Some really heartbreaking stories have been told of how widows are treated in some parts of Igboland in this report by Vanguard.
There are varying stories in various Igbo communities on how widows are treated. Some are ugly and terrifying. Many of them are deprived of their husband’s properties, including those they acquired together as couples.
This is notorious on widows who do not have children. In some cases, for widows who don’t have male child, a situation the Supreme Court decision on female inheritance is already taking care of. Besides inheritance, some traditions prescribe other dehumanizing practices which widows go through.
Indeed, some of the stories from the women are quite pathetic and pitiable. However, some communities have tried to stop some of these obnoxious traditions.
Respite is coming to some communities with educated traditional rulers coupled with the efforts of churches and non-governmental organizations, NGOs.
But it’s not yet uhuru for some unfortunate women who lost their husbands as some communities still insist on the old ways.
These ugly treatments meted to widows in Igbo land vary from community to community and some are simply inhuman. They range from deprivation, denial of certain rights to subjecting them to observe some inhuman and archaic customs and traditions.
The victims hardly have the gut to narrate what they passed through for fear of intimidation by those who are behind the evil practice.
And for some, it is scary casting their minds back to what they went through. The few that braved it told South East Voice that they would not like to remember the experience and those who did spoke anonymously or without full names.
The experience is scary — Anonymous
One of them, Dorothy is a childless widow. She loved her late husband so much that when it was clear that she was not going to bear babies, she urged him to take a second wife.
Her words: “We loved ourselves dearly and because I didn’t want his name to be completely erased out from the family’s history. I persuaded him to take a second wife. My husband reluctantly did my bidding. Soon after the second wife started making babies, the woman began to make the home uncomfortable for me.
“Honestly, my husband did not like what she was doing to me, but I tried to bear the taunts with equanimity until my husband died. Age was no longer on my side.
“The woman and her children took over all the assets. I was not even allowed into the parlour of our house again and feeding became very problematic.
“I was left with no other option than to return to my maiden home where I am now receiving all the care I need. I must say that nobody from my husband’s family has ever come to see me or give me any kobo for my upkeep. I can tell you that women who do not have good and caring relations like me will not last long. They would have since become history.”
But the case of Augustina is different. She had two daughters for her husband. In most Igbo families, daughters do not count much and the position of a woman without a son is on a precipice.
This still persists in some communities despite the Supreme Court decision against it, perhaps because no much enlightenment has been carried about it.
“It is on record that my late husband was not the bread winner of the family. The upkeep of the family rested squarely on my shoulders and it didn’t bother me.
“When he died, all my brothers-in-law stridently wanted to have a share of my ‘honey pot’. When I consistently turned down their moves, trouble set in and I never knew any peace thereafter.
“There was no longer anything good about me. I became excluded from everything in the family, including farmlands. The antagonism was so much that I had to leave the family house. Nobody has asked after us or cared about my welfare and that of the children till today. Such is my lot”, she lamented.
Evelyn, yet another victim, may be described as “a rustic village girl” before she got married to her heartthrob. They moved to the city and made good money. They bought landed properties and had a chain of motor spare part stores. Her husband died in a ghastly road traffic crash and everything automatically changed for Evelyn.
“I was branded a witch and accused of killing my own husband. They did not see how a-nobody suddenly became super-rich soon after we got married. I was said to be the sneaky mermaid that brought the riches and snuffed out his life. Immediately his brothers got wind of his death, they stormed our house in Lagos, searched all the rooms and boxes, took whatever documents they could lay their homes on and left.
“The stores were not left out. They sacked our staff and apprentices, locked up everything and left with the keys. The scramble for property thus began while I was still trying to grapple with the sad loss of my husband. None of his brothers and sisters cared to know that their late brother had children to be cared for.
“The family fixed the burial date and only informed me, as if I was a stranger. They took over our house in the village and controlled every space in the house, minus a room on the ground floor, which was left for my children and I.
“Since they had the mortuary tally, I decided to play along. I was left to take care of my friends, relations and my late husband’s colleagues.
“One fateful evening before the burial, they invited me to the family house, for what they called a pre-burial meeting. It turned out to be question time and lashing.
“They sought to know the number of properties, houses, cars, stores and undeveloped plots of land my husband had. I recounted how they had taken everything.
“Not satisfied, like I thought then and even now, they switched over to my being responsible for my husband’s death, via occult practice. At this point, I wept uncontrollably but it didn’t shake them.
“They insisted that I must swear that I wasn’t responsible for his death by drinking the bath water from his corpse. This was medically, a very unhealthy thing to do but I had to do it to prove my innocence and love of my late husband.
“Several years down the line, I am still living with the children. All the cars they forcibly removed have all grounded. The shops have become history and they, I understand, have virtually sold the buildings they snatched, while none of them have cared to ask after the children.
“It is a thing of joy that by the special grace of God and the benevolence of my late husband’s true friends, I started a new business that has kept feeding my children, paying their school fees and taking care of their medical bills.
“It has been very long since I took my children to their father’s village. They are adults now and I am afraid that their uncles may harm them but I have heard the children vowing that they must recover their father’s house in the village.”, Evelyn narrated.
Even fellow women are not free from the ill treatment of widows.
In some communities, widows are quarantined, barred from taking their bath for days or weeks and restrained from receiving, especially male visitors and women are the ones that enforce these ugly practices.
If, for any reason, the daughters of the community, Umuada, received any complaint from the husband against the wife before his death, they usually unleash terror, indeed, all manner of unprintable things on the widow.
The shaving of the woman’s hair in all cases is done by the women; though it has been eradicated in some communities. Some widows out of their free choice do it as a mark of respect, not strictly as part of obnoxious tradition.
The wearing of mourning dress is a must and she must not stay outside the family home by sunset.
Efforts of some non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and enlightened royal fathers have paid off in eradicating some of these traditions.
Practices are archaic and truly harmful – Eze Obirieze
The traditional ruler of Ihitte Okwe autonomous community, Eze Barnabas Obirieze, in a recent chat with South East Voice, agreed that “these harmful widowhood practices are archaic and truly harmful”, and wondered why women should be subjected to all manner of dehumanizing practices because they are widows.
He condemned the practice of forcing a widow to drink the bath water from her husband’s corpse to prove her innocence of any allegation.
“What will you call drinking water from a dead man’s body? This is terrible. I am against family members that forcibly remove their dead brother’s property from his legitimate wife.
“In the same way, I can’t support a woman who willingly kills her husband, so as to inherit his property. I treat widowhood practices dispassionately whenever anyone is brought before me”, Eze Obirieze said.
In Ihiagwa autonomous community, also in Imo State, the traditional ruler, Eze Lucky Ajoku, said that his community has continued to prioritize the welfare of widows in the area before any other thing.
According to the monarch, the decision was taken in recognition of the vulnerability of widows. So, there is need to protect them from the intimidation and impoverishment usually from the relatives to their late husbands.
“The truth is that the widows are vulnerable. There is conscious effort to protect them from oppressive relatives. There are people who would want to come and take over their piece of land. When they come to me, I always ensure that justice is given to them because their husbands are not there. So, we resist this move against the widows.
“I have my cabinet. I also have council of elders that mediate. We have delivered a landmark judgment of a widow that her husband’s relatives were trying to collect half plot of land they shared and they brought the matter to the council of elders after which they refused to implement.
“hey brought it to me and I made sure they returned the widow’s land to her and it was done. I have the council of elders. They look into these matters and when they cannot resolve it they forward the matter to me. Those are avenue of conflict resolutions. We stood for them,“ Eze Ajoku explained.
I was denied my husband’s properties for allegedly killing him – Aged widow
A widow, simply addressed, as Mrs Kate Nwankwo, shared a bitter experience of how she was denied her husband’s properties by his brothers before he was buried in Aba.
Mrs Nwankwo, aged 62, explained that she toiled with her late husband to acquire lands and properties as they got married when her husband had no job.
She stated that her husband started having problems with his siblings when he stopped giving them money because several efforts he made to assist them were wasted.
In her words; “My problem with my husband’s siblings started even before his corpse was taken to the mortuary. As soon I informed them about his death, after a long sickness, they stormed our house with some thugs requesting some documents about land, buildings and other properties. These are properties we jointly acquired because he had nothing when we wedded.
“They accused me of killing my husband, but they only visited once to see their sick brother. Several efforts my husband made to enable them become self dependent were wasted. They continued to waste money believing that their rich brother is available to continue spending on them.
“The man refused to do more. They saw me as one who stopped their brother from continuing assisting them. They said I have no child for their brother and should have no share in his properties.
“So, his death was an opportunity to deal with me. They even threatened to kill me which made me to lodge a report at the police station in Aba.”
Nwankwo lamented that all efforts by her people and her husband’s kinsmen to allow her access to the properties was futile, stressing that the matter is now in court.
Anti-widow practices should be abolished – Cleric
For a cleric, Pastor Christopher Ononuju, all practices against widows in Nigeria, especially among Igbo people, should be abolished.
Ononuju, who is the Abia State Overseer of the Church of God Seventh Day, Nigeria, explained that in most communities in Igbo land, a widow is denied benefitting from her husband properties when he dies.
“We are not being fair to widows; the treatment we mete out to them after the death of their husband is appalling. Widows toil to build families with their husbands, but their pains start when their husbands die. In some cases, she is even accused of being behind the death of her husband.
“The situation may be worse if the husband was a wealthy man. She is denied benefitting from properties she may have jointly acquired with her husband during his life.
In other places, a widow is even made to drink the water from her husband’s corpse just to prove her innocence. This is unfair. Anti widow practices should be abolished. The Holy Bible frowns at the persecution of widows; people should avoid maltreating widows and honour them”, the cleric said.
According to the traditional ruler of Ihe Nsukka autonomous community in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, Igwe George F.O Asadu, widows in his community are always protected from undue molestation and intimidations from the deceased husband’s kinsmen.
He said he had always risen in defense of the widows when their cases are brought to his palace for judgment, saying that he feels embittered by to terrible fate some of them go through in some communities outside his jurisdiction.
“Some of them suffer terrible fate. In some cases, their late husbands’ lands and other properties are forcefully taken away from them. I have passed so many judgments to ensure that their rights are not taken away from them. If the case comes to my hearing, I always wade into to pass a fair judgment.
“If the widow has only female children who are not married, I always ensured that her husband’s estate is not taken from her. In other cases, the male children of the widow would be trying to take over the property of their late father, in such cases; I always insisted that the widow wins, because she struggled to acquire such property with her late husband.
“So, until she dies, the property belongs to her, not her male children. Cases like these, are always amicably resolved in my palace and I have always stood my ground to ensure that widows’ rights are protected”, the monarch said.
State govts should make laws to protect widows – Anaekwe
But a prominent traditional titled holder in Anambra State, and former President General of Onitsha Market Amalgamated traders Association, OMATA, Chief Ozoh Anaekwe, blamed the couples for not putting their house in order while alive. According to him, generally the maltreatment of most widows start from their husbands.
For instance, most men are at war with almost everybody around them, some men are so troublesome that they fight everybody around them, they are never at peace with anybody and so when they die their widows and children suffer the consequences of their actions.
“Some men while they are a live, do not show their siblings love and once they are not there due to death, their widows suffer in the hands his siblings and people.
“So as a man, make sure you are at peace with people around you, if of you are wealthy try to affect your siblings, other relations, your kindred and your community, and help the less privilege, help other widows, when you die, if anybody wants to victimize or maltreat your widow and your children, those that you helped will defend them, your widow and your children won’t suffer.
But “no doubt there are some obnoxious traditions that also maltreat and victimize women, but I think that such traditions should be abolished where they still exist.
“However, as far as my community Ifitedunu is concerned and indeed Dunukofia Local Government, Anambra State, is concerned such obnoxious traditions that victimize widows and their children do not exist anymore.
“All those traditions do not exist in more in our communities; I do not know about other places but in my community and council areas they have all been abolished.
“However, women always need protection and it is left to the community leaders, President General of communities, traditional rulers of communities to give them, especially widows such protection.
“It is the duty of the traditional rulers, the Presidents General and village or kindred Chairmen to enact the rules that will protect the widows and orphans and the less privilege in every community. Everything about maltreatment and victimization of widows or anybody in the community depends on the leadership.
“The state government thorough the State Houses of Assembly should enact laws and mandate the traditional rulers and the town unions to protect the widows and their children from such maltreatments and victimization”, Anaekwe posited.
Even the constitution of Nigeria which supersedes every other custom or law condemns inhuman treatments, according to Comrade Kindness Jonah, a civil right activist. He said that it is enshrined in Section 34 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2011 as amended, where it clearly states that “every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person…” and goes on to say in sub-section (a) that “no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment”.
“The ground norm which is the constitution is a set of laws that other laws must obey enshrines the fundamental right to dignity for any Nigerian, including widows.
“It is unlawful for a widow to be treated in an inhuman way that diminishes her person and strips her of her dignity. Therefore, the Nigerian constitution protects the widow.
“Igbo customary law has not done much to help the widows. Its applications have affected widows negatively. It is pathetic and unfortunate”, Jonah said.
He called on all the State governments and other stakeholders in Igbo land to join hand in the fight against obnoxious and inhuman maltreatment of widows as being done by Civil Society Organizations.
“The issue of widows and their ill-treatments in various cultures is quite pathetic. In Igboland, the story is unfortunate. I say unfortunate because, the spread of Christianity is believed to be the highest in Africa and Christianity comes to ameliorate ruffled edges in cultural permutations.
“So, one could have said that Igbo land was the last to hear of these obnoxious tendencies in widowhood maltreatment. But the opposite is now the case, as Igboland is leading in this shameful act.
“I have as a person, under the auspices of Civil Liberties Organization, written to all the first ladies in Igboland for a meeting to address this anomaly, and have also written it in the dailies for public consumption.
“But it appears that no coagulated action has been taken against it by the respective States Governments in Igbo land, which informs why the preponderance in local enclaves is unspeakably high.
“Widows are subjected to gross and unimaginable inhuman treatments in many parts of Igboland. Many are told that they killed their husbands as if the said husbands couldn’t have died ordinarily.
The act is so inhuman that ears tingle at their mention. They all stem from crudities of culture. Yes, cultural subversive is the anchor hold of this hoax abnormality.
“To stop this aberrant behaviour, cultures must be sanity-driven and made to be subject to civility, while the Governments of the States in Igbo land through the Houses of Assembly must come clear with unequivocal policies to befall detractors”.
We’re fighting the problem — NIWA
However, a Non-governmental Organization, Neighbourhood Initiative for Women Advancement, NIWA, in Ebonyi State said it has been making effort to fight the problem.
According to Nancy Oko-Onya, Lead Director of NIWA, the maltreatment of widows in some Communities is quite condemnable, saying that NIWA has tried to ensure the economic empowerment of these widows.
“Widows maltreatment has been an age long tradition that most communities hold on to. In a recent outing to some communities we discovered that those who mete out these obnoxious practices do not know why. All they know is that they met them and believe whatever their fathers did was right. Yet, others do it for their selfish interest and wickedness.
“Neighbourhood Initiative for Women Advancement has been and is still engaging at different levels with different people and groups to address issues around obnoxious widowhood practices.
“We educate the communities through sensitization and awareness creation, advocacy to policy makers and custodians of the people’s culture, to respect laws that prohibit every form of dehumanization to the women and widows in particular and where there are laws to protect these women, one should be put in place.
“We support communities and community leaders to have bye-laws that will protect women and widows.
“NIWA partner other organizations and individuals to secure justice for the ones denied access to inherit property after the husband’s demise.
“One most important aspect of what we do is to empower these women with adequate information that help them make informed decisions at this time of their lives.
“A lot counseling sessions are held to help them recover and make them understand why they should not engaged in maltreating their fellow women including widows as that will keep women in perpetual subjugation”, she said.