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Nigeria’s Funeral Rites Culture Threatening Efforts To Curb COVID-19 Spread

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, like other countries across the globe, is battling to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Daily statistics of confirmed cases by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control indicate the country is yet to cross to the safe path as many Nigerians are contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus.

However, testing remains extremely limited.

Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, recently told journalists that: “We have passed that era when people used to think that COVID-19 was something for big men and big women who came from abroad.”

The country, he explained, was in the community transmission phase of the deadly virus.

Investigative Journalist, TOBORE OVUORIE who spent July and August 2020 combing through some hinterlands and rural areas in Nigeria, discovered that while the Nigerian government has been expanding test and quarantine centres across the country, it has been largely failing to address one of the most basic preventive measures: large gatherings at cultural events, such as funeral – a very big industry – even in the hinterland.

TOBORE OVUORIE in this short video presents that the Nigerian government appears to be paying more attention to cities in its COVID-19 eradication, at the detriment of rural communities.

She summarises in this video that funeral gatherings in Nigeria’s hinterlands and rural areas, are threatening to hinder efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

She is repeatedly told that a large funeral gathering is one of the major determinants to measure if a departed person, particularly parents, was given a befitting burial.

This is how family members in the hinterland such as Ughelli and Emevor in Delta State and other parts of Nigeria, take corpses to their native villages for burial.

This happens, despite the government’s directive that not more than 50 persons should physically attend funeral ceremonies because large gatherings can lead to the transmission of COVID 19.

Investigations reveal culture has been a stumbling block and COVID-19 or not, elders and custodians of culture believe that the number of persons who attend a funeral is a major barometer to measure the status of the dead.

Mr. Dan Ekere, a lecturer at the Philosophy Department at the University of Lagos, said amongst the Isoko and the Urhobo in Delta State, funeral rites which feature and include a crowd are a must if the person lived a long, worthy and exemplary life, hence the long walk and display along the roadside.

These large funeral gatherings in rural parts of Nigeria may be responsible for the current spread of COVID-19 in several communities in Nigeria, particularly, amongst persons who have never travelled out of their localities, he said.

The coronavirus not only calls attention to some of Nigeria’s cultural beliefs with regard to public health and safety, Ekere said.

This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its COVID-19 Reality Check Project.


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