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The Widow's Plight

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"The Widow's Plight" is an original work of fiction written by Sunday Omolu that tells for the first time about the oppression of windows in Africa.

For many years, widows have been oppressed with no one rising up for them. When and how will this oppression ever come to an end? Omolu writes genuinely with deep words.

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CHAPTER 1
CHAPTER 1 If you make a better mouse trap than your neighbor, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, the world will make a beaten path to your abode.’ This was the case with Paul, a Lagos based civil engineer who later became a very prosperous Building Contractor. Because he was an iconic Building Contractor with a knack for completing jobs on schedule, his services were always sought for by all and sundry. A firm believer in corporate social investment, Paul ensured that indigent children that were of school age were given every opportunity to be in schools. Arthur Williams has said it very well that, ‘if you believe in serving, serve; if you believe in giving, give. For you and I are exquisite violins and our music is meant to be heard.’ Paul’s music was heard, and distinctly too. There was a case of a child that complained to him that things were so bad with his parents that he uses a twenty-leaf exercise book for four subjects. Paul was incensed by the plight of this child and immediately liaised with an exercise book publishing company to make available five thousand exercise books for the primary school children in the village. This gesture was resoundingly appreciated. Moved by this earth-shaking community service, the king of the village, HRM Oke-Ife Ochiligwe II bestowed a chieftaincy title on him as THE INIMITABLE TRAIL BLAZER. Paul was not a religious bigot. He identified with every one regardless of their religious beliefs. And so during religious festivities, be it Muslim or Christian, he organized parties for both the physically challenged and able-bodied children, orphans and the aged. He instilled a sense of belonging in the vulnerable. He was a bridge builder per excellence. He provided shoulder for the needy in his community to lean on. A firm believer in gender equality, Paul was a consummate supporter of organizations fighting for women emancipation and girl-child education. There is the saying that it is only the animal that climbs the tree with its teeth that knows the bitter from the sweet bark or stem. Paul lost his parents at the early age of six and so grew up under very difficult conditions. As a result, he knew how expensive it is to be poor, as the saying goes. But by sheer dint of hard work, Paul became ‘insanely’ wealthy. And what is more, he remained as level headed as ever and distributed his wealth equitably. In one of his celebrated works ‘why ask why,’ John Mason said – one of the most exciting decisions you can make is to be on the lookout for opportunities to invest in others. Paul lived this noble value. Paradoxically tragedy struck when his company, Paul Construction Company Ltd. was awarded a contract for the reconstruction of some blocks of classrooms destroyed by the rampaging terrorists in parts of the north. The project, unfortunately, was in the epicenter of the war ravaged area. Paul was in a dilemma on whether to accept the contract or not. And so he sought the advice of his colleagues. They all advised him to accept the contract. Later, he had a meeting with two of his very close friends, Felix and Anthony, where he tabled the matter of the contract he was awarded in the northern part of Nigeria. Anthony wanted to know the town in the north where the contract was. Paul told him it was Maiduguri. ‘In one word, No’ Anthony responded tersely. Anthony said that any trip to that part of the country amounted to walking into a burning bush. They all laughed at this analogy. Felix advised that Paul should accept the contract since the government has assured of adequate security at the contract site. Felix in his contribution to the conversation said that the plight of the children in the war-stricken part of the north is worrisome with the army of al majiris all over the place. ‘Do you know that according to UNICEF, over ten million Nigerian children are out of school and the bulk of this number are from the northern part of the country? The insurgents over there have exacerbated an already bad situation. More children are forced out of school following the destruction of their classrooms. These children will in turn swell the army of al majiris roaming the streets and begging for alms. And what is more, this could take a worse dimension if and when these children, the traditional al majiris, are recruited by the vicious insurgents into their fold and get them armed. What is happening in Syria will be a child’s play. That is the saddest part of it all’. As far as Paul was concerned the contribution Felix made was apt. ‘Felix, you are spot on. As a father, I feel diminished when I read about children who are out of school. ‘A more resonating description of this is ‘children who do not have any future.’ The only impelling factor why I am having a soft spot for the contract is the future of the children over there. Felix added that Paul should however be vigilant while going there and if there is the slightest sign of insecurity, he should leave the vicinity. ‘After all, self-preservation is the very first law of nature,’ Felix added. But, Anthony did not back down on his opposition to the trip to the northern part of the country by Paul. His fear is that the insurgents are against education and Paul was going to the north to reconstruct the very symbol of what they hate and which is school. Paul was of the view that since government has assured of adequate security, he is inclined to accept the contract in order not to enter the bad books of members of the Committee charged with the rehabilitation of schools in the war-torn region. Anthony cautioned that, it is he who is alive that executes contracts. This threw every one into laughter. Anthony’s fear was justified as Paul went missing and presumed killed during the trip. Controversy trailed Paul’s death. One version of the news had it that he died in an ambush laid by the insurgents. While another version said that Paul died when the insurgents raided the hotel where he lodged during the visit. The saddest part of the tragedy was that his corpse was not found. When the news of the debacle that has befallen Paul reached his village of Oyiboma everyone was in shock. The question on the lips of all was; ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’ Nancy, his wife, was overwhelmed with grief. She was in an agony beyond human endurance. In a rare feat of courage (that borders on desperation), Nancy decided to go in search of her husband. She was familiar with the terrain as she had on two previous occasions visited there with her husband. And above all, she was fluent in the local language and had no problem blending. After about two weeks of fruitless search for clue on what has become of Paul, Nancy returned to the city of Lagos more desolate. Members of the security forces that assisted in the search advised Paul’s kinsmen during an informal meeting they all had not to lose hope as they are not ruling out the possibility that Paul could be alive. As far as the pessimistic kinsmen of Paul were concerned, it is sheer wishful thinking to nurse the idea that Paul was still alive and even foolhardy to contemplate that the remains of Paul would ever be found. The hawks among Paul’s kinsmen were of the view that once they are back to the village, Nancy should be summoned to the village to set about the mourning rites of her late husband after which a new husband from the kinsmen will be assigned to her. There were some of Paul’s kinsmen who held the view that Nancy did not show enough grief over the death of Paul. They alleged that with the stupendous wealth Paul has left behind, Nancy, could even be in celebration mood secretly instead of mourning. ‘We have not heard the last of that woman called Nancy and the type of marriage she had with Paul’, Verdu, Paul’s uncle said ‘ ‘I invited Paul home sometime ago when I learnt that he had so many contracts to execute in the war-torn north-east to come and get fortified against the effects of gun and matchet. Initially, he agreed and we fixed a date. ‘The next thing I heard from Paul was that he is no longer interested because he was a born-again Christian. It was clear as a moonlit sky, that it was this wife of his that misled him. . Nancy had ulterior motives over Paul. She systemically planned the tragedy that befell Paul. Army Generals come to our village to get those charms that make nonsense of guns and matchets which Paul treated with disdain. Paul had no mind of his own. No willpower and does only whatever Nancy asks him to do. ‘When he visited home sometime during our bloody land feud with the people of Utah, he narrowly escaped death because the anti-dote against gun every adult of Oyiboma ties round their waists meant nothing to Paul. I took him up on this when I got the news of his narrow escape from death in spite of the insurance the charms ought to have provided him. It was then he told me that he did not tie the charms on his waste for once. He did not believe in our traditional practices because of a very terrible and domineering woman that he had as wife. Not even the ring for diffusing poisons in foods that was prepared for him was ever found on his finger. The wife also barred him from wearing it. Nancy, in the mode of an evil genius made Paul vulnerable to all kinds of danger. See where the influence of an overbearing woman has landed us. All told, this death would have been avoidable had Paul for once ignored Nancy’s advice’. These were all unsubstantiated and very vague statements. And ridiculously too, as far as they were concerned, Nancy did not shed enough tears, over her late husband or even if she did, they were crocodile tears. ‘How many days did she cry and deny herself food to demonstrate that she had no hand in the death of her husband? There was no praise-singing of the heroic exploits of her late husband when he was alive as customs demand. Rather, she went to the very place where the husband was killed. What did she go there for? Is that what a normal housewife will do in that circumstance? No. She went to ensure that there were no loopholes that could give credence to what actually happened to our son, Paul. And yet someone tells me that Nancy really feels the pain of the death of Paul’, another hardliner interjected. ‘A woman that was really pained after that colossal loss, should have evidence of bereavement written all about her. But Nancy was nowhere near that. Or what can be more traumatic than the death of a loving and caring husband?’ another speaker asked. These were the trumped up charges they brought against Nancy to justify their hatred for her. Give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. It was on this ground the kinsmen reached a consensus that Nancy must be made to face the music. ‘She must be made to carry out all the facets of the mourning rites no matter how dehumanizing. No stage of the mourning requirements should be waived.’ One of them said that he had it on good authority that Nancy was a real thorn in the flesh of the late Paul. ‘Indeed, one of our sons living in the city with them said that Paul was not on speaking terms with his wife before he went on that ill-fated trip. ‘That means he went on that trip in spite of the obvious risk because her Jezebel of a wife had made the home uninhabitable for him,’ another person added. ‘Nancy could have used her witchcraft to make Paul lose his sense of reasoning. Otherwise, how can any sane man from down south in Nigeria accept a contract in the hotbed of the insurgency which is Maiduguri?’ It was in the midst of this controversy that Nancy visited the village of Oyiboma, her late husband’’s village. Nancy was not received with empathy at all. The belief that she had a hand in Paul’s death was already wafting strongly in the air. As the search for Paul or his remains met a brick wall, a meeting of Paul's kinsmen was summoned at the village. The main aim of the meeting was to take a decision on how Nancy could go about the extensive mourning rituals for her late husband. At the meeting in the palace of the king of Oyiboma, the spokesman of the community, Chief Udu greeted the king and members of Oyiboma and told them the reason why the king summoned the meeting. ‘It is to resolve which of their sons will be assigned to Nancy as her new husband.’ The spokesman had hardly finished his opening address when Akuje, an iconoclast, requested to be recognized to contribute to the topic the spokesman has just mentioned. He was allowed to speak. Unknown to the gathering, Akuje was opposed to what he described as a hasty decision. He asked if any of them was in hurry to marry off Nancy. We are talking about Paul. We are talking about our role model. We are talking about the greatest unifier of our people. As far as I am concerned, we have not done enough to confirm whether he is dead or not. I am sounding this note of warning in very good faith. ‘Our gods will not forgive us if we mourn the living. I believe that our son has just been abducted and could be released later’. ‘There is nothing wrong with mourning the living. It is merely an omen that the ‘presumed dead’ will enjoy longevity’ Chief Okpor, a renowned medicine man and the community’s assistant spokesman said. ‘And in any case when the insurgents kill their victims they do not go away with their corpses. Now that the corpse of our son has not been found, is it out of place to hope that he is still alive?’ Akuje asked. Let us exercise restraint. We have not found his corpse and here we are concluding arrangements for inheriting his wife. Let us demonstrate maturity in resolving this matter’. This suggestion met with stiff opposition. Another speaker took on Akuje and accused him of acting at variance with tradition. ‘You are not a baby. Akuje, you are aware of our culture and you know the implications if a widow does not strictly follow the rituals of mourning her late husband within the stipulated time frame. It is not negotiable. Paul left a very young wife behind who has two girls for us’. The argument was getting very hot and almost spiraling into a mob action, with majority of the kinsmen against Akuje. Indeed, a Tower of Babel or what could be rightly described as a Portuguese parliament with everyone speaking at the same time. Those against the views expressed by Akuje, and they in the majority, wanted to beat the daylight out of Akuje for raising his voice against the stance of the kinsmen. The kinsmen have firmly resolved that Nancy must not be given any breathing space. Akuje cannot break ranks and get away with it. One of the Chiefs tried to whip Akuje with his leather fan. Tension was in the air. The traditional ruler at a stage threatened to walk out of the gathering. If they did not stop the bickering and show restraint. The spokesman of the community, Chief Udu, intervened. First, he apologized to the traditional ruler for the heated arguments and then turned to the audience. He said that the disagreements they are having do not do any honour to the cherished memory of Paul. “Indeed, Paul wherever he is now will be most upset with us. We have to move in line with our customs and conclude all the necessary activities and assign a husband to Nancy under a peaceful atmosphere. ‘As we proceed with the dictates of customs and traditions on this matter, our deep sense of loss over the passing on to the great beyond of this giant of ours, is not diminished. While it is good to be optimistic, that he could have been merely abducted and so could be alive, we have no choice than to proceed with the norms of our society in a situation like this. ‘The insurgents that our son has fallen prey to, do not have compunction at all. That is why they are called not just terrorists but beasts. Let us have an open mind. Our joy is that he has left his name in the sands of time by the lives he touched. ‘All said and done, no one is going to live forever. However, the only sore point is that Paul did not have a son. If Paul had a son before his demise, probably we would not have been here arguing who to re-marry his wife. And that is why we are going to ensure that a man that is really procreative as far as male children are concerned, is assigned to marry Nancy. Yes, the church goers amongst us will argue that giving birth to male children is in the hands of God. I will advise them to keep such ideas to themselves. Here in our community, we know the lineages that give birth to male children ‘effortlessly’. ‘This should not escape our attention when assigning a husband to Nancy.’ Someone in the gathering, on a lighter note interrupted the spokesman. “You are the best known example of those prone to blessing our community with male children. So let us search no further and settle with our Chief Udu’. There was a thunderous applause. Udu himself was all smiles. This is true because Udu, has nine male children. Indeed, rumour has it that he also has three male children out of wedlock. This eminently qualified Chief Udu for this assignment of getting male children for Oyiboma community with Nancy. Chief Okpor, the deputy spokesman and medicine man whispered to someone that Chief Udu was too old to marry Nancy.

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