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My service to widows is a calling – Roli Uduaghan

It is customary now for wives of governors to embark on one pet project or the other, aimed at empowering women and children or alleviating poverty. But with the wife of the Delta State governor, Mrs Roli Uduaghan, she describes her service as more than just a pet project. “It is a call” she told Allure Vanguard with all sense of responsibility.
In the last five years, the plight of widows in the state has become a cross for, a cross that is slightly too heavy for one shoulder alone.  Having worked quietly for five years, the amiable First Lady is now set to go public with her initiative come May 12 in Asaba.  In this encounter, she talks about this mission to touch lives and the various initiatives to empower the widows.
Its interesting to hear that your project is a call. How do you mean and how is it different from other pet projects by other first ladies?
Well, this is different because this is not a project that originated because I became a governor’s wife. No. Its something I was doing before. It all started when I was brainstorming on what widows go through in our area when a woman’s husband is called to glory. As I was thinking about it, I became burdened and began praying, asking God what I could do to help in my own little corner. It was in that place of prayer that the idea of empowering women was born. And through my fellowship, Master Key that I organise, we had our first outing with about 80 women in attendance.
What exactly do you do for widows because we know what Nigerian widows go through and what is the extent of your coverage?
Well, we basically care for widows everywhere whether in the city or rural areas. And when I say widows, I mean widows indeed. We try to empower them. Some of them already have something doing. Those who don’t have, we set them up. For example, when we had our first meeting, through my fellowship, the Mastercare Foundation, we were able to give out seed money to some widows.  At least the average empowerment seed was about N35,000 to buy equipment. Those who are petty traders, we gave N30,000 and that seemed like a billion naira to them because for some of them, nobody has bothered about them since their husband died.
Some of them have problems of claiming their late husband’s gratuity from office. We link such widows up with female lawyers for legal assistance. For some others, we put their children on scholarship.
So what we do is to basically help in alleviate the suffering of women and for every woman to be able to stand on her own. But there are some who are not widows but they come and they tell you that their case is worse than that of some widows.
We have also provided free farm in-puts and implements to boost their earnings. We’ve had free eye care for them and also empowerment tools like boats, fishing nets tricycles, bicycles, hair dryers and other salon kits.
How are the widows selected?
There are no criteria really except that they should be widows indeed. I can’t do everything myself. I work sometimes with the special assistant to the governor on women development. At other times, I ask the wives of the local government chairmen to bring the women. Of course, they all know my rule that it is not just politicians alone. That is not to say that when there are politicians or family members of politicians that are in need I would not attend to them. But generally, most of the people we attend to are ordinary women in Delta State and not necessarily people close to us or politicians.
What is your stake on some of those obnoxious traditional practices that militate against widowhood rights?
When it comes to issues of widowhood rights, it is usually our customs and traditions that affect women. Many of our traditional laws are evil as far as widowhood rights is concerned. Somebody is hurting and crying over the death of her husband, then you have some traditions that require the widow to  stay in the room with the corpse all through the night in other to prove her innocence whether or not she lived in adultery while the man was alive. There are all kinds of barbaric laws. There are communities where they handover the wife to any of the late man’s brother who desires her. There are situations where the widow is made to sleep on the floor for seven days.
These are laws that cannot bring development and progress. Unfortunately, these customs and traditions are enforced by fellow women in the family. There are some communities where you are expected to wake up everybody in the compound to cry and if you don’t do that, then the women will beat you to ensure you cry to mourn your late husband.
But there are still problems with issues of widowhood rights?
Yes the problems are still there but when we hear of any case, we step in. There was a case we handled recently of a husband who died and the family wanted to cart away the property. So they were against the woman burying the man in the compound. But by God’s grace, I was able to step in and everything went well and when it has to do with legal matters, we have the female lawyers from FIDA who we introduce them to.
You have chosen May 12 for your public presentation. If you have been running this project for this long, how come this forth coming event did not hold before now?
Well, for me I have to have something to tell the public before I call them. I can’t just come out to show nothing. We have been working quietly underground, now we have something to tell and show the public that is why we are coming out now.
I want to tell the world what we have been doing, we have evidence of our projects and we want to use the opportunity to also solicit for support. Some people think we are on the state budget. We are not. So one of the things we want to do is to share with others what we are doing so that those who are interested, can partner with us because we need financial support. We are expecting the acting president’s wife as our special guest for that day, we are expecting some female ministers and some other top women in the country.

Is the ministry of women affairs in on this?
This is the first time I have ever gone to that ministry to ask them to be part of what we are doing.
You have a career clinic, what is that about?
Well, the clinic is still part of our effort to empower women. We plan to train women on how to do their businesses better. The average Nigerian woman is hard working so you need to help them do better. The clinic seeks to highlight the various business opportunities available to the Delta Woman. The lectures will hold every month in the next 10 months in diverse locations within the state.
Most pet projects embarked upon by first Ladies end when they leaves office. What plans do you have in place to ensure continuity?
This project will surely continue because like I said earlier, this is not one of those pet projects of governors wives. It started five years ago before my husband became a governor.
What I am doing is a call and this came to me before I became the first lady of Delta state. So it will definitely not stop when my husband leaves office.
The office of the First Lady has been so glamorized that the impression people have is that of all play and no work. What is it like being the first lady of Delta state?
When you say office of the first lady, there is no such office. We just compliment our husbands. Well, I don’t really know about other, but for me, occupying this position does not change me at all. I don’t really know how people perceive this office. I don’t know about any glamour in this office. I am just who I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. Because of the misconception outside, people think as the wife of the governor or the First Lady of the State, you have answers to all questions. Some think you can meet all needs.
People will call me at times and say “madam, please give me work”. There was a day something happened somewhere, somebody called me and said, “madam, there is this disaster that happened in so and so place, you need to visit that sight” I asked the person, visit there as who? As governor, as deputy governor or as commissioner? I don’t know who they think I am. I am just a house wife. If the governor is busy that he cannot go, he has officials that he can send. I am not a member of the cabinet-executive or judicial arm. I am just a house wife. So it’s a serious misconception. Some people even think you are God. Some see you as stronger than your husband. They think you are the voice that determines what happens in the state. All of those things are misconceptions.
So how do you cope with all these misconceptions?
To tell the truth, it is a real challenge. But I don’t bother about it any more. If you call me to do something that is not within my powers, I tell you straight its not possible. Some will say, please tell your husband and I tell them, hey, I don’t interrupt in his business. What is official is official. I don’t go there.
What inspires you to go on?
This is an heavenly assignment and knowing that alone is enough inspiration to go on. So, I do everything to make sure it works and not fail. I schedule my activities so I can have time to do the things I should do.
Do you feel fulfilled?
Of course I do although there are still more to be done. The office of the governor’s wife has no financial benefit attached to it. We are not on the state budget so we still have financial constraint.  But now and then, we get support from corporate bodies and well meaning Nigerians.
What is your style?
I am not crazy about  fashion. My life is not tied down to style. I just dress up.

It is customary now for wives of governors to embark on one pet project or the other, aimed at empowering women and children or alleviating poverty. But with the wife of the Delta State governor, Mrs Roli Uduaghan, she describes her service as more than just a pet project. “It is a call” she told Allure Vanguard with all sense of responsibility.In the last five years, the plight of widows in the state has become a cross for, a cross that is slightly too heavy for one shoulder alone.  Having worked quietly for five years, the amiable First Lady is now set to go public with her initiative come May 12 in Asaba.  In this encounter, she talks about this mission to touch lives and the various initiatives to empower the widows.


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