Every living being, animal must taste death. It is the ultimate end to every soul as it picks the strong and the weak at will. Its arrival brings painful and emotional moments for the loved ones of the departed souls. Death is only a departure from this earth as all religious faiths believe it is not the end of our existence as there is life hereafter.
Everyone enters this world virtually innocent, naked and empty of worldly possessions should our return to the Almighty be marked with glamorous garbs and expensive makeup?
When a loved one dies, the bereaved families are usually under great emotional distress. Meetings are held, decisions taken, on various issues concerning the deceased. These may include: should the remains be cremated, buried, or donated for research purposes as well as the cost implications.
There were media frenzy recently on the death international pop star, Michael Jackson of the United States of America and more recently that of the late legal icon and human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi of Nigeria. Due to their large followership cutting across different faiths, languages, culture and class, their burials were as controversial as when they were alive. Apart from their elaborate burial arrangements there were unconfirmed speculations on their wills and instructions on how they should be buried. In fact their religious faiths at the point of death were speculative based on unfolding events.
Some online media claimed that Michael Jackson, popularly known as Wacko Jacko, died as a Muslim due to the influence of his Muslim-brother, Jermaine Jackson and his close association with Arabian Sheiks. Chief fawehinmi’s delayed burial arrangement too which his family claimed was at his instance made some to wonder if he died as a Muslim because Islamic religion he professed while alive mandates that a Muslim must be buried within 24hours unless there are instance when authorities require post-mortem autopsy to determine the cause of death or transportation from overseas. The circumstances of Jackson’s death like former Nigerian billionaire, MKO Abiola were contentious where the state intervened to unravel the mystery behind their untimely death, not Gani who died from ill-health as a result of cancer.
A very interesting similarity between Gani Fawehinmi and Wacko Jacko was that they were buried in most expensive and glittering golden caskets compared to other caskets used by some celebrities across the globe. A Golden casket is specifically designed and customised to the taste of the customer who gives the order. Most political and business icons are interned in caskets that come with a 5-inch Allen wrench which is turned counter-clockwise to open, though expensive too but not as the golden. The brands largely come with velvet interior and in full couch and are in different makes. There are those in gauge steel, mahogany veneer, oak veneer wood, solid Paulowina, copper, bronze and stainless caskets.
While Michael Jackson as a showbiz personality who lived a highly ostentatious and extravagant lifestyle, might deserve nothing less than golden casket or even diamond coffin, Gani Fawehinmi’s like of simplicity and humility deserve a modest burial arrangement instead of the way and manner his body was parade in streets in designer’s transparent/glass coffin, daily attired in different costumes before he was finally buried in a costly golden casket after ten days.
Michael Jackson was a super star and supermodel whose lifestyle revolved around extravagance display of opulence and glamour in the spirit of showbiz but Gani Fawehinmi was a lawyer that associated and mingled with the downtrodden masses to set an example and provided free legal services to the poor and defenceless citizens from various cultures and faiths including pagans without discriminations.
While Michael Jackson could count many awards in his career as Musical icon and model, Gani Fawehinmi could only count his honour by his scholarship, legal achievements and title of Senior Advocate of the Masses and many chieftaincy titles including highest Islamic honor of Baba Adini of Ondo State.
Though Michael Jackson parents are staunch Jehovah Witness religious followers, not all members of that family followed that Christian denomination. In fact his immediate brother, Jermaine Jackson is a devoted Muslim. In the case of Gani Fawehinmi, he ensured all members of his households, wives and children bear Islamic names like his first wife, Mrs. Ganiyat, first son, Barrister Mohammed and last daughter, Aishat but yet not all of them are Muslims.
Unlike Michael Jackson family who from the outset welcomed contributions towards his burial arrangement including government’s participation and funding, Gani’s family claimed that their patriarch instructed them to organise elaborate burial ceremony for him after his demise and that he warned them not to accept the use of public funds. Events endorsed by the family of Gani afterwards contradicted his philosophy and disposition on flamboyant and pretentious lifestyle as we witnessed active participations of government at all level to the ceremony where invariably public funds were deployed especially on hosting, venues, security, motorcade and facilities in the ten days of activities during the Muslim month of Ramadan.
There was clear reason for contentious actions during Michael’s burial due to the controversial circumstances of his death that warranted participation of various service providers, Gani’s case showed a family trying to prove a message by employing the service of funeral home for the embalmment, preparation of body, cosmetology, refrigeration, viewing session, hearse and chauffeured Limousine, the Procession and the use of glass coffin and eventual golden casket among others.
Therefore the leader of the masses and protector of minority groups and Talakawas does not require the glaring ostentatious and profligate burial engagement that contradicts his strong religious belief of Islam. As much as Gani Fawehinmi was recognised as a Muslim before his death, the family should have accorded him the respect of being accorded his Islamic rite which forbids unnecessary delay in funeral and the corpse should have been wrapped in a simple plain cloth and buried in a modest- rather than gaudy manner.
If the essence of burying Gani was to portray him as a superstar like Michael Jackson, they should be reminded that he was already one before his death due to his services to humanity which have been celebrated even before his death by the annual celebration of his birthdays organised by Nigerians, sometimes in his absence and witnessed by notable personalities that include respected General Muhammad Buhari, Balarabe Musa, Wole Soyinka, Nuhu Ribadu among others. To testify to that, the kind of encomiums showered on him immediately after his death surpassed that witnessed on some past Nigerian leaders. Amazingly even leaders that persecuted and prosecuted him were among the mourners with words of tribute over his demise. They included Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
Even if he was not a Muslim whose religion promotes simplicity and humility in characters while alive and manner after death, as a leader of masses, Gani Fawehinmi deserved a simple, humble and honourable exit from this sinful world that does not encourage profligacy and wasteful spending in the name of befitting burial.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Economic Confidential October, New Nigerian October 6, Thisday October 10, Vanguard October Daily Champion October 12, Leadership October 14, Daily Independent October 24, 2009