Working Lives

Working Lives: The Cemetery Attendant Who Avoids Ritualists 

Working Lives: The Cemetery Attendant Who Avoids Ritualists 

I was handed over to my Oga, a popular carpenter at the time in Imota. It was an apprenticeship. I probably spent more time fetching water, sweeping, and cleaning for the wife at home than I spent learning about carpentry“. 

What is your name, and where are you from?

My name is Mr. Ajani. I am from Imota in Lagos State. 

Tell us about your education.

I attended Local Government Primary School, Imota. I wasn’t a bright student, so after my primary school education, my parents decided I should go learn a skill. They chose carpentry because lots of people in my village were into making and repairing chairs and other furniture. I trained for 4 years. I was truly happy with my parent’s decision.

Were you enrolled in a technical school, or did you undergo informal training with a local craftsman?

I didn’t enroll in a school. Instead, I was handed over to my Oga, a popular carpenter at the time in Imota. It was an apprenticeship. I probably spent more time fetching water, sweeping, and cleaning for the wife at home than I spent learning about carpentry. Honestly, I was used as a slave. I used to pray every morning that we would have work to do in the workshop or at a faraway site so I wouldn’t have to stay home and work like a servant.

Did you graduate with a ‘freedom ‘event?

No. My parent only bought drinks to appreciate him. He then prayed for me and wished me well in my endeavour. It was a low-key ceremony. However, after my 4 years with him, I returned to his workshop. But this time around, to assist him. He used to pay me for every job I did for him.  

So how did you get into this line of work?

This job was God-sent. In this line of job, they hardly post vacancies. Someone has to tell you about a vacancy there before you’d get to know about it. Since I stayed in the community, I knew they were looking for workers at the cemetery. I decided to do the job because I needed a steady source of income, and carpentry jobs were not forthcoming as I wanted.

I needed to feed my family, and I had three children in primary and secondary school then. That gave me the push to meet with the community heads and tell them of my desire to work. They looked at me, smiled, and said the work wasn’t for youths but for mature men. I was almost 40 then, but I didn’t bother about that. All I was interested in was making money, as the skill I had learned wasn’t bringing in so much. I needed to be more responsible and cater to my family. So, that’s how I started working in this line. 

What are your working hours?

We don’t work at night; we resume by 8 am and close by 6 pm daily, including Sundays. However, we rotate our Sunday duties; when some people are at home this Sunday, others will be at work and switch places the following Sunday. 

How much do you get paid monthly?

I started with N15,000.00 more than 25 years ago, and now I am getting N60, 000.00. I am the oldest staff here now. Some of my colleagues from way back have either died or retired due to old age. Most people working here are still new; some have worked for just 2 to 3 years now.

Have you ever thought of saving?

Any responsible father with children must save for their future, so I am saving the little I can, with no help or extra money from anywhere. Over the years, we’ve all depended on the money I earn. My children are still struggling to keep their families going. I have four children; the two girls are married while the boys are hustling and studying part-time at the Lagos State Polytechnic, so I don’t expect much from them. I believe God will remember us for good one day. Once there is life, there is hope. 

How much are you able to save monthly? 

I don’t have a fixed amount. I save any amount that remains before another salary enters. We sometimes get tips from people who come to check the graveyard of their deceased or those who come to bury their dead. So, I can save up to 20% of my salary whenever I get tips from people though it’s not frequent. 

Also Read: The Female Tiler Who Left Makoko High School When She Became Pregnant 

Does your family live in a rented apartment?

Yes, we live in a rented apartment in Maya, and I pay N2000:00 monthly. I have land under development in Igode, Maya. In due time, I’ll move to my apartment. As of now, I live alone with my wife. Nobody is staying with us again as the children are all grown-up. My wife also does her small business, selling beans and bread close to the house.

What is your experience like since you started this job?

No job is easy, but we have to keep on pushing. I’ve been working here for many years, so nothing scares me. You have to be bold before you can do this kind of work. The place is always quiet, especially with the bushes everywhere. The experience is always scary, so I don’t like it when it’s just one person alone in the cemetery. Still, I have been here for a long time, so I can’t be scared again.

Do people come here to exhume bodies?

I know people do that, but I haven’t experienced that since I started this job. I’m still waiting for that to happen here, but I may not allow it. Ritualists can go to any length to exhume a body, sometimes even claiming to be a family member when they’re not. Of course, we can’t know all the deceased’s family members, but still, it won’t be possible to allow any exhuming to happen. 

I am the boss here, and my decision is always final, except if the request comes with proper documentation or authorization.

Do you believe you must have protective charms to be a cemetery attendant?

I won’t answer that. I can only speak for myself. The work is not something you take on like that. I protect myself; that’s the only charm I do. People who don’t believe in charms may decide not to do it. In a job like this, you’re always faced with challenges. A ritualist may meet you for a human body part, tempting you with a huge sum of money. If you reject it, do you think they won’t return to harm you? That’s why you need to protect yourself.

Since I have been working here, I have never seen a ghost. However, I’m not saying they don’t exist. Most of the charm we do is to protect ourselves from living ghosts who may be monitoring us. I’m still surprised at how some of these people get our phone numbers, but I am not scared of them.

Also Read: The Cemetery Worker Who Used to Be a Multimillionaire

So, you are not scared because you have protective charms?

Why will I be scared? Did I kill anybody? 

Everybody has what he or she believes in. Even the Bible says that God helps those who help themselves. I am neither a Christian nor a Muslim; people of these religions have their beliefs, and that’s why you see them calling the call of who they believe in. 

I’m a traditionalist, and I have so much belief in what I do, so I can’t be scared of anything. I can’t be scared of ghosts because the dead appreciate our work. Some time ago, a scary wind was blowing, and the weather was good. I knew it was a ghost. Something told me it was a ghost at work. I performed some sacrifices and shouted at them; the heavy wind immediately ceased. 

Besides being a Cemetery Attendant, what other things can you do?

Carpentry work. That is the only thing I know how to do. Without this job as a cemetery attendant, I would have continued with my trade. The absence of steady work and hunger pushed me into this line of work.  

Is there any plan to leave this job soon?

No plans yet. 

When do you plan to leave this job?

In 4 to 5 years. Hopefully, I must have completed my house by then. I plan on completing it so I, too, can have tenants. With the tenants, I can survive with money from their rent. Everything is currently going as planned. I just pray it comes to fulfillment soon.  

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