Public cemeteries in most parts of the country are in very deplorable condition. Despite the huge revenue generated from some of them, the dead are far from resting in peace because their final resting places are simply an eyesore.
Despite the fact that about three past governors, including Abubakar Rimi, Hamza Abdullahi and Audu Dawakin Tofa, many senators of the federal republic, notable businessmen and religious scholars have the Tarauni Cemetery, in Kano, as their final resting place, Daily Trust Saturday observed that no conscious effort is being made by the Kano State government to maintain the facility.
Our reporter gathered that since the administration of Sen. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, when the parameter fencing of the cemetery was done by the state government, further maintenance of the cemetery has been left to individuals and charity organizations.
When our reporter visited the facility, some portions have been covered by bushes, making it difficult for individuals visiting the graveyard to locate the tombs of their loved ones.
Our reporter further learnt that only seven people are saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the affairs of the cemetery day and night by the Tarauni Local Government on a paltry monthly allowance of N5000 each.
These seven people engaged by the local government authorities as security men, Daily Trust gathered, are also responsible for clearing and filling up sunken and washed out graves especially during the rainy season.
One of the guards alleged negligence on the part of government, saying since the cemetery was opened sometime in 1978, government has never made any conscious effort to ensure its proper running.
He said some of them who have volunteered to oversee the activities at the cemetery are not being taken care of despite the diabolical attacks they face within the parameters.
“Our presence in this environment serves many purposes. One and the most important is to ensure the sanity of the place, by this I mean that we guard this cemetery day and night to ensure that the remains of the people buried here are not desecrated in whatever form and for whatever reason.”
He recalled many instances where some individuals in the dead of the night used to intrude to perform some rituals on people’s graves.
Though he said they’ve not recorded any case of corpses being exhumed in the cemetery, but said several attempts had been made. He said their presence in the cemetery has helped in curtailing the situation.
“Though we have never recorded a case where a corpse was exhumed for diabolical practice, but we have caught many people trying to bury charms on human graves and we retrieved some of these charms,” he said.
He identified lack of space for burial in the cemetery as their major concern, appealing to the state government to explore other avenues to secure plots of land for the extension of the cemetery.
At Fagge Cemetery, located at Hajj Camp, Daily Trust learnt that the state of the cemetery was similar to Tarauni Cemetery, only that individuals contribute for the maintenance of the graveyard.
Alhaji Sheriff Hadi Kabir, the chairman of the committee overseeing activities within the cemetery told Daily Trust that since the cemetery was established over 70 years ago, it has never recorded any visible intervention from the government either in form of infrastructure or welfare of people working in the cemetery.
He said the parameter fencing of the cemetery, the two functional boreholes serving the graveyard as well as the welfare of the volunteer staff working there are all from contributions from well spirited individuals.
He said about 13 people are working in the graveyard – 10 as grave diggers and three playing supervision roles. All are paid from donations from individuals or groups visiting the area either for burial or prayers on the graves of their loved ones.
When our reporter visited the cemetery, construction works were ongoing at various locations to provide easy access to water within the cemetery.
Alhaji Kabir said the fund for the project was sourced from contributions.
“Since this cemetery was established, all maintenance works including the construction work you see ongoing are financed from individual contributions. This construction work you see is meant to provide an elevated platform so that we can have easy access to water for over a hundred trees planted around the parameters. So, all the facilities you see around, including the parameter fencing were done by individuals,” he said.
He further revealed that an attempt is ongoing to get the cemetery registered with relevant government agencies in order to avert any land dispute that might arise in event of land encroachment into the cemetery.
Daily Trust gathered from a reliable source that the over one hundred trees recently planted around the parameter fence of the cemetery was informed by an attempt by the state government to encroach into the cemetery to construct shops for rent.
According to the source, “Not quite long ago, they came with some engineers and started measuring the area where they want to build shops around the cemetery parameter fencing. Based on that measurement, three yards were to be taken from the cemetery and it was that attempt that informed the seedlings you see planted around the parameters.”
Though Kabir refused to comment on the issue of alleged land encroachment, he however appealed to the government to intervene in the management and maintenance of the cemeteries in the state, saying individual contribution alone is not enough to give the place, which is the last home of every human being, a befitting look.
The Port Harcourt cemetery, which was formerly a burial ground for the northern community in Rivers State, was taken over by the authorities of Port Harcourt City Local Government Area in 2013. Today, fees are charged to those who want to bury their dead ones in the cemetery.
According to Alhaji Musa Saidu, the South-south, South-east Coordinator of Arewa Consultative Forum, the land was formerly given to the Hausa community in the state as burial ground for their loved ones.
He said that before the property was taken over by the Port Harcourt City Local Government Area, the cemetery was maintained by the Hausa community.
“We had to acquire another land at Eleme which we are presently using as a burial ground,” he said.
Before its reacquisition by the Port Harcourt City Local Government Area, the cemetery located at the popular Aggery Road in Port Harcourt was unkempt and overtaken by weeds.
It has no fence just as part of it was converted to a football pitch where youths play football.
“The cemetery was an eyesore before it was taken over by the Port Harcourt City Local Government Council. The entire premises was overtaken by weed and children used part of it to play football. We had to clear the entire place, put parameter fence and gate to control access in and out of the premises.”
“The place is under control as we talk now, as the premises now has a gate and is secured with parameter fence,” stated a staff of the council who pleaded anonymity.
Apart from the Port Harcourt cemetery, there are two others located at Eleme and Elele. Both cemeteries are presently used by the northern community to bury their dead.
Our reporter learnt that the only cemetery owned and operated by the state government is the Port Harcourt City cemetery located at Aggery Road.
“Rivers State government does not have its own cemetery. The only cemetery owned and operated by any government agency is the Port Harcourt City cemetery. The one at Trailer park and Elele were acquired by the Hausa community and are poorly maintained because they’re managed by private individuals,” stated Boma Amadi, a resident of Port Harcourt.
Effort made to speak with the Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development did not yield any result but sources close to his office informed our reporter that a befitting cemetery for Port Harcourt is in the development agenda of the state.
At Atan, apart from the privately owned vaults run by Ebony and the military which are well treated, the Christian and Muslim vaults have been taken over by bushes though one could sight some vaults of the 60s and 70s covered with concrete slab which probably have been permanently bought by families.
For 150 years, Atan cemetery has been in existence. But many people have expressed dismay over the sorry state of the cemetery which is far from being befitting.
The vaults reserved for the common man despite the fees charged leaves much to be desired. Both the Christian and Muslim sections are covered with weeds and bushes. Besides, a walk across the public sections of the cemetery presented it more like a dumping ground. It is littered with garbage, with no one to clean it and make it a befitting resting place for the dead.
There are dilapidated tombs and tombstones in addition to the overgrowth. Vaults almost overlap vaults and tombs. And at the moment, it was gathered that there are no longer spaces for corpses in the general cemetery. So, people have ceased to take their dead bodies there for burial.
“The Atan cemetery, which was in bad state, will be focused on in 2020,” says the LCDA Chairman, Kayode Omiyale.
Corroborating our reports on the bad state of the over 150-year-old cemetery, Omiyale said there are plans by his administration to improve the condition of the facility. He said a specific amount has been allocated to Atan cemetery in the 2020 budget, while noting that there are possibilities that the whole cemetery may not be cleared, but three-quarter of the place will be worked on.
“The cemetery is not generating funds at the moment to take care of the place. The major challenge we are facing at the moment is that the place is congested. There is a vacant space which belongs to the military. It was allocated to them since the inception of the place. It was during the civil war that the military used it last. We have been trying to reach out to them to release the place to us. The burials done at the cemetery at the moment are by families of those who bought the vault many years ago. Some bought two and others bought three vaults (chambers). If the military release that allocation to us, we will be able to generate funds to maintain the place.”
He also said maintenance was poor because people who have corpses in Atan refused to pay for the maintenance despite the fact that “we did an advert in the dailies calling on people who had families there to pay N10,000 for the cemetery’s maintenance.”
Omiyale insisted that the cemetery, which hitherto was a hideout for hoodlums, is now safe for both the living and the dead as the security of the place has been tightened, adding that police patrol the cemetery on a regular basis to ensure hoodlums are not back to hide there.
Concerning the state of the cemetery located at Ikorodu, the Ikorodu Local Government Chairman, Adesina Wasiu, noted that the cemetery was in a bad condition with collapsed fence, bushes and poor maintenance, but the LG is now rehabilitating the premises.
According to him, “Our six-acre cemetery located at Sabo Junction in Ikorodu has a new facelift as there is an ongoing rehabilitation and beautification. We want our dead ones to rest in peace.”
Explaining further, he said, “The rehabilitation includes perimeter fencing (we are plastering the fence at the moment), illumination of the premises, provision of generator to ensure regular power supply especially at night. Also, we are reconstructing the admin office and have erected a borehole. We want to do an exhumation of some parts of the cemetery to serve as a car park for people who bring corpses as well as a parking space for those who want to perform the last rites.”
He said that “There are six people managing the cemetery. But, they are all on break till the rehabilitation work is finished. For now, the environmental department is in charge of managing the place and a five-man committee has been set-up to ensure the work is done. They are there on a daily basis and they advise us on what next to do. They give quarterly report to me.”
In Sokoto, a visit to Tudun Wada cemeteries showed that residents have resorted to the abandoned portions of the cemeteries due to lack of space to bury the dead.
The area hosts the largest cemeteries in the state metropolis which were patronized by people from the ancient city of Sokoto and environs.
One of the two cemeteries is filled up, forcing the caregivers to relocate to the hard-to-dig portion of the abandoned old one, as a last resort.
A caregiver, who craved anonymity, said they had no option than to relocate to the rocky site of the oldest cemetery but not without the authorities concerned clearing parts of the rocky areas.
“This is why we can now dig graves in the site, although it is still a very herculean task,” he said.
According to him, they were also concerned about the alarming rate at which graves were collapsing in the two cemeteries due to lack of maintenance.
“Thank God that the Sultanate Council is sending some people to repair some of the collapsed graves and there are other good Samaritans who voluntarily come and clear grasses but more still needs to be done,” he said.
Another challenge faced is the recurrent fire incidents in the cemeteries which causes remain mysterious. Some allege that disgruntled persons were behind them.
The caretaker however noted that the state has started looking for a new burial site. “In fact, few days ago, I heard an announcement on the radio, calling for owners of lands in one of the identified sites to come with their documents for compensation, which is a good omen.”
Another caretaker advised the government to provide enough equipments and manpower for the proper upkeep of cemeteries across the state.
“We also need improved welfare. We are just nine here and we work from 6am to 11pm everyday and our salary is nothing to write home about,” he said.
When contacted, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Land and Housing, Abubakar Tambuwal, declined comment on the matter as it was the responsibility of the deputy governor’s office.
However, a staff of the ministry who pleaded not to be named said they had acquired 50 hectres of land for the new cemetery and that compensation would soon be paid. In Zamfara State, each cemetery is being maintained by a committee saddled with the responsibility of taking care of the resting places of the departed souls, officials told Daily Trust.An official of the committee overseeing the Tudun Wada near CBN headquarters, Alhaji Adamu Sani Katuru, said they tax themselves of certain amount of money to take care of the cemeteries.“There are a lot of well-to-do individuals in the committee and they donate to this cause. For instance, through these donations we have bought mowing machines to keep the cemeteries clean and tidy.
“If you visit these places, you will find most of them tidy. Apart from this, the cemeteries are fenced and gates placed on entrance and exits of each of them and in most cases a guard is recruited to man the places,” Katuru said.
A resident, Abubakar Abubakar, told Daily Trust that sometimes, when grasses seem to overtake the cemeteries, some young and agile volunteers would come with working tools to clean the place.
Most of the cemeteries visited by our correspondent were found to be clean. At the Gada biyu cemetery, a perimeter fence and a room for a guard were constructed. The project was undertaken by a philanthropist and former governorship aspirant in the state, Alhaji Dauda Lawal Dare.