Preying on the Dead – Culture & The Odyssey of My Dad’s Funeral – IV

With Dad & Mum

This picture, taken in second year of university shows Dad, Mum, their last two children and the girl who would later become my pillar, my wife.

The Burial & What Form of Burial

I always told anyone who cared to listen that for what you would call ordinary country folks without formal education or extended travel, my parents were decades ahead of time and their peers. I have heard stories of parents breathing down the necks of their children over issues of life. I thank God for mine. Dad and Mum placed our personal happiness and welfare over and above anything and everything else. From the choice of where we reside to whom we married, we made free choices. If any of us failed in character or anything, it is our fault.

They discussed death and rituals openly and refrained from dabbling into anything that would economically ruin their children at their demise. Thank you Dad and Mum for your consideration. On my part, in those discussions, I made it quite clear to them that I would not embark on a money-wasting burial ritual. A child’s contract with their parent is not to bankrupt at their demise but to bring smiles and make life easy for them while they yet live. The contract I had with my parents was a contract for better life, not a show-off burial ritual. This is my understanding of life. That if you did not kill a cow for your parents while they were alive, you invite divine anger on yourself trying to impress people who would still insult your lack of priorities when you entertain the world at their death.

I recall telling Dad and Mum that left to me, when they passed, we would buy the cheapest coffin and reunite them with mother earth, as quickly as practicable – devoid of the culture of wastage that has now become fashion in Yagbaland. Incidentally, Dad passed on my wedding anniversary. That wedding did not tow the usual line of sending invites and lavishly entertaining guests. We had one or two ensemble or aso-ebi and only my in-laws cooked to entertain their own guests. That marriage, to God’s glory has survived two decades and counting. That is all that matters, after all, Adam did not throw a party in the garden.

Old house

The house where my Dad eventually died wears a better look now, but Dad & Mum lived here for almost a decade without doors, window or ceiling. We weren’t just poor,  poverty was our landlord.

Most of my siblings shared the principle of frugality. From our conversations, Dad was left with no illusion about what would happen after he took the last breath. I did not promise a gale of lavish parties. The idea of being placed in ‘ayanran’ or morgue offended him until I left for Canada in 2010. He had wanted quick burial. Lately, he had asked for my assured presence at his funeral. I refused to give such assurances telling him we would cross the bridge when we got there. It would be unkind to those whose parents lived shorter lives to say I did not expect that bridge to rush towards me on April 16. But that’s the truth.

He Saved For His Own Funeral

Dad assured me that whenever death occurred, there would be enough cash under his pillow to take his remains to the nearest embalmment centre if that was what we wanted and that he was saving money for his own funeral.

At his death, we discovered that he fulfilled that promise. There was N14k under his bed. As news of his passage filtered in, the one with whom he had been saving money came forward that he had over N70k in savings to cover his own funeral costs. Dad never believed in burdening anyone with his own needs. He lived within his means. The creed of his household was this, that “What I cannot afford is not good for you”. It is a creed that is now passed to generations.

Sunday April 17, a day after Dad breathed his last, all those who could be accommodated in a conference call met to discuss burial arrangements. It was the general consensus that he should be buried within a week. The reasons are straightforward; no member of my immediate family that had earned a salary in half a decade. Salaried jobs were not forthcoming.

Between Notoriety and Popularity

Sometimes I think I am the cause of the economic downturn in my own family. Critical writing has earned me a notoriety that inhibits the chances of those who share my surname. Conscientious writers hardly grow rich; they are just notorious. Notoriety forces even those who want to help you or your siblings to think twice. They never know how you were bound to react to their most altruistic acts. On my part, I have learnt not to expect anything and never to ask. People should understand the dissonance between notoriety and popularity. Popularity opens doors of favour, notoriety distances people, especially the crooked from you.

I am notorious, not popular. I am a journalist, not a lobbyist. I do not criticize for personal gain. I believe that my writing should expose the wrong in society, point the way to the alternatives and put fear in the minds of those who perpetuate the status quo for their personal gains. This is the ideal I chose, it was the ideal I learnt from home and aligned with in journalism ‘school’. I know of friends and colleagues who have made money out of journalism, I do not necessarily disrespect them, but I envy no one and that way of life is not the way I practice my profession.

I believe that journalism was what I was created to practice. If I have done it well, I have fulfilled my destiny. If I have failed, it would not be based on lack of trying. God and the world have invested so much on me, it would tantamount to betrayal if I let myself down.

If the society in which a journalist lives is crooked, a conscientious journalist should neither take advantage of it’s loopholes nor contribute to the perpetuation of that crookedness. As much as possible, I live within my means. I am imbued with self-pride and a level of material decency. I am too proud to beg, bow or bootlick. I have suffered for that rigidity but that suffering has become for me a conscientious badge of honour. It is the Valium that helps me snore when I sleep and helps me carry my head with a modicum of dignity when I walk around. It is the way of every authentic Asaju; it is a virtue we inherited and a baton we strive to pass on to the next generation.

A Burial Date Is Chosen

Subject to community approval, we fixed burial for Friday April 22 and promptly asked Sam to convey that decision to the Oba-in-Council and return with the list of burial requirements. The reaction from the community was understandable. It is a reaction that greets me at every door I knock on in Naija. With such notoriety, money must be floating in my house. Without pride, I am the most travelled of my father’s children, and perhaps of my community. But those who think that being ‘abroad’ is synonymous with having the key to the Reserve Bank are wrong. There comes a time in life when one must take firm decisions and live with the consequences of such decisions. The story of how I ended up in Canada is well known and I do not intend to embarrass my wife by recounting it now.

The nakedness with which ‘home-truth’ was conveyed to my family by community leaders shocked. Pa Mark Balogun Ogunrinde Oloke Asaju, may have been a communal elder, he is our father. The parent-child relationship conferred certain rights; rights that included having the final say over how parents are buried. It is an inalienable right conferred by God, affirmed by nature and endorsed by laws to all sane humans. I believe that right to be earned. I believe that those who interact with others should respect the rights of children to bury their parents within their means. Celebration of life is good, but please celebrate the life while it lasts, not after the person who had the life no longer exists.


…to be continued


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