Insight

Widowhood: A burden too huge to bear (1)

Widowhood is painful and comes with a big burden. Because of this, widows are treated with love, care and respect in many places. But in Enohia Nkalu, Afikpo in Afikpo North Local Government Area and parts of Izzi clan in Ebonyi State, widows are usually disregarded, deprived of their husbands’ properties and ostracized, writes UCHENNA INYA

“Nobody gives inheritance to a woman or girl. There is no way you will give landed property to your girl-child who is married to another place; it will bring big problems to our place. “For instance, I have 20 female children and they are married to different places, will they come from their husbands’ places to inherit landed property here in my place? Amagu people said it is not done; they said that it is a taboo in Izzi culture.”

These are the words of the traditional ruler of Amagu community, HRH Fidelis Nwonumara during a one- day advocacy dialogue with traditional leaders to seek their support for the elimination of all forms of Violence Against Children, Women and Girls (VAWG) in the local government. What the traditional ruler said was already playing out in Enohia Nkalu, Afikpo in Afikpo North Local Government Area before he said it openly at the meeting.

In Enohia Nkalu, some widows are wandering like refugees, looking for where to lay their heads. The widows are not homeless like refugees, but they are allegedly ostracised by their community for attempting to stop the community from taking possession of their husbands’ landed properties and selling them indiscriminately to desperate buyers.

The widows depend on their husbands’ landed properties to train the children who their husbands left for them but they have no access to the properties because their community leaders have sold them, without parts of the proceeds given to them. Some of the widows are allegedly beaten to pulp by youths of the community and prevented from having access to public amenities provided by government for the community for asking questions about their husbands’ landed properties or attempting to stop the community from taking possession of the properties.

The widows are prevented from attending social gathering like markets, churches, burial and wedding ceremonies, among others before being allegedly ostracised by the community. The community imposes fines ranging from N10,000 to N50,000 on some members of the community who are relating with the widows and their husbands’ kinsmen after the ostracism. The community will usually excommunicate the widows and place fines on the members who relate with the widows after the widows are ostracised.

Members who disobey the community’s decision on the widows are made to pay between N10,000 and N50,000, depending on how they relate with the widows. Those who merely greet the widows pay N10,000 while those who have deeper relationship that goes beyond greetings pay a fine of N50,000. Even outsiders are warned and prevented from having interactions with the widows.

The widows would stop a motorcycle from outside the community to go to wherever they want to go, but the community leaders will meet the motorcyclist popularly called Okada rider and warn him of the consequences of carrying any of the widows.

The widows are then forced to trek long distances to get to wherever they want to go to. Instead of allowing the widows and their husbands’ kinsmen to stay in the community since they no longer relate with any member of the community or even outsiders, the widows are ostracised.

The widows are now dejected, crying to human rights’ organisations, security agents and government to intervene in their matters and save them from further humiliation. It was reported that Ulo Ubi Essa, the highest traditional decision-making body in the entire Afikpo (Ehugbo), adjudicated on that matter and asked the Enohia Nkalu people to vacate the land of the widows since the traditional ruler of the community was unable to resolve the problem. But the people will not agree as they allegedly continued their acts against the widows and some other people in the community sympathetic to the widows.

Our ordeals, by widows, other women A 76-year-old woman, Mrs. Patience Mgbo Christopher, a native of Ndiezi Okereke in the community, lost her husband in 1999. Her husband left seven children behind. He also left some landed properties for her. But today, she is one of the widows passing through humiliation in the community. She has been deprived of access to her husband’s plots of land in the community. The community leaders have sold the land. She tried to stop them from doing so.

But her efforts were futile as she was humiliated and ostracised. The community believes that she has no right as a woman over those plots of land and ostracised her. The leaders also ostracised some other widows in the community who also tried to oppose the selling of their husbands’ plots of land too. Christopher, who is a member of Ndi Uwakwe Oke Okpa lineage in the community, broke down in tears while narrating her ordeal to our correspondent.

She alleged that she had to buy land in another community to cultivate crops to enable her to be feeding her children. But, according to her, the most painful part of it is that the people who sold all her husband’s plots of land went and destroyed all the crops after beating up a labourer she hired to make ridges for her on the land she bought. The widow added that the people also dispossessed the labourer of the N15,000 she paid him for his services.

She said: “Since 2016, they have been selling our husbands’ land and they also deprive us of enjoying social amenities provided by the government in our community. We are not allowed to fetch water from public hand pump borehole provided by the government for our community.

We don’t go to social events like weddings, burials, markets and church. Our community people have excommunicated us and have been preventing people from visiting us. Anyone they see that talks to us, they impose fine on the person. We are like outcasts just because we told them to stop selling our late husbands’ land because our husbands’ plots of land are not communal.

“Let them leave our husbands’ land for us; that is what we want. They should stop beating us up the way they have started doing. There was a day I went to fetch water from a public borehole which government provided for us; some of the community members came to me and threw the basin I was using to fetch the water and beat me up.

They tore my clothes and nobody condemned it. We have been facing all manners of humiliation. “They have extended the torture on us to our children. One of my sons, Eze Uwa, was working in his shop and they went to the shop and carried him to our playground and tortured him to near death. They have destroyed all our crops on the land we bought and cultivated since they have sold off our husbands’ land.

They have levelled the mounds we made to plant the crops. We have to buy land from outsiders for farming since they have claimed all our husbands’ land and they still had the guts to come to the land and destroy our crops.

“I hired a man to make mounds for me on the land I bought from outsider. But they went there, attacked him, seized his hoe, machete and the N15,000 he made from the mounds. We have resolved to be buying food in the market since they don’t allow us to cultivate farms for food. Do they want us to die of hunger?” Another widow in the community, Catherine Uka Ude, is over 60 years old. She is a mother of four. She lost her husband in 2017.

She also alleged that members of her husband’s community have claimed her husband’s landed properties and also ostracised her for opposing them. She said: “I opposed the people of Enohia Nkalu for selling my husband’s land. They told me that I was taking too much and that I didn’t have the right over my husband’s land. They sold all my husband’s plots of land and I went and farmed on my father in-law’s own. One day, they went and levelled my farm and I cried bitterly as a widow.

“I left my father in-law’s own and bought land and farmed again but they chased me away from the land. They carried guns to the farm to look for me and kill me but I was lucky not to be on the farm that day. They have stopped me from fetching public water provided by the government.

They have prevented people from selling things to me in the community and they have also stopped me from selling to people. “There was a day I went to fish. I packaged the fish to sell and make money to feed my four children who my husband left for me but I was not allowed to sell it in our community. I carried it and trekked to a far community to sell, but I got there very late.

Those who would have bought the fish in that far community told me that they had finished preparing soup before my arrival. I have suffered a lot. I want what is due to me to come to me. They should give me my husband’s property; they should stop enjoying my husband’s wealth because he is no more alive.” As the widows are being maltreated in the community, so are some women whose husbands are still alive.

One of them is Mrs. Isu Benedicta Ezenwanyi, who had a breast surgery in 2017 because of cancer. The doctors told her she needed six years before she could be strong. But she received her own share of the humiliation and torture. Ezenwanyi said there was a day she was almost killed by same people who have been maltreating widows in the community.

She alleged that a member of the community sighted her one day when she was passing and tore the clothes she was wearing publicly, threatening to cut off the breast that was not affected by her surgery if she dared complain. “I wept like a baby,” she recalled. Ezenwanyi said since she was born, she has never seen the type of humiliation like that. The woman called on human rights’ organisations to intervene in the women’s plights in the community.

She said: “The problem in our community is that after the land dispute between our community and the people of Nkpoghoro, Ndibe ended in our favour, some of our community members started selling people’s land, including our own. We tried to make them to understand that it was not what we agreed upon while struggling for the land with the Nkpoghoro people. My husband’s kinsmen vehemently opposed them on the sales of our land.

“We from Ndi Uwakwe Oke Okpa lineage told them to stop selling people’s land. We resolved to stay on our own since they don’t want to stop such acts because we can’t be part of such crime; we are children of God. They started forcing us to join them and we continued to tell them that we can’t take part in taking widows’ land and properties by force.

They take properties of those whose parents are dead by force and also take widows’ properties by force. We said we can’t be part of such acts because it is a crime against God and humanity. If you refuse to join them, they will excommunicate and ostracise you.

They will impose a fine of N10,000 or N50,000 on you depending on how they see you if you refuse to join them in taking people’s properties by force. Because of this, many people started doing their bidding but we stood our ground and that is the offence we committed in our community.

“Because of our resolve not to follow these sets of people in our community, they moved to our plots of land which are not even in our community; in a very fa place. So, they moved there to take the land by force.

The plots of land are located at the back of Itim Ukwu General Hospital and we told them no, ‘you can’t do this’. We told them that they have taken our land in our community. We said if they take possession of the plots of land we bought outside the community, what are we going to use to train our children? They immediately turned against us; maltreating us in all ramifications.

“The first thing they did was that they chased us out of our community and banned us from entering it. They don’t allow us to attend any social gathering. They have inflicted all manners of injury on us and our children. One of our children lost one of his eyes when they hit him on the eye. If we talk to our traditional ruler, he will not take our matter seriously. Because of his attitude, our maltreatment gets worse daily.

“There was a time they broke some of their window louvers and accused us of doing it. They took us to the police. The police investigated it and discovered that we are innocent, that they were the ones who did it and the matter was trashed by the police.

They changed tactics and started beating our husbands’ relatives wherever they see them. One of our husband’s relatives, Chief Isu Clement Ewah, who has been our hope because he has been protecting us, was beaten to a pulp.

They also stole N105,000 from him. That money was realised for the court case they dragged us into. He was taking the money to our lawyer at Amaobolobo, a nearby community, when they swooped on him. They beat him until he lost consciousness. They took the money away.

The matter was taken to court. It is still in court as we speak. “I had a breast surgery and doctors gave me six years to be medically fit because I had a trace of cancer but they didn’t consider it. They descended on me one day, beat me mercilessly and threatened to kill me. They told me that if I mess up, they will cut off the remaining breast I have.

They always make mockery of me each time they see me by calling me a woman with one breast. I always feel humiliated each time they call me a woman with one breast. “There was a day I was moving out and Abraham Oko Oti saw Ogbo Chukwu in the community and told him ‘act’. Immediately Abraham told Ogbo Chukwu ‘act’, Ogbo Chukwu rushed at me and tore the clothes I was putting on.

When I tried to talk, he threatened to remove the breast which doctors didn’t touch didn’t during the surgery. He told me that if I make a noise, he will cut off the breast. I cried like a little child.” Mrs. Faith Mgbeodichi Ekeh is another woman facing the same problem. Her husband is also alive and he is also of Ndi Uwakwe Eke Okpa lineage.

Her husband is down with a partial stroke. She is the one catering for her family. She also alleged that all her husband’s plots of land have been sold by members of the community and that she has been excommunicated for telling the community to stop the sales of the land. She said: “There was a land dispute between us and Nkpoghoro autonomous community. We did everything necessary to ensure they didn’t take over our land. We gave the community the highest support to ensure the land was not taken over by the Nkpoghoro people. It was someone who God blesses, Clement Isu Ewah, who is also from Uwakwe lineage that saved the people of Enohia Nkalu from the hands of Nkpoghoro/ Ndibe people. Chief Clement Isu Ewah was the one that ensured that Ndibe people didn’t take over our land; he followed the matter in courts until it was decided in our favour.

When the matter was decided in our favour, we were sidelined in anything pertaining to the land. Chief Ewah told them that since the matter has been decided in our favour, there was need for the land to be shared to every member of the community instead of a few people selling the land indiscriminately like this; that we have children and the land should be shared and not sold by a few individuals. “They continued selling the lands without doing what Chief Ewah told them. Because of what Ewah told them, they started selling our own land and he told them to stop it but they continued to do so.

From there, they hate us and block us from entering our houses. They banned the entire community from coming to us for anything. They warned us from making use of public amenities like pipe borne water, markets, farms, churches. They collected N50,000 from some members of the community who interacted with us and banned everybody from interacting with us. My husband became seriously sick and had stroke.

“We went to a faraway place, bought plots of land and cultivated crops so that we will not die of hunger. They came to the farms with guns and machetes and threatened to kill us. It is Abraham Oko Oti, Okpani Egwu, his mother, Chi Egwu, Ude Ologwu and many of them who are taking over our properties by force. They said they will not allow us to live. Any time we try to fetch water from public pipe borne water, Oti would descend on us and beat us mercilessly and destroy the things we use to fetch water.

They have banned us from fetching the hand pump water government provided for us, they have deprived us from using other public amenities in our community; they are persecuting us. They held my son, tied him with chain and gave him several machete cuts on his head. As we speak, they are destroying our things in the community without anybody stopping them. They have refused to allow us entry into the community; they have banished us completely.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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