(By Udems)

Memory Verse:
“A healthy mind does not speak ill of other people behind their back!”

Respect for dead manifests itself in diverse ways in different cultures, around the world. Among the Muslims, speaking ill of the dead is abominable. See the Hadith; Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Do not swear/speak ill of the dead thereby causing harm to the living [i.e the relatives of the deceased].” This Islamic Hadith has found varying expressions — Do not abuse the dead in the grave; Do not abuse the dead, for they have reached what they put forward. Even the Prophet was quoted as having advised, “When your companion dies, leave him alone without speaking badly about him.” (see Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1329)

Among the Christians, adherents are commanded to pray for the dead, because we do not know where they are, and if they are in purgatory, they cannot pray for themselves. Christians believe that this also accords with common sense because (1) the dead are not in a position to defend themselves; and (2) they have already been judged in the particular judgment and are in heaven, hell, or purgatory on their way to heaven. Really and truly we should never speak ill of ANYBODY. If what we are saying is a lie, then that is the sin of CALUMNY; if what we are saying is true, but the other person has no right to hear it, then that is the sin of DETRACTION – a VERY serious sin. And if what we are saying is true, and the person has no reason not to hear it, then we are engaging in the sin of GOSSIP.

Indeed, among Christians, such is a grave offense against God Himself, because, although the deceased of whom we speak ill, is no longer physically present, they are still present to God, and we can still sin against them by gossip, calumny, or detraction. For Christians, the admonition is to speak to their face while they’re still alive. Support is found for this in the Bible book of Galatians 6:1: “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you… should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” In the book of Matthew, here is the counsel: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. Christians are then warned: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (see Ephesians 4:29). See also what theologian Eugene Mormon, (BTh., PhD) has to say on this: “The Bible tells us that we will be judged according to the deeds while in the physical bodies and by ‘Every idle word we speak.’ Mat. 12. It says that blessing and cursing should not come from the same source, our mouth, in the book of James. In Ephesians, it tells us to bless, not curse, and sing psalms. And so on. Many times the Bible tells us not to speak evil, regardless whether the person we are speaking of is dead or alive.’

The Hebrew position appears to be summarized by Yonatan Rocha: “the Hebrew bible forbids any attempts to contact the deceased, since the Hebrew bible assumes that the deceased are not spiritually deceased, but merely have lost the garment for the soul called a body. That person recently deceased is believed to be facing judgment immediately after death, so whatever one says will be heard in the spiritual court, and can weigh toward his or her judgment.”

What this means is that we are at liberty to tell a person, to his face, of or about his sins or misdeeds, while he is still here on earth with us. This is so that if he has any defence to offer, he would do so. If one is not able to summon enough courage to tell another (while that other is still alive) what bad deeds he has done, but would only start castigating the man after he is dead, that is the height of cowardice and injustice on the part of the condemner. The question to ask is, Why wait for him to die before you tell him or the world, about his bad deeds? Is that not also an outright mischief, a plain dishonesty and barefaced hypocrisy?

Within the legal circle, the relevant cardinal rule of justice administration is espoused in the Latin maxim that states ‘audi alteram partem,’ which means nobody shall be condemned unheard. Now, when a man is dead, he becomes defenseless and no longer able to react to any allegations against him. That’s why we must not wait until he is dead, before we begin to castigate him or to speak ill of him.

Closely related to the audi alterem rule, is the right of the accused to be afforded adequate time and facility respond to any allegations made against him. See section 36(6)(b), Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. This requires that we must never judge a man on the basis only of a one-sided account as given by his accusers, without hearing from the accused. Two other Latin legal expressions are apt, here:
(1). “Adsumes iniquitatem domus reo homo non potest nisi prius statutum in iure de atrio”(the guilt of the accused person cannot be established except before a court of law). (2). “Reo crimen alicui plures competent audiri ante terminum” (the accused person is entitled to be heard before determination of his guilt).

As I have said above, it is impossible to even talk about affording the dead any opportunity of being heard unless we agree it’s possible to get him to speak from the grave. Accordingly, with due respect to those who think otherwise, it’s not only mischievous and cowardly to insult a man after he is dead; it is abominable, heinous and unspeakably and unscrupulously childish, devilish.

Permit me to respectfully also restate that, there is NO compulsory requirement that we should shower undeserved praises on the dead or that we should lie about the good things they never did. Indeed, as pointed out by Leonardo da Vinci, “to speak well of a base man is much the same as speaking ill of a good man.” BENJAMIN FRANKLIN put it this way: “speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody.”
On the other hand, there’s a strict requirement (a form of obligation, which is supported by law and justice) that we should not speak ill of the dead.

Apart from that this injunction against condemning the dead is also a crucial requirement in the African tradition, the expression, “of the dead, let no one speak ill” is also illustrated in the Latin expression “de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est.”

Now, what if the person accused of speaking ill of the dead had earlier (while the deceased was still alive) spoken of the deceased in the same manner? Does this render the speaker/condemner less blameful for pouring out invectives and slanderous vituperations against the deceased? I respectfully answer in the negative. Let me draw an analogy. According to the Nigerian Supreme Court, in the locus classicus, STATE V ILORI, where a criminal charge is struck out on the basis of a Nolle Prosequi validly entered by the Attorney-General (AG), the prosecutor still reserves the right to thereafter re-file or re-institute the same criminal charges against the same accused person. However, said the Supreme Court, as many times as the same charge rears its ugly head, that is, as many times as the same charge is filed again in court against the same accused, is as many times the AG shall have an absolute power to enter a fresh Nolle Prosequi to have the charge struck out. In other words, on each occasion of such fresh filing, the AG is empowered to step in with a fresh Nolle which must be respected by the court. In the same manner, the fact that the present condemner of the dead, had castigated/condemned the deceased during the deceased’s lifetime, is no justification for the condemner to castigate or speak ill in any manner, of the deceased after the latter’s death. This is because, by law, on each occasion of such an allegation against him , the deceased deserves an opportunity to be heard which unfortunately is no longer there/possible now, because the latter is no more. Section 36(6)(d) of the Nigerian Constitution is relevant here: an accused is entitled to an opportunity to interrogate (examine) the accuser on the same terms and conditions as those given the accuser. So, if the accuser spoke of the deceased before his death and the deceased had replied, the deceased must still be afforded another, fresh opportunity of reacting to the current, fresh allegations or accusations made against him by the accuser. The question arises all over again, Where and how is the accused to respond? He is no more and has lost the opportunity. In my opinion, the only way to maintain fairness and uphold justice is to refrain from any such further condemnation of him after his death, since he can’t reply.

There’s yet another reason why it is illegal for anyone to castigate the dead; the dead man has lost legal capacity. Neither a suit nor any allegations at all is permitted to be filed or leveled against the dead, who has lost his capacity to sue or be sued. To this may he added the human rights violation angle; even the dead is entitled to some protection. However, where the deceased was a public office-holder (Governor, President, etc), I think we need to draw some distinction between making temperate critical comments fairly and objectively assessing a past public office-holder’s performance while he was still in office, even though he is now dead, and comments outrightly attacking the public officer’s personality or which amounts to personal insults against his person.
Although the dividing line appears thin, yet there’s a dividing line; both are different. The latter amounts to speaking ill of the dead, while the former does not. For an example, there is a huge difference between assessing Geberal Sani Abacha’s performance while in office as Nigeria’s Head of State, on the one hand, and speaking ill of Abacha’s personality, on the other hand.

In conclusion, I declare that it’s most condemnable to condemn the person of the dead, and any suggestions (in support of the ill-advised notion that one is justified in speaking ill of the dead) amounts to what is known in Latin as “suggestio falsi” (a false suggestion) or form of “in fine vero oppressis” (suppression of the truth).
Thank you so much.

Sylvester Udemezue

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