Currently, aside the world being in a precarious state, each passing day not only brings to mind that history has a way of repeating itself. There are two separate but related situations that support this claim. The first occurred about two months ago in far away Lagos State, South Western Nigeria, where the state Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, against all known logic issued a statement notifying all those that lost their loved ones in the state, and still have their remains in any of the government mortuaries to have such evacuated as the state government will be left with no other option than giving them mass burial if they fail to comply within two weeks of such directive.
As expected, the directive was greeted by public outcry- a reality that forced the state government to reverse their decision on mass burial.
But before the dust raised by such controversy could settle, another was up. This time around from our dear state and within our Local Government, as the people of Ika nation woke up to a similar directive from the Hospital Management Committee of Central Hospital Agbor, informing the general public that the hospital management has taken a decision to carry out mass burial for unknown and unclaimed corpses that were deposited in the Hospital morgue.
Detailedly, the statement which was entitled; notification of mass burial for unknown and unclaimed corpses in Central Hospital Agbor, and signed by Dr. Maduka, R. N, Zonal Medical Director, among other remarks, stated that “such decision has become imperative owing to the congestion of the morgue. The management therefore, has resolved to embark on the mass burial after three months of this publication for proper management of mortuary services in the hospital. Accordingly, the management wishes to use this medium to serve as notice to the general public and relevant government agencies”, the statement concluded.
Arguably a well structured statement. And it is particularly important to appreciate the management Board of the Hospital for at least bringing this vital information to the public domain. It indeed, shows a management Committee that appreciates the fact that information is the life wire of every business.
However, at about the same time, a further analysis of the content of their statements, the public views reveal.
The most fundamental of such concerns has to do with administrative lapses. The statement exposed a Hospital Management Board that is not efficient in data collection from their patients and clients. If such information/data were adequately stored, there would not have been any need for such public statement. Tracking the relatives of the deceased would have saved the hospital more strength, resources and further portray the Management Committee in good light as effective administrators.
The second point has to do with both traditional and moral reasons. Traditionally, Ika nation which is the operational environment of the hospital honours as well as celebrates the dead via a befitting burial. So, this issue of mass burial is to many a worrying development.
As a proof to the Management Board of the hospital that the nation is united against such practice, it is important to bring in at this point a piece/response by Rt. Rev.Fr Paul Ijasan, of Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos to a similar decision by the Lagos state government. It did more than anything else to support the people’s displeasure on such directive by the Hospital Management Committee. It is one position out of many criticizing such directive on mass in the country,
It reads in part; one of the corporal works of mercy is to bury the dead. I mean a decent burial and not just throwing them inside a hole. Even though all flesh is grass, remember that Jesus Christ took flesh (our human nature) so we also can share in his divine nature. Every human being is created with dignity, made in the image and likeness of God. Even the dead must be treated with respect.
The flesh is thereby sanctified, the body is sacred. The human person isn’t just a spirit; it is matter (material body). Through this flesh, man is able to accomplish numerous lofty and heroic deeds. Jesus went everywhere doing well through the instrumentality of the flesh. He ascended to his Father after his resurrection in the glorified body. The flesh once weakened by sin through the fault of our first parents (Adam and Eve).
God has a purpose for enveloping us in the flesh in the first place.
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” Romans 8:11.
Every human being is created with dignity, made in the image and likeness of God. Even the dead must be treated with respect.
In Africa, we celebrate the dead. Some parents even make financial provisions in their will so as to be celebrated after death. But then, while many would have loved to be around their dead loved ones and pay their final respect, the precarious times we are in have somehow made that almost impossible. The state of emergency that we all find ourselves demands that we shun every elaborate and ostentatious style of celebrating our dead. We are like in a war situation.
Nevertheless, we must not be rid of human feelings, emotions and sympathy for those whose loved ones are presently in the morgue. We need to show some sensitivity towards the plight of the bereaved. Some relatives are handicapped at this moment due to the lockdown with regards to financial means to give their departed ones a befitting burial.
Inability to meet up with the requirements of burying their loved ones within the prescribed period might not be because they deliberately would want to defy any authority. Some cannot even pay the mortuary fees now. So before embarking on a mass burial, can we go the extra mile of identifying the relatives of the dead and hear them out? Can we make provisions for them in our budget at this time?
Throwing their dead into unidentifiable holes without thorough consideration for these people will further add sorrow to the pain they are already experiencing; a worse insult to their sensibilities than the demise itself. It might be a trauma for some of them. Death issue is a very sensitive and delicate one and so utmost care and diligence must be taken to ensure that the wrong steps and decisions are not taken concerning their final farewell.
Today’s pauper can be tomorrow’s king, who might desire to exhume and relocate the remains of their dead to a more decent and befitting grave. The graves of the Prophets and Saints that many visit at the Holy sites today are made possible by those with vision and great respect for the dead by preserving the remains for numerous reasons: spiritual/historical etc.
The situation at hand isn’t caused by them neither by those in authority who must make very tough decisions in this unprecedented moment. It could be anyone. But then, whatever we can do to ease their pain would go a long way in preserving the good memories of their departed loved ones.
The true civilization of any society is reflected in the way and manner they treat their dead. There will be life after the present situation, and both the good and bad deeds, right and wrong decisions we make at this time will not be forgotten.
History will either commend or condemn us. Whichever the case might be, knowing full well that human beings cannot be adequately or 100% satisfied, let it at least be on record that based on what was available at the time (resources/possibilities suggestions), we have in good conscience sufficiently done our best. Our best even though may not be good enough from others’ point of view, but that is what any reasonable human being would do judging from what he has at his disposal.