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Turning widowhood into a fascination


The state of being widowed or claiming to be a widow is assuming a new dimension in Nigeria.  It is common now to see women beg for money at bus stops and along major streets in Abuja and the next gist they will tell you is that they are widows.

The trend is so disturbing that I begin to wonder if this crop of women were the same Nigerian women one grew up to know.  And the question kept popping up in my mind, what were these women doing before they became widowed?

Nigeria is a society where 70 percent of women are breadwinners.  They are there in the markets, you see them to and fro farms and a visit to the Eastern part of the country will expose you to how fascinating they can be on their ladies’ bike.Resilient, strong, wives, mothers to their children and their first babies who are called husbands.  They are just everywhere; they have been described as Octopus, having one body with many arms.  So where are those Octopuses now?

Close to two years ago, we had training on investigative journalism in Abuja, Ron Nixon of New York Times flew in to give us two days talk and all his examples were centred on Boko Haram.  With his American ascent he pronounced the name of the sect with so much sweetness and at a point I turned to a notorious friend and colleague of mine Charles Dickson, who came from Jos for the training and I said: “This guy is pronouncing Boko Haram as if it were food.”

His response was: “In fact you read my mind, it’s as if one should just join them the way he is pronouncing the name.”  And we giggled.Dayo Aiyetan, who happened to be the convener of the seminar and seated at the other end of the table caught us in the act and gave us a warning look not to make noise and I and Dickson giggled the more.

Just like the picture painted above, a lot of Nigerian women are making it look as if it is an achievement to be widowed.  The other day, I saw some visitors to their car in front of my house and some women who looked so rounded like South African women walked up to us and began to beg for transportation to wherever.  Apparently, an orphanage on my street had invited them for some largesse and I could see them with load of rice and other items on their heads and I began to wonder if they were not aware that they would transport themselves back to wherever they came from.

Agreed, widows need help and support, as a matter of fact, lots of it. But it is very worrisome when some of them now feel that the state of being widowed is something to be proud of.  Majority of them were breadwinners even when their men were around.

I don’t want to assume, but I am beginning to think that all these NGOs who claim to be saviours of widows are responsible for this laziness on the part of women.  There are 1001 of them out there who source fund from international partners and donors and they need to justify their spending, so what do they do, they gather women every now and then and distribute things to them.

Such events are given so much media coverage because the NGOs needed to give reports in form of pictures and newspapers clippings back to the donors.  I covered something like that sometime ago and by the following day, the organisers would not allow my phone to rest, they wanted to know when their story would be published.

What! Are you the owners of The Guardian?
It was told of a woman seated next to her husband at a gathering and a foundation had come around to talk to widows and see how they could be helped.  So widows were asked to come out to collect some money and foodstuffs and our woman got up beside her husband.  The man was aghast and attempted to pull his wife back to her seat, thinking that she did not hear the announcement properly.    But alas, our woman heard the announcement perfectly well, she turned to her husband and told him he was better dead, threw caution in the air and stepped forward to collect what her ‘fellow widows’ collected.

Where are the women, the responsible ones, strong mothers who used to warn their wards never to look in the direction of anyone eating around them, who would prefer not to put salt in their soup rather than go to the next door neighbour to beg for a pinch of salt, who carried themselves high and are satisfied with whatever they had, who would sell their wrappers in order to send their children to school, who dare not buy ‘aso ebi’ because their children were in school.  Where are the women with values and dignity who believed that there was dignity in labour?  Where are they?

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Boko Haram
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