Insight

Widowhood: A burden too huge to bear (2)

CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK

Widowhood comes with a big burden. To add to their burden, 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

 

Community where female children, widows have no inheritance right

 

 

 

They chained, tortured and nearly killed us, say other victims

 

Okpani Uwa, a cleric in the community, would have been a dead man for opposing the activities of members of the community. He has also been banished over the same landed property. He alleged that he was chained like a common criminal and almost tortured to death by youths of the community for standing on the side of the widows and women.

 

Uwa alleged that his own plots of land have also been sold by the community.

 

He said: “My stepbrother was coming home after work and youths of Enohia Nkalu held him at noon and gave him several machete cuts on the head. They manhandled him till midnight. They started making arrangements to bury him alive after they beat him to coma.

 

I was in the church when all this was happening and my younger brother, Okoche, decided to go to the playground they were manhandling my stepbrother and to know his offence.

 

When my younger brother asked them the offence our stepbrother committed that led to his gruesome torture, they descended on him and beat him to a pulp. “In the morning, my own blood brother called me on the phone that youths of our community came and carried him to our playground, I did not know that they tied him with a chain used in chaining dogs.

 

They started beating him. They also beat my mother and my sister. They broke the legs of my sister. As I was discussing these things in my church, the youth landed there, they rushed at me and carried me. My parishioners insisted that they could not take me out of the church but the youth started fighting them.

 

They dragged me like an animal and hit me with an axe and bundled me inside the vehicle they came in. “As they were moving, one of them suggested that I should be tied on the tyre of the bus that was carrying us so that I will be rolling on the ground while the vehicle is moving. Along the line, I fell on the ground from the vehicle and they dragged me back into the bus.

 

As we approached the playground, the youth set fire on the roads to the playground and blocked all the entry and exit points so that nobody would have access to the playground from outside. They collected another chain, used it and chained me all over   my body and inflicted these axe and machete cuts (pointing to his scars) you are seeing all over my body like this. They hit me with blocks and all manner of sticks. What offence did I commit?

 

My offence is that I refused to join them to sell all the pieces of land in our community including those of widows. I told them to stop selling our own land; that is the offence I committed. “Since then, they have banned us from the community; they don’t allow us to go into the community anymore whereas we were born and brought up in the community.

 

They no longer allow us to fetch water from public boreholes, they no longer allow us to go to markets or cultivate on any land in our community. They have been terrorising our community with sporadic shootings. One of them, Oko Oti, once told us that they can kill us and nothing will happen. He said a man was killed in Amankwo and nothing came out of it”.

 

Chief Isu Clement Ewah, the leader of the Ndi Uwakwe paternal family in the community and another victim, explained that the community have dealt with the widows severely by uprooting all their crops and levelling their land, aside the physical torture of the widows.

 

He called for the arrest and prosecution of members of the community involved in the act even as he pleaded that properties of husbands of the widows be returned to them to enable the widows to train their children. Ewah also narrated his own ordeal.

 

The chief alleged that his own personal property and other valuables have been forcibly taken over by the community and sold to desperate buyers

He said: “A section of our community, out of greed and avarice, ganged up and started selling land indiscriminately. When it came to my notice, I told them that it is wrong to be selling paternal and maternal family lands and people’s lands indiscriminately; I told them that it was wrong. We had an agreement that the way of Ehugbo, that is our people as a whole, is the way we will be enjoying our land and that is the paternal and maternal system; respect yourselves and respect your brothers. I made them understand that people come from various areas to enjoy land in Ehugbo, irrespective of where they come from. They kicked me aside and ganged up against me and I still insisted that they must stop their actions. “They started making trouble with me and went and sold my own personal land which I bought from Eziama and Eziokereke; they sold the pieces of land.

 

As if that was not enough, they traced all my paternal family land which is my birth right and the birth rights of the members of Ndi Uwakwe paternal families and started selling them off. “They took us to court after breaking the glass of our town hall. As we went to court, they saw that they don’t have any evidence over the issue and withdrew the matter.

 

There are other cases in court; even the one they took us to the area command. Even the money we the Ndi Uwakwe paternal contributed to go and pay our lawyer over our issue; as I was going to pay the lawyer, they met me on the road and attacked me.

 

They took away the money and the matter is still in court up till now. “They went to our widows’ farms  widows of Ndi Uwakwe paternal clan), uprooted their cassava and levelled their farms at this time a cup of garri is sold at N100. They want us to join them in doing evil.

 

How can we, outside natural justice, join you to deprive people of their private personal property which we don’t know how they came about and you want to take it by force? “What I am praying is that these people who are lawless should be brought to book, they should leave our property for us, have their own property, maintain their own because we don’t want any problem.”

 

We can’t ostracise widows in Enohia if they are doing well, says ex-youth leader

 

However, one of those accused of promoting the actions by the community against the widows and other victims, Abraham Oko Oti, described all the victims as liars and evil doers. Oti, a former youth president of the community, told our correspondent on the telephone that Chief Clement Ewah was the cause of the whole thing. He alleged that Ewah was angry that he is no longer the chairman of the community and has been doing everything possible to ensure that there is no peace in the community.

 

Oti denied that nobody has been ostracised in the community but that those claiming to have been ostracised, are the architects of their problems. He said: “Why should we banish or ostracise widows and some other members of the community if they are doing well? If they should tell the truth; they know they are evil. They have been committing all manners of evil in our community.

 

These set of people are evil; they have decided to be above the entire community and we said no to their evil.” Oti also threatened to take legal action on any publication about the community on the matter. He added: “I am not afraid of whatever any journalist can publish. Once I see it, I must know the source of it, then find my own opinion because nobody will intimidate me in this our nation Nigeria where I was born and brought up.

 

“You don’t just publish anything against anybody because we are a community and I am a person and I don’t think anybody can intimidate me or run down my name without me fighting back. To be candid, whichever way the person does it, once I see the report, I will follow it up with the person.

 

“As a journalist, before you publish anything about me, you need to come down to Ehugbo and see me in person and also see things for yourself because these people that told you all these things about me are liars. They lie everywhere they go and also steal  anyhow in the community.

So, don’t publish anyhow because I will take it up with you. Before you publish anything, you must see me in person, otherwise I will not like it and I will take action against it. “This thing they are claiming has been reported to the Chairman of our local government and she has come to our community to verify the authenticity of their claims or otherwise. She discovered that these frustrated sets of people are liars.

 

Police also came and discovered the same thing. They have taken us to different places and as I am talking to you, I am standing trial in court over other lies against me. They said that I came to their place and stole their N105,000. So, I have been standing the trial in court over it and they have been spoiling my image in the whole world. “Our community had land issues with our neighbouring Ndibe community and the matter was later resolved in our favour.

 

Chief Isu Clement Ewah went and collected bribes from Ndibe people to cede our land to them and we said no. No one is pursuing him out of our community; it is the evil he committed against us that is pushing him away from our community. Nobody is against anyone or widow in our community. We have many cases in court which they dragged us to. “They broke the louvers of our town hall and the matter went to court. We saw reason to withdraw the matter after two of these sets of people confessed to the crime.

 

We said we are one and decided to withdraw the matter. But Chief Clement Ewah went and told lies to the police over the matter and as I am talking to you, we are in court over the matter. “Why should we banish or ostracise widows and some other members of the community if they are doing well? So, before you publish anything, you need to find out the truth. Nobody ostracised any member of my community, nobody is against any group of people.

 

Those people are the ones against themselves through their bad behaviour. “So, journalist, you need to see me in person; let us sit down and talk so that I will explain everything to you. You need to enter our community and find out the truth. Clement Ewah was once the community chairman; he became very arrogant and started making trouble. He is angry that when he was in power, our community was in crisis and he was reaping from the crisis. He is now angry that peace has returned to our community. I was youth president of the community and another person is occupying the position now. Should I fight the person? The answer is no.”

 

Groups kick

 

Members of some civil society groups have condemned the actions of the Enohia Nkalu community on the widows and some other members of the community. They described the maltreatment of widows in particular as barbaric and inhuman. One of them, Comrade Oko Jessy Ogbonnia, who is the president of Good Heart Foundation for the less privileged, called on the victims to make their mater known to appropriate authorities to ensure justice.

 

He said: “How can you chase away widows and women from their places, how can you deprive them of their rights and privileges? “Civil society groups should look into the matter at Enohia Nkalu with a view to finding a solution to it. Security agents should look into the unlawful ostracising of people and make sure they bring the people who perpetrate such acts to book because it is inhuman and barbaric.

 

These widows and women should make their matter known to the appropriate authorities, watch and ask God to intervene on their behalf. “The truth is that Essa, Ehugbo highest traditional decision-making body, has already adjudicated on that matter and asked the Enohia Nkalu people to vacate the land of those widows since the traditional ruler of the community could not do anything.

 

The traditional ruler should fight as much as he can to protect the lives and properties of his subjects.” On her part, Rev. Flora Egwu, the coordinator of Child Protection Network, Ebonyi State, said it is evil to deny a widow her late husband property. Egwu told our correspondent that the action of the community against the widows is part of Gender-Based Violence which her organisation seriously frowns at. She said: “It is evil to deny a widow her late husband property and it is one of the Gender-Based Violence against Ebonyi women.

 

When this happens, the children of the widow are involved, they will suffer it. So, we usually take up this type of issue whenever the widows come to us. We don’t necessarily take it up because the woman has come to report; we take it up because a child is involved in that.

 

“By the referral pathways we have established in this work, we refer to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), we also refer to FIDA (the International Federation of Women Lawyers) and they will take it up while we monitor and follow it up.”

 

Another community bars women from landed property

 

At Amagu community in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, it is a taboo for a woman to inherit landed property in her father’s house or late husband’s home. Amagu is part of the Izzi clan in the state. In the community, once a man dies, his brother will immediately take over the wife and marry her. This is called ‘ikuchi nwanyi’ in Igbo land. The traditional ruler of Amagu,

 

HRH Fidelis Nwonumara, said the culture of the Izzi clan forbids a woman from enjoying her father’s landed property or that of her husband, if he dies. He disclosed this 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.

 

The programme was organised by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) with support from the European Union-United Nations (EU-UN) Spotlight Initiative. Nwonumara explained that it will be difficult for the custodians of culture in the community to abolish certain aspects of the culture like giving landed property to a female child.

 

He said: “Nobody is violating the rights of a woman or girlchild. In our tradition, 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.

 

“What we do is that if a woman does not have a male child, if the husband dies, a family member from the husband’s side will take over the woman and marry her. The person will also take over the man’s property and begin to take care of the family of the late brother. “We do not maltreat a female child or woman; nobody will throw away his child because she is a female. It is just that our tradition does not accept giving landed property to a woman.”

 

Some of the traditional rulers in the Izzi clan called for bye-laws in various communities in the area to end the practice. They admitted that there are some aspects of their culture that are against women and girls aside Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). They suggested that the bye-laws will help to eliminate such harmful practices like denying women and girl children landed properties and other inheritance due to them in their fathers or husbands’ houses.

 

One of the traditional rulers, HRH Eze Mathew Ukpa of Okpitumo community, told a story of a mother of four children whose husband beat frequently and chased out with the children from his community and how he ended the ill treatment with the help of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), the Child Protection Network, which gave the man certain conditions.

 

In a remark on ways to prevent harmful practices against women, girls and children, Uzoigwe Chukwuma, the traditional redcap chief in the Edda community, said: “I am a teacher. Gender-based violence should be taught in schools; it should form part of the school curriculum.

 

This will help the girls to know what it is all about and their rights. For instance, if there is a place they can report if such is done to them, it will help. Also HRH Eze Pius N. O. Ngele of Ndiegu Okpitumo community said “these things we are saying are happening in Izzi land.

 

As I am here now, if I die none of my daughters will inherit any of my property, our law does not allow that and it is very bad and very difficult these days. And my community secretary is saying here that we make bye-laws against it. Yes, it is true; I’m suggesting if such law can be done at the local government level, it will help.

 

But immediately we use our bye-laws in the community and insist that this is what we want to do now because we have grown to the generation that sees that what we were doing is not good, the people run to our cultural leaders, Amegu, and complain to the elders.

 

“If you go to the old generation of Izzi land, any woman who gives birth to only female children has nothing to inherit from the husband’s wealth; even the husband will abandon her and marry another woman immediately.

 

No matter how industrious or hardworking the woman may be, he will overlook the woman as if he is not the father of the girls. Such bye-laws will help to stop this kind of a thing.

 

 

CONCLUDED

 

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