Wives of slain soldiers cry out, speak of neglect

We have not abandoned families of fallen colleagues – Military

From: MURPHY GANAGANA with additional reports from ROSE EJEMBI (Makurdi), LAYI OLANREWAJU (Ilorin), JOHN ADAMS (Minna), GYANG BERE (Jos) and LINUS OOTA (Lafia)

Military residential quarters across the country, especially in the North Central are, in manner of speaking, becoming barracks of widows. Here, spouses of officers and soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty, live in sorrow, pain and anguish.

Investigations by our correspondents revealed a swelling number of widows in these barracks, as the armed forces take the lead in quelling the Boko Haram insurgency, in the North-East and armed agitations in the Niger Delta, and other parts of the country.

Since her Kogi State-born hubby, Corporal Olawole Omo, was felled by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno State, February 2015, it has been one day, one trouble for Mrs. Mabel Omo, a 27-year-old widow and mother of three children, Vivian aged 9; Lawrence (5), and Dominion, (2).

Olawole, 33, was all Mrs. Mabel Omo, had at the 3 Battalion, Nigerian Army, David Ejoor Barracks, Effurun, Delta State, where he served until death came knocking.

For now, the world seems to have crumbled for the young widow who hails from Sabongida-Ora, Edo State. Mabel got married in 2007, barely a year after completing her secondary education at the Golden Height International School, Zaria, Kaduna State.

Nine years later, her beloved husband was gone and she is lost in a wilderness, depressed and hopeless.

Mabel’s lot is representative of the lot of over 20 other widows at the David Ejoor Barracks, captured in an emotion-laden telephone chat with one of our correspondents.

Those spoken to were spouses of late Lance Corporals Akula Bendega, Mohammed Jibrin, Nturap Bisong, Archibong Enang, and Corporal Isaac Cletus.

“Widows of soldiers killed in action are passing through hell; since my husband died in February, last year, I have been suffering with my children. Though they are still paying his salary, it doesn’t come regularly like when he was alive; before, salary comes latest by the 28th of the month, now it comes sometimes on the 7th or 10th of the next month.

“How to feed with my three children and pay their school fees has become problematic, and they are yet to pay his death benefits; here at the 3 Battalion Barracks, widows are engaged in sweeping the premises and they are paid N5, 000 monthly. Even though I am a secondary school certificate holder with five credits, I applied for the sweeping job along with some others, but they told me there was no vacancy. How do I survive, because I was a full-time housewife and doing nothing before my husband died?

“The authorities should help widows with empowerment schemes to reduce our plight, those who have certificates should be provided with jobs”, one of the widows, pleaded, while sobbing.

For widows at the 177 Guards Battalion, Shittu Alao Barracks, Keffi, Nasarawa State, a promise by the government has turned a misplaced optimism. One of them, Hauwa Salisu, disclosed that survival had been at the mercy of God for the 81 widows in the barracks, since the death of their husbands at the battlefield in the North-east and other parts of the country.

More burdensome, she said, is the fate of the children left behind by the fallen heroes.

Hauwa, further disclosed that of the 81 widows at the Shitu Alao Barracks, about 18 of them lost their husbands to the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast, and the wives of 11 out of 18 slain soldiers are yet to receive their husbands’ entitlements, while seven of them have been paid, adding that 61 widows lost their husbands in varying circumstances, including auto crashes and natural causes.

Though she has been paid her husband’s death benefits, it has so far been a long, lonely struggle for survival for Mrs. Mary Audu, 35, who lost her spouse in 2014, to marauding insurgents in Maiduguri. The fate of her three children, Sunday, Martha and Janet in the future, frightened her every moment of her life, since the death of her husband.

Mary said she is about quitting the Shittu Alao Barracks as the authorities had shown her a red card, having stayed for the permissible period of one year after her husband’s demise. Though she is into trading, she revealed regretfully, that some of the widows who collected the death benefits of their husbands along with her had misused the funds and were no longer finding life easy. “Their children have been sent out of school due to non-payment of fees; daily feeding has become a problem and most of them have resorted to sleeping with men here and there to eke a living”.

For Mrs. Ali, whose husband died in April, last year, in Borno State, she is yet to get the husband’s benefits. But the authorities are disturbing her to pack out of the barracks.

“I am a full-time housewife, I don’t have anything doing since I lost my husband in Borno and do not have a means of taking care of the children he left behind; we find it very difficult to even feed, thank God for my parents who consistently sent food for us; I can’t pay the children’s school fees, I am suffering because the Military Board has neglected us”, Mrs. Ali, declared.

But a senior officer in the barracks, who pleaded anonymity because he was not permitted to speak with the media, said the maximum period a widow could be allowed to stay in the barracks after the death of her spouse is one year, because they had to leave to make way for others.

On the issue of entitlements, he said it was beyond the Command as all  necessary information were forwarded to the Military Headquarters and Board for documentation, verification and payment, adding that the delay in processing them, always came from the head office and the banks.

At the Air Force Base in Makurdi, Benue State, headquarters of the Tactical Air Command (TAC), only about three widows are said to be presently living in the barracks. It is however, a different story at the 72 Battalion and NASME barracks both located in the North Bank axis of the State capital, where about 50 of the widows live.

Like others, Mrs. Lizzy Samson (real name withheld by us), resident at the Air Force Base, has a bitter narration. For her, August 25, 2015, would forever be a day to remember, but not for something cheery. It was the day her husband, a Flight Sergeant, was gruesomely killed in an explosion in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, by Boko Haram insurgents.

Recounting her story to one of our correspondents in Makurdi recently, the mother of four said death snatched her husband unannounced on the ill-fated day, as she had earlier spoken with him on the phone, telling him she needed money to attend to some family issues and had got assurance that her request would be met at month end.

Her regret is that despite sacrificing his life for the country, her husband had little or nothing to show for it, saying that the death benefits already paid, was barely enough to cater for the needs of her four children.

She disclosed that other women who lost their husbands in similar circumstances were ejected from the barracks as soon as their husbands’ death benefits were paid, appealing to the military authorities to make good its promise by employing one of her children as well as establish her in business so that she could take up the responsibility of catering for her children.

It was  learnt that some of the widows ejected from the barracks following the death of their husbands in the line of duty, have hired houses outside  and taken to petty trading, while some of their female children engaged in prostitution to keep body and soul together.

A visit to the Rukuba Barracks in Jos, Plateau State, revealed widows wallowing in self pity as they are left to fend for themselves and their children without assistance from the authorities.

One of the widows, who declined mentioning her name, said she lost contact with her husband in December, 2014 and had not got a concrete word on his whereabouts or death from the army authorities to date. “His allowances were paid for a period of time, but they suddenly stopped. We are living by God’s grace; we can’t feed and money is not forthcoming. Up to date, nobody has explained to me how my husband died; his death benefits have not been paid, I was told they are on the process, but life has been hell over here”.

Martina Cletus, widow of Sergeant Cletus Gopil, is one of those who live in Plateau State. Her husband, who had been shuttling between Maiduguri and the creeks in the Niger Delta, was gruesomely killed in her presence last month, at his home in Jos.

She says not even a dime was given by the authorities for his burial, and no one has given her hope. Her children have been sent packing from school, just as hope of her eldest child who was preparing to take the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), dimmed.

At the Sobi Cantonment in Ilorin, Kwara State, the Mammy market was scanty and looked deserted, as several shops were under lock and key, with a few traders who opened for business wearing forlorn faces, indicative of poor patronage occasioned by the economic recession in the country.

However, on Railway Line, close to the post office in the Kwara State capital, where some widows of slain military officers could be found, the stench of ‘ogogoro,’ a locally brewed gin, and aroma of pork and dog meat, welcomed the reporter as he snaked through shanties made of corrugated roofing sheets.

Sitting at a corner was Mary Joshua, a lady in her late 40s, who hails from the Southern district of Kaduna State, dishing out orders to four young persons, working for her.

She is one of the numerous women married to military personnel, who died on the front line. In a slow, barely audible voice, laced with pain, she whispered to our correspondent that the family was yet to be paid the late husband’s entitlements since 2014 when he died.

For wives and children of soldiers at the 31 Field Artillery Brigade in Minna, Niger state, killed in the line of duty, most of those awaiting payment of the gratuity and insurance of their late breadwinners, have turned to farming for survival.

Out of the over 50 widows who lost their husbands to insurgents in the North-east and are still living at the Minna Military Cantonment with their children, 20 of them are into farming for survival, while others are engaged in petty trading within and outside the barracks.

“The authorities in this barracks have been trying for us because each time there is festivity, like Sallah and Christmas, they always remember all of us. Anything that is shared in the barracks, we also get our own. Sometimes, the Oga (Brigade Commander) would share money to only the widows in the barracks”, a 27 year old widow, said.

However, the story is not the same for some of the widows who recently lost their husbands in a bloody clash between the military and some communities in Bosso Local Government Area of the state.

While the widows of the victims of Boko Haram insurgency seemed to have accepted their fate since it was expected in a theatre of war, those of the 11 soldiers killed during a clash with the communities in August, this year, are yet to overcome the shock.

“Since he was not going to war but just an ordinary cordon and search duty in a village, I was not afraid or disturbed that he would not return, until we got the news early in the morning that they have killed many soldiers in that village. That morning, I tried his phone number severally but he did not pick. I kept calling until the phone went blank. I waited for him to return and even went to check if he was among those injured, only to be told that he was brutally killed,” a widow of one of the soldiers killed at Bosso, lamented.

Saturday Sun investigations revealed that the worst fear of the widows is being robbed of the death benefits of their late husbands, by their husbands’ family members, who oftentimes, collect the payments made by the military authorities because they were documented as the next-of-kin, leaving the widows helpless and hopeless.

Mrs. Hauwa Salisu puts it succinctly: “the most disturbing issue is the pressure from family members of the deceased officer; most families forcefully collected the entitlements and denied the widow and children access to such funds, thereby increasing the hardship for most of us. The military authorities should formulate policies and programmes to end the plight of widows; poverty alleviation schemes and other support efforts should be made available to widows of all ages both within and outside the barracks. The National and State Assemblies should pass laws specifically protecting the interest of wives of military officers who died in active service. At the moment, we are neglected, hopeless, and living under perpetual psychological torture. We’ve been robbed of joy and peace”.

But Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar, Director of Defence Information (DDI), countered the widows’ claims in a text message to Saturday Sun, saying “the welfare of personnel is a top priority in the present leadership of the military. It is against this that series of welfare arrangements are put in place such as Insurance schemes Nigerian Army Widows Insurance Scheme (NAWIS) and the Benevolent Fund. There is also group life insurance scheme. This is for those died in active service. Equally, there is sponsorship arrangement for four children of deceased personnel.

“There is the post housing and national health insurance scheme. All these are set for military personnel in the case of death or incapacitation in the cause of duties. It should be stated that every process has guidelines which must be followed strictly, to protect both beneficiaries and the institution in observance of prudency and transparency which may come with some administrative pains in forms of delay in accessing of payment of these initiatives.”