The increasing level of widows’ maltreatment in Nigeria is frightening. According to the last data released, Nigeria has over 8 million widows with an estimated 21 million children. Mr. Felix King, Founder, Felix King Foundation who spoke to our correspondent said that the challenges will be best tackled by engages custodians of customs in the communities rather than sponsoring a bill. Excerpts
How did you come about Felix King Foundation?
The foundation was officially launched in 2015 and this is more of a divine mandate to provide succour to vulnerable widows and their children in Nigeria. Because it is a divine mandate it is God who knows why He gaves it to me. However, from personal experience it is heartbroken once we see what widows in Nigeria go through. And this suffering and maltreatment are made possible by customs and traditions. However, our aim is not only to ameliorate their suffering and agony but also bring their plight to the attention of government and communities and why we should stop it.
What do you mean by personal experience?
What I mean is that this is what we see every day in the society. From one part of the society to another there is always a widow close to us hence the awareness of the inhumane treatment meted on these people. Because customs allow a lot of these things it is fast becoming unbearable yoke and I believe this defies religions because sometimes people merge tradition and religion and when you look at religion and human dignity, people with conscience would start to think that these things are not proper because these widows are either some people’s mothers, sisters or daughters. So we believe is something we need to add our voice to and apart from trying to lend our support we think if others begin to condemn this act and desist from practising them, the aim of ending this obnoxious customs may have come sooner than later.
Apart from creating this awareness, what other things have done since you started?
When you talk about widowhood in Nigeria the problem is bigger than we think. Statistics show that we have over 8 million disadvantaged widows and with an estimated 21 million children. This is a huge epidemic that Nigeria is facing. So what we are trying to do is to lend our little support towards reducing their plight. We have set up an empowerment scheme, which is start-up trade fund. Hundreds of widows have benefited from it. We help them identity trading opportunity and finance it for them. So it is like giving them hook rather than fish. Each of these women got an average of three hundred and fifty thousand-(N350, 000) Naira last year to start a business because we believe that once their source of income is guaranteed, then the future of their kids is equally securedWe also believe that children education is very important and unfortunately we also discovered that some of these children have dropped out of school upon the demise of their breadwinners. To ensure most of them go back to school, we have set up a scholarship scheme. Last year, tens of children were given scholarship and like I said tens is nothing compared to 21 million children in this category. However, we need to start from somewhere.We equally established a medical scheme to support some of these widows’ children and we give them social support in terms of food items. But we did something very profound last year December by instituting a programme solely dedicated to the widows of police officers.And this year January, we flagged off the N30million widows’ empowerment fund, where we will be disbursing money to widows to start their own businesses. We have broken them into income groups and at this stage screening and registration is going on and when that is done we start disbursing the fund.
It is a nationwide programme but the first phase begins in Edo and Lagos states. This year priority is the military and the policemen widows.
How would this fund be distributed?
This is not a loan. It is an empowerment scheme and when we give them this money we try to encourage them to start a trade. So what we do is to work with groups. For instance, we are working with widows’ associations in the states, where all their members are known and we are screening them; from that screening, we give them the money. I strongly believe a widow would rather put that money into something good than squander it. But for the police we are working with the authorities where all these women could be identified.
Do you have a system that monitors their progress?
We do. But when you give ten people money there are one or two who may not make good use of the money. Meanwhile, the report we have received is satisfactory. We have visited few of them and we found that most of them now have reason to want to live. For instance, there is a woman who started with N300, 000 and now she has over a million naira. That is some cheering news and we are encouraged to do even more.
Felix King Charity Foundation started a revolution on this issue in 2016 with a symposium in Lagos, How would rate last year event vis-a-vis the awareness on the plight of widows in Nigeria?
Being the inaugural edition, I think it was huge success. This year we are taking last year gains to the second phase of the campaign. Last year we focused on the rights of widows; the idea was to let them know they actually have rights. They have right to basic amenities, right to live normal life, right to their deceased spouses’ property and estate and right to inheritance. However, this year goes beyond just fighting for their rights. We need to look at the root of disinheriting widows, root of widows maltreatment and root cause of widows living a deplorable life. This root is mobilizing people and driving the message and giving a voice to a campaign whereby we can all push the maltreatment of these widows to end.
So we are kick starting the ‘end widows’ maltreatment now campaign’ this year because once you end the maltreatment all these other things will become a non-issue. When people stop maltreatment of widows by denying them their right to inheritance, them then we will be fine. When we start to have a situation when you can abolish maltreatment whereby a woman’s dignity is being restored and not trampled upon because she lost her husband, when we get the abolition of maltreatment right then every other thing would be sorted. The widow will no longer be ejected from the house where she built with her husband or denied the happiness of living a normal life.
What has been the government response to this crusade since so many of them were present at last year event?
I think the government is making its effort but again this is the problem that has been on from generation to generation. So what we are trying to do now is to form a lobby group where we will be bringing in traditional rulers, local chiefs, village heads and community leaders because they are the custodians of these customs and traditions.