Fashola Signs Cremation Bill into Law in Lagos

Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola yesterday accented to the controversial Cremation Bill presented to him by the state lawmakers after months of heated public debate. With the development, residents of the state now have the legal backing to choose to cremate with reasons. Also, unclaimed corpses may be subjected to cremation to decongest the state's mortuaries.

Under the new law, failure to show up to collect the ashes of the burnt corpses after a 14-day notice would lead to their disposal by the state government subject to the consent and approval of the Commissioner for Health.

Speaking after signing the bill into law, Fashola stressed the cremation law was voluntary and commended members of the state House of Assembly for responding to global yearnings.

The governor also signed the law establishing Ibile Oil and Gas Company and the legislation regulating the Christian and Muslim pilgrims' welfare boards. Fashola explained that the enactment of the cremation law showed how the concept of globalisation had taken its roots in the state.

Explaining the concept of the new law, the state Attorney- General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, reiterated that the law was voluntary, saying only those who chose to burn their relatives could do so. He said:"It is voluntary in the sense that it allows for voluntary cremation, whereby a person may signify interest to be cremated when he dies or a deceased's family members who must attain the age of 18 years can decide to have the corpse cremated.

"The law now makes it legal for the state government to cremate unclaimed corpses in its mortuaries after a period of time." The commissioner stressed that if the owners of the corpse also failed to show up to collect the ashes after a14-day notice it would be disposed by the state government subject to the consent and approval of the Commissioner for Health.

Ipaye added that Section 2 of the law stipulated that no cremation could take place except in a crematorium established by the Ministry of Health or by any other body after approval by the Commissioner for Health.

The attorney-general listed the guidelines to get permission to cremate and those who could apply for it is stipulated in Section 6 of the law. He also affirmed that the cremator in charge might bury the ashes in a burial ground if "within one year after the cremation, the applicant does not give reasonable written instructions for the disposal of the ashes."

Ipaye added that those who could seek permission to cremate include a child or children of the deceased; a close relative of the deceased; an undertaker and an agent/legal representative. The commissioner said that Section 10 of the law states that the cremator in charge of a crematorium must not dispose of the ashes after a cremation except in accordance with any reasonable written instructions of the applicant.

Meanwhile, reactions have, however, trailed the passage by some residents. A civil servant, Mr. Ade Olayiwola, lauded the law, saying that the fact that cremation was voluntary made it acceptable.

"I think we are too religious in this part of the world, why shouldn't people cremate if they chose to?" he said. Several organisations had criticised the passage of the law. Reacting to the passage of the bill, Head of Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, described the action taken by the House as a ‘hidden agenda'.

He said: "During the public hearing of the bill at the House of Assembly, it was opposed to not only by Muslims but by citizens of the state.

"We have not for one minute supported the bill. Those who sponsored and fast- tracked the passage of that bill have a hidden agenda. We are waiting to see the law come into being but we appeal to our Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, not to impose this bill on Lagosians by signing it into law."

The Chairman, Supreme Council for Shari'ah in Nigeria, Lagos State chapter, Ishaq Adeshina, however, berated the action of members of the House of Assembly, stressing that Muslims in the state would not support the idea.

He noted that under Shari'ah, life is sacred and that there must be a befitting burial for a dead Muslim. The Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, MSSN, Lagos chapter, said the bill was not only inhuman and barbaric but also anti- Islam.

A statement by MSSN and made available to National Mirror noted that burial of humans in the earth is not a matter of economics of land availability but a mercy from the creator and to show that dignity could be retained even in death. The MSSN urged the state government to be sincere with the people of the state on the issue, noting that anything contrary to popular opinion would not be accepted.

"From the information at our disposal, it is obvious that the state government has concluded plans to put the policy in place. "We understand that the budget for the construction of a crematorium had been made in 2009 and that such is almost completed at the Mainland Hospital, Lagos.

"If this is true, then we view this as hypocrisy and insincerity of the highest order on the part of a government that claims to be operating democracy. The position that mass burial of corpses on land poses health hazards to the people of Lagos State does not hold any water."