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Nigeria’s funeral rites culture threatens curbing COVID-19 spread

By Tobore OVUORIE


NIGERIA, West Africa’s most populous nation, like countries across the globe, is battling to curb the spread of COVID-19. Daily statistics of confirmed cases by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) indicate the country is yet to cross to the safe path as many Nigerians are contracting and spreading the coronavirus. Unfortunately, testing remains extremely limited.

Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s Health Minister, recently told journalists that: “We have passed that era when people used to think that COVID-19 was something for big men and big women who came from abroad.”

The country, he explained, is now in the community transmission phase of the deadly virus.

Investigative Journalist, TOBORE OVUORIE who spent July and August 2020 combing through some hinterlands and rural areas in Nigeria, discovered that while the Nigerian government has been expanding test and quarantine centres in various parts of the country, it has been largely failing to address one of the most basic preventive measures: large gatherings birthed by cultural beliefs, such as funeral rites – a very big industry – even in the hinterlands.

TOBORE OVUORIE in this short video presents that the Nigerian government appears to be paying more attention to cities in its COVID-19 eradication, at the detriment of the hinterlands and rural communities. She summarizes in this video that funeral gatherings in Nigeria’s hinterlands and rural areas, are threatening to hinder efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic. She is repeatedly told that a large funeral gathering is one of the major determinants to measure if a departed person, particularly parents, was given a befitting burial. This is how family members in towns, hinterlands and rural parts such as Ughelli and Emevor, in Delta state and other parts of Nigeria, accompany the deceased to their native villages for burial.

This happens, despite the Nigerian government’s directive that not more than 50 persons should physically attend funeral ceremonies, because large funeral gatherings could lead to the transmission of COVID-19.

Investigations reveal culture has been a stumbling block and COVID-19 or not, elders and custodians of cultural practices, believe that the number of persons who turn up for the funeral is a major barometer to measure the status of the deceased.

Mr. Dan Ekere, a lecturer at the Philosophy department in the University of Lagos says amongst the Isokos and Urhobos in Delta state, the funeral rites which feature and include a crowd are a must if the person lived a long, worthy and exemplary life, hence the long walk and display along the roadside.

These large funeral gatherings in rural parts of Nigeria, could be responsible for the current spread of the COVID-19 in several communities in Nigeria, particularly, amongst persons who have never traveled out of their locations.

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The coronavirus not only calls attention to the quality of Nigeria’s cultural belief system, values, and practices but how they could hinder adherence to public health regulations.

These cultural and social practices could cause life-threatening consequences for everyone irrespective of class, age, education and religion.

This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its COVID-19 Reality Check Project.


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