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Friday, March 18, 2011

Atan Cemetery: Dividends of democracy for the dead

Going to a cemetery is not like visiting an outdoor museum, it is full of a creeping sensation, but as a journalist, once it has been assigned to you to report, it is a must do.  A visit to Atan Cemetery in Yaba local council development area of Lagos state says so much about the souls of the departed in that cemetery.  One then wonder whether they are actually resting in peace. 
The cemetery which is one of the Lagos’s oldest cemeteries, established in the early 19th century by the Kingston congregation occupies 20 acres of land in size and located along University road, Yaba, Lagos.
The serenity of the area, notwithstanding, the large sign post indicates that one is at Yaba Vault.  The walls are high and coated with a big gate sharing boundary with residential houses and lock-up shops.
At the entrance of the cemetery is the Christians vaults which covers several plots of land with most part submerged by bush.  Adjacent to it is the private area leased to Ebony Casket Ventures, who in turn sells vault to willing customers as much as N800,000 per vault.  Directly opposite the Christian vault is the Military Vaults which is arranged in plots. The main plot contains the remains of 1939-1945 war victims in Nigeria.  At the far end is where the Muslims lie, but also separated by roads from the two in the foreground, which contain the temporary vault section for both Christian and Muslims. Close to the gate there is an office section of the management committee headed by Hon. Jude Aisuebeogun as Director General.
Despite the large expanse of land the cemetery occupies, with the seeming security in place, there are yet fears that those who are buried there may not be resting in peace as a result of  congestion.
But Aisuebeogun and the secretary to the council, Doyin Rojaiye  who spoke to Saturday Vanguard in separate interviews said it is spurious and unfounded.  They argued that apart from the area already leased to a private company, there are additional unused expanse of land in the cemetery.  Rojaiye boasted that the cemetery cannot be filled even in this generation.
He said:  “Atan cemetery cannot be filled up in this generation adding that there are lots of virgin land there.   It is unfounded and I say that with every sense of responsibility. We have close to 20 acres of land there, part of which have been given to a private company called Ebony Casket Ventures.”  He stressed that there are two types of vaults: Permanent and Temporary vaults.    The former according to him is a permanent arrangement where a vault is bought and after the burial a permanent construction is made on it.  It is a concrete arrangement. The construction may be maintained or renovated as wished by the family from time to time. Families are allowed to visit there at will.   Contrastively,  the latter he said is  “an arrangement where they clear and dig the ground and put the body there for a period of time.  After some time, say about five years when the body must have decayed, the place is dug again to for another temporary user because it was not bought permanently,” he said.  He explained that this is mostly procured by Muslims who want to bury their dead instantly, and in most cases, some may wish for a permanent burial but after the burial they don’t come back again for the construction.  Once you bought a permanent vault, nobody goes there to do anything even after 50 years, it is permanent.  You can buy a one chamber vault, you can buy two-chamber vault or three-chamber vault as the case may be.  The difference is that, the multiple chamber vault are mostly used by families.  Two to three persons can be buried there separately in each chamber for a family.
To get a permanent vault Mr Rojaiye said it cost the sum of N70,000 while a temporary vault goes for N15,000.
As a result, those who cannot afford to get a portion in the permanent vaults section as a result of the huge amount involved would have to succumb to laying their dead in the popular site called temporary vault and probably give up the hope of not seeing the tomb again in the nearest future.  Some have condemned the rationale behind the temporary vault system arguing that the dead in that section may not be resting in peace after all.  "It just kind of gives you a sad flowing feel in that section that after some three to four years, you can’t see the tomb of your deceased", Adisa Matanmi who buried a distant relation there some years ago.  He said the family was not aware of the disparity but argued against the  rationale behind such option.   “Burial in what ever name they call it must be sensible” he said.
Aisuebeogun, reacting to the security in the cemetery said, apart from the police who patrol the area every minute of the night, the  illumination of the cemetery by the council should allay the fears of tampering with bodies.   He challenged the reporter to a walk at night in the cemetery  to  see how the whole area is lit at nights.  He said: “since inception of this administration, no matter like tampering with bodies by criminals has ever been brought to our notice.”  He added that government is constantly reviewing the security measures in the area to ensure that the occupants of the various vaults rest in peace.
Rojaiye maintained that the current administration in the development council area rescued thye cemetery from the state of neglect in the last few years adding that arrangement is in the offing for immortalising some of the dead and also computerising the environment.
“We have rebuilt the fence even made more higher, we have decorated it and illuminated it.  The illumination serves both outside and the inside of the cemetery.  We call it dual solar light. Thirdly, we have reconstructed new roads within the cemetery. We have also have some personnel there who weed the grasses and ensure that the place is well kept always.”  
“Again, we want to immortalise some of those buried there by appealing to their families to come so that we can name streets after their loved ones.  This is part of the proposals we have now to making the cemetery a beautiful abode of the departed.  We also want to extend the dividends of democracy to the dead.” he said.
Just like going to a cemetery is hanged with some feelings, residents in the area differ in their opinions.  Abayomi Fajumobi who resides beside a shopping complex in the area said, “there is nothing strange, I’ve not seen any thing like ghost.  All I know usually is that the whole area is silent.
A petty trader and resident in the area hinged the situation with her belief saying: “I am a child of God, I don’t belief in all that. It is a function of faith and as a person, it is a cock and bull story,” she said.
You will be amazed on the guts of the grave diggers some of who narrated their experiences to Saturday Vanguard: “It is frightening to some people but that’s our job, we have been doing it for quite some time and we are used to it.   No fear, no bad feelings at all,” Personally, have dug over 4000 graves and I have retired from digging.  There is nothing strange about it, it is our job,” a senior grave digger in the cemetery said.

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