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Keeping up with the Jones, even in death, Nigerian-style

Posted by by Jacques Lhuillery on 2007/02/27 | Views: 2552 |

Keeping up with the Jones, even in death, Nigerian-style

If the obituary pages of Western newspapers pride themselves on sobriety, the opposite holds true in Nigeria.

LAGOS (AFP) - If the obituary pages of Western newspapers pride themselves on sobriety, the opposite holds true in Nigeria.

Nigeria's major dailies carry dozens of technicolour full-page spreads complete with passionate declarations of love and photos of the dear departed, usually wearing a beatific smile.

For the living here believe that the dead watch them and judge their actions.

The obituaries will often indicate when and where the wake and the funeral are to be held. But in general they are addressed to the deceased.

"My beloved husband, it still seems as if you're away travelling and you'll be back home soon", Ona, a young widow, writes to her husband who died a year earlier.

She tells him about the children: "Onama, who you haven't seen, is a real little treasure. I miss you, I love you and I will love you till the day I die".

One couple, for the first anniversary of the death of their 15-year-old daughter killed in a plane crash, took out a full page. "You took a flight on Paradise Air. Baby you are not gone. You just changed your address. Now we have an ambassador in Heaven. Keep on decorating paradise with your drawings and keep smiling your pretty little smile," it read.

More prosaic, the parents of another victim of the same crash ask their daughter to "keep seats for us up there."

"The belief in life after death is very strong and so is the idea that the dead watch the living and judge their actions. They must be able to be proud of those they left behind," Peter Omoluabi, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Lagos, told AFP.

"People have to keep up their social status. That explains the astronomical sums spent on putting these pages in the papers", he said, adding that the same rationale lies behind excessive spending on coffins, funerals, wakes and new outfits to wear on these occasions.

The tendency to spend vast sums on funerals exists elsewhere in West Africa.

"We do a lot of ceremonies when somebody dies. We like partying, but we don't waste money on obituaries like the Nigerians do", said a Ghanaian secretary working in Lagos.

The fee for a full page in colour in two of the biggest dailies works in Nigeria -- Africa's most populous nation and leading oil producer though three-quarters of the population lives in poverty -- is 370,000 naira, almost 2,850 dollars (2,280 euros).

"It is a major source of revenue for newspapers", Dapo Olufade, the news editor of the Vanguard newspaper, told AFP.

Even The Guardian, the paper at the most sober end of the Nigerian newspaper scale that insisted at its creation in 1983 that it would not run obituaries, changed its mind five years later.

Olufade said that in the run-up to general elections scheduled for April 21, newspapers are probably getting more from political party advertisements.

But "once the political scene calms down, obituaries will again be the largest source of revenue for newspapers," he said.

Those who place the obituaries come from both major religions -- Muslims who represent 50 percent of the populace and Christians who account for 40 percent -- or from neither of the two, Professor Omoluabi said.

"It's not something that is religious driven. It's more a celebration of one's own ego," said Omoluabi.

For some Nigerians keeping up with the Joneses, or indeed outdoing them, means taking out a bank loan to pay for funeral expenses and choosing the showiest coffin imaginable.

Coffin maker Patrick Magelor, 47, displayed a gold-painted casket in the shape of a limousine complete with optional flashing lights and a white lace and pink feather interior. The asking price is 100,000 naira (781 dollars/ 625 euros).

"We've just sold three of these", he said, demonstrating how the battery-operated "headlights" work.

Some Nigerians import coffins from abroad made in material such as glass -- at 10 times the price of the limousine model.

"It's a question of personal values. It all depends on the extent to which the children of the deceased want to display their wealth.

"It's a case of being able to say 'when my father died his coffin was superb'," the psychologist said.

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