The Anglican Church has said it will not release the body of the renowned author, Prof. Chinua Achebe, to the Ogidi community, Anambra State for burial.
Similarly, the church and family of the late professor have said that they will not allow his wife, Christy, to go through the traditional widowhood rites that women who lose their husbands in Igboland are made to undergo.
The Archdeacon of Ogidi and Vicar of St. Philip’s Anglican Church, Ven. Obi Ubaka, told Saturday PUNCH that the body of Achebe belonged to the church, which shall perform the final rites for the fallen statesman on Thursday, May 23.
The church’s reaction came as Chief S. Okoli, the Regent of Ogidi, Achebe’s hometown, said the late author would be buried at night because he was a titled man.
Okoli had said, “As a titled man, he (Achebe) will be buried towards evening in line with our culture and tradition. His body will lie in state in the yam barn where daughters of the clan shall pay him their last respects before he will be buried in the night.”
But the archdeacon said, “He (Achebe) is going to be buried immediately after the church service at 1 pm in broad daylight. It is not true that he will be buried at night.
“The church won’t hand over the body to the community. Which one has the upper hand; the church or the community? The church has the upper hand in this case. He was a Christian and should be buried in a Christian way,” Ubaka insisted.
Similarly, the Achebe family said the issue of when and how the late author would be buried was not a subject of dispute.
The head of the Umu Ada Achebe (the female members of the family), and niece of the late author, Mrs. Ngozi Ezedum, told that the story that her uncle would be buried at night according to traditional rites was an unfounded speculation.
“He was from a real Christian family. And in the Achebe family, we do things the Christian way,” Ezedum said.
She said the title that Achebe held did not in any way compromise his religion as a Christian. Achebe’s Ozo title is Ugo Belu N’Orji (Eagle on the Iroko).
Ezedum said Achebe’s wife could feel free to come home without fear that she will be made to undergo traditional widowhood rites.
“I have told my uncle’s wife that I am around, nobody will do anything,” the head of the Umu Ada said.
She, however, said other traditional rites like searching for Achebe and taking care of his body by the women would be performed.
She said the Anglican Church in the Niger Diocese had long abolished the widowhood rites because they were repugnant to good conscience.
Such practices include making the widow to shave her head, drink the water used to bathe her husband’s corpse, sit on the floor and sleep in the same room with the corpse.
“She will not even wear any mourning clothe black or white. The Anglican Church doesn’t want that anymore,” Ezedum said.
Meanwhile, preparations for the burial of the late literary icon are ongoing.
His Ikenga Ogidi country home is a beehive of activities as workers, artisans and builders work round the clock to erect a mausoleum, which would serve as his final resting place and obi, the major reception in his compound.
The compound situated on the Ogidi-Abatete Road was cordoned off and only the people working on the project are allowed in.
The main house is also being given a facelift, while a new coat of paint has been added to the perimeter fence.
The entire Ikenga Ogidi community is also being given a face-lift as the Idemili North Local Government Council has been grading roads leading to the family home of the Achebes and the St. Philip Church, where the funeral service will be conducted.
The church building is also being rehabilitated, with dozens of painters, masons, tile layers, iron benders and electricians working on the new church auditorium, which has been selected to host the burial service.
The Archdeacon of the church, Ven. Obi Ubaka, said the family had provided financial assistance to finish the work on the new church building so that it would be ready to host the event.
“The Primate of the Church of Nigeria will lead the officiating ministers. He will be supported by the Archbishop of the Niger, the Most Rev. Christian Efobi, and the Bishop on the Niger, Rt. Rev. Owen Nwokolo,” Ubaka said.
Secretary to the Anambra State Government, Mr. Oseloka Obaze, who was in Ogidi to monitor the level of work on the projects, told Saturday PUNCH that President Goodluck Jonathan and two other heads of state would be present at the burial.
Oseloka denied claims by some family members that the Anambra State Government had not provided substantial financial support for the burial of the author and playwright.
Though he did not want to go into details, Obaze said, “That is categorically wrong. That impression is wrong. Anybody, who has said that is not being forthright. That is wrong,” he said.