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Ojodu-Berger residents… agony of living around cemetery

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Back view of the premises where the cemetery is located. PHOTO: GBENGA AKINFENWA

Residents of Goodwill Estate, Abebi Close and neighbouring streets in King Avenue, Ojodu-Berger Area, a border town between Lagos and Ogun State, are crying out over what they termed environmental nuisance triggered by the activities of Omega Funeral Home and Crematory sited in the area.
 
The aggrieved residents claim that such a venture shouldn’t at the first place sited within a residential area not talk of such vicinity that is densely populated.
  
The Guardian learnt that landlords, developers and house agents are fast feeling the negative impact of the funeral home, as prospective buyers and tenants have continued to shun the area, leaving the majority of the new buildings vacant.
  
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Investigations show that the business, which started as a security outfit several years ago, suddenly metamorphosed into a funeral home enterprise hosting burials arrangement and cremation ceremonies, but later introduced mortuary business.
 
The latest introduction, which actually became a straw that broke the camel’s back, is the siting of a cemetery within the vicinity, a development that has drew the ire of the residents.
   
The company, which stated in its website that its “facility allows for burials alongside cremation ceremonies, which is a key part of our mission to offer complete end-to-end funerary services,” said it provides one of the most sought-after private cemeteries in Lagos.
  
“The beautifully appointed grounds provide a serene, tranquil environment that have been professionally landscaped and are kept clean and tidy all year round. Our guests enjoy returning time and time again to pay their respects to their loved ones.”
 
During a visit to the premises, it was discovered that the cemetery situated at the back of the compound, opposite buildings in Abebi Close is being expanded to accommodate more bodies, a sign that the business is thriving.
 
Workers were seen digging holes with piles of red sands exhumed littering some sections of the area.  
  
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Though some of the residents refused to talk to The Guardian for fear of victimisation, it was learnt from a source within the area that when the company expanded few years back, it introduced the mortuary phase and crematory, which majority of the residents, especially those within Goodwill Estate kicked against.
 
She revealed that the company was dragged to court to stop the operation but the company won. “We didn’t have any choice than to live with the mortuary sited within this residential area. We have been forcing ourselves to live with it since we cannot move away from our house; until we had the owner was planning to establish a cemetery right inside the compound. It was in early July of last that I actually confirmed that the cemetery business had taken-off.
 
“The siting of a cemetery here is very absurd, considering the fact that majority of the houses are storey-buildings. Since the cemetery section is directly facing our building, we always see the internment processes, which I don’t think is good enough for the children. Even, some adults here cannot cope seeing dead bodies being interred. It’s not something we can cope with.”
 
The Guardian learnt that aside the psychological discomfort, a sharp smell always permeate the area, constituting air pollution and environmental nuisance to the neighborhood.
  
A resident of the Abebi Close, Ahmed Joseph (not real name) said: “Nobody is happy about this development. Before too long, this place is going to be messy. I saw them burying people days ago, it was disgusting. This is horrible, we coped with the siting of the mortuary and the crematory, but we can’t cope with this.”
 
Another resident, pointing at the new buildings situated within the Abebi Close, which are just about five meters away from the perimeter fence of the company, said one of the buildings put up for sale for several months attracted no buyer, due to the proximity to the cemetery.
 
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“Those completed buildings did not attract any bid because the mortuary and the cemetery are very close to the houses. The same challenge is faced by landlords of other houses around there. The excuse from buyers and prospective tenants is about the cemetery because they bury people everyday. I can tell you that businesses that can attract millions of naira had been stalled within this area because of this business. Residents also are complaining because they cannot open their windows at will, especially at night to now see graveyards, psychologically, it doesn’t sound well.”
  
He wondered why the government is looking the other way while a cemetery is located within a residential area, noting that such facility should be sited off residential areas.
 
“Government should critically look into this issue. There is need for proper assessment of this area for the state government to see for themselves what residents are facing here because nobody is happy about this cemetery here.”
 
Efforts to get chairman of the Goodwill Estate Residents Association, Engr. Oje, who according to sources dragged the company to court a few years back was unsuccessful as of the time of the visit.

But when the company was contacted, they claimed they obtained all the necessary documents and license to operate a cemetery in the vicinity.

The Operations Manager of the company, who gave his name simply as Mr. Anu, told The Guardian on phone: “We have all the license from government, you can’t operate an establishment like this without government backing and paper works. Our own parts have been sealed by government and we have the approval and license to operate a cemetery.

“Two, our cemetery is properly located. Look at Atan, look at Ikoyi cemetery and other cemeteries in Lagos, what are the things around it, they are actually within residential areas. Before government can license a cemetery, they’ll come around to see the environment; they get feedback from people in the community and they check the actual position of the cemetery, it’s not just an office thing.

“This is not something they do within one month, two months, six months or one year. They take their time to do their investigation.”

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He noted that the company has not received any complaint from the residents, “as a matter for fact, the people of this area are happy with the services we offer. So, if anyone is complaining, it’s probably our competitors, I don’t want to believe somebody is saying we are disturbing them in this community.

“One thing our legal adviser told me was that if you write anything that defames the company, we would not hesitate to take legal action.”

When The Guardian visited the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning, Alausa, to confirm the approval of the cemetery or otherwise, our correspondent was directed to the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA), Ikeja for the confirmation.

Following The Guardian’s enquiry, the LASPPPA embarked on discreet investigation on the company’s claim. Three weeks after, their report disclosed that the location of the funeral home does not fall under the jurisdiction of Lagos State, but Ogun State.

As a result, a further step was taken to Ogun State Ministry of Physical Planning, Abeokuta late December to unravel the mystery. Though the Press Officer of the ministry said she has furnished the commissioner with necessary information, but there is no news yet on the progress made so far.

But a source within the ministry confided that the ministry has commenced investigation and will soon make its discovery known.

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