Fridays in Benin City, Edo State, is noted for one thing – merry making, partying, music and dancing, free meals at several points. But there is an irony here, it is in celebration of deaths and the dead.
It is commonplace to see ambulances, accompanied by mourners and sympathizers, wailing in all directions as they convey corpses to their final destination for burial in this city of the ancient obas. It is also a day drivers and commuters dread a lot because of the serious traffic jam associated with it. Incidents supposed to elicit mourning, pains and tears for the dead has been turned to a carnival.
Saturday Sun gathered that going to mortuary to remove corpse for burial has become funfair and meeting point for lovers, young men and ladies, where they do all sort of things. The only thing that identified such situation as a mourning moment is the black apparel the so-called mourners and sympathizers wear.
There are some bizarre dimensions to the trend in the city today. It is popularly tagged ‘obito’ short for obituary’. And the people of the city, natives and residents have come to accept the ‘celebration’ as the most happening thing in town. In fact, many look up to the weekends, especially the young ones who have formed bands of professional mourners for hire at the families where burials hold. Even in places you don’t ask for their services, they might opt to enlist themselves to do their beat. As they come, they hijack the session, embark on real tears-shedding, wailing and tantrums to impress. They adorn black gears and would convince anybody in the crowd that they are the real bereaved ones.
What features prominently in the list of survivors for the obituary announcements is a long roll call of sons/daughters, nephews, nieces etc who reside in Italy, Germany, Holland, etc. But funny enough those residents in Ugbowo, Sapele, Uromi are never mentioned or indicated.
The city of Benin, the old kingdom of great obas that waylaid the white usurpers and made great identity for themselves have furthered their burial innovation to suit the times. You may call that the digital touch. Their obito innovations include cow renting by the bereaved families who engage the services of malams, the cow dealers, to ‘organise’ some cows that would be tethered at the premises where the burial would take place. If you see about eight or ten cows in obito video clips from Benin, don’t be carried away. They are essentially hired. At most, one of them would be slaughtered, and the rest returned to the malam who smiles to the bank with the proceeds and waits for another set of rental with the same cow.
The presence of the cow is to create the effect and aura that much is happening, and so much money was spent by the family to send home their deceased family member. It is also another fad to pre-video the herd of cows and some assortment of hired bevy gathering (possibly from another burial elsewhere and morphed in the clips) before the burial rites and the video clips distributed to attendants of the real burial as party favours.
Every business sector is Benin is keying into the trend to make some cash, and that does not leave out the media – radio and TV that has special obito announcement rates made so competitive and attractive. It is the boom and everybody is happy with it.
When Saturday Sun visited the University of Benin Anatomy Department, Ugbowo, Central Hospital, King’s Square, and Akugbe Hospital at Upper Sakponba Road, the stories were all the same. Some of the youths in black T-shirts and trousers were busy smoking, drinking beer and discussing away their time. It baffled to find that their discussions were not even based on why they were at the mortuary, but on how the night would look like for their escapades and philandering.
At every mortuary in the City, it was also observed that the roads around the area were locked up in serious traffic jams. As the corpses are conveyed home, the rule of giving way to other road users was virtually thrown to the wind. It took a great effort and time before drivers could manoeuver their way out of the logjam.
The situation was even worst at God’s Care Hospital, along Ekewan Road, as the road was not only perpetually locked but two families were busy slugging it out in a fight over who came first to the mortuary to retrieve corpse. The late Pa Ewamade Eghaghe’s family had accused late Mrs. Edemwande Iyare’s family of jumping the queue. As there was no compromise, the argument that followed resulted in exchange of blows by both families. The case was however, settled suitably by the mortuary attendant, but with a warning that no family would be entertained within the mortuary premises unless they hear their names. All effort by Saturday Sun to get words from both families proved abortive as they were not in the mood to speak to anybody.
Speaking on what burial ceremonier have been turned to in Benin City, Pa Irievbele Egharevba lamented the situation. He said: “When we were growing up, things were not like this. When it is announced that somebody is dead, you are immediately struck with unusual cold and fear. The fear cannot allow you to leave the presence of your parents, not to talk of going out to associate with the dead body. It was always a period of sadness and mourning for the dead unlike what it is now. Our children have suddenly turned it to carnival just because they see dead bodies everyday in the streets. I think the Palace needs to address this issue before they further turn it to something more despicable than this.”
In a similar vein, Mr. Nathaniel Osiomwan, bus driver, was visibly angry over the number of hours he had lost in what he called avoidable hold up. In annoyance, he asked, “what is wrong if about two or three persons were allowed to accompany the ambulance to convey the dead home? I call all these a meaningless show because it will not wake the dead or add anything to the prestige of the deceased’s family. Do you know the number of hours I have lost today? The problem is that each time I passed this road; one family or the other must be carrying a corpse for carnival and burial. It means that there will always be hold up, not until later in the evening. Things cannot continue like this. The government has to do something about it or rather the Hospital Management should position somebody on the road to be controlling the traffic.