From Emmanuel Uzor, Abakaliki
With recession biting hard, life has become an opposite of what it used to be as some Nigerians have quit normal life to abnormal behaviours.
In Ebonyi State, things have really changed as the people have adopted new survival strategies.
The new strategies have also created quite a good number of unusual living conditions amongst the natives of the state, especially in the rural areas.
Ebonyi State has largely depended on allocation from Abuja and with the drop in crude oil price at the international market which has affected negatively allocation accruable to the state, life has become a misery to the majority of natives of the state.
In the rural areas, the natives now keep their dead ones with them for several days before the day of burial to save cost.
And now, there is heightened fear that this new development will cause epidemic because of the embalmment of dead relatives by the various families and communities.
The reason for allowing corpses of relatives stay in the same room with the living, a source told Oriental News was caused by the level of poverty that has hit the people, as well as lack of education to understand the inherent dangers of the harmful practice.
Before now, the people of the state embalm and keep their corpses in hospital mortuaries pending the date of burial.
But today, the majority of the natives no longer patronize morticians and mortuaries when they lose their loved ones as they preferred to keep them in their houses and embalm them there.
Oriental News gathered that keeping corpses in mortuaries is fast becoming out of fashion in the various communities in the state as the people have devised cheaper and convenient way to keep the corpses of their departed relatives as much as the preparation for burial and funeral lasted.
One of the natives, Nwofoke Agalegu of Izzi Unuphu said that the new system of keeping corpses in residential homes was the best, owing to the hard economic realities in the country, especially when the children or siblings of the deceased are not around and their presence needed before the burial date.
According to him, this practice does not only save cost of spending huge sum of money at the mortuaries, but also saves the deceased family time, “and it’s more convenient as no mortuary fee and ambulance fee are required to take the deceased through the various burial stages. In most cases, there may not be any need to buy expensive caskets for burials.”
Indeed, this practice is fast assuming a dangerous dimension in Ozibo Community, Echi-Aba Development Centre in Ebonyi Local Government Area as residents of the community are fast jettisoning every idea of keeping their dead relatives in the mortuary either as a result of lack of fund or convenience.
In the community, even those from wealthy homes have been brainwashed into joining the practice that those who took the dead bodies of their love ones to the mortuaries in the hospitals are now regarded as not being true indigenes of the area, making the phenomenon fast becoming a culture.
How the improvised home mortuaries work
Oriental News went into investigation to under-study how the home-made mortuary works and whether it is preserving the corpses from decay before the burial date no matter how long and discovered that in most cases, the agents of the home mortuaries are actually local health workers and morticians based in some big hospitals.
In most cases, it just requires a mortician a token from the families of the deceased to get the corpses of their loved ones embalmed and kept in their houses according to their arrangement, pending the time for the burial.
Some of the morticians who make brisk business from this new line of work allegedly work in the various big hospitals owned by the government from where they allegedly steal some of the chemical reagents used in embalming dead bodies.
Checks by Oriental News revealed that it is the prerogative of the head of the family to point at a place the corpse should be kept.
In some occasions, the corpses are usually kept in one room and isolated for as long as the corpse will be there.
Some families who do not have enough rooms to accommodate family members due to its size find themselves in the quagmire of sharing rooms with the embalmed corpse till the time of burial.
Mr Chidi Nwamini, a resident of the area, told Oriental News that when he lost his father some years ago, he was not prepared for his burial and needed to get ready by rallying round his siblings who were living far away to come home.
So while this wait was on, he had the corpse of his late father embalmed and kept in one of his rooms in the house.
“When my father died, we called a mortician from one of the hospital mortuaries, he came and embalmed my father and left. He dressed my father and kept him in one of our rooms after the embalmment and he stayed there as long as I rallied round to raise money to give him a befitting burial.
“My father stayed for four months in our house before we buried him. Every morning, I carry him outside, bath him, dress him and carry him back to the room. It was as if he was not dead and I was not afraid of taking care of him for those months he stayed in our house before we buried him,” he said.
Oriental News asked Nwamini if there was any injection given to the dead bodies by the morticians for the preservation of the corpse and he said; “there was an injection given to him by the mortician when he embalmed him and the injection did not allow him to smell or decay; his body was as strong like an iron when you touched him and it was as if he was sleeping when you see him lying on the bed we kept him.
“I did not see him as a dead man though; some were scared of coming into the room he was kept. Why should I be afraid of my father simply because he died?’’
For Nwamini, keeping his dead father in the house for so long was part of the last care and respect the father deserved which he believed would not have been given him if he had taken him to the mortuary.
His word: “My father was good to me. So, I resolved that he must be embalmed and kept in our house pending the burial and as far as I was concerned, there was nothing bad about it. We had to give him the respect he deserved; we had no option than to do that.”
Apart from Nwamini, there are many others in the state who hold the same view that keeping their dead ones and having them embalmed at home is not only cheaper, convenient, but also a big part of showing last respect for their departed relatives.
Nwifuru Mbam also said that when he lost his father, he embalmed and kept him in the house, but confirmed that he did not find it easy taking care of the dead body as well as preparing the burial rites.
“I am the only son of my father and when he died, the whole burden was on me. I had to call a mortician from the hospital and he came and embalmed his corpse. After the embalmment, we started preparing for the burial. He died in October last year and was buried ending of January this year. So, every morning, I used to bath him and dress him. I was the only one who had the courage of doing that and entering the room he was kept throughout the period. Though at times tears will just drop from my eyes seeing him lying lifeless, but I was still courageous to take care of him.
“We had financial challenges when he died and that was why we embalmed him and kept him in the house. We had some hectares of land and we decided to sell some of them and arrange for the burial. We also had to build a house as part of preparations for the burial because our house was not all that okay. Though the house we built during the burial preparation was not befitting, it was good because some people who came from far places during the burial rites which lasted for six
days had a place to stay and it gave us some level of respect,” he said.
Another resident of the area, Bernard Oketa told Oriental News that he lost his grandmother in the middle of this year and had to embalm her corpse and kept her in their house.
Though he cited lack of fund as reason for taking the painful decision, he said it was cheaper for them.
“We have decided to embalm her and keep her in one of our rooms. We decided to do this not because we didn’t have money to deposit the corpse in the mortuary, but because we must give her the needed respect, we kept her there and she is still in our house waiting for the burial and we are preparing very well to give her a befitting burial,” he said.
With the scary and strange development of keeping corpses at home spreading, the Ebonyi State government has sounded a strong warning against such practices, saying that it is not only primitive but also harmful to the entire state.
The Commissioner for Health, Dr Daniel Umezuuruike when contacted by Oriental News expressed rude shock over the discovery and said the state government through the Ministry of Health has mounted surveillance to ensure that anybody found keeping corpses at their homes would not only be arrested, but would also be prosecuted and had the corpse evacuated.
Dr Umezuruike enumerated the various adverse effects that would come from the archaic practice to include possible outbreak of epidemic within and around the homes such ugly practice were done, adding that some people who possibly died as a result of communicable diseases may infect those who are alive.
“We will do everything possible to deal with anybody found doing such.
We have not received any official report on the incident because the ministry will not start searching people’s house to know if they kept the corpses of their dead relatives, but we will ensure that we hand such people over to the law enforcement agents for proper action.
“There are many health implications that may arise from such practices. For instance, a person who died of any communicable disease may transmit it to the living and there are still lots of decay going on during the period of embalmment which these people do not know and mainly, the chemical reagents used in embalming these dead bodies are very harmful to human health. That is why the state government will deal decisively with anybody caught in such primitive and harmful practice,” he said.