A 37 year old widow Chinenye Okonkwo has cried out over an alleged oppression by brothers of her late husband in Oraifite, Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State. She accused her inlaws of taking over properties that her husband left for her and her five children, a boy and four girls aged between six and 14 years. She says that before her husband died in 2017 at the unripe age of 45 he had moulded blocks which he intended to use in erecting a 4-bedroom bungalow for the family but death aborted the plan. One of the man’s brothers, according to her story, started encroaching on the late brother’s land, even carried the blocks away and her plantains. The dead man’s elder brother, a pastor, yes a pastor, sent her away with the advice that she can go and look for another husband. “I am struggling to pay the rent and school fees,” said the widow. She says she has reported the matter to the leaders in the community, the widows’ association to which she belongs and to the Women Lawyers Association but all of them are helpless. And if anyone speaks in her favour the dead man’s brothers have a ready riposte: “you are sleeping with her.”

What is happening to Mrs Okonkwo is a commonplace phenomenon in most parts of Nigeria. Women are generously badly treated and widows get even worse deals because their husbands are not there to protect them from intimidation and humiliation and harassment by some family members. In this family there is even a pastor who you should expect to be ready and willing to give the brother’s widow the gift of Good Samaritanism according to the Good Book. But the truth is that in this country and in many other developing countries appropriate values are adversely affected by poverty, illiteracy, religion, ancient customs and traditions. If there is no one strong willed enough in the family to resist the imposition of such sometimes weird customs and traditions then there is an elongation of such evil practices.

When my father died at the relatively young age of 50 years in 1972 he left behind five wives. My senior brother and I were in our early twenties and none of us had a university degree then. My father’s relations said that the two of us had, by tradition, to marry the five widows. I had never heard of such a tradition so I was aghast but they were serious. I told them that all the women were our mothers and we could not marry our mothers. If we married our mothers would we sleep with them? That would be incest. As they couldn’t persuade us to accept the weird proposition, they had to drop the idea. Another family experience. When my senior brother died some years ago his children were young and so the responsibility for his burial expenses became my burden. We had a burial committee that had the responsibility of collecting donations from friends, family members and well-wishers. At the end of the burial they rendered account to our family and said that I should keep the money since I was the one that funded the burial. I disagreed with them because the man left a widow and four children behind. These children needed to go to school. That responsibility belonged to the widow. I therefore did not see why I should pocket the donations eventhough I bankrolled the burial. They insisted I should keep the money. I objected and handed over the money to the widow. I also asked one of our relations who was a banker to assist her to grow the money so that she will be able to use the proceeds to take care of the children.

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I also had an interesting experience at Newswatch. When one of our staff died the wife came with her children to collect the man’s terminal entitlements. The Admin Manager had prepared the payment voucher in the widow’s name without checking the man’s employment form to ascertain who was the next of kin. I insisted that I wanted to see his employment form. When the form was brought I noticed that the man filled his brother’s name as the next of kin, not his wife or his children. When I showed the woman the document she burst into tears. I now had the double responsibility of consoling her as well as solving a knotty problem that I had on my plate. I told her I would call the man’s brother to a meeting and that I would suggest to him to allow her collect the money because of the children. If he rejected it I would suggest that they share the money in a proportion acceptable to both of them. I told her that I would not show him the form filled by his late brother so that if he decided to go to court he would have no evidence to substantiate his claim.

The man came for the meeting and he proved to be a reasonable man so we were able to resolve the matter peacefully. I had told this story in my column some time ago and one NGO got in touch with me when they read about the effort I made to help the widow. They said that I didn’t need to go to such length to assist the widow because there was a Lagos State law that would have taken care of the situation. I considered that to be a textbook approach to the problem. I solved the problem without the rigorous, expensive and time wasting process of going from one court to another for several years. Of course, if there was no way of resolving the matter outside of the court room the court would be the place to go to.

Many inlaws are patently evil. They often accuse the widows without proof of killing their husbands. That is a ploy for them to use in taking over the dead man’s properties from the woman. A few years ago I was in Akwa Ibom State when one of our friends collapsed and died suddenly. I suspect that he had stroke. One of the man’s brothers, a very lousy young man, accused the wife of killing her husband so that she will take over the man’s wealth. We had a meeting with members of the family. The brother who made the accusation against the woman presented no scintilla of evidence to establish that she killed him. He was simply insisting that he knows that she killed him because she was a luxury-loving woman. And instead of making arrangement for the burial of his brother he insisted that his dead body should be taken to one Pentecostal church because he would be revived like Lazarus in the Bible. They foolishly took his body there and when the body started smelling in their church the church leaders asked the relations to come and take the corpse away. But the rascally brother of the dead man continued to persecute the widow.

There are many such stories of shabby treatment to widows all over the place. Sometimes the relations suddenly emerge, after the man’s death, with an allegation of infidelity against the widow, an accusation that never existed before, an accusation for which they have no proof. The whole idea is to find a justification for maltreating her and taking the man’s property away from her and her children. Sometimes, the issue is that the woman delivered only girls and for them girls are inferior to boys because when girls get married the family name is lost. Such nonsense! That is also the kind of reasoning that goes into denying girls the virtue of education. Their claim is often that girls’ education is useless to the family because when they get married after school, they only earn an income for the husband’s families. Such nonsense!

In the Anambra State case, Mrs Okonkwo has one boy and four girls. They cannot therefore accuse her of boylessness. May be their logic will now be that she has only one boy and four girls since they have to find a reason to take away the dead man’s shoes and sweater and slippers.

If there is no law in Anambra State that firbids what is happening to Mrs Okonkwo and her children, Governor Chukwuma Soludo should get a law enacted as soon as possible. Soludo is a very well educated man and should not allow such primitivity to continue to rear its ugly head in his State. The State Ministry that caters for women and or social welfare or human rights should swing into action and save the woman and her children from the needless harassment that they are going through. It is tragic enough that they have lost their husband, father and breadwinner. To go through what they are going through means double tragedy, double whammy. They don’t need that. Nobody needs that in one lifetime. I request Governor Soludo to step into the matter and bring rescue to Mrs Okonkwo and her children. By that action he will be giving needed succour to a family that needs it most when it needs it most.