M.I.C…Inside the multi-million naira business of burying the dead
He could have charged millions for his services but he took little or nothing, a lot of the time. The real wealth of master undertaker Tunji Okusanya, who died last Thursday in a plane crash with his son and four members of staff, lies in the lives he touched, Seun Akioye reports.
The identity of the woman at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja still remains a mystery. She stood out among the grieving relatives of Olatunji Okusanya, the Executive Director of MIC Funeral and Undertaking Home and his son Olatunji Jnr, who died in last Thursday's Associated Airline plane crash. She rolled on the floor for a long time, screaming the names of the Okusanya and his son. She wondered aloud: 'Who will continue the philanthropic work the deceased was noted for?'
Her sentiment was shared by visitors to the late Okusanya's home in Ogudu Government Reservation Area (GRA) on Lagos Mainland and 15-17, Odunlami Street, Lagos Island. A black drape hung on the entrance of the office. Members of staff wore black. Two condolence registers stood at the entrance; they were almost filled by noon on Saturday. On another table by the side of the register, a candle burned slowly and in the background solemn and depressing hymns played.
MIC lost six people to the crash. The company was contracted to supply the gold casket and handle the logistics for the funeral of former Ondo State Governor Olusegun Agagu . Apart from the two directors, other members of staff involved in the crash include: Akeem Akintunde, Chijioke Duru, Kingsley Amaechi and Samson Hassan. Their names and pictures stood by the side of their late directors.
MIC, as a business concern, is into funerals. The business was started in 1946 by the late Okusanya's father. The late Okusanya presided over a multi-million naira funeral empire. His caskets were of high quality and his funeral undertakings excellent. The late Okusanya, an engineer , inherited the business from his father in 1981. Then, it was a modest venture specialising in wood coffins. When he took over, he introduced funeral undertaking into the business in an innovative and creative way few had seen before. His business soared and his clientele profile increased in size and status. In the words of the late Okusanya Jnr: 'My father took the business from something to everything.'
The late Okusanya's passion lay more in an elaborate funeral ceremony with all its creative fanfare. The service could cost a prospective client several millions of naira or, as The Nation found out, nothing at all.
It may be difficult to quantify the worth of MIC. On the surface and judging from his high-profile clients, it may be worth several millions. But, investigations revealed that the late Okusanya might have given away much of his wealth in philanthropy.
It was gathered that he gave out free caskets and offered free consultancy services on many occasions. It was also gathered that there are no price limits on any coffin, as MIC catered for all levels of clientele.
'We don't have most expensive casket here. Our director was very generous. If you tell him your situation, he can give you a casket of N200,000 for as little as N50,000 with the full complement of undertaking services,' one of his employees said.
The late Okusanya was also known not to collect any money from any client who died at 25 or below.
'It does not matter if the parents of the deceased are millionaires, he will never collect money from them and he would give them the full burial,' a family friend said.
It would seem that whatever profits were made from his high-profile burials were also spent on philanthropy. On Odunlami Street, where the funeral parlour is located, the late Okusanya's generosity is of legendary.
When The Nation visited the office, many of those who benefited from his generosity took turns to pay homage to his memories. Many of them recalled he sent their children to school, others spoke of the free funerals they received for their departed ones and others said he helped them secure jobs.
His younger brother, Mr. Toyin Okusanya, who spoke to The Nation, described his brother's generosity as 'unparalleled'. He said he started small, in a site two buildings away from its present location-which now houses the Platinum Mortgage Bank-but over the years acquired a reputation for fairness and generosity.
'The happiness of people was paramount in his mind; he didn't think you should spend all your money on a burial if you really can't afford it. So, he would advise his clients on the least cost way to have a befitting burial despite the fact that he would have made so much money selling all those big caskets to them,' Toyin said.
Two weeks before his death, the late Okusanya was involved in three big burials. One was for a member of his church, another for the owner of the building where his office is located and the third for an undisclosed client. One of the burials took him and his employees to Ijebu in Ogun State. The cost of the three burials was put at N4.5 million but the MIC director, according to his aides, charged nothing.
The late Okusanya specialised in gold and steel caskets, which sold from N200, 000 to several millions of naira. While no source was willing to disclose what he charged for his high-profile burials, unconfirmed reports say it will be in the region of several millions but not up to N10, 000,000.
'Director was a principled man. If he would not do something, it's hard to change his mind, even if you offered him N10, 000, 000,' a source said.
In his life time, the late MIC boss ran a large company comprising of about 100 workers. According to an employee, who will not disclose his identity, there were no less than 50 permanent staff members and more than 50 part-time workers.
'We usually call in these part time workers every time because most days we will have about 15 functions and need about 13 people to handle each burial,' he said.
A source also revealed that each permanent members of staff gets a daily allowance, according to their rank. The minimum allowance is N2, 000. 'So you can calculate how much Director spent every day on the staff. The salary is competitive and he doesn't owe us,' the source disclosed.
So, how rich was the late Okusanya? 'I cannot say whether he was rich or not or how much this business is worth. But I know that he was rich in the Lord. He used his wealth to serve God and people, anything that had to do with the work of God, you will find him there. He did not joke with it; he died the way he had lived. But I can tell you that he invested his life in MIC, that is the best I can tell say. You can then deduct how much this business is worth,' Toyin said.
A member of staff volunteered: 'Director used to tell us he was not rich but comfortable. He said this several times and he would say that it is from whatever he gets that we also get. So, he would say 'If I am broke, then you are broke.' We all know that Director would have made much money if he had not been too generous; so, I can't say he was a very rich man at least not the way people outside would have imagined.'
The late Okusanya had prepared well for his death and succession. But by one of those ironies of which fate is never tired, his anointed heir and second child, Olatunji Okusanya Jnr., also perished with him in the ill-fated Associated Airline flight. For many years, Olatunji Jnr. had followed in his father's business, shunning the lure of living in England- which greatly appealed to his other siblings- to learn the art and business of the funeral home. He was loved by the staff and clients and was seen as an excellent successor but for the cruel role played by fate.
' There cannot be a crisis of succession and management of this place because of the death of my brother and his son who would have taken over. The decision over who now succeeds will be taken by the entire family and when the time is ripe, we will tell everybody,' Toyin told The Nation.
Okusanya had six children, including Olatunji Jnr. But, of the surviving children, three sons and a daughter live in England and it is very unlikely that any of them would relocate to Nigeria to manage the business. If any of his children decided to take over, such a child would have to learn the rudiments of the trade from scratch and depend on the loyalty of the members of staff.
But The Nation also gathered that the smooth operations of the business henceforth will have to do with two of the late Okusanya's most trusted aides, Niyi Adeyemo, the accountant and Dapo Junaid, the General Manager.
The two are said to be the pillar of MIC and the late Okusanya reposed a lot of confidence in them.
' The two of them were the ones who know how this business works and if you want to know the worth of this company, they can tell you. Anyone of them can take over and run this business because they are capable and we have always related to them in every aspect of the work we do here,' a member of staff said.
Immediately the tragic incident occurred, the two aides were said to have taken charge calling a meeting of the permanent staff where they all agreed not to leave the employment of MIC Funeral Home for the time being.
' Those who were about to leave before all agreed to suspend their resignation. We will all stay together because what people are saying is that this place will be deserted because Director is dead. We will not abandon this company and we have agreed to give our 100 percent loyalty to anyone the family brings to head this place,' an employee said.
No one know how long the funeral home will be shut pending the selection of a new Director, but one thing is clear, whenever MIC Funeral Homes opens its doors to customers again, a new man will be in charge and business will not be the same again, at least not as the late Okusanya, whose passion was his coffins and the dead and he pursued his passion till death.