Idowu Adelusi, Sunday Tribune, 18 September
Now, my new name is rejection; I am no longer wanted. People who heard my story are running away from me, calling me a witch who had killed her husbands.
These were the words of a widow, Mrs Esther Adeola, who had become an object of derision by people around her over the death of her husband.
Eight years ago, her first husband, the father of her first two children, died in a motor accident along Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
In December 2008, she remarried but fate was still cruel to her as the new husband died in September 2010.
As if to multiply her sorrow, a co-tenant who had an altercation with her, called her a witch and accused her of killing her husbands.
The neighbour had reportedly told her: “Don’t kill my husband, you witch. Any man who marries you has signed his death warrant.”
The plight of Mrs Adeola is one in a million of what many widows have been passing through since the death of their husbands.
Unfortunately, some cultures are unkind to widowhood, and women who lose their husbands, are subjected to humiliation.
Agonies of widows were the topic for discussion at a mini-conference organised by Centre for Grassroots Women Advancement and Development (CEGWAD) at its national office in Ibadan recently.
According to the initiator of CEGWAD, a Non Governmental Organisation whose mandate is economic justice and women’s rights, Mrs Priscilla Titilayo Adefioye, this kind of conference is often convened to lecture and empower the widows.
Some of the widows who shared their experiences with Sunday Tribune wept profusely as they spoke . Mrs Sariatu said, “ I lost my husband in 2009 when he and his friend died in a well they were digging. After his death, life became extremely hard for me and my children. I used to sell smoked fish but because of a debt of N94,000 I was owing those who supplied me the fish, I was forced to close shop. My creditors often ambushed my children when hawking the fish and would confiscate the wares because I couldn’t pay what I was owing.
“I have been abandoned by my husband’s family members. One part of the house built by my husband is dilapidated and whenever it rains, it is always as if we are in the rain. I thank God that, the last flood that swept away many houses and people met me and my children in the church.
“The worst harassment and threat to my life as a widow came from a bosom friend of my late husband who insisted on having amorous relationship with me but I refused.”
Another widow, Mrs Fatima Omowumi Durodola, stated that her husband died on September 21, 2005. According to her, the husband, being hypertensive, died from the shock of the news of the killing of a night guard in their area at Wakajaye, Ibadan and that of his younger brother living at Iwo in Osun State, the same day.
“He developed complications immediately and died before afternoon of that day. I have been living from hand to mouth since then. A part of our building was destroyed by the last flood. I therefore call on good people of Nigerians to come to my aid.”
Mrs Josephine Aboki told Sunday Tribune that “it is after your husband’s death that you can know the real persons in your in-laws.
“Two months after my husband’s death, his siblings held a meeting in our house and I was told to surrender the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) of our house, the keys of my own car and that of my husband. I was told to vacate the building immediately after the first year anniversary of my husband’s death.
“My in-laws accused me of witchcraft, saying that I killed their son because I did not want him to marry a lady which they had proposed to replace me with.
“All that the family asked me to do in order to prove my innocence, I did, including drinking urine believed to be that of my late husband. Neither did I die nor fall sick because I know that I did not kill the man.
“Before the expiry date, I packed out of the house to a rented single room with my three children because my children were having terrible nightmares they had never experienced when their father was alive. I did not want to lose any of my children.”
Mrs Joke Adebanji and Mrs Titilayo Akindele lost their husbands to mysterious ailments. Though, the two women were not driven away from their homes, the families of their late husbands left them to their fate. Mrs Akindele said, “If you exert too much pressure on them, they can ask, ‘are we the one who killed your husband?’
However, the CEGWAD Executive Director, Mrs Adefioye said many of the widows were being treated like outcasts and it varies from culture to culture.
Mrs Adefioye said, “many of these women were maltreated as if they were responsible for the death of their husbands. Some were made to swear at their husbands grave side or drink the water used to wash the corpses of their husbands in order to prove their innocence.
“We have visited some places and saw widows confined to a corner of their husbands’ houses till the mourning period is over. Masquerades were made to flog them during funeral ceremonies.
“Some even told us stories of how some priests would have sexual intercourse with them at the riverside all in the name of cleansing.
“The widows on our register are 250, but we are able to cater for 50 because of our limited resources. All these widows can reach CEGWAD on phone. We often call them or send our staff to visit them. There were many interventions done by our organisation to prevent some of these widows from outright annihilation.
“For instance, Mrs Olusola Ejidiran was told by family members of her late husband to either marry a younger brother of her late husband or marry someone outside the family and forfeit the house built by her husband. Through the assistance of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Oyo State chapter, we called the family to order.
“Another example was that of Sariat. CEGWAD wrote a strongly-worded letter to the friend of her late husband asking him to leave the woman alone, and it worked.
“We have taken enlightenment campaigns against maltreatment of widows to many rural areas in order to change people’s orientation about widows.
“We often call these widows to our office for empowerment each time we have supplies of food stuff and clothing materials from organisations and individuals . Some organisations have been collaborating with CEGWAD such as FIDA , Farmers Development Union (FADU) and BOABAB For Women’s Human Rights in order to reduce our burden.
“Also, we have been able to secure soft loans for the widows from micro -finance institutions for them to set up small businesses.
“However, I still want to appeal to organisations, government and individuals to assist these widows, some of who had voiced out their agonies to the public.”
Investigation by Sunday Tribune revealed that maltreatment of the widows contravened their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria and Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as adopted in 1979 by UN General Assembly.
Also speaking, Oyo State Chairperson of FIDA, Mrs Dupe Awosemusi, said her organisation detested maltreatment of the widows.
She cited example of Mrs Ejidiran as one such cases which FIDA had intervened. She said that FIDA has been campaigning through seminars and on radio to stop inhuman treatment of the widows.