The future of widows in Nigeria’s Delta State

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Some widows who received foodstuffs donated by Delta State Government at Ashaka in Ndokwa East Local Council… recently. PHOTO: The Guardian

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

Regardless of recent onslaughts recorded against the rights of Nigerian women in Nigeria, with the most painful example being the lawmakers in both Senate and House of Representatives rejection of bills which sought to grant special seats for women in the legislature and 35 percent party leadership during the voting on 68 amendments, recommended in the report recently submitted by the Special Ad Hoc Committees on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, the Executive Governor of Delta state has however, shown that there exist ray of political and socioeconomic hope for Nigerian women particularly widows in Delta state.

Aside from that, Governor Okowa has in the past sustainably manifested leadership traits that qualifies as people-focused, a recent telephone talk with Elder (Dr) Isioma Okonta, the Governor’s Senior Special Assistant on Social Investment Programme and Coordinator of delta State Widows Welfare Scheme, further demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Okowa is a believer in the words of the late former Secretary General of the United Nation (UN), Kofi Annan, that there is no tool for development more effective than empowerment of women, and no other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality’.

Delta-State-Governor-Ifeanyi-Okowa

For a better understanding of the piece, a report recently noted that a widow is a woman who has lost her husband by death and has not remarried. Widows it added are invisible in society. They are scattered across the globe, owing to their condition and the enormous challenges, reproach and shame the majority of them are undergoing. For widows to secure expectation by keeping their hopes alive by way of feeding, providing accommodation and qualitative education for their children, they must assume the position of their dead husband who happened to be the breadwinner.

Speaking on how the state government decided on a life changing scheme, widely known as ‘Widows Alert’ in 2018 to provide succour and wipe away their tears, remedy their despair and perplexity, and assuage their hunger, he explained that the initiative by the governor is taking care of the poor and vulnerable widows in Delta State and cut across the 25 Local Government Areas. The Communities are touched by this programme. This program is non-political and this programme cuts across religious lines. The programme takes care of stipends of the widows monthly and also there is a third scheme attached to it. The widows can benefit from free healthcare. The premium of this healthcare is born by His Excellency, the governor by way of the Delta State contributory healthcare. So, even if the widows have to undergo surgical operations, it is free of charge. And we have 5,607 widows enrolled in this scheme.

On how the state tracks those that are real widows, he explained that the names of these widows before now were drawn from the communities in Delta State. And the state makes sure the community leaders are involved to help  ascertain the veracity of the widows. To those that are saying they are widows, indeed and to those that are saying they are poor and vulnerable widows, the community leaders are there to ascertain those points.

He stressed that the state does not draw up a list without making sure the community leaders are cross checking the facts. And recently, His Excellency, the Governor brought in a consultant and they should conduct an integrated service. They were saddled with the responsibility of coming up with an electronic database of widows across Delta State. So, today, they have rounded up their work and we have over 50,000 widows in the Delta State widow’s electronic database. So, we now have a compendium of widows that have been electronically generated. This database is used as veritable tools for government to make decision and plans concerning the widows.

On Governor Okowa’s style of supporting the project, he captures it this way; The Governor is the reason for the success of the programme. You know, Sen. Dr. IfeanyiOkowa is an astute Chief Executive, and for every aspect of governance that is involved, there is feedback mechanism that has been set up by him. Whenever there is a programme, the governor doesn’t just keep the programme. He pays attention to every detail of the program. The structure we have today in the widow’s welfare scheme has been set up solely by Sen. Dr. IfeanyiOkowa. Apart from me being the State Coordinator, there are three supervisors, each supervisor is in charge of each senatorial district in every local government, there are two Coordinators that are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of the affairs of these widows and we have very little or no complaint coming from the widows.  Dr. Okowa is the reason why the program is successful.

Okonta

Continuing, he said; when you look at before 2018, the issue of widows in Delta state was not known by anybody. Widows are part of our society that nobody cares about. Their welfare was not taken care of by anybody. Then, Sen. Dr. IfeanyiOkowa changed the narrative. When he came in, he has been able to make sure that the poorest of the poor among these widows their issues have been brought to the front burner. Now, every year on June 23rd, we participate in International Widows Day. They have been recognized by the United Nations, a day to remember the issue of widows.

The Governor is the first Chief executive among the 36 states in the federation to observe this day. Sen. Dr. IfenayiOkowa is the only governor in the Federal Republic of Nigeria that has a programme of this nature where widows are paid monthly, where the healthcare benefits of these widows are taken care of monthly.

In other states, you might have the Chief Executive Officer take care of Widows only in seasonal times, like Christmas and Easter or during electioneering periods. But Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has made sure that the issue of widows has been brought to the front burner.

What happens with this? There are a lot of violent crying out there from elements brought about by wrong parenting, when a home looses a father, remaining only the woman, and the woman is not able to take care of the children. What happens to the children? It is either the young girls go into prostitution or the young boys go into robbery. They go out there, trying to swindle people. When Dr. Okowa started taking care of widows, you can see that the narrative has changed and the life of these widows have witnessed a new beginning. So, a lot of landmarks have been set since the widows in Delta State have become part of the political system.

He has reached out to life. He has touched the untouchable. He has dropped Delta State from a point where the roads are not ploughable to a point where there is massive construction of roads everywhere. He has touched the youths in delta State through several programmes. He has made sure that programmes for the girl child has emanated in Delta State where the girl child is no longer dependent on her parents. Business opportunities have been provided for them. Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has made sure that there is peace in all those areas. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has done well.

 I think this program has come to stay. I think the way Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa structured this programme, anybody that takes over from him must keep the programme going. His Excellency in his wisdom appointed the commissioner for humanitarian services. And of course, widows welfare is part of humanitarian services. So, you can see how detailed the governor is. You can see he is looking into ideal structures that will make sure the widows welfare scheme will not fade away. With the structures on ground by the governor, I think the programme is sustainable. He concluded.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), The Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He could be reached via; jeromeutomi@yahoo.com or 08032725374.  

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