The attempt by the government of Anambra State to revive an existing Burial Tax Law enacted by the state House of Assembly in 2019 has stirred controversy. Governor Chukwuma Soludo is being accused of taxing burial activities in the state. CHUKWUJEKWU ILOZUE writes
“To make laws that man can not and will not obey serves to bring all law into contempt. It is very important in a republic, that the people should respect the laws, for if we throw them to the winds, what becomes of civil government?”
This extract from Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1860) best brings to the fore merits or otherwise of the current debate on an aspect of the resurrected burial laws of Anambra State. The uproar over the resurrection of the old law by Governor Chukwuma Charles Soludo recently gave it a new look, so to say.
It will be recalled that sometime in 2018 the Catholic Bishop of Awka, Most Rev. Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor began a campaign against the high cost of burial ceremonies in Anambra State. Bishop Ezeokafor argued that expensive burials are a huge waste of resources that would have otherwise been channelled to maintain a living.
It has never happened in the history of man, he further argued, that a product of expensive burial ever came back to life to thank those who spent their fortunes to bury them.
Following the Bishop’s campaign, the Church issued a detailed document on burial ceremonies in Anambra State part of which was banning of printing of brochures for funeral services, a drastic reduction in money spent on entertainment; and corpses of the Catholic faith must not spend more than two weeks in the morgue.
Not long after the State House of Assembly bought the idea and in its bid to force Anambra people to curtail burial expenses passed a bill for a law to control burial/funeral ceremonial activities in the state. The bill was sponsored by the member representing the Anaocha II state constituency, Chief Charles Ezeani. Titled: “A Law To Control Burial/Burial ceremonial activities in Anambra State 2019, No. ANHA/LAW/2018/04” the law came into effect on April 9, 2019. It provides among other things that in the event of death, no person shall deposit any corps in the mortuary or any place beyond 30 days from the date of the death. Those who contravened the law shall be liable to an N100,000 fine, while burial ceremonies in the state shall be for one day. Additional days attract N50,000 per day. The law also placed a ban on the destruction of property, gunshots, praise singing, and blocking of roads and streets during burial ceremonies in the state.
Defaulters shall be punished according to the stipulations of the law. In addition, the law made it clear that from its commencement, no person shall subject any relation of the deceased person to a mourning period of more than one week from the date of the burial ceremony.
Among other provisions, the law forbids erecting Billboards, banners or posters of any kind of deceased persons in the state; stipulates that people should only erect directional posts not seven days before the burial date and should be removed not later than seven days after the burial date.
The law also made provision for a monitoring and implementation committee that would enforce the law with specified responsibilities.
The state government, traditional rulers, Presidents-General and church leaders were charged with monitoring the obedience to the law.
Nevertheless, the law was obeyed more in breach. It is doubtful if just one person has ever been penalised for a breach. This forced the protagonist of the law Bishop Ezeokafor to again raise alarms while lamenting the Anambra State Government’s inability to enforce the burial law, which he said was enacted to moderate the cost of burial in the State.
“The law ought to have ushered in Befitting living instead of Befitting funeral”, he lamented.
Bishop Ezeokafor once told Saturday INDEPENDENT: “We have been talking about it for a long time and we are happy that the House of Assembly has made a law that makes it easy for people to perform funerals easily within their income. The law is there. If the Igwes, the Presidents-General and the church had followed it, it would have stopped. Our people are fond of it; it will not stop with me. But they are watching the government”.
It is not surprising, therefore, that when the Anambra State Government with Governor Chukwuma Charles Soludo reminded the people of the law penultimate week most people misunderstood it as a “new tax” imposed by Soludo.
This prompted the Commissioner of Information, Sir Paul Nwosu to issue a statement reminding the people of the law that came into existence in 2019. Nwosu wrote: “The Anambra State Government refutes in its entirety the spurious news report purporting that Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo has introduced a levy of N100,000 for the display of burial banners and posters across the state. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“The frivolous news report must have emanated from a jaundiced misreading of a message sent to the National President, Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU) by the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Anambra State Signage and Advertisement Agency (ANSAA) Mr. Tony Ujubuonu, on the regulation of ceremonial adverts in the state.
“It needs to be brought to the notice of the general public that the Anambra State House of Assembly had back in 2019, long before the coming to power of Governor Soludo, enacted a law, vide Anambra State Burial/Funeral Ceremonial Control Law, 2019, that came into force on the 9th of April, 2019.
“In line with the Signage Structure of the extant law, Ujubuonu had only written to the National President of ASATU to ensure that the town unions work in concord with the government as per burial and funeral ceremonies and dues. It is therefore not true that Governor Soludo slammed an N100,000 levy on anybody in Anambra State”.
It is to be seen whether Governor Soludo will succeed where his predecessors failed. Time will tell.