Last week, Governor Babatunde Fashola signed the Law to provide for Voluntary Cremation of Corpses and Unclaimed Corpses within Lagos State. The law provides the state's authorities with legal grounds to burn unclaimed corpses in its mortuaries. Those willing to cremate the corpses of their relations should approach the state for assistance.
Fashola stated the law makes cremation voluntary, adding that its enactment showed how the concept of globalization had taken roots in the state.
The law, first introduced last year by Mr Avoseh Hodewu Suru, Chairman of the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Health and member representing Badagry Constituency, was stepped down following widespread misgivings about its provision and applicability in a deeply religious and traditional environment.
It followed some disquiet over the increasing lack of land space for burying the dead, especially unclaimed bodies that frequently turn up in the streets of Lagos.
Many communities in the state were understandably unwilling to release their land for mass burial of such corpses, on health and religious grounds.
Government officials took time to explain the voluntary nature of cremation that the law requires. The Lagos State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Mr Ade Ipaye, said the law "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".
He added that if the relations of the deceased, whose corpse had been cremated, also failed to show up to collect the ashes after 14-day notice, it would be disposed by the state government with the approval of the Commissioner for Health.
Cremation, the application of high temperature to reduce bodies to basic chemical compounds, serves as funeral or post-funeral rites in many countries.
In some countries, such as the United States, there are commercial crematoriums that advertise their services to cater to families who don't have the time, or the resources, to do it themselves, charging fees that begin from 1,000 dollars (157,000 naira).
Islam and Christianity, however, do not endorse cremation as funeral rite. Islam particularly disapproves of it.
But modern trends have caused some elements of cremation to be acceptable in some Christian communities around the world.
In Nigeria, cultural sensitivities, tradition and cultural practices are not particularly receptive to the notion of cremation. "A befitting burial" for a dead relation certainly excludes the idea of burning the corpse to ashes.
Scarcity of land, exploding population and other factors combine to make the cremation option a viable one. But these were not the considerations of the Lagos State government officials when the legislation was proposed; at least they were unstated.
As Mr Avoseh Suru noted, the law had become inevitable because of the peculiar challenges that public mortuaries in Lagos faced, most of them routinely overstretched, with unpleasant consequences.
Besides, hundreds of decomposing and unclaimed bodies pile up at mortuaries and something urgent needed to be done to forestall epidemics in the state, he said in defending the legislation.
Cremation may be the wave of the future, but traditions die hard.
At some point down the road, cultural barriers against cremation may begin to fall, and it is prudent on the part of Lagos State that it makes it voluntary
Despite the economic cost and practical challenges, most communities would prefer the social satisfaction they derive from burying their dead the traditional way.