Coffin is simply a long, narrow box, classically made of wood, in which a dead body is buried, transported to the cemetery or cremated. It is also a funerary box used for viewing or keeping a corpse.
In some other climes around the world, coffins are beginning to assume other usage than the traditional definitions given. For instance, the world recently witnessed the social use of coffin in Nonthaburi province, in the outskirts of Bangkok with different couples that laid inside pink coffins for their weddings at Wat Takien temple.
Unique political relevance
In Nigeria, coffins are getting a unique political relevance as it is used as a political dynamism. In the last 16 years, since the return to democratic rule, coffin has come to stay and has been used as a tool of campaign, an instrument of intimidation of opponents or pressing home demands.
Use of Coffin against Tyrant
During the demonstrations and road blockages that trailed the annulment of June 12 where cars were burnt on major roads in Lagos and dozens of souls and properties were lost. Nigerians stoutly resisted an attempt by the then military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida to remain in power beyond the tolerant limit. At the peak of the protest, a coffin bearing inscription of Babangida’s name was on display in Lagos in other part of the federation to press home the demands of the citizenry.
Similarly, when the then Senate President fought ex-Governor of Ebonyi State, Samuel Ominyi Egwu almost to a standstill, at a particularly low point of the crisis, Anyim Pius Anyim’s mock coffin was paraded around Abakaliki, the state capital.
Use of Coffin as a campaign tool
Well, one might argue that it is barbaric and unacceptable in other democracies to use coffins as a means of campaign. You probably may be right. But here you are. Welcome to the uniquely Nigeria, the land of possibilities.
Imagine discovering at the dawn, coffins (not posters) in all major spots of the town with an inscription: “anyone who does not vote for Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu on Saturday would die”. This was exactly what happened in Aba, Abia State where coffins deposited at some strategic locations in the city just few days before the governorship election. The interesting part was that Ikpeazu and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP alleged the coffins were sponsored by the political opponents of Ikpeazu, an action he claimed was aimed at discrediting him. Residents said an unidentified persons had dropped the caskets at strategic locations in the commercial town with the inscription, “Vote for injustice and meet your death.”
Coffin for Rejection of Policies
Rights activists carried a coffin in Agege area of Lagos to protest the planned introduction of N5,000 note by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The activists from Concerned Human Rights Nigeria, Civil Societies for Good Governance, Joint Action Front, United Action for Democracy, Gani Fawehinmi Foundation, United Middle Belt Youth Congress, among others, said the coffin signified the rejection and death of the policy.
Another similar scenario played out when members of the PDP protested against what they considered as ‘unfair’, as they alleged that a few individuals were being allowed by the party’s hierarchy to subvert the party’s Constitution and Electoral Guidelines to the detriment of the people of Rivers State. Ward Delegates, House of Assembly, National Assembly aspirants of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state and their supporters took to the streets of the Abuja with placards and a coffin, protesting against the alleged injustice. The protesters numbering over 1,000 marched to Wadata Plaza, the PDP National Secretariat, with a coffin labelled ‘UCHE SECONDUS’.
They explained that the protest was to express their disapproval of the non-issuance of party clearance certificate and their exclusion from party primaries process due to alleged scheming by Secondus, a citizen of Abia. Secondus, the current acting National Chairman of PDP was the then Deputy National Chairman of the Party.
The human rights circle is not immune to this development. During the administration of President Jonathan, irked by cases impunity and abuse of power by political office holders, human right activists protested with coffins with the hope of stemming the tide of the ills. They warned the two biggest political parties in the country to make urgent changes within seven days or be buried forever!
“Today, we are gathered to showcase two caskets depicting the wickedness of those in them against the masses,” said Comrade Declan Ihekaire, the National Coordinator, Concerned Human Rights Nigeria. One casket is for PDP while the second is for ACN now APC,” Ihekaire said.
While the activists gave the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, seven days to find solution to demands by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, who had embarked on strike for two months, they warned the All Progressives Congress- controlled Lagos State to reduce high school fees at the Lagos State University, LASU.
Nigerian students are also involved in this. When an expelled medical student of the Benue State University, Nicholas, Itodo died in a car accident which some his friends and colleagues believed to have been a suicide. The aggrieved colleagues demanded answers from the university authorities as to why an excellent student was expelled at the clinical stage of depression and deposited a coffin at the office of the Vice Chancellor. The students claimed they were protesting the death of their fellow student– an incident that raised suspicions.
A group of protesters from Eziano community in Awka, Anambra State also protested with a coffin to the State Secretariat over what they regarded as Forceful Takeover of Lands in Awka. They chanted war songs, “Iwe na ewe anyi o, iwe!” meaning, “we are angry” and accompanied with placards, a banner and a white coffin. On the banner was written, “Lawrence Chinwuba is a cancer, Hon Patrick Obianwu is a cancer, Please Obiano remove them before it is too late“. They complained that the estate developer, Rockland Estates Ltd forcefully took their lands without paying compensation and that the state commissioner for Housing and Urban development, Chief Lawrence Chinwuba and one of the developers, Hon Patrick Obianwu were frustrating their efforts by preventing them from getting to the Governor Obiano to resolve the issue. They therefore appeal to the Governor to come to their aid as their lands and means of livelihood were being taken from them.
Interestingly, this development has transcended the barriers of tribes and ethnicity as it assumes national outlook and invariably becomes a Nigerian culture. And since every culture is unique in its very essence, could it then be said that coffin has come to carve a niche for itself in our culture and has come to stay in the polity?