Tribute: ‘National hotel for the dead’ – The last article ‘Tunji Okusanya wrote for YNaija before yesterday’s crash

by Olatunji Okusanya II


Whilst writing this piece, someone said to me, do you realize the living are lacking in basic amenities not to talk of the dead?  I replied “should poverty, economic recession stop us from sweeping our compounds, cleaning our surroundings”? If we can do these, we must also take care of the dead.

Cemeteries are an exceptional teaching tool. Every state or town has its own a cemetery. These are historic sites where people, leaders, followers, icons, wealthy, and national heroes alike rest lay still and are no longer part of the day to day activities of the society.

The irony is that daily, the living refers to words, theories, discoveries, deeds and actions of the dead. “There are some dead who are more alive than the living”(Roman Roland).Inevitably, the dead have an influence on the activities of the living, daily and the cemetery is indeed a tangible link between the past and the present.

Cemeteries are eligible to be part of the National Register of historic places; they serve as a means of individual’s recognition of family history and as expressions of collective religious and/or ethnic identities. To future leaders, the cemetery is the only place they have to pay their respects their revered mentors and leaders (who have passed on). Cemeteries can also be deemed to be tourist’s sites where visitors go to learn about the history of various notable people in the country, state or community. The Arlington Cemetery in America, The Military Cemetery in Cuba, and The Kwame Nkrumah national park in Ghana are various beautiful sites loved by local and international tourists over time.

As a nation, the importance of the cemetery to historical, social, language, art and family studies cannot be overemphasized. With these in mind, it is wise to conclude that a cemetery should be befitting, treated with reverence, respect and decency. The cemetery should be NOT be a place for weeds, litter, broken blocks and badly built tombs but rather a resting place, well built, even comfortable enough to be inhabited by the living for family picnics, excursions, research etc.

A cemetery should  be seen more as “a hotel for the dead’.

It is often said that a community that does not care for, protect and preserve the cities of the dead is diminished as a place for living.

It is appalling to see that many cemeteries which are home to irreplaceable, cherished departed souls have been neglected and abandoned for decades. They have been completely removed from our collective consciousness. “Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them” (George Elliot) This SHOULD NOT BE SO. The plight of both rural and urban cemeteries can be attributed to such factors as abandonment, urban renewal, apathy, encroachment, erosion, pollution, environmental factors, vandalism and theft. The development of states and our great nation Nigeria over the years in most areas is evident, but sadly most cemeteries have been abandoned or completely forgotten. Left to depreciate and waste away. Is this fair? Absolutely not!

So much money, effort and man-power are poured into the technological advancements which have a direct impact on society. Unfortunately cemeteries needing refurbishment and maintenance to function decently are abandoned. We keep repainting homes, upgrading to latest standards, building new cities, etc but we forget to pay homage to the resting places of icons, patriarchs and matriarchs. We forget to help pick up a single weed and repair the monuments on their graves damaged by vandals and our unforgiving weather day in, day out.

It is often said a man can better be described from the way he treats the people that matter less or have a lower social standing to him. How he treats those that are unable to express themselves, the sick, maimed, infirmed and poor. Regardless of the ambience of a home, a valued visitor will be completely disappointed by the sorry state of the rest room, if it is unkempt. This is simply because a guest to our homes cannot be stopped from using the restroom when the need arises.

When receiving world leaders and tourists who insist on an impromptu basis to visit the graves of certain individuals or national icons that have passed on, would we dissuade them? On a personal level, many parents would be ashamed to show their children the decrepit state of their own parent’s / loved one’s resting place. Is there a sharp contrast to our beautifully prepared tourist sites and the resting places of our cherished late local and national heroes? Yes, IMMENSELY so! Have the dead being forgotten so soon? Our beloved country Nigeria came into existence as a result of the resolute commitment, determination and dedication, of certain people, who we refer to from time to time.  Their beliefs and values still influence our policies and laws today at different points, but sadly they lay in inaccessible cemeteries where future leaders can’t go to be inspired or pay them respect.

Would it be too much asking for various tiers of government, towns, communities and religious institutions to spare funds, manpower to keep the homes for the dead in good condition? Even if we cannot make it to be seen as “a hotel for the dead”.  Too much for us to weed, clear and ensure it is tidy and decent at all times?

Nigerians current and prospective leaders, politicians and influencers should be compelled to visit cemeteries and death related institutions as a compulsory part of their tours of the country. They MUST. God’s word in Ecclesiastes 7: 2 is explains the deep truth “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone, the living should take this to heart”. This would help remind of the certainty and inevitability of death. This would also help understand that the wisest, smartest, cunniest, richest, most dedicated, fondly hated, fondly remembered, wealthiest people and leaders, ”death makes equal the high and low”(john Heywood, be merry friends)  lay still in the cemetery with people walking over their graves daily, to pray for them to continue to rest in peace or curse them. Whilst the dead can neither respond nor acknowledge the accolades, or otherwise. This emphasizes “the earlier you make a positive mark the better.”

What legacy are we leaving for the next generation? Do we realize that if they grow to meet us giving inadequate care to our dead, the cycle of abandonment would come back to us? If we do not attach importance to where the dead are buried, if we continue to disrespect the dead, we should be prepared to receive same! Students should be taught that any cemetery or burial ground is an important part of individual and collective history and should be treated with reverence, respect, and care.  When students understand the importance of cemeteries, they will more likely become adults who will participate in the responsible conservation of cemeteries and also adults who have their side of the cemetery permanently tidy and even have generations volunteering to personally put their part of the cemetery in good shape. The earlier we attach importance to these places filled with history and knowledge the better.

Whilst writing this piece, someone said to me, do you realize the living are lacking in basic amenities not to talk of the dead?  I replied “should poverty, economic recession stop us from sweeping our compounds, cleaning our surroundings”? If we can do these, we must also take care of the dead.

If we agree:
A: The maintenance of cemeteries is important for the emotional and historic bonds shared between the past and the future;

B: The principle of posthumous awards for the dead;

C: Our day to day lives, policies and decisions are influenced by various individuals who have gone to eternal rest;

D: Death is certain for all;
Then Nigeria’s youth should be encouraged to visit the resting place of late heroes and icons. In this day of super fast digital technology, let them remember we have a heritage and history as a nation. It would encourage them to be motivated to become better people with a legacy beyond amassing wealth. As they see our heroes are celebrated even in death and it’s not just about having their statues and busts erected in parts of the city.

If we can achieve this we might just be taking bold steps in inter-ethnic bonding and subsequently preserving national unity. It will make a people who value the well being of its citizens even in death.


Olatunji Okusanya II had over 15 years of experience in the funeral industry, as he was a board member and permanent Director of the number one Funeral Company in Nigeria (M.I.C. Funeral Services). M.I.C. began operations in 1946 with over 200 employees to date. His academic qualifications included a diploma in Psychology and B.Sc. Banking and Finance, both from the University of Lagos. He was also a member of various funeral directors’ association across the globe.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

One comment

  1. Did he feel it coming?! Hmm!! Lord teach us to number our days…RIP

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail