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Stella Obasanjo’s interment: We must change burial tradition of our daughters, Okosuns tells Esan

Posted by By Richard Eghaghe, Correspondent, Lagos on 2005/11/04 | Views: 3963 |

Stella Obasanjo’s interment: We must change burial tradition of our daughters, Okosuns tells Esan

While tongues are still wagging over the magnetic love the president shared with the late first lady, dust is however, yet to settle on his insistence to bury his beloved wife, Stella, in his family compound in Abeokuta.

Stella Obasanjo’s interment: We must change burial tradition of our daughters, Okosuns tells Esan

While tongues are still wagging over the magnetic love the president shared with the late first lady, dust is however, yet to settle on his insistence to bury his beloved wife, Stella, in his family compound in Abeokuta.

Among the Esan of Edo State, where the first lady hailed from, opinions are divided ever since the president made good his decision to bury his wife in Abeokuta, tradition, culture and custom notwithstanding.

It is, however, debatable if the president has abused or rather breached the age-long tradition and custom of the people of Esan.

Even prior to the state burial of late Stella Obasanjo at Abeokuta last Saturday, restless elders of Esan had gone as far as placing a newspaper advertisement to plead with Mr. President not to desecrate the tradition of their land. Part of the advert reads: "While we express our profound sympathy for the unfortunate demise of the first lady, we wish to state categorically that the concluded arrangement to bury her remains outside her ancestral Esan home poses a great threat to the very foundation of the cultural heritage and tradition of the Esan people.

"It is an age-long, well known and established tradition of the Esan people that our married daughters, upon demise are buried in the ancestral homestead. Thus the seeming concluded plans to lay Chief Stella Obasanjo to rest at the abode of Mr. President in Abeokuta, Ogun State, amounts to a desecration of the established and respected customs and tradition of Esan people.

"The plan, if eventually carried out, will place Esan people in a position of double loss – the death of a worthy daughter at her prime and the denial to have her sleep in the midst of her people as demanded by culture and tradition."

Even when the deed was done and the first lady laid to rest permanently at Abeokuta, the Onogie of Ogwa, Esan West Council Area, H.R.H. Zaiki Ezogie, has insisted that the first lady must be re-buried even as she is not going to be exhumed. "We accept that they can choose their burial site, but we also reserve the traditional right to our daughter’s final resting place. So, we expect that the final arrangement would be complied with shortly so that our custom would not be too grossly abused or neglected," he said. But, who dares stop the president, the number one citizen, from doing what he chooses to do, especially when it has to do with his beloved wife?

Apparently not happy with the agitation over the resting place for the first lady by his people, an equally prominent Esan son and minister of God, Evangelist Sonny Okosuns, one of Nigeria’s leading musician, argued that though Stella’s burial in Abeokuta was against his people’s tradition, there was the need to change that aspect of his people’s tradition, which demands the return of the remains of their daughters for burial at their ancestral homes.

"As a man very conversant with my people’s culture and tradition, the burial of Stella outside her original ancestral home goes against the Esan and even the customary burial rites of the Edos. But I don’t know what the parties involved agreed. What I know is that Stella should have been buried in his father’s place according to Esan tradition," Okosuns said.

Okosuns, who also faced the same problem when his late Igbo wife, Nkechi, died, stated that the Igbo tradition, "which I happened to have participated in, the tradition is different. When my wife died, she was buried in my place."

Burials are sometimes very difficult to handle in line with the tradition of the people. The Igbo don’t demand the corpse if their daughters from you if she is truly and fully married to you according to tradition. But in my place (Esan), the corpse is returned to the home of origin. Allowing the corpse to go with the husband means the daughter is lost forever.

"It is only in cases where the woman is hated or her people do not like the husband that they take her corpse to bury by themselves in Igboland, which automatically indicts the husband as a suspect that might have caused his wife’s death, or the husband had not fully married the woman before death.

"Luckily for me, I didn’t even want my wife’s corpse to be far from me because I loved her and her children are here with me. They have to see the grave of their mother and pay homage. I am not so much familiar with the Yoruba tradition of burial.

In Stella’s case, I think it is based on the agreement she had with her husband. As you can see, she stayed longer in the husband’s place than her original home, having been married to him for 30 years. That is no joke. I wonder how old she was when she married the man. How many years she stayed as an independent lady outside her parents’ home. I think burying her in the husband’s place was the best thing to do if tradition has to be turned around. Even then, the children should have upper hand in the decision rather than the people, because they ought to bury their mom according to Edo tradition. The husband plays his role behind the scene. It is not even the husband’s duty to bury the wife, but the children’s, even if a single child. The family members from both mother and father’s side rally round the child to ensure a successful burial, while the husband, as the breadwinner, supplies logistics," Okosuns explained.

Does this mean that Stella is lost forever to the Yoruba race since her people were prevented from performing their traditional and customary rite on her as a high chief and prominent daughter?

"No. It only implies that she was duly married to Obasanjo and that she is Obasanjo’s property forever. In fact, I am advocating that the tradition be changed. Only a woman not married or properly married to a man should be brought back and buried in his father’s house. Any Esan woman that is truly and properly married according to the laws and tradition of the land should go to the husband and become his property forever. Once they are married, they are married and gone forever to their husband. They answer his name forever. I like it that way. The tradition should be changed. No question of giving out our women to men alive and receiving her corpse at the end. I am imploring my people to change that tradition now. Why bring our daughters corpse to us when we gave her to the husband, body and soul?" he queried. "What have we to do with her remains after all? Since the husband took good custody of her when she was alive, enjoyed and brought forth offspring through her during her lifetime, he should equally be able to take custody of her remans when she dies."

Don’t you think the burial place of a first lady like Stella would be like a tourist attraction in Iruekpen, her hometown? At Obasanjo’s burial place in Abeokuta, it is like a private place.

"Stella was already a tourist attraction in her husband’s place before she died. People wanted to see, know, and meet her. Some even queued for days to see her. She was equally a tourist in her husband’s place. She toured different parts of the world. She was not answering Abebe’s name in those places. She was answering Obasanjo. The tourist attraction in her is the Obasanjo name, because he gave her the first lady position on a platter of gold, which made people wanting to know her. She was fortunate to have married Obasanjo. She wouldn’t have been anything near tourist attraction or her burial place, if she were not the first lady of Nigeria by virtue of being the president’s chosen wife. Do you know how many women, mothers that died in the Bellview Airline crash? Do you hear much about them? No, because they were not the president’s wives. So, Stella was made popular because she was the president’s wife. She was made a tourist attraction by the president, so if she dies and still wants to maintain her status, she still has to stay with the president to remain a tourist attraction. Not just any tourist, but very important tourists like kings, queens, princes, princesses, presidents, prime ministers, world leaders and other important dignitaries.

"In any case, do you know the agreement between her and the president? When the president is of age to answer the glorious call, he might be buried next to his wife. How about that? That could have been the arrangement," Okosuns concluded.

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