After several knocks on the door, a teenager’s voice finally responded, faintly. It took him minutes to open the door and that was only after opening the curtain several times to be sure the visitor was someone he could relate with. Time was just 6pm that fateful Tuesday.
Sweating and looking overwhelmed as he came out, Oguntuase James, 15, as he introduced himself, told Punch correspondent he needed to exercise restraint before coming out following his experience in the past, more so that he was the only one at home.
“It is not easy living near a cemetery,” he said, as he closed the door behind him, dragged a sofa and settled into the chair. “Once it’s about late evening, we don’t open the door for strangers here unless we know the person, to avoid receiving an unwanted visitor and this is evening time when all kinds of things happen,” he added.
But just as Punch correspondent was about engaging James in a conversation on how life has been living beside a cemetery, an ambulance surfaced from the road adjacent to the house, bringing a corpse for interment at the cemetery which is located just beside his parents’ house on Bashiru Adedeji Street, Ayobo, Lagos.
“I’m tired of living here,” he muttered as he ran inside and slammed the door. “Bros no vex o, I just don’t want to see another corpse again today. I’ll talk to you when they leave, please,” he pleaded.
James said that, after the mourners had left, that the experience one of his neighbour friend had few years ago haunts him till date.
According to him, the old friend who he identified as Segun, claimed to have seen some ghosts who beckoned to him in the middle of the night. Not only did Segun run away from the spot, he never returned to the house, such that his friends had to help him pack his things.
He said, “Someone once lived close to us here. He was working in Ikeja, so he used to come back late. But there was one night he came back very late and he was fetching water outside around 1am, when he suddenly ran inside, saying he saw a dead person beckoning to him to come. Initially, people thought he was imagining things in his mind, but he couldn’t sleep throughout that night and since he left the following morning, he never came back. People had to help him pack his things and took them to him.
“And since that day, I have been noticing some strange things anytime I’m home alone, like someone opening the door, gentle wind blowing across my room occasionally and some things I can’t really explain. These days, I don’t sleep alone unless my parents are there.”
James sees nothing interesting living in the area, even though he enjoys the quietness and serenity some other Lagos residents would crave for.
He said, “Anytime I set my eyes on that place, there is a way my head swells and I want to run away but we are stuck here because my parents don’t have money to relocate. I don’t have friends who come here to visit me because of where I live and there is no other way one can describe this house without mentioning cemetery; it’s like the landmark here. In fact, a friend once told me I live among the dead.”
Talking about how they became neighbors to dead bodies, he said, “I was told that when we moved here in 2000, there was no burial site here. There were a few graves but they were scanty and covered with bush. It was after some time that the site started expanding, to what we have today. If not for the bush we deliberately left between us and the graveyard, we used to see them from the comfort of our room without stretching our neck.
“I’m sure if my parents and other people on this street had known that there would be a cemetery here, nobody would have agreed to live here. And that is why once it is 8pm, we all go in and we would never come out again, until the following morning. We all have fears at night.
“My mum does tell us that after death, judgement is next but that does not mean any of us, including herself, would come out of the house after 8pm. If we have any reason to come home late, we don’t take this route (pointing at the hole-ridden pathway beside the cemetery), we would take the alternative route, even though it is much longer. And I would be looking behind me until I enter the house. But we all try not to come back late.”
James, who had just finished his Senior School Certificate Examination, said he could not wait to leave the area and go to school, given the psychological and emotional torment he had suffered seeing graves almost every day. The situation is so bad that only a handful of his friends know his house because of the fear of the cemetery.
“We have seen many things here but what can we do. If people come to bury corpses here, we always see them and sometimes it could be more than once in a day. Some people don’t even come with casket, while some would wash the corpse on this road (pointing to the road that is few meters away from their entrance). I have seen people washing corpses on that road before but there was nothing we could do. I am tired.”
James’ family’s experience aptly captures the experience of many people living in this area, and there are a number of them.
It is worthy of note that in the past, cemeteries were sited far away in the bush and people would not dare move close unless they had a corpse to inter. In those days, people trembled anytime they walked past a cemetery, as it was only for the fearless and courageous. Then, anyone who dared to live close would be suspected of having magical powers or an ulterior motive.
Even in orthodox churches, the land reserved as graveyard used to be located few metres away from the church and people would rarely live close. But these days, people now live beside cemeteries, a situation that has been placed down to growing population, scarcity of affordable land and increasing development.
The one beside James’ house is tucked inside Ayobo in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State. For many families in this area, they said if they had known the place would become a cemetery, they would never have considered living there.
Mrs. Funmi Awoyale (not real names) could not hide her dislike for what had become of the quiet area she and her family moved into years ago.
Not only is she constantly disturbed seeing the site, her children had been psychologically traumatized several times, that she sends them to live with her siblings anytime they are on leave.
“My little girl, who is about ten years old, would not sleep alone at night, likewise her brother who is five. They are all very scared and they want us to leave this area. it is not that they have seen any walking corpse yet, but their imagination is unsettling them,” she added.
For some others, like Mr. Joel, the initial fears about living close to the dead may have reduced, coupled with his belief that anyone pronounced dead is dead forever, but he certainly won’t forget the day he claimed he saw some of his ‘neighbours’ in his dream.
Joel, who appeared to be in his late 40s said, “When I was young, my maternal grandfather was buried inside the house, and we the children would place our mat on the grave and sleep. So I was never used to having excessive fears about dead people, more so that I’m older now, but I won’t forget the day I saw them in my dream.
“There were times I saw them in my dream, I would challenge them and ask where they were going. They were usually in procession. They said they weren’t coming to me and that I should leave them alone. So I left them truly.”
Joel said even though he had been trying to teach his children how not to be afraid, it seems they wouldn’t have any of that as they would not pass the narrow pathway that runs through the cemetery unless he was with them.
He said, “There was a day I was going out with the children and we met some people bringing a corpse. My children froze and they wanted to run back but I held them. They are getting used to it, but they still have fears. We have to live with it because it wasn’t there when we moved here.”
“Yes, people who are dead are gone, but if you dump refuse on a grave, they would give it back to you but you might not see them. All age groups are represented in this cemetery; from one-day old to aged people.”
Joel however condemned a situation whereby people wash the corpses on the road in front of people’s houses.
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Findings by Saturday PUNCH revealed that some residents have had to leave the area, coupled with the power line that runs through the street. “Some people see us as abnormal but there is nothing we can do and that is why we rarely have visitors,” Joel concluded.
One other resident, Mr. Ige who wouldn’t mind sharing her experience with Saturday PUNCH said her fears began when she moved into the area newly and the only usable path was between two graves. “Anytime we approached that place, my head would swell, as if those dead persons would just rise and flog me. I never saw any walking corpse but passing through the cemetery is not fun, especially when you have visitors,” she said.
She recalled that there were times she would board motorcycles and the bikers would literally turn back on approaching the cemetery.
“An okada man once asked me if I lived in the burial ground, because he saw me going farther into the cemetery, not knowing there is a path beside it that leads to my house. Some would even leave the money because they see you as a ghost and they would run away.
“Some would refuse to go further once you start approaching the place. One of them once dropped me in the middle of the road beside the site and sped back immediately. He was screaming as if he was seeing ghosts coming to slap him. He almost had an accident that day.
“My children are traumatised because we could be coming home and we would see people washing corpses in the middle of the road. If the deceased is a Muslim, some people would lay the person in the middle of the road and pray (Janaza) for the person right there, tie the person with rope, the way they do, before the interment. Our children see these things and they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”
She equally wondered why the local government had refused to fence the place, instead of “terrorising” them with the scary outlook, more so that “it is expanding.”
‘We are used to living among the dead’
While the residents on Bashiru Adedeji Street and those at the extreme of Legacy Road in Ayobo are constrained to live with the influx of the dead into their abode, an obvious site that welcomes everyone into Jinadu in Shofunde area of Agege Lagos is the assemblage of cemeteries in the area.
Even though the area boasts of many cemeteries, when our correspondent visited the area penultimate Tuesday, the Markaz Street, which leads to the cemeteries, was full of both residential properties and commercial activities, and interestingly, people carried on with their domestic and business activities, leaving no clue that there was a cluster of dead bodies somewhere in the area.
In the Samuel Jinadu area, which is off Markaz, there are about five cemeteries of varied sizes and composition. While some are for Christians, some are for Muslims and some are put into mixed use.
As our correspondent entered the street, any light-hearted fellow would miss steps or fall because the street is bounded on all sides by cemeteries. But just opposite one of the cemeteries is Udemezue Chimah, who lay quietly on the couch in front of the building where he rented a room and parlour apartment. He wasn’t interested in any conversation as his major concern was how to raise money to get another apartment and vacate his cemetery-ridden abode.
But as he would later point out to our correspondent, the fenced expanse of land in front of his house is a cemetery, with the label Central Mosque Cemetery, another vacant land close to it is also a cemetery, while the fence at the back of his house shares boundary with another cemetery.
“I have had nightmares countless times, even my wife. Night time is usually a dreadful time for me and my wife. Do you know how it feels when you wake up to pee in the middle of the night and you feel like someone is pursuing you and you start looking behind you because behind the wall is a cemetery. It is frustrating.
“There is no how we can raise children here, so we need to move out before we can start having children. There was a time my brother came to spend holiday here, he ran away the following day, and even that night, he couldn’t sleep throughout. Anytime I remember the money I spent to rent this house, I felt cheated by the estate agent because he never told us and we never saw them as he instructed us not to use the route.
“The day I learnt there were cemeteries here, I almost fainted. I felt like going mad, you know that kind of a thing. Since then, as old as I am, I run anytime I’m passing the road, because the cemetery is on the left, right and front. Even though they are all fenced, when I’m coming back from work in the night, I usually wait to see other people going towards the same direction because I can’t pass through the place alone. If after some time I still don’t see others, I would go through the other route, which is longer.
“Sometimes, if you board a motorcycle, the riders sometimes hesitate once you tell them the street, and if they agree, they zoom off immediately you alight.”
Meanwhile, on this same street, there are other houses, including a duplex, bounded by cemeteries, while the one opposite it shares boundary with cemeteries on all its sides. The residents who spoke to Saturday PUNCH said even though they had become used to it, the scary thought would always come to their mind, especially at night.
“It is not easy, my son,” an old woman who lives in the area told our correspondent. “Sometimes you hear some strange sounds and voices and you don’t know whether it is your imagination or they are real, but you don’t say such things so that people don’t see you as evil or superstitious. Our eyes have seen so much here but we are managing,” she added.
Another resident on Ogunjimi Street, a young woman in her mid 20s, said the trauma of seeing a wrapped body or casket early in the morning or late at night could be tormenting. “Not that they would rise up to beat you, but the fear is real and it forms your dream and thoughts when you are asleep. It is not easy,” she added.
Speaking on the effect of living close to a cemetery, a psychologist, Dr. Adepeju Omoteso, said the fears attached to such are mere imaginations. She said, “That is what we call phobia. People have phobia for many things and one of them is fear of the dead. It also depends on the culture. Some people believe that if someone dies prematurely, the dead person might come back to hurt people. But as a psychologist, I don’t believe in it.”
On whether it is appropriate for cemeteries to be sited in residential areas, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, told Saturday PUNCH that government was also concerned with the development and that urgent intervention was on the way.
He added, “This is because there is a law on that, for obvious cultural and religious reasons, but people have not shown respect for that. One of the things government is thinking of is the need to have a task force on compliance with the law, to ensure that this is addressed once and for all. With the cooperation of the citizens, we will achieve this.”