make unnecessary demands for their own satisfaction at the detriment of the deceased family. It is not an overstatement to say that the living benefit more from burial or funeral ceremonies. Once the corpse is committed to mother earth, merriment commences. Only a few care for the dead by praying for their eternal repose and for the good of the deceased family. At times, the deceased family incurs huge debt after the burial and funeral ceremonies.

I shed tears when I visited a certain mortuary recently. There were uncountable corpses languishing there. They were lying over one another. Some were standing wretchedly at the wall. I saw some of the corpses crying even after death. They were crying for burial so that they could rest in peace. Some of them suffered from years of protracted illness. They are now in the mortuary suffering from protracted abandonment while their families go about their daily businesses. I could have spoken with some of the corpses, but for one predicament: I can't speak the language of the dead. However, I made some prayerful and pacifying signs to them.

If I were in government circle, I shall make a law that no corpse should be kept in the mortuary for more than two months. For the mean time, I appeal to the Government to visit the mortuaries and ascertain how long each corpse has been in custody. Those who have over stayed should be compulsorily buried by the state. Before then, there should be public announcements for the bereaved to go to the mortuaries to claim their corpses and bury them over a specified time. After that, there will be a mass burial of all unclaimed corpses.

One should be buried as soon as death results. What is the essence of keeping corpses in custody under the guise of arranging for a befitting burial? There is no befitting burial than burying the dead as soon as he or she dies. Some claim that they kept the corpse in the mortuary in order to build a house where the corpse will lie in state before the burial. If one dies homeless, he should also be buried homeless. It is a living person that lives in a house and not a dead body. The dead body lives in the grave, waiting for the resurrection day.

If you do not care for your dear ones during life time, then it is useless to give him or her befitting burial. Befitting living is more important than befitting burial. Let us start to pay condolence to the living. Visitation of the sick and the prisoners is a more rewarding condolence visit. So are clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drinks to the thirsty. Is a drunkard among the thirsty to be provided for? No, because drunkenness is an acute disease. Instead the drunkard should be counseled.

I reiterate it: if you know what you will use in paying condolence visit after my death, bring them to me now that I am still alive. If it is cow, goat or fowl, I will kill and consume the meat now. If it is money, I use it to fuel my car now. If it is clothing, I sew clothes for myself now. If it is drinks, I drink to my satisfaction and share with others now. My late friend's nickname was "Utokanandu." That means, friendship favours are better done while one is still alive. Medicine after death is useless. The Corporal Works of Mercy have a sequence: (1) To feed the hungry (2) To give drink to the thirsty (3) To clothe the naked (4) To provide for the homeless (5) To visit the sick (6) To visit the imprisoned (7) To bury the dead. You cannot bury someone before feeding, clothing, harbouring, visiting him or her. There is time for everything.

Today in Nigeria the security situation of lives and properties is worsening. It seems we are drifting back to the State of Nature where might is right and survival of the fittest reigns. Human life is a primary value, but it has been devalued in our country Nigeria. The life of cows is now more valuable than human life. Just some days ago, about two hundred innocent persons were killed in cold blood in Plateau State. It was reported that they were killed in retaliation for 300 missing or rustled cows. It is unfortunate. Hundreds of innocent persons have been killed in Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba, Enugu, Adamawa, Zamfara, Delta and Kaduna (South) States because of cattle well-being. If care is not taken, a cow will contest for the Presidency, come 2019. Some people say that the motto of the present Buhari-led Federal Government is ALWAYS PROTECT COWS (APC). The primary duty of any government is to protect human lives and property. Many have called for the overhauling of the present Federal Security Apparatus. The populace has lost confidence on the current Service Chiefs and the Inspector General of Police. The Army, Police and other Security Forces should take proactive measures to nip the senseless killings from the bud. It is regrettable to arrest and count corpses after each bloody attack.


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