It is a tradition for many people, companies and families across the world to make projections of what they expect or want to achieve in each unfolding year. As they made it into 2021, projections are being made and prayers offered at different religious altars to enable them to achieve greater feat in the New Year, but the most controversial projections and wishes of the year, is the one made by casket makers, sellers and undertakers. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes
For Sunday Ayeni and his siblings, growing up as a child was memorable. As casket makers and undertakers, they were used to playing and sleeping inside the caskets without any fear, as coffins of different sizes were made in his family’s living room on the Lagos Island, Lagos.
It is a lucrative business for them as almost all the families on their axis have one or two casket makers, who joined the skill to put food on their table even as they wish to make more money than they made last year due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Sunday has a great expectation that the letup they experienced last year in the country due to the COVID-19-induced lockdown, policies and protocols will not repeat themselves this year as they hope to make more money this year. “I expect better business and business environment this year.
I go to church, pay my tithes and give offerings, so I am expectant of God’s blessings with more jobs than last year. Last year was bad. There was no show, no ceremonial burial in the country and we usually make money from these activities,” he said.
“I have done this undertaking job and coffin making for 17 years until I voluntarily retired from it to follow another profession – graphic designing and printing. Ebony and MIC, we all started together. There is money in the business,” he quipped. He noted that there is division of labour in casket making, saying that the local carpenters make the boxes and shift to the funeral homes, which in turn design to suit the taste of the customers. They put lining, pillow and painting.
“I grew up to become an undertaker. The money we make depends on the size of the coffin and shape. Mainly, the funeral home people pay us to make the boxes for them while they will turn it into something more attractive,” he said. “Also, we couldn’t make money last year as under takers as people buried their dead without fanfare due to the NCDC’s policies and protocols. But this year, we pray for double blessings.
All that we lost last year will multiply for us this year,” he added. On whether he has ever had an encounter with spirit of the dead who refuses to go home for one reason or the other, he said, “There was nothing like seeing a spirit or carrying somebody who refused to go home while in coffin.
Thus, in the wake of New Year, before the year begins to unfold what it has in stock for all people, most Nigerians go to different religious altars and sanctuaries to offer prayers and good wishes on the fortune they expect in the New Year.
Career persons including craft men, artisans, professionals, businessmen and women do this to boost their business fortunes and horizon in the year. And so, while doctors are praying to God for more people to fall sick, in order to earn money treating them, lawyers want more trouble in the country so they will be hired.
In this same manner, automobile engineers want more vehicles to break down, while panel beaters are praying for more auto crashes for them to make money, generator sellers and repairers are praying for power outage so that more power generating sets would be sold and repaired respectively.
Police want more fights so that there will be arrests. These may be good wishes for these professionals, but sadly, their fortunes hinge on the misfortunes of others. The most striking New Year wish is that of casket makers, sellers and undertakers, who pray and wish for more business in 2021.
This, perhaps, may mean more deaths so that they can feed their families and take care of their needs but certainly, these expectations are in conflict with religious leaders, who pray against death in their respective sanctuaries.
While they indirectly wish the society ills, offering sacrifices in their respective places of worship, invoking more deaths and tribulations, the heads of different families are sowing seeds, seeking God’s protection from evils and sicknesses. Conversely, issue of death is naturally and usually discussed with some trepidation. It is a phobia to many.
In spite of this, it is when people die, that some of these people earn a living. For this category of people, dead bodies are not what to run from, it is lucrative business, the means of earning daily income. For these professionals, though dead bodies may have no economic value, money could be made from them. A 42-year-old Mrs. Ifeoma Ofornagorom, who hails from Ezinifite, Aguata Local Government Area, Anambra State, popularly called Nwayi Akpati Ozu (Woman who makes caskets), is one of the people whose fortune changed venturing into casket business.
The mother of five, who was a pure water vendor at Upper Iweka is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Divine Favour Funeral Services based in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State. She prays for more business every year, though she disclosed that casket makers do not invite people for patronage, but she prays and wishes that there will be more business this year. She made sales last year but she needs more patronage.
“The casket business is unique. When you finish making the casket, you stay and wait, you don’t beg people’s patronage; they only come to you when they need your product. I only pray to God and God in heaven has been leading me,” she said.
“It is not every day that you may sell casket but it’s a must that you sell because people are many in the mortuary. Casket business booms more on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays when people come to buy the ones they will use at the weekend,” she added. According to a Lagos Island operator, Tolani Oyenukan, he needs deaths of rich men as the deaths of poor men do not favour him.
He makes expensive caskets from N200, 000 and above. “The poor cannot afford my products. A casket is valued depending on the design and the quality of materials used. A casket with touch of gold could cost as high as N5million,” he said.
He noted that there are wooden and metal caskets, which are imported from China, Malaysia and America, saying that the price of a metal casket is usually from N500, 000 and above, depending on the grade of the metal used. Another Lagos Island-based operator, Mr. Erukubami Magnus inherited the business from his late elder brother. On the average, he rakes in, about N3million annually. According to him, money charged for each job varies.
He takes into consideration the quality of material needed for the task, as well as the profile and negotiating power of the client. Asked whether he exchanges business card with customers in case of subsequent purchase, he said, “Hmmm…nobody wants to collect any card or phone number from a casket dealer. We don’t have customers.
We make sales once they enter our office but I want to sell more coffins.
“The day I tried to give someone my card, I got the insult of my life and ever since then,never tried it. Well, I don’t have target customers, anybody can come and buy. I have for the rich and the poor as well. I also do home delivery service.” Israel Udoh, a carpenter specializes in casket production. He has been in the business for about 10 years, principally because he gets opportunities and patronage to build more caskets, among other furniture job he executes.
He said: “The price of a casket is principally affected by the grade of the wood. We have woods like Mahogany, Whitewood. For the shape, we have flattop, dome and eight-edges. “People die every day, the same way newborns are recorded daily. And you cannot bury people without casket, though we don’t pray that somebody should die.
“However, we usually prefer that elderly people die because that is when the relatives and children spend more for burial activities, including buying expensive casket and hiring the service of undertakers.” “Muslims are the worst set of people when it comes to casket business. They don’t bury their dead with expensive caskets.
We produce mainly for Christians and non Christians alike; Christians patronise us more,” said Lekan Ifeoluwa. “I didn’t make many sales last year; I have prayed that God will give me more people this year. Our business is funny. It’s not what you will have customer for.
The only people we have as customers are those people that are in funereal services, who coordinate funeral for others as their profession,” he said. Reacting to the New Year wishes of the casket makers and sellers, many Nigerians said their wishes as are good but they have to start with their families. Some other people said they should change their vocation instead wishing ills to the society. When asked to comment on the prayers of casket makers, sellers and undertakers, Mr. Sunday Adebowale, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy on the eve of New Year, said, “They should change their jobs. If I were a pastor, I won’t pray for them.
They should change their job.” “It’s not a bad thing for one to wish more business for oneself, but as for the casket makers, they have to start selling to their family members. When they are done, then they will start buying theirs in anticipation of their deaths,” said a widow, Mrs. Joy Imokhuede, who was upset with the question. “Why would one wish another person death just because one wants to make money? It’s not usually the person you asked to die that eventually dies in most cases. I have seen one who made a coffin for sale and he was eventually buried with it. Such wishes are senseless,” said Julius Nwamadu.
“Anything about casket brings about death scare. If I were to be the Nigerian President, I will ban all casket makers from putting casket on shelf. I will make it in such a way that they make casket on demand so that these senseless wishes will not come,” he added.
I won’t pray for anyone to die
However, the General Overseer, Vision of God Bible Church, Festac Town, Lagos, Pastor Victor Obiora said he wasn’t going to pray for any person to die for the casket makers to make money, saying death will come naturally. He said: “The only thing that I will do for my church members or anybody in that business is to pray that God directs people, who are in need of casket to their shops. Death is inevitable; therefore, people must die one day. “Hebrews 9:27 says as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment… This means that people will die of natural cause and otherwise. So, I will pray that those who lost their loved ones should locate them and not for anybody to die. I’m called to save lives and not to take lives. “The same thing I will say to doctors, lawyers and others. My wife is a doctor and I will not pray that people will get sick, rather let the sick ones locate their hospital. That is highest and the right thing for me to do.”