The plight of widows in Nigeria is pathetic. Many of them are uneducated while others lack the skills to be self-reliant. Most time, the psychological torture that they experience compounds the trauma of their husband's demise that leads to depression and related-health problems. One of the biggest challenge confronting widows in Nigeria is how they are treated by their in-laws. Their in-laws chase their late husbands' property. Even human rights activists are often helpless because husbands fail to use their wives or children as their next-of-kin. As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to celebrate the international widow's day, Michael Oche writes on the plight of widows in the country.
Theresa Ogbo hails from Benue State. She has been a widow for the last 15 years. Her experiences all through those years have been harrowing.
Apart from the pains of losing her dear husband, she contends with the task of caring for all her four children from the little money she makes from selling pure water. Before her husband's death, Theresa was doing well with her business but soon after his demise, life became very tough for her and her children.
First she tried endlessly to collect her husband's entitlement from the company where he worked. When she couldn't, she had to relocate to the village. It was there that she said her in-laws compounded her miseries and made life more difficult for her and her children.
She said: "My husband died 15 years ago in a motor accident. I got married when I was about 15. I have four children. My first child finished her secondary school and there is no work. I have two boys and two girls. We were in Karmo before we packed to this place. After the demolition, I relocated to Maraba. I now sell pure water and kwunu (local drink).
We were living in Benin when my husband died. I was brought home with my children without telling us what happened. After his funeral, my husband's people returned and carried all our belongings. My husband's brother said he would marry me, but I refused. He became angry and carried all our property. I have been suffering with my children. Government should help me in training my children".
Theresa is one amongst millions of widows around the world and especially in Africa who are being traumatised after the demise of their husbands. In Nigeria, the stories are the same -the plight of widows has not improved.
In certain parts of Nigeria, the maltreatment of widows is common place. Certain customary laws permit unwholesome practices that subject widows to discrimination, deprivations and other degrading treatments. At the death of her husband, the customary rites she must observe can undermine her health.
If she has no male adult children, she may be ejected from her husband's house as both it and his land will have been inherited by his oldest brother. In most cases, the husband's kin do not provide the widow with any economic support, particularly if she will not accept the status of being an additional wife to one of her husband's brothers.
The International Widows Day was established by The Loomba Foundation in 2005 to raise awareness of the issue of widowhood.
The significance of June 23 is that it was on that day in 1954 that Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba - mother of the Foundation's founder, Lord Loomba - herself became a widow.
However, on December 21, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted June 23 as International Widows Day. The day was set aside to give special attention to the situation of widows and their children.
As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to celebrate the international widow's day, many of the widows told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that life has not been easy after the loss of their husbands, just as they recounted their ordeals in the hands of their in-laws.
Winifred Peter, 29, from Anambra State is another woman who has experienced the harrowing pains of being a widow. She lost her husband three years ago in a ghastly motor accident. According to her, the task of seeing her three kids through school has been so challenging and she has been forced to withdraw two of the kids.
She told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that her in-laws made life miserable for her by ensuring she never got anything from her late husband's estate. She said: "My husband died three years ago in a motor accident. I have three children. My problem is school fees and house rent. My in-laws have made life difficult for me and I can't stop wishing I never got married to this family.
When my husband died, they asked me to release the key to his shop to their stepbrother. I refused because my husband owed some people. They said they won't take care of me and the children. God and some good-spirited individuals help us. I currently manage the small business which my husband had.
Another woman, Angela Ekwosi from Enugu State also shared her experience. She said: "My husband died on July 28, 2005.
He was sick for three months. I have five children, the eldest is 17. God has been helping us. I joined the supply business as a contractor. I supply sand and gravel. They know I don't have money, so they pay me promptly. My husband did not leave anything for me when he died.
However, for Philomena Ode who is from Otukpo LGA in Benue State, her experince is a practical example of how husbands should prepare their wives for the unknown. She said, "My husband died in July 2008. I have 10 children, the eldest is 30. He finished his HND programme in 2006. I trained them by selling my property. I was active in business before my husband died. I also withdrew them from big schools and sent them to cheaper ones.
My husband also left some property for me, which is assisting us. He built a house and bought shares. He used me and my first son as his next-of-kin. None of my in-laws came to our rescue when he was sick. He was their breadwinner.
She said further, "When he died, his relatives asked me to make provisions for what I would eat as well as my children. I agreed and planned ahead. When we got to the village, they asked me to build the tomb of my husband because some money was paid to me as a result of his death. His brothers told me to forward his belongings home. I did, including his bathroom slippers.
They collected all. They later said they wanted to see our building in Abuja. But my uncle refused. They wanted me to settle in the village. They seized the money which church people donated to us. Before my husband's death, we rented three sets of our apartment to our tribal people. My in-laws told them not to pay me again.
They refused to pay me until last year when they were ejected through the assistance of a lawyer. My current problem is that my in-laws now use my son against me. My third son beats me every Sunday. He wants me to surrender my late husband's death benefits to him."
Agnes Adika from Benue State: My husband died in 2004. He travelled to the village and on his return, he started stooling blood. I have three children. I used to sell akara (beans cake) at Mopol junction, Maraba, Nasarawa State.
But my husband's brother never allowed me to rest. I don't know what he wanted. That was how I relocated to Maraba. I packed my things and kept them at a prayer house that I attend. Later a sister accommodated us in her house.
My problem is my children's school fees and house rent. My husband's family doesn't care about our children. I want government to help me with my children's school fees and accommodation.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, Mr. Emmanuel Ishola, president of the Gathering of Eagles Ministries, GEM, a faith-based organisation championing the course of widows, orphans and the less privileged, said violence in the country has increased the number of widows. He decried the plight of widows in the country, saying the government must do more to enact legislations that will protect widows
He gave instances of widows being frustrated in securing entitlements of their deceased husbands. He said: "Maternity leave in the country is about four months. But widows are only giving five days of compassionate leave. It means you expect a woman who has just lost her husband to resume work just five days later. This is very unfair.
He said further, "the increasing violence in the country has increased the number of widows and the level of poverty. Government should address poverty among widows by giving them jobs because they are suffering. There is need for us all to show love to the widows and their dependants".
He said the foundation has provided avenues for some of the widows to be empowered by equipping them with vocational skills and giving them access to legal aid. Ishola urged Nigerians to support widows through voluntary giving.
The general consensus is husbands must prepare their wives by ensuring they are not full-time house wives and also ensure there are legal documents ensuring their estates be transferred to their wives or children in case the inevitable happens.