Tunji Okunsanya, the managing director of M.I.C funeral home, was aboard the ill fated Associated Airline that crashed yesterday, killing him and his son, Tunji Okunsanya Jr. Below is one of his recent interview with Punch newspaper. Mr Tunji also had the intention of passing the business to his son… Unfortunately, both of them didn’t live to achieve the plan he had for the business.
Read the interview below:
My Children Should Bury Me The Way I Live – Tunji Okusanya
Trained as an engineer, Tunji Okunsanya runs M.I.C, a funeral home in Lagos. Also one of the celebrity go-to undertakers, he tells how his father influenced his change in career
How did you come about the brand MIC?
It is all about hard work. You believe in God first and then you believe in yourself. You turn what you can do into action. The truth is a lot of us are doing what we are not versed in. Identify what you can do, what is within your capability, and what you know that if you are woken up from sleep, you can give correct answers to questions to it. If you find me in oil and gas, then there is trouble. It is not my field. As a journalist, if I see you doing something that is not comparative to your job, you are in trouble. I believe very much, in what I do and I dedicate myself to it. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is dead bodies.
The business started with your father. Did he coerce you into it?
My father started this business next door to where we are currently and I went to a school, Christ Church Cathedral, down the road. After school, I went there daily to work. My father made us realise that there was no free lunch even in Freetown! If you told him you did not have money to buy anything, he would tell you to go and sweep the floors of the shop.
Were you not scared of playing around coffins?
I would even play hide and seek with friends and hide inside a coffin. Initially, my father was making church furniture and he made furniture for brides. In those days, it was traditional for every bride to go to her new home with a stool called ijoko iyawo. He did that until someone asked him to make a casket. That was the beginning of the story and what we have here today is the continuation of the story.
You read engineering…
Yes, that is true but I never practised as one. I went to a technical school in the United Kingdom offering degree programmes. Getting a degree was just a way to make me independent and not that I really wanted to practise. I worked in one company for two weeks and one day, I just decided not to go again.
Why was that?
I saw my father working and I told him to allow me assist him. He refused initially and said people would think I went to England for seven years and I did not read. He did not like it
but later on, I formed my own company from his company. The name of my father’s company was Magbamowo Industrial Company. So, all I had to do was pick the first letter of each word to arrive at MIC. This was in 1982 and I started. I have since realised that whatever you do, your children would copy from you.
Growing up, did you get funny reactions from people when you introduced yourself as the boy whose father makes coffins?
Up until date, I do not go where I am not supposed to go because people think, ‘what is he doing here?’ You know I am synonymous with death. If I tell somebody today that I am travelling to the East, the first question they will ask me is, ‘who died in the East?’ even if I am going there for leisure.
Did your profession pose a problem when you wanted to get married?
I do not think a profession should be a hindrance to what you do as long as you have a focus.
Just like your father did not convince you, did you have to convince your son to also join you in the business?
No, I did not. He saw what I am doing and he liked it. If he did not like it and there is no money in it, there is a name.
You are in an unusual industry, has it affected your perception of life?
When I see people on the streets, when I see the way some behave- going about with bodyguards even at funerals! They are not even remorseful; You see everybody scampering to get out of their way. When I see such doing, I just stand back and reflect. What is the difference between them and the person we just put six feet under? What we need to do is to take care of one another, to be our brother’s keeper. We need to understand that life is not permanent, it is borrowed.
You have seen all manners of corpses; do you betray emotions on the job?
Of course, I see this more as a commitment than a business. You have to understand that no matter how old, nobody wants death to come and when it does come, you are an agent to make it easy for them.
I was just wondering how you solicit for business. People are mourning and you actually go to try to make money off them…
This business is a hard sell so we do not solicit for business. People come to us because of what they have seen us do. We have been around for a long time. When people know that you give your best, they would look for you. There are times we do funerals pro bono; there are times we take up responsibilities pro bono. At some point in time, MIC was picking up bodies on the streets of Lagos. It was a working partnership with the ministry of health and at no point in time were we paid or did we request for any payment.
How about the superstitions surrounding corpses?
What superstitions? There are no superstitions when you believe in God. It is what you want to make happen that you believe in and what they fear. I do not believe in all that and I was not born into it. I was born into a Christian home. If the light is off and I am in the midst of dead bodies, are they going to grab me? In all my years of business, I have never seen somebody who is dead that woke up. I do not even have nightmares because I am used to seeing dead bodies in my dreams so what nightmare will I have again? I treat them well so they have no reason to knock my head. I will not scream and say I saw a corpse in my dream and head to a spiritualist. What cannot talk cannot have power you because the soul is gone.
What are some of the challenges of the trade?
If you are expecting me to say I have challenges handling a body then you are wrong. The kind of challenges I have are the normal challenges every other businesses face such as poor power supply and uncommitted staff.
Why are you always dressed in black?
That is because most of the time, I am working and black is significant with mourning. I can be flamboyant in my dressing and I wear other colours depending on the occasion.
How do you relax?
I go to church and I relax on the job. Even when I am carrying a body, I am relaxing. I wish I could go to the gym because I am getting a bit fat now that I am closer to 60. I was born at Massey Hospital some fifty something years ago.
You have planned other people’s funerals, have you planned yours yet?
Fortunately, I am in this line and my kids see what I do. You plan yourself as you get older and we have people who plan their funerals before they die. They even choose the clothes they want to be buried in. My children know what I like to wear but it is always good to plan beforehand because in most instances, your kids will not give you what you want. My children should bury me the way I live.