Monday, 23 June 2008
Death of a Husband in Nigeria
Onwu Di | Death Of A Husband
It is one of the greatest misfortunes that can befall a woman at any point in her life - to loose her husband. No matter the length of time she spent with him in matrimony, the grief and sorrow she experiences cannot be quantified. It is an eternal loss; and so, no matter how much we try to console or encourage the truth is, she has lost her soul-mate. All we can do is give her time. For it is only time, as they say, that heals all. It is vital that she finds the right support - morally and otherwise from relatives, friends and loved ones so that she can see her way through this mournful period. Unfortunately, more often than not the reverse is usually the case.
In different parts of the world, irrespective of religion, tradition and culture, widows are victims of violence and oppression at the hands of close family members and so-called friends, especially their in-laws. The story below clearly illustrates my thoughts on this matter. The characters and locations are real.
Personally, I believe that my father allowed himself to be the sacrificial lamb for my sake. It was as if he was communicating from his grave and saying, "Here my eldest daughter… Chinwe, take it… this is your breakthrough in your course to support the widows of Nigeria... For my sake your voice and desire will be heard and accepted finally by our people," and if I tire in this campaign through my poetry and writings, then I have disgraced my father's memory. This is the only way I can appease my father's soul.
So I ask this question - Do widows deserve to have their human rights stripped from them and violated when their husbands die?
Article written by Chinwe Azubuike.
Photo: Wisdom and Mary Azubuike with Chinwe and her younger brother Chukwuma
My father, Mr. Wisdom Azubuike died on the 8th of August 2006, aged 60yrs and was to be buried on the 24th of August 2006. He died seated while on duty at work. He was thought to be asleep on duty, but instead, he was dead…(he was a security guard at the Apapa Branch of Intercontinental Bank PLC in Lagos, Nigeria). Autopsy result stated he had suffered a sudden attack of 'Hypertension', because he did not know that his blood pressure had been rising for quite some time.
My mother, my siblings and my father's elder brother, Mr.Christian Azubuike, along with other family friends accompanied the corpse to our village on the 23rd August 2006 following the wake-keep that was held on the night of the 22nd August in Festac Town, Lagos. Before leaving for the village, my father's brothers, had collected eighty thousand naira, (the whole money) which was given to the family by the Bank, as support for any expenses incurred on the burial arrangements. His brothers said it was the fee that was to be paid to perform some burial rites for the corpse and also prepare things such as refreshments, etc for the reception of guests after the burial. My recently widowed mother was left penniless. Regardless, they heartlessly demanded for more but for the fact that she and my younger brother scolded them and argued the fact that there was no more money left to give.
On the night of the 23rd when my family arrived at the village, at our compound my Uncle, Christian suddenly and surprisingly ran into occupy the family house, (just a 2 bedroom bungalow-like house, which was owned by my late Grandparents) with his other brother, Leonard and their children, and my Aunt Mrs Rozaline - stating that my father had no house of his own therefore they would take over the bungalow. In this way my mother and her family were not even given any welcome or a place to lay their heads for the night. They actually rested in the coastal bus (donated to them by the Bank as means of transportation) and slept without food or bathing. Betrayal is an ugly word, especially in the context of family.
The next morning, the day of the burial, my father's brothers and sister, Mr.Christian Azubuike, Mr.Leo Azubuike, and Mrs Rozaline, arranged with other members of the Azubuikes of Duruigbo clan (where I come from) of Oka Village in Isiala Mbanno Local Government of Imo State to stop the burial of my father, Wisdom. My Uncle, Christian accused my mother and siblings of killing their brother,(meaning my Dad)… that they should bring out all the money my father had, because his daughter (meaning, I ) lives abroad, and seemingly has received a small fortune from me.... the accusation was that we had all, including I, planned and executed our own father's death and that it was only us, the immediate family, that would benefit from whatever came from me. Me, the pauper female poet living in London.
My Uncle Leo had hired mobs and touts who carried sticks and weapons to batter my mother and family. My Uncle Christian, and his sister, (our Aunty) Mrs Rozaline, gathered all the women of the Duruigbo clan who carried firewood and cains to beat my mother with, according to Tradition. Then, in full view of the public, including people of other tribes and some staff of the Intercontinental Bank as well, who came from Lagos to our village to witness the burial, my Uncle Mr.Christian Azubuike stripped my father's body of his funeral clothes, which had been carefully chosen and dressed by my younger brother, Chukwuma. Christian took out a large sharpened knife and to the horror of all, desecrated the body. Splitting my father's stomach open, like a gutted fish, and then started to probe inside, justifying his action by stating he was searching for some vital organs or bodyparts in the absurd thought that we, Wisdom's immediate family, would have used them for money making rituals. Eventually yet still in the eyes of the amazed public, everything was carelessly put back to the way the mortuary workers had left it but the damage had been done and witnesses had overseen this cruel barbaric act by their fellow Nigerians. Once one has witnessed such an act nothing will quite seem the same again.
My younger brother, Chukwuma Azubuike, being the first son of my Dad, insisted that he wanted to bury my father on that same day, but my Uncle refused. Three men from my village intervened and tried to make peace, demanding that the burial take place that very day yet my Uncle Christian refused. My brother again eagerly enquired when they actually intended burying his father but my Uncle told him to leave, that he had no idea about any burial anymore. They brutally chased my family away, who ran for safety, back into the coastal bus. Even while they were inside the bus, the people kept shouting and banging at the windows and doors asking them to come out of the bus. My Uncles seized my Dad's corpse along with the others, put it back in the coffin and asked the ambulance driver who had brought the coffin from Lagos to take it back to a mortuary situated near our village. Members of my mother's family, who came for the burial as well, were the ones who took my family back with them in the coastal bus to their house at Owerri where the whole family took refuge. Consequently they had won and denied us the proper Christian Mass we had wanted for our father, moreso, denied me of the speech I had written to be read at Mass for my dead Dad and (obviously) squandered the Eighty Thousand Naira they had collected from my family's benefit back in Festac. There are witnesses who can testify to the money that was given to my father's brothers.
While talking refuge at Owerri in Imo State, my family tried to see if there was a way they could get information about the burial and attend, because it is unheard of that a man be buried in the absence of his wife and children. My mother and younger brother made official reports of the case to different Police commission zones in Imo State.
On Friday 1st September 2006, my family in the company of my mother's relatives and many other people who were also armed went to what they thought was my father's funeral. They had received word that my Dad was to be buried on Friday (although none of them had actually been properly informed). On the Friday 1st September, that was thought to be the burial, my father's brothers had once again shifted the burial to the next day, Saturday in the hope that they could perform it in the absence of my family... However, this did not deter anyone because my family and all the rest of the people that accompanied them from Owerri all stayed over until the Saturday morning, which was the D-day. There was a lot of friction, initiated mainly by my father's people, but then they saw that my family too were really out for them that day. Everyone attended the funeral Mass, which to the amazement of many, had become a biased occasion, for the priest who celebrated the Mass gave a very angering and chiding speech for the benefit of my family- on hearsay from the words of my father's brothers, indirectly accused my family of being instruments of my father's death.
After Mass everyone went back to our compound for the final 'lay to rest' act. Then my father's brothers and their entourage tried to create some barriers again, by physically and morally trying to cause outright War between them and my family with her own entourage. The resistance on my mother's part was very clear to them. She vehemently refused to partake in some incongruous fetish rituals that were presented to her. It had become a matter of War if push came to shove. Lives were willing to be lost if it would eventually allow my father to have his rightful burial. Eventually my father was laid to rest, but sadly ungracefully.