BY FRANCES OBIOMA
A widow’s life in Nigeria is sometimes like a fairy tale. Only those who have experienced it know it and those who hear sometimes take it as just another story. In this edition, Saturday Vanguard visited a widow’s association in Lagos and got them to share their experiences as widows.
Most widows in our society, recalling the circumstances that led to the loss of their husbands is only one aspect of the trauma they grapple with, which include inhuman treatment, alienation, marginalisation and subjugation of the rights of widows, denial of self respect and ego etc.
Narrating her ordeal as a widow, Getrude Melo, a 45-year widow tried effortlessly to fight back tears as she narrated her experience since the death of her husband. “I went through a lot, I suffered. My husband’s family sold everything my husband had and abandoned me with my two little sons.”
Mrs. Getrude Melo who is the secretary of Widows Association of Glorious Women’s Faith Ikeja Lagos, said that all kinds of ill treatments were meted to her even by her late husband’s relations. “My husband’s siblings packed everything we had, abandoned me and my two sons.
“They sold everything he had in Lagos before the burial and rendered us homeless. We didn’t have a house. We were left with only a mattress, a cabinet bed and the N20, 000 they gave to us after the burial while every other thing was sold,” she said.
The widow who hails from Obiomangwa LGA of Abia State said that apart from the customs women are subjected to, especially during and after the burial rites, widows in Nigeria suffer sociological problems.
She said: “When my husband was alive, I was working as a secretary of an organization, but when he died, I became jobless. After a while, I started working here and there to make ends meet. My children were very tender when my husband died.
“My first son was five years old and his brother was four years old as at then. But now, one is through with secondary school and the other is taking SSCE next year. Till today, my husband’s relatives never asked after the children.”
Explaining some of the customs widows from the Eastern part of the country go through, Pastor Charles Ogueri of the Redeemed Church of God said: “Looking at it from the Eastern part of Nigeria, it is crazy out there. The kinsmen of most of these widows at their husbands death jump at them and take everything that belongs to them and their children.
“How then will they cope? Today, landlords are trying to sleep with them in exchange for rent. I overheard a widow saying that her landlord wanted to sleep with her in exchange of her rent but who knows if she succumbed? The pressure is on the high side”, he lamented.
Pastor Ogueri maintained that in some areas in Igbo community, where a woman is bereaved, she is compelled to go through diabolic ritual cleansing of drinking the water used in washing her husband’s corpse in order to prove she is innocent of her husband’s death, adding that there are also cases where the widow is sent out to the stream at the middle of the night to have her bath, for funeral purification.
Other demeaning practices meted on widows, according to him is “the use of broken bottle by “Umu Ada” for hair- shaving which leaves injuries on the body of the widow. Others include forceful marriage of the widow to her husband’s brother; sitting by the ash and dinning with broken plates and cups throughout the period of mourning.
She is addressed as “Nwanyi Isi Mkpe” which justifies her state of widowhood, etc.Iit is indeed a state of psychological trauma that cuts deep into the bone marrows.”
Melo however expressed gratitude to the Widows Association saying that “the NGO is now training my two children. They are on scholarship. They train widows in any skill of their choice and take care of their children’s education”, she said.
While calling on the human right activists to join forces with Widows Association of Glorious Women of Faith and other bodies in the fight against several cases of injustice on widows, she also called on government to enlighten and sensitize widows and take appropriate steps to restore the dignity of widows in Nigeria and in the world at large.