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Nigeria, like most African nations, can be described as a very marriage centric country. It is often the belief that women, in particular, must marry not only as a rite of passage but also as a way of securing intergenerational wealth and an eventual status upgrade from being a Miss to a Mrs.
However, going by how most women are treated when their husbands die, it becomes imperative to also question if it is indeed true that marriage can serve as a form of gaining financial security for women.
For example, it is a commonly expressed sentiment amongst Igbo people–of whom I am one–that the reason daughters are not given land as an inheritance is because “women inherit through their husbands”. The reality of most widows offers a totally different backdrop.
To start with, even wealth after a husband’s death is not guaranteed. In most cultures and families in Nigeria, a late man’s wife may not have the luxury of mourning him properly because she has to be alert to guard their collectively built properties and money from the prying eyes of relatives who can and will leave her destitute with nothing to fend for her children.
The effects of this are often far-reaching and can gravely influence the education of the children or the lack thereof.
In the 2005 novel, “Everything Good Will Come ” by Sefi Atta, one of the main characters Sheri Bakare lost her father and soon after, her father’s property was taken over by her uncle who demanded a legal transfer of the property to him. When Sheri’s family began a catering business on the property which was ideally theirs, he threatened to take them to court. In trying to seek legal help, the author also spoke on how even divorced women like the wife of the lawyer who was helping Sheri are not free either. Although Enitan’s mum is not a widow, her ex-husband refused endlessly to transfer the properties he gave her shortly after their divorce to ensure her financial security. All this, while he fought against the dis-inheritance of another family.
Thankfully, more and more women are beginning to question the dis-inheritance of widows, their poor treatment and the dis-inheritance of daughters too.
Mercy Blankson is a widow and the founder of Widows Hub Africa, whose core vision is the support of young widows and girl child education. A widow herself, her husband Joe Blankson died heroically in 2018 when he drowned whilst trying to save people who were involved in a boat accident in Rivers State, Nigeria. He had swum and saved thirteen people but by the fourteenth time, he drowned. In addition to Widows Hub Africa, Mercy Blankson has also created the Joe Blankson Swimming Academy as a way of preserving her husband’s legacy.
The realities of being a widow in most parts of Nigeria comes with a lack of dignity and a constant decrease in the quality of life even for women who expend energy, mental health and financial resources seeking and securing justice for themselves. Widows deserve ease. But if the structures aren’t put in place to ensure that, the death of a spouse could spell doom for the living widow. And somehow, this is never the case for widowers.