Olatunji Okunsanya, the son of MIC boss, Tunji, who died along with his father in the Associated Airline plane crash on Thursday, tells KEMI LAWAL why he chose the funeral business
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Olatunji Okunsanya and I work for MIC. I also run LPS, a funeral consultancy service provider. It is a personal role I have decided to take up and a summary of being an ambassador for the dead. I have a father and a mother who are hardworking. I am the second child of the family and I have an elder sister who is a celebrated makeup artist.
What does it mean to be an ambassador for the dead?
In every institution that we have, everything is properly taken care of but nobody talks about the dead and they have issues ranging from the laws governing them, burial spaces and so much more. What we do is we speak with people and we have been able to build a relationship with the federal and state governments plus private institutions to take good care of the dead. A dead person has a right to be visited by its family 50 years after if the burial space is intact. A dead person has a right to a decent burial. So, we liaise and give practical solutions.
You read banking and finance, what are you doing with funeral services?
The fact remains that I was born into this business. My grandfather started MIC in 1946 and my father at some point created something out of it. He was able to take the business to greater heights. Therefore, it has been a thorough foundation for me. It is just what I have done from primary school through secondary school and then to the university. When I was much younger, my friends used to say I used to open the newspapers from the back to read about obituaries.
So even at a very young age, you were not scared of caskets?
I cannot be scared because this is what I have seen all my life. I was literally born in the midst of caskets and my nuclear family has not done anything apart from caskets. What does not talk does not have control over you.
Why did you not study to be a mortician instead of getting a finance degree?
I have a diploma in psychology, a degree in banking and finance and I have so many international affiliations with funeral consultancy services. That background was necessary to have a vast idea of what is going on and not just you being limited. I did that to learn a little more outside the jurisdiction of what I do.
In the process of doing your job, do you betray emotions?
Yes. Primarily the funeral director is a human being. The bible talks about the fact that it is good to go to where they mourn. When you go to places like that, you are reminded about the fact that life ends one day. It helps you to move closer to God. For the funeral director, everyday of his life is about people mourning and that is tougher. You get emotional but you do not betray emotions.
Are there times you feel like opting out of the business?
At no point in time can I opt out. It is all about a personal advancement and revolutionising the industry. My job is not a funny or strange one because someone has to do the job.
Have you had any queer experience in the course of doing your job?
First, I am a Christian. I have my faith in God and it is unshaken. He has given us power to tread paths that people fear. So, such superstitions do not come to play in my life. My faith tells me that what cannot talk has no control over me so if someone dies and you wrap up the person, I did not kill the person. I was only contracted to give the person a befitting burial so there is nothing to fear.
Do you get funny reactions when you tell people what you do?
I offered to meet up with you(the reporter) somewhere else because I was worried you might not be comfortable talking to me in the midst of caskets. I hear all sorts: ‘If you were the only man left, you will not marry my daughter.’ Some do not even want to give you a handshake because they believe you have ulterior motives. If they think deeply, they would realise that we actually run an institution that should be celebrated. Death is the only constant thing. The only constant thing they would put after everybody’s name learned or not is RIP. Therefore, if someone has taken the bold step to take care of the only constant thing in life, we should be given some credit.
When marriage comes eventually, I do not think my prospective in-laws should worry about what I do, what they should worry about is if I can take care of their daughter. How I make my money should not be an issue.
Did your father insist you toe this line?
At no point did he insist and until tomorrow, he does not. That will also help me with my children because I will give them the best of everything and they will have the opportunity to decide what they want to be in life. It is not compulsory they take after me or their grandfather or great grandfather.
Are there any highpoints in this profession?
Yes, there are because you would realise that a lot of people look forward to meeting you. I have had opportunities of meeting people because I have provided this essential services for them. We do not have to knock their doors to get their audience.
You are wearing black now; does it have anything to do with your job?
Not exactly. Maybe it is because I am used to it or we deal with many people that mourn. If I wear a yellow shirt or tie to where people are mourning, I will look out of place. I am not always in black; I wear white, grey and other colours. I feel very comfortable in my native attire and I wear loads of them.
How do you relax when you are not working?
Because I have a lot doing as an ambassador of the dead, I do not have time to relax. I am always in the middle of a new challenge.
Are you under pressure to outdo your father?
You cannot outdo a man that is still on his feet, energetic, fit, a pacesetter and enjoys what he does. The pressure instead is to be a success story. He has been able to transform an industry from something to everything. I cannot even step into my father’s shoes because they are too wide. When your hobby is your work, nobody can come close to you. I have been to morgues and there are no escorts or sirens there, there is no posing in the morgue, there are no celebrities there. You put people under six feet and you realise that the cars and the houses do not fit in. I have come to understand that when people die, nobody has jumped into the vault and said bury me along. So, it makes me see things differently. At the end of the day, when they say everything is vanity, I am in a better position to talk about it because I have seen it all.
Interview and photograph courtesy of Sunday Punch.