The Anambra Government on March 23 suspended all public gatherings, including traditional marriage, ceremonies, community, festivals, masquerade festivals, baby christening, new yam festivals, title-taking ceremonies and funeral ceremonies.
This pronouncement made by Gov. Willie Obiano in a broadcast which also outlawed any meeting of more than 30 participants anywhere within the state, was part of the government’s proactive measures to check the spread of Coronavirus in the state.
In order to ensure full compliance, Obiano said traditional rulers and Presidents-General of communities where these rules were violated would be held responsible.
One month into the policy regime, the impacts are already beginning to manifest, especially in the volume of unburied dead bodies in mortuaries in the state, especially in the metropolitan cities of the capital, Awka and its environs, Onitsha and Nnewi.
But this is not to say that mortuaries in the rural communities are not affected.
Although the suspension of burial ceremonies did not bar families from burying the bodies of their dead loved ones, the rate of burials had reduced because of the ceremony that goes with burial in Igboland.
The traditional ruler of Nanka Community in Orumba North Council, Igwe Godwin Ezeilo, said that the order had been religiously observed that there had not been funeral ceremonies in the last one month.
Ezeilo said the people of Nanka embraced the suspension of burial and other ceremonies with their two hands knowing full well that it was for their own good.
“Nanka community accepted that order and have been obeying it, there has not been burial ceremonies that involved large crowds, however, most people are keeping their dead in the mortuary waiting for when the order will be lifted,” he said.
Ezeilo said there was nothing wrong with burying corpse immediately after death because it was an old culture which most people, including traditionalists still practiced today.
The monarch said there had been a number of such burials in Nanka where less than 20 persons participated since the suspension of burials.
“We have had such burials where few members of the family will be invited to witness it, as a matter of fact some people will tell you not to take them to mortuary when they die, so you have to respect that wish.
“If the person is a Catholic, clear yourself with the church and invite your parish priest to bless the grave, later you plan for the funeral ceremony,” he said.
Rev. Fr Martin Onwudiwe, Head of Social Communications , Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, corroborated the monarch’s position that burial ceremonies had not been going on at least in the diocese.
Onwudiwe said reports from parishioners were that either the mortuaries were filled up or the morticians were rejecting corpses because they were not sure of what killed them.
He said the families were now resorting to immediate interment of the dead bodies without out funerals which they hope to hold later, noting that there was sense of urgency this time around.
The priest said there was no basis to compare the number of deaths between this period and before the suspension but attributed congestion at the mortuaries to the burials which were scheduled to hold since the suspension but were called off.
“From all indications, mortuaries are filled up, so when somebody dies, the family buries the body immediately, that is the situation we are in now.
“To the best of my knowledge, it is the family that buries corpse and if the person was a Catholic, the parish priest will go and conduct the burial,” he said.
According to him, every law has an exception, some families may not have the money to pay mortuary bills, so I will encourage that when somebody dies whether a Catholic or a non-Catholic, they can bury their dead and plan for the funeral later.
Dr Uche Okeke of the General Hospital Enugu-Ukwu, said people die everyday from sickness, accident and other causes.
Okeke said those who died in the hospital were referred to mortuaries outside the hospital premises for preservation because that of the hospital had not been functional for a while.
He said it was not impossible that operators will increase their rates because the number of corpses was on the increase, while the available spaces were shrinking.
The doctor advised people who lost their relation to bury them without much delay.
“People die everyday, as I am talking to you now, my friend just died and the family are planning to bury him immediately,” he said.
Prof. Anthony Agbata, Head, Department of Histopatholoy, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital (COOUTH), said the suspension of burial ceremonies in Anambra had put a lot of pressure on mortuaries.
Agbata, a professor of Pathology, said that in spite of the surge in the number of dead bodies, mortuaries were not rejecting corpses but have become innovative by creating spaces in their facilities.
According to him, it is true that there is pressure on mortuaries now but many of them are not rejecting corpses, what we have done is to become more innovative in finding ways to keep them, so we are creating spaces.
“Like here in COOUTH, we are using every compartment available to keep the corpses, we have also proposed to management to build racks for us so that there can be more spaces, because everywhere is occupied.
“We don’t want to pack dead bodies like bags of rice, we can’t run away from dying and mortuaries can’t in run away from accepting corpses, so the option available to us is to create more space,” he said.
Agbata, however, says the only solution was for families that lose their loved ones during this period is to adopt the “underground preservation system” popularly known as ‘Fridge-Ani’ in Igbo cultural parlance.
He explained that ‘fridge-ani’ was a situation were families bury their dead for economic or culture reasons pending when they would be ready for the funeral.
The pathologist said that part of the culture that led to keeping corpses in the mortuary was that certain members of the family must be informed and be around during the burial.
“It is not usual for us to bury our loved ones unceremoniously in Igboland like in some other places and other religions.
“Before now, when somebody dies and the people around are so indigent that they can’t afford mortuary bill, they bury immediately, that is what we call ‘fridge ani’ pending when they will be ready for the funeral.
“But people feel that when people die, there are certain things that should be done before they are buried and if not the members of the family will be guilty and they will be haunted for a long time.
“My own position is that if a family deals with that psychological burden, let them go ahead and bury their dead,” he said.
The expert said that at the moment, there was no evidence that Coronavirus can be detected through autopsy, and that there was nowhere people who died in recent time were subjected to autopsy.
Chief Kelvin Chukwumaobi, Managing Director of APAMS Ltd, a frontline funeral management company, said everything concerning burials around the South-East were at a stand standstill because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Chukwumaobi said the suspension following the lockdown was for public safety but was a heavy price to pay.
On burying people immediately after death, the APAMS boss said it was a matter choice and that families could adopt it when necessary.
“Immediate burial is a choice, it depends on what the person want,” he said.
However, the fact remains that most mortuaries in parts of Anambra are filled with corpses, leading to some of them that are innovative to seek ways of accommodating more dead bodies and managing them well, though it’s a tall order.
But the question is, for how long can the attendants in the mortuaries be able to keep the bodies since they are filled to capacity and more are still be deposited?
Well, it is hoped that the bodies won’t decompose given the vagaries of power outage and other natural elements. If that happens, shall we not be expecting some health hazards?
It is time the people found a way out of this situation so that they could bury their dead as soon as they die, preferrably in “Underground Fridge” so that they could rest in peace.
Edited By: Peter Ejiofor) (NAN)
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