Brother Ignatius Newman Ezeigbo is an expert on widow issues, the CEO of Rock of Ages Empowerment Foundation, he told our correspondent in this chat that with proper education and skills, Nigeria will not have poor widows among other issues. Enjoy
Sir you have been interacting with widows, what do you think are the major challenges facing them?
The major challenge of majority widows in Nigeria is poverty because most have no formal or informal education. I can assure you that, with proper education, we will not have not poor widows in the country. I want to strongly advocate for compulsory education of girl child especially in the northern parts of the country. My prayer is for our government to rise up to implement laws that will ensure that every girl-child must at least complete secondary education and undergo skill acquisition before marriage. The entrepreneurship education which the federal government is infusing into the secondary education curriculum is a right step in the right direction and if the policy is properly implemented, I tell you Nigeria will benefit a lot but unfortunately, Nigeria is not lacking in policies but implementations.
With different widow’s cases handled by our foundation, we come to realise the urgent need for proper education before marriage, some people may not understand or see reasons with me on this but, it is in the open that most of these young and old widows, immediately their husbands passes on, the family members will deprive them of their entire late husband’s property and left the poor women with their children to wander about in abject poverty. Some of them even before they finished the burial of their husbands they wouldn’t be able to lay hold on any of their properties again and this is where it is important for women to be educated. If they had gone to school, they will know their rights and even if the in-laws confiscate what belong to their husbands and they are working, they will be capable of taking care of themselves and their children but if we don’t educate our women, we are only telling poverty to come and stay. Or alternatively, the government can open up skill acquisition centres strictly for women in this category.
Again, if the government don’t enact laws to protect widows, their suffering will continue to increase. If you educate a woman you educate a nation because she is not only taking care of herself but the children and by this contribute to nation building. If the children are well taken care of then you can see the reflection of it in the society. Most people you see carrying guns today is because they had no one to properly take care of them. Not only government will do this but private organisation and well-to-do individuals in the society can help to ensure that, our women are educated and also ensure that our widows are taken care of. Already, we have thousands of uneducated widows languishing in abject poverty; it is our responsibility to cater for them while ensuring that, the old trend of marring off our young girls is eradicated. If every one of us in this country can take the responsibility of catering for one widow each, this country will be a paradise on earth.
I will also take a swipe on most rich individuals we have in the country today. I don’t envy most of them who brag about paying millions of Naria as school fees for their children, not that it is bad, thank God you can afford such amount of money but there are people around you who can’t afford to pay N1, 000 school fees for their children while you pay N2.5million for just one of your children.
If you train your child with that kind of money and the children of the poor widow living next to you didn’t go to school, you are creating danger for your children, your family and even yourself. Because when these children have nothing to do tomorrow and decide to pick arms or turn to armed robbers, kidnapping, be rest assured that you and your children will be their first target.
Nigerians and government should rise up and render help to widows; rich widows should also show concern for their fellow widows.
Which specific areas are you talking about protection in terms of the legislation?
In terms of their inheritance; there was one incident that happened before the widows day celebration which our team visited, the husband died and they took the corpse home for burial, the brother in-law of the widow who is residing in Gombe state came to Abuja and rented out the house the woman and the late husband built and collected rent then went back to Gombe saying that the woman will not come back to town but stay in the village. What did they keep for the lady in the village? While in the village, she lost one of her three children and decided to come back to her husband’s house in Abuja only to discover on arrival that other people have occupied her house and when she inquired, the new occupant told her that her brother in-law has rented it to them and went away. This woman and her children were homeless, wandering about until somebody offered her one terrible kiosk that was more or less a toilet. So we had to come up and say no it is wrong. Our team had to call the ‘Maiangwa’ of that area and he said we had to call the brother in-law of that woman. It took a long process but at the end he had to take an undertaking that when the rent expires the tenant shouldn’t renew so that the woman can come back to the house and have a place with her children. This is just one out thousands of cases like that some even worst that.
The government can come up with a law that will forbid the family of the deceased from coming close to the widow’s property as long as she has children the man.
There is need for us to also have legislation against harmful traditional practices against widows, we have different cultures and many of them have different approaches on this. Some people try to dodge this, for example there are places where family members wash the corpse and ask widows to drink the water to prove that they had no hands in the death of their husbands and this may be a corpse that was embalmed and kept in the mortuary for weeks or months and there are chemical involved in this embalmment, when you ask a woman to drink this you are committing murder. Government should criminalise such evil practices. This evil practice as well affects the children, people stigmatize them saying “your mother killed your father” and this stigma will be with the children and they will continue to grow up with wrong designation upon them, what do we expect them to grow up into tomorrow? We are not saying every culture about widows is bad, but those harmful ones, the ones that are destructive to the widow or affect her human rights should be removed, no woman would love to see her husband die, even if he was wicked or the devil.
Reports have shown that Nigeria has lost a lot of men due to the insecurity bedevilling the country in recent times, thereby producing more and even younger widows. Do you think Government is doing enough on security in the country?
When you look at the issue of insecurity, it didn’t start today because if we had good formation from the beginning, if everybody has data, everyone knows your data; what we are facing today wouldn’t be here. We always try to solve the problem from the top, just to solve it now and when it appears solved, do we go down to know what the problem is from the root. Like the issue of the Niger-Delta Militants, we read in the papers now that some of them are threatening to return to the creeks, it shows that the problem is not yet solved. The issue of Boko Haram, giving them amnesty will not solve the problem, if the government doesn’t go back and restructure our security system, we may be in for more challenges. We have to learn to tackle our problems from the root, though it may take time but slow and steady at least we know where we are heading to, even if it take us up to 20 years to get there, it doesn’t matter. Recently somebody called me from Maiduguri to say Brother Newman, if the widows you know in Maiduguri were 1000 last year, now in Maiduguri you will see over 10,000 widows. People are been killed every day and the more these men are killed, the more widows and orphans we have.
How many widows have you empowered so far?
Apart from their normal monthly feeding, which we supply every month in our branches for thousands of widows, in Abuja we have 750 of them now, in Jos 150 and Maiduguri 620 and each of them received N10, 00 each, so we have a total of 1520 widows who are into one trade or the other. My target in Abuja is to empower another 250 widows by October 1st this year. We are budgeting 2.5 million again and will give us 500 widows empowered this year then my target or vision for 2015 is to empower not less than 5000 widows in Abuja alone.
Which other ways have you empowered them?
We have given them skills acquisition where they are taught how to make hats, beads, soaps; like last Saturday they were taught soap making and we have them in different zones so each of the zones will teach those who enrolled with them. When we go to their different zones and they are through with their learning we will now give them money to start business.
Do you have other branches apart from FCT?
Yes we have branches in Jos, Ilorin in Kwara state, Alaba in Lagos, and we just opened one recently in Idah in Kogi state, with Maiduguri where we started about five years ago.
How do you get the women you empower? Do they just walk up to you?
We normally issue the widows forms to fill, and in each of the form there is a place, if for instance you are Muslim for an imam to sign and affirm you are widow and if a Christian a pastor will sign for you. That is why in every zone somebody must sign whether this person is a widow or not, if you are going to church a pastor or revered must sign for you, we have their documented.