Saddled with a pregnancy due in three days, Carol Ugu watched as her husband struggled with a deadly brain tumour for months. When her child finally came, it was a stillbirth. Then, shortly after, her husband died.
A mother of four, Mrs. Ugu said the severity of her husband’s ordeal did not only lead to the death of her baby two weeks before delivery, but almost claimed her life.
“After I was delivered of my baby, there was no blood in me, so only water was flowing from my body”, she narrated recently at an event marking the International Widows Day. “I was almost given a HIV positive blood transfusion, when the doctor discovered it and asked me to just go home and help myself.”
The death of her husband, 13 years ago, marked the start of a life-changing struggle with widowhood – an experience made worse by a prickly husband’s family, she said.
Mrs. Ugu shared her story on June 23, the International Widows Day, to inspire other widows and encourage them to forge ahead in the face of challenges.
Initiated by the Loomba Foundation in 2005, the June event seeks to address the injustice and poverty facing widows globally.
Speaking on this year’s event, the United Nation’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said “No woman should lose her status, livelihood or property, when her husband dies; yet millions of widows in our world face persistent abuse, discrimination, disinheritance and destitution”.
Hauwa Shekarau, the Country Vice President of International Federation of Women Lawyers, a group with the French acronym of FIDA; (Federacion Internacional De Abogadas), said “Widowhood portrays hardship; deprivation; dehumanizing condition, poverty and all that”.
FIDA Nigeria, one of the organizers of the event, said at least 15 million widows in Nigeria live in abject poverty with most of their children malnourished and prone to avoidable diseases. Her organisation is able to empower only 30 women, Ms. Shekarau said.
Deborah Ajakaiye, a professor of geophysics, and founder of Christian Care for Widows and Orphans and the Aged, said her group has helped several widows.
This year’s event was not only aimed at x-raying the painful facts about widowhood, but to also hear the heroic tales of survivors like Carol Ugu.
After her husband’s death, and despite her ill health, Mrs. Ugu said her in-laws insisted she return to her husband’s village in Enugu, brushing aside her pleas to remain in Abuja.
In Enugu, she said the relatives compelled her to mourn her husband for eight months, leaving her with nothing to cater for herself and the children.
When she finally made it back to the federal capital, the home she managed to build with her husband had been demolished by the authorities in Abuja, who claimed the land was illegally acquired.
“Also the cars belonging to my husband and other of his valuables were gone,” she narrated.
Raised by a widow, having lost her father at the age of 10, Mrs. Ugu said in the midst of her trauma, she turned to God and the church for help.
“Today I work as a cleaner and an usher in the church. I also coordinate over 120 widows at the Mounting of Fire Ministries,” she said.
Mrs. Ugu recounted how she has been able to enrol all her children in school, saying that she is currently taking a first degree program and would even proceed to having her masters and PhD in due time.
According to Ngozika Okaizabor, a customary court judge, who also attended this year’s event, “What becomes of a widow, upon the demise of her husband is dependent upon whether or not he has a will, and if he hasn’t; on the type of marriage she had with him”.
Stressing that marriage is a major determinant, Justice Okaisabor said that: “If the woman married the man, under the marriage act, or if she signed a marriage register at church which indicated that their union is a marriage under the marriage act, then she has a legal marriage”.
Several law enforcement agencies and the government generally have indicated their commitment towards alleviating the plight of widows.
In his address on the plight of Widows and the interventions of the Nigerian Police, Inspector General the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Solomon Arase, said the NPF created gender units and human rights desks in all stations across the nation.
He added that the police had technical platforms for gender-based violence in 7 pilot states of Bornu, Edo Enugu, Imo, Kano, Lagos and Osun states.
Experts agreed that a number of interventions from the federal and states governments would go a long way to helping widows, if the relevant laws are enforced. Examples of such laws are, Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) law (2015) which criminalizes the act of subjecting a woman to harmful traditional practices, Ekiti State Equal Opportunity Law 2013, Anambra State Malpractices against Widows & Widowers (Prohibition) Law in 2004.
Others are Edo State Inhuman Treatment of Widows (Prohibition) Law (2004), Ebonyi State Abolition of Harmful Traditional Practices Against Women & Children Law (2001) and Enugu State Prohibition of Infringement of Widow’s and Widower’s Fundamental Rights Law (2001)