“I lost my father in 2004, then I was about to graduate from Edo state University Ekpoma. my father was a commercial driver who owned his own bus and was able to pay for my school fees conveniently. Then shortly after his death as a result of protracted illness, my mum who was just a petty trader struggled to ensure I didn’t dropped out of school,being a first child of four children. Life wasn’t easy after his death, I went for my NYSC and was posted to a secondary school. None of my younger siblings could seek admission into the higher institution due to financial constraints until I got employed five years after graduation through which I took up the educational responsibility of my immediate younger brother; thank God he is a male and with child spacing habit of my parents, I am four years older than him, so he wasn’t much affected like myself”.
The above narration was that of a 37-year old woman in Akure, Mrs. Kikelomo Adewale who registered her mother for the Ondowidows’care programme of the wife of Ondo State Governor, Arabinrin Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu. Upon the receipt of the palliatives for her 65years old mother which was distributed to widows across the 18 Local Government areas of the state under the initiative, Mrs Adewale reacted that since the demise of her father, her mother had never received such from either government or individuals being a widow.
According to her, her father’s family even abandoned them accusing her mother of killing their son and seized the house he built in their hometown.
Also narrating her experience as a fatherless, 30 years old Aina Fagbotemi said she was 16years when her father died and was in SS2. “We are seven in number, I’m the fifth, only our first born had finished NCE and was working with a private school in Ondo, my immediate elder sister just wrote a Polytechnic JAMB exam and got admitted exactly a month when our father died. It was then that my elderly ones thought of it for the first time that assuming our parents did family planning, it would have been easy a little bit for our mother to sponsor us alone. But mom faced the challenge with prayer and God stood by us. No one helped us, my father’s only sibling tried her little best but extended family didn’t contribute a dime to our welfare, surprisingly they are now striving to make friends with us seeing that we all graduated and are working”.
These are a few of so many instances in our society. The lack of data has closed the eyes of Government, corporate bodies and individuals to the fact that our environment is filled with widows struggling to cater for three, five, seven children.
With the unveiling of the Ondowidows’care website which Mrs Akeredolu launched in May 2020, it has revealed that Ondo State has about 23,000 widows. Either they are all widows indeed or not, the fact remains that so many women are solely responsible for the upbringing of children in our society which really calls for concern in order to beat down the level of poverty and untrained children.
The database shows that about 10% are employed, 10% pensioners while about 41% are self-employed and 39% are unemployed. 10,000 are traders, 8,000 into agriculture, below 1,000 are professional, little above 1,000 are into skilled labour while about 1,000 fall into unskilled labour category.
When Arabinrin Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu launched the initiative, she said with the database, it became easy for the State Government to plan for her widows. According to her, the database would help both Local and International researchers in the nearest future.
This plan, however, started with the distribution of COVID-19 Palliatives for the registered widows which was flagged off in Akure South Local Government on June 23 to mark the year 2020 International widows’ days. As at then only 8,000 had registered. Little did they know that good things would come from the intiative. But the outcome of the exercise in Akure South with 1,500 widows who smile home with goodies, made others to believed in it and quickly bombarded the website for registration.
The register keeps increasing as the distribution moves to other local government headquarters till the very last which is Ikare Akoko. At the end of the distribution, over 15,000 widows benefitted and Mrs Akeredolu assured that it’s a continuous exercise in order to capture all, especially those who registered after the turn of their local government.
The joy of these women knew no bound when they got hold of these food items. They described the gesture as first of its kind. Many said it was their first time of benefiting directly from the corridor of power; they showered encomiums and prayers for the initiator. Many young widows appealed to her to keep it up and that posterity would remember her for this.
They shared their experiences about widowhood which people around them don’t take note of. Many said they sleep with empty stomach for days, skip meals just to ensure the children had something to eat and that despite that they were being frustrated by those who supposed to be of help. They were flabbergasted to see the distribution performed without any political consideration, saying that previous dividends from governments were usually given to a few selected people.
It is however disappointing to see some people criticising the gesture. It is not that disappointing anyway because we are fond of politicising every good step in the name of party’s affiliation. What makes such criticism disappointing was for the fact that many of these critics never contributed a dime to the welfare of a widow in their neighbourhood. Rather, they see it as an opportunity to sexually-harasss the widow especially if she approaches them for help; some friends of the deceased husband are not left out in this type of misconduct.
Mrs Abayode Rachael, who lost her husband in 1990 and has been solely catering for their three kids, said, “I heard in my street at Irobo quarters that we should register for widow’s palliatives and I went ahead to do so”.
In her reaction, Mrs. Abdulmalik Folake from Akure said, “If all the first Ladies in Nigeria can emulate this gesture, it is such a good development, may God bless our First Lady for remembering widows”.
Mrs Elizabeth Adeoye from Ajowa Akoko, said “We really thank Her Excellency, this further shows her commitment to the welfare of women in Ondo state; it shall be well with her for doing this”.
Mrs Dahunsi Dorcas from Akoko South East said “I am very bewildered that something like this could happen through APC government for the widows. I lost my husband in 2019 and I have been the one catering for our five children.
“Whenever they give things like this out to the widows, only few privileged people used to have access to it. For this one, I am very surprised that I could benefit. I pray they and their children find favour too”.
Mrs. Grace Oladodun, an indigene of Okeigbo lauded the philanthropic gesture of the wife of the governor for deeming it fit to remember widows in a period like this, and prayed that whoever rose against her shall fail.
A middle-aged beneficiary in Okitipupa, Mrs. Morenike Ajile said the initiative gave widows a sense of belonging under the Akeredolu-led administration, describing it as a goodwill gesture towards them.
The Irele widows were so elated to the extent that they willingly approached journalists to be interviewed, while some who couldn’t hide their joy, gathered in groups singing songs of praise to thank the wife of the Governor.
Mrs Stella Olanrewaju expressed her gratitude in another dimension which is through a song. The song goes thus: “Akeredolu se Bebe tenikan olese2x, enitobawu kogba, enitobawu ko gbo, iyawo Akeredolu se Bebe tenikan olese” (i.e Akeredolu has done what no one had done, whoever cares should listen and believe).Mrs. Cecelia Ikuyiminu said she was given the food items without stress and affirmed that it was not a propaganda as insinuated by some critics; while Mrs Maria Arowoselu expressed her appreciation in form of prayers for Akeredolu’s government.
Commenting on the strategy employed by the initiator in organising the programme, Mrs Olatinpo Olatunbosun, a 46 year old widow in Ondo whose husband died in 2011 disclosed that she had not been involving herself in programmes like this due to the level of rowdiness and disorderliness, but was amazed to see everything well organised without subjecting them to stressful experience before collecting the items.
” I like the way they organise this programme, if others can emulate this style, our people will not be frustrated to participate because there is nothing like rushing, pushing or stampede”, she concluded.
On the issue of Women’s empowerment which Mrs Akeredolu keeps advocating for, and considering the employment status of widows as indicated in the Ondowidows’care website, more need to be done to make women economically stable. There are many widows below 40 years old with more than two children and are unemployed.
Nevertheless, Arabinrin Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu has laid a legacy that worths to be built on; an eye opener for all.
Ondowidows’care, aside its usefulness for research purposes is also a means for well-to-do Nigerians to reach out to widows in fulfilment of the Bible passage which says, ” Pure religion and undefiled before God and the father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction”.
The website is all-encompassing, containing every needed details of the category of widows individual might have interest in reaching out to.
Mrs Akeredolu further raised their hope by telling them to be expectant, saying aside the fact that their bank accounts would soon be credited, more dividends are coming for them. She noted that a new beginning has come for Ondo widows and that gone were the days they were marginalised and shut out of opportunities.
Written by Mary Agidi