*`My husband’s death in police station to blame for street trading’
What started like the end of the world for a 40-year-old widow turned out to be the beginning of a comfortable life for Mrs Joy Ifijeh and her family. Governor Adams Oshiomhole had, in his usual manner, set out, on Monday, November 25, 2013, to inspect on-going projects. As the inspection progressed along Mission Road, the governor was angry with some officials of government who he believed were not performing their duties. So it was a charged Oshiomhole who met the widow blocking the walkway with her goods. In order to ensure that market women comply with the rule of selling inside the markets rather than outside, Oshiomhole had set up the War Against Indiscipline to make sure Benin City is kept clean and also ensure free flow of traffic.
However, the angry governor’s action would have been over looked if not for the language he used against the widow. He had said, ‘If you are a widow, go and die’, following the woman’s plea. Oshiomhole’s statement sparked off criticisms in many quarters mainly because he is regarded widely as not just a governor but the peoples man. The Edo State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) pounced on the opportunity, announcing a donation of N250,000 to the woman. The situation of the governor was not helped by the fact that he is also a widower. He lost his wife and has since not remarried. But Oshiomhole, who quickly recognized that he did not handle the matter well, on Monday, December 2, 2013, invited the widow to the Government House, Benin-City where he held a breakfast meeting with her. Before the meeting, Oshiomhole met a delegation from the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association of Nigeria, telling them, “I regret my action”. “Last week, I had an encounter with a young lady at Oba Ovonramwen Square by Mission Road. She was trading on the road and too many people have been doing this. They block the road with their wares. Part of the problem of Benin before now is that it is so difficult to drive round the city”, he said.
The governor continued: “That also affects the economic, social and commercial life of the city. The people cannot move from one place to the other. Where you could have spent thirty minutes, you are spending hours. We have various officers we have assigned to keep the roads clean, to keep the walkways clean so that people can walk. As you may have noticed in the past, there is no street in Benin-City that had a walk way. But you find some of our women; they just convert the road to trading post. For years, we have been sermonizing. I came across this young lady who chose to put her wares right on the road thereby creating blockade and obstruction. We are all human and, in my anger, I said to her, `how would you be doing this?’ I asked them to confiscate her wares. She told me ‘I am a widow’ and I said `if you are a widow, must you do things that would make other women widows? By this obstruction you have caused, you could cause accident. You could actually get knocked down. In the process, I probably said something that I should not have said. I want to say that I do appreciate that I come from a very poor background. I understand the pains of the poor. We also need to be careful so that the poor do not create more problems. Just to say to our women that I regret having said what I said to her. But I am troubled by what I see sometimes. We spend tax payers’ money to build roads so that people can walk and yet some of these things happen. I regret that particular action but help us to preach to our women to try and respect the right of way”.
Mrs Ifijeh; her son, Bright; her younger sister, Patience Ajayi; and landlord, Osakpanwa Omobuded, met with Oshiomhole at Government House where they had tea together. The widow, who was interviewed by the governor over what transpired that fateful day, apologized for the episode, pointing out, however, that it was not her intention to sell by the walkway. Oshiomhole pointed out that he had been under fire from his daughters over his uncomplimentary comment to the widow, and sincerely apologized to Mrs Ifijeh. “My anger was that when I saw you blocking the road, I said `do you want people to be killed?’ And you said you are a widow. I am sure you know that we don’t want accidents on our roads and that is why we built the walk ways so that pedestrians will have their way and vehicles will have their way”, he said.
“The second issue is that when you put your goods on the roads, buses can run into you or like those that sell tomatoes or pepper, those things can be contaminated because of the exposure which is not good. That is why I said to you if you are a widow, `do you want more people to be widows?’ But when I said `go and die’, I was really touched that I said that to you because I understand that looking at you, you are struggling. But I was really angry and I realized that, even while angry, I could achieve the same result without talking to you the way I did. I apologize to you from the bottom of my heart because even my own daughters have been harassing me on your behalf. I was really angry that day because I was going round and I found out that so many things were wrong and it was a pity that that anger, that aggression was transferred to you and I hope you forgive me”. He urged the widow to “assist me to talk to traders first to keep our roads clean, not to block the roads so that people walking can have the roads free”. Oshiomhole added: “The state government will employ you to do this job for us and we will give you all the assistance you need”.
On Wednesday, December 4, 2013, Mrs Ifijeh responded to the PDP claim that they gave her N250,000. She said she snubbed the offer because she was satisfied with the apology and offer of a job and N2m by the governor. The widow also said she was not ready to be used as a pawn on the chessboard of politics, advising the party to give the said money to another widow instead. She disclosed this during the presentation of her letter of appointment into the Edo State War Against Indiscipline to her by Special Adviser to Governor Oshiomhole on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Kassim Afegbua, at the Government House.
Afegbua said “the appointment is in fulfillment of Comrade Oshiomhole’s promise to offer the widow employment into the service of government”.
According to him, the appointment takes effect from December 3, 2013.
The Coalition of the Registered Political Parties (CRPP) in Edo State and the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) commended the governor for exhibiting humility by apologizing to the widow. While the CRPP, in a statement by its chairman, Dr Samson Isibor, carpeted the PDP “for making the matter a political issue when they forgot that the woman violated the laws against trading on walkways”, ANEEJ, through its Executive Director, Rev.David Ugolor, noted that the governor demonstrated an uncommon wisdom by apologizing to the widow.