No much space for the dead…
With the growing population and scarcity of residential accommodation in most Nigerian cities, the deceased have begun to compete for land, following the shrinking of grounds and plots for burial.
From Lagos to Kaduna, the story is the same, burial plot spaces are in short supply. In cities like Lagos, prices of plots for the deceased and apartments for the living are at record high and daily, it is becoming expensive to rest in peace.
A decent burial plot in Ikoyi can cost more than a year’s salary of a graduate. The price of a spot six feet under at Ikoyi Vaults and Gardens is about N3.2million while space for the living starts from N50 million.
“It’s a piece of real estate that follows the concept of demand and supply,” says Bode Adediji, a past president of Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV). “Unfortunately, the government is not paying attention to this uncommon assets,” he laments.
True to the fact, cemeteries are important and major artifact to well-planned cities all over the world. The value or roles transcends being places for burying the dead, as it could constitute part of the greens, buffer or recreational land use.
The dearth of cemeteries has become worrisome to urban planners, and other professionals, apart from the existing ones scattered around the country, the various tiers of government have not shown concerns for cemeteries.
The various denominations of the Christian and Islam faiths played significant roles in establishing cemeteries in early years of many towns.
Moses Ogunleye, a past president, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON) said, “these facilities are grossly inadequate in meeting the needs of these towns, most have become cities.
The ones established by governments are filled, very old and inadequate.”
In the past, the private sector did not show much enthusiasm in investing into it. Now, a handful of them are venturing into filling the void. The attraction is that it is becoming a cash cow, and prices are skyrocketing due to the need for better accommodation for the dead.
Few private ones are enjoying a measure of maintenance and decorum such as Victoria Court Cemetery (VCC) along Lekki Epe Expressway and Ikoyi Cemetery; many others are allowed to degenerate without expansion and control.
In Lagos, some of them constitute environmental nuisance and haven for miscreants. For instance, Atan Cemetery covering about 25 hectares of land and one of the oldest cemeteries of its kind in Nigeria, has not been expanded. Located at Moore Road, Yaba, Lagos, this public cemetery is the final resting place for many Nigerians and foreigners alike and was built by British Colonialists in 1868.
It has a portion reserved for the British Government and maintained by the Common Wealth office for the burial of Nigerian soldiers who died in the service of the British Crown.
The cemetery also contains the largest concentration of the Second World War II graves in Nigeria, numbering about 411.
Although the number of available grave plots cannot be ascertained, it is broken into sections, with one being for ‘all-comers’ and the other reserved for the private and the rich, there are also plots for small budgets.
While the public section is rundown and overgrown with weeds due to mismanagement, the private section, which is run by Ebony Casket Ventures, is well maintained and manned by security personnel.
Findings revealed that one Chamber Vault for the normal vault category goes for N200,000 and the three Chamber vault has a price tag of N250,000.
The Special Vault with tiling for One Chamber Vault goes for N500,000; three Chamber Vault goes for N600,000, while the special Three Chamber Vault category with gate, tilling and engraving of the deceased particulars goes for N1,000,000.
The situation appears to be different in Ikoyi Cemetery, a non-sectarian cemetery that provides comfort to the dead, the bereaved and the public as a whole.
It has over the years steadily been expanded to accommodate more graves and recently, a new elitist section was made, the Ikoyi Vaults and Garden, a private cemetery.
It was commissioned in 2006, and claims “to provide a befitting final resting place for departed loved ones in a serene, amiable and secure environment.”
Here, price per burial plot goes between N1 million and N10 million, depending on design and density of vault.
Steeped in history, many founding personalities in Nigeria were interred here including Herbert Macaulay, Henry Carr, Orlando Martins, Candido Da Rocha among others.
The cemetery is boasting a clean and lush green environment with a well thought-out graveyard.
An official of the Yaba Local Council Development Area, overseers of the Atan cemetery told The Guardian that the sorry state of the public area speaks volume of the poor funding of local council administration in the country.
According to him, although the council is charging fees, they are often unaccounted for as only the permanent ones, which are often cemented, are receipted.
With such development, he wondered how the council can carter for its upkeep or thought of even expanding the facility with the scarcity of land in a choice location of Lagos.
Also, a visit to a burial site located in Matori Oshodi, shows an example of a congested and not well-kept burial site. Speaking with the attendant as a client, she told The Guardian that there are varied prices ranging from N25,000 to N300,000.
According to her, the grave spaces in which families of the deceased can exercise their personal designs using tiles and signatures attract higher prices. Families of the deceased could also visit the site as they deemed fit.
Speaking further, she explained that the low price cadre belongs to the non-permanent category where families of the deceased are not permitted to revisit as the space are recycled after some years.
The Guardian learnt that the high price of obtaining plots in some of the cemeteries has made some individuals to bury the dead in their homes.
Ogunleye admitted that there have been increased instances of burying the dead in homes. “It devalues the affected property,” he said.
ATOPCON president, Mr. Olaide Afolabi, said government should be educated on the need to map out zones as they do for other institutions to enable private enterprises venture into cemetery business, which can be both challenging and lucrative.
Regretting the inability of Nigerians to plan for the death, he said many of the new urban plans in Abuja and other cities in the country did not fathom establishment of burial plots.
The few existing private ones like the VCC and Ikoyi vault, he said have less space and could not expand because of approval issues. “The role of government is to create spaces in their master-plans for cemeteries.”
Also speaking, a past president of Nigerian Institution Town Planners, Remi Makinde, explains that there is no specific law that says a certain percentage of land must be reserved for burial ground or cemetery, noting that people have overtime be planning for the living and not for the dead, which is a failure of consideration for the certainty of death.
“I have good regard for HSC engineering that established the Victoria Court Cemetery at Lekki which is the first private cemetery in the country. When it was first done, there were a lot of challenges eventually, it is now a hot cake.
In Agege for example, they have problem of burial site, they have to look for cemetery along Ipaja road.
That place is also filled up and they have to move again to somewhere in Alimosho. There has not been adequate attention given to provision for cemetery”.
Makinde stated out that since burial ground is for the people, it should not be far away from where people live.
However, he warned that it must not be too close and sited in a place where there is an hospital and residential apartments.
He offered that it must be well maintained and serve like a recreational centre for relaxation, prayer and meditation coupled with a good landscape with trees and sitting pavement among others.
“Unlike in Nigeria where we have our cemetery that is poorly maintained, cemeteries abroad are well maintained.
Years ago, we love to be buried inside the house as our culture.
In Yorubaland for instance, the people believed that if they bury their dead relations in the house, the spirit of the dead will still live in the house and so the public cemetery was not popular in those days.
These days, people now feel that cemetery should be located outside the house. In some local governments, they still approve for people to be buried in homes whereas others feel that dead people should be buried in public cemetery,” he explained.
According to him, with the prevailing scarcity of burial sites, government should pass the buck to town planners to carry out conscious special research and studies on what percentage of Land Use allocation should go for the provision of cemetery to meet ever-growing need of urban centres.
He said, such site must be appropriately located and not create any nuisance to the society.
“Through such studies, we could decide what percentage of people is likely to die and provision of burial site to be made available.
You find out Ikoyi cemetery was outside the city before now but it has outgrown the city at present thereby creating a scenario of digging out the old ones for the new ones and things like that.
Government should be thinking of where else the cemetery could be relocated,” he posited.
President, Nigeria Institute of Architect (NIA), Mr. Adibe Njoku, said the problem of dwindling burial plots could be addressed through cremation but wondered whether people can accept it because of cultural reasons.
The Second Vice President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Toyin Ayinde, lamented the absence of law that regulates the creation of burial sites in the country blaming it on leadership’s penchant for not following through plans designed for cities.
According to him, the problem of not having formal and decent burial places is as a result of the fact that the country lacked the will to implement plans as they are made by professionals who design the cities.
“I am not certain if there is any law that specifically speak on the creation of burial sites but what I know is that in most urban planning designs, there is provisions for cemetery but we have a culture of not implementing plans.
For example, I know that many years ago under the Lagos Regional Plan, there used to be a provision for National Cemetery in the Alagbado area heading towards Abeokuta in Lagos/Abeokuta Expressway”.
“There used to be Land for National Cemetery. However, because of the penchant for not following through with plans, we see a lot of the omissions.
Also sometimes in 1994/1995, my own office was involved in designing the master plan for the National Memorial Park in Abuja, the memorial park is a cemetery, which was supposed to incorporate the military cemetery on the airport express road, it was supposed to be a very big place like Jefferson Memorial Park in the United States of America.
We did a lot of studies to be able to do that but today, we have communities that have sprung up there.
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