HUMAN rights activists and political leaders in Nigeria have called for a concerted action aimed at abolishing all cultural and behavioural practices militating against the full exercise of the rights and privileges of widows in Nigeria. They spoke at the African Widows’ Summit in commemoration of second International Widows Day, pioneered by the Felix King Foundation at the Best Western Hotel, Benin City, Edo State Nigeria.
Among activists that attended the event include Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, Founder, Women Arise Initiative; Dr Mohammed Aliu Momoh, an International Finance and Business Leader and Haija Aisha Yusuf, Co-convener, Bring Back Our Girls campaign.
Presenting a paper titled, Confronting Inequity to Promote Change, Joe Okei-Odumakin called on every Nigerian to see the challenge that widows and other vulnerable women face in the society as one that should be confronted by every individual to enable the positive synthesis that will build communities for the better.
She blamed the continued scourge of maltreatment of widows on the insensitivity of those not directly involved and the silence of those who found themselves as victims and said it is a debt society owes itself as a mutually functional growing unit to protect the vulnerable ones among them.
“Society must come together to fight this scourge. There are those who keep silence apparently in the feeling that it does not directly affect them. But I must state that the people who keep quiet in the face of such a situation are either cowards or traitors,” she stated.
Citing a number of cases of deprivation in which her organization has intervened in the past, Dr Okei-Odumakin advised women to be brave and speak out when their rights are trampled upon, especially, as is prevalent, upon the departure of their husbands, assuring their voices would be heard by those ready and willing to offer help and support.
Also speaking on the paper themed; “Girl Child Education: Panacea for Potential Growth,” Aisha Yusuf blamed the scourge of maltreatment of widows and the vulnerable in our society on ignorance, saying that spreading education to the poor and the vulnerable will go a long way in preparing them for the task of effectively fighting for their rights if and when the situation arises.
She lamented the situation where Nigerian women are denied rights of inheritance and in other cases even basic education and advised men to invest in the education of their girl children while also ensuring that they hold their wives in confidence and empower them to make certain critical decisions that will play critical roles in the furure survival of their families when they depart this world.
Earlier in his address, Founder of the Felix King Foundation, Mr. Felix King Eiremiokhae, lamented the plight of widows in society and said his Foundation was established, not to solve all the myriad problems, but to blaze the trail and hopefully inspire others to embrace the movement that will alter the cultural practices that lead to the disempowerment and maltreatment of widows.
He said his Foundation has over the past two years, not only organized the first ever widows summit in Nigeria, but gone ahead to make interventions aimed at ameliorating the sufferings of widows in the society.
“I am of the strong belief that when we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society. This is so because the Divine order of social evolution presupposes that we protect one another, speak for one another and advance the cause of one another and when we, for one reason or the other, deny the weak and vulnerable among us what is their due, we are disrupting that Divine order,” he said
Felix King, who had earlier presented a Private Members’ Bill to the Edo State House of Assembly in his quest to give legislative teeth to the abolishment of ill-treatments against widows called on all peoples of all nationalities and callings to embrace his call by not only supporting widows but take it upon themselves as duty to fight for them whenever they encounter where they are being maltreated.
Also lending her voice to the campaign, wife of the Governor of Edo State, Mrs. Betsy Obaseki, commended the Felix King Foundation for his timely initiative and promised the support of of her pet project, the Edo Women for Agriculture (EWA) towards empowering widows by encouraging them to adopt those of them who wish to embrace agriculture.
She expressed the hope that with the initiative embarked upon by the Foundation, Edo State and other States in Nigeria will soon make very conscious and deliberate efforts that will change the circumstances of widows.
Among other dignitaries that attended the event are the Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Justin Okonoboh, Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon (Mrs.) Elizabeth Ativie, members of the academia and political leaders of Edo State.
Meanwhile, the Foundation had earlier presented a 32 page private bill to the Edo State House of Assembly in Benin City, seeking to make the obnoxious practice and custom in the state unlawful.
At the presentation, the Speaker, Okonoboh promised to work along with his colleagues to ensure quicker passage of the bill in law. “I am aware there are other bills like this one but we are going to harmonized them and come out with a suitable law that will checkmate this kind of practice on our communities,” Okonoboh said.
The foundation on the same day paid a courtesy call to the wife of the governor, Mrs. Obaseki, who also pledged her support towards eradication of widows’ maltreatment in Edo State.