By Evelyn Usman
The Naval Officers Wives Association NOWA Acquisition Centre in Navy Town, Ojo area of Lagos was filled to its capacity, Thursday, with wives of military personnel adorned in their respective uniforms.
But among these women who numbered over two hundred were those not putting on the uniformed attires to indicate the Force their husbands represented. They were not difficult to spot in the gathering. Some of them watched their mates on the other side of the divide with admiration and nostalgia. This category of women were widows of naval personnel who died in active service at various times.
Some of them lost their husbands over a decade or more ago, thereby saddling them with the responsibility of fending for their families and to weather the storm alone.
But in a practical demonstration of regard to plights and an effort to alleviate the resultant challenges faced with widowhood, wife of Chief of Naval Staff and President of NOWA, Mrs Theresa Ibas, had a day out with them and orphans, where they were given tools that would enhance them financially.
Aside these money making tools, they also went home with bags of rice, vegetable oil and clothing materials, as part of preparation for Christmas.
Speaking with journalists at the Widows Empowerment Programme themed “Navigating the Storm: Sailing Forward” Mrs Ibas, explained that the theme was symbolic of the ability to forge ahead in life amidst trials and challenges.
She disclosed that the acquisition centre was built mainly to train widows and orphans, as well as civilians on skills that would empower them financially and by extension, prevent them from going cap in hand to beg
She said, “This empowerment programme was initiated because of the numerous plights wives and mothers go through, especially at the event of losing their loved ones and breadwinners.
We all know that when breadwinners die, their widows are left confused.
“Those of us who belong to the military families know what these widows are passing through and we are all aware of what the insurgents have brought to this country. Some of our boys just went to sea and never came back because they were trying to protect this country. Women are indeed the bedrock of the family and the society at large, and the task of sustaining the home becomes more difficult when the husband is no more. “It is in recognition of the tough situation widows go through in their task as managers at the home front that NOWA empowers them to alleviate hardship.
In order to ensure that their widows and children are not alone, we (NOWA) try to encourage them by bringing them to our skill acquisition centre for an empowerment programs, where they would learn skills that would enhance their financial power. This facility was built to serve the military family and other civilians who are ready to use the opportunity to better their lives.
“We don’t just stop at skill acquisition, we empower widows and orphans with tools that would empower them financially. Before the end of today’s programme, some of them will be going home with sewing machines , industrial cookers among other empowerment tools. This is to help them pay their children’s school fees.
We have so many of them on our list and we have been giving them these empower tools in badges. We will continue until the last person on the list gets hers.
“It is an annual activity but we don’t just stop at doing it once a year, we try to do it as many times as possible”.
Asked how the association sourced for funds for the project, Mrs Ibas said as a non governmental organisation, NOWA , appealed to the the Nigerian Navy and philanthropists for support, in its determination to impact positively on the society especially the naval community and to encourage entrepreneurship. She therefore, called on Nigerians to show love and kindness to the less privileged around them.
Earlier in his remark, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok- Eye Ibas, described the theme as apt, saying that the event would go a long way in ameliorating the feeling of loneliness, social isolation, exclusion and hardships faced by widows.
The CNS who was represented by the Flag Officer Commanding , FOC Western Naval Command , Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, said, “these initiatives by the NOWA leaderships both past and present, have indeed made positive impacts on the lives of countless families. I would like NOWA to keep up the wonderful work and reach out to well-to-do individuals and well meaning organisations nationwide to support the programme”.
The beneficiaries who were taken through sections of discussions on parenting and comportment as widows, expressed gratitude to NOWA for its support. It was also an emotional time for some of them as they recalled how life was snuffed out of thier husbands.
One of them, Mrs Omokwale Esther, who tried as much as she could not to betray her emotion, recalled how her husband and others perished in the ill fated Air Force C130 aircraft, in 1992.
But she was quick to add that she had never been left alone.
She said, “When my son was sick with kidney problem, my mummy, Mrs Ibas stood by me by taking him to India for transplant. She did not leave me alone. Since my husband’s demise, the Navy has really stood by us they don’t allow us lack anything. There is no time she ( Mrs Ibas ) will hear your cry outside that she will not come and assist “.
On her part, Mrs Ayodele Gbenebide, said, “my husband died on his way to work, on active service. On that day, he promised he would be back but never did. We have three children. Since his death, the Navy has been so supportive, they have always paid their fees. Two of our children have graduated and working already while the last one is still in the university. I appreciate Mrs Theresa Ibas for all her efforts to widows of naval personnel. Even those that were sick and not in NHIS were given assistance”.
For Mrs Gift Gidialokun, widow of late Rear Admiral Stephen Anioku, she said, “I am grateful to God for the opportunity of seeing this day. From the day my husband died, there was this call that came from the navy, saying , ‘we are behind you’. Same promise was re-echoed at the grave side and the Navy has kept its promise. I am full of gratitude “.