Nigeria: Is Wake Keeping a 'Fleecing' Business?
Every Friday in most cities where Nigerians live in US, especially Igbos, the norm is 'Wake keeping.' It starts late at night and ends in the early morning. It has become an industry of sort, whereby the operators pay no taxes. Visit any grocery store and barber shop, and all one sees are info -flyers on those who died either in US and or Nigeria that their family members are trying to use the passage to 'fleece others of money.'
It's not uncommon to run into an Igbo-Nigerian who one hardly knows but who would not hesitate to inform one of death in their family, and requests that one joins them for a wake keeping; an event typically set to solicit money. There could be several wakes going on simultaneously in other cities for the same 'body.'
I have never given to such. I do not believe in such approach. When my younger sister and father died; 1987 and 1994 respectively, I refused to succumb to request to hold wakes for them. I felt it was not anyone's business. I appreciated those that paid condolence out of respect. Death is a family business and only those connected or are concerned should be burdened by such information.
One thing I have struggled with, were there a request by a Nigerian to raise money to do business, chances are no Nigerian will show. Nigerians will rather give towards death than support a worthy cause for the living. Why there is always a passionate appeal to help bury the dead when needs for the living are ignored, leaves me speechless.
As a founding but former member of Enugu State Progressive Union, Dallas, I initiated an insurance policy for members so that when such need arises there, wouldn't be need to go 'hat-in-hand' begging. The policy was for $20,000, intended for those who need it. I declined the policy even though I initiated the policy because the premium payment versus the policy value is small. The membership made it a condition for membership, and I opted out. I asked that a waiver be granted to any member who did not want to purchase the policy but still wants to be a member, but it was not carried as the membership wants to be involved in such situation, I left.
I have always believed that I do not want an organization, group or anyone who does not know me to be burdened by my passage. Living in US affords one opportunity to take care of certain things without unduly imposing on others. Igbo-Nigerians in US, unduly impose on others with unwarranted expectation in times of death. One would expect living in US affords all the opportunity to understand resources available to deal with terminal nature of life and make preparation for such exit - whether timely or untimely.
Most Nigerians in US, do not carry any form of life insurance; either term or full life. They will rather spend incessantly on social programs to entertain and enjoy, but hardly pay attention to relieving surviving family members the burden death places on the family. In US, one can purchase a $100,000 term life insurance policy with monthly premium payment of about $20. With such policy, upon death the family will be advanced money to take care of the burial expenses and the balance can be set aside for the kids in trust fund.
Recently, a non-Nigerian friend informed me that her daughter was left about $250,000 by her grandma from her policy which she has put in a trust for her. Such will be hard to happen in the case of a Nigerian family. Nigerians complain how others get ahead but refuse to see and copy what they do. I do not know any grandparent in Nigeria that thinks of their grandkids in the manner highlighted here.
I am yet to see a Nigerian family that instead of asking for direction donation, request sympathizers to donate money on behalf of the deceased/family to a research institute to help find cure. Many Nigerians die due to complications traced to sickle cell affliction, but it's unthinkable that a Nigerian family will donate to help find cure for the disease. To them, it's always give me the MONEY. A people that want to receive but pay no attention to matters that affect them in life, but will give for the dead. It's falsehood and wrong approach to building a community, and changing practices that have kept the people despondently hapless.
I would hope persons make hay while the sun shines. Buy a life insurance and leave folks alone. Death is a passage, and it must not be a community business. One time someone came to ask for such help and I asked, if their family had won a mega-lottery, would he invite folks to share in the windfall? There was no answer. That answered it for me. I will only give to someone I know who was in dire situation. But for the 'run-arounds' who ignore their own personal responsibilities hoping that a community rally will help out, they are on their own.
As for families in Nigeria that pray and shift the burden on others, tell them to tell their own to buy insurance. If not, and they still want the body, they should send the resource so that the body can be sent home.
The Yorubas are different. I am yet to attend a wake keeping by a Yoruba family whereby there is a request to send a body home. My wife is Yoruba and she does not understand the 'wake keeping' business. Excuse her, she is of the upper crust. The Yorubas are dispassionate about death while the Igbos will 'hue-and-cry', some crocodile tears for far and distant dead person, but will ignore them while alive. A contradiction in life that tells stories.
Good luck with the dead. I am about the living who want to transform how they live.
By Ejike Okpa II
Comment on this article!