On Wednesday April 19, 2023, the Benue State Executive Council presided over by Governor Samuel Ortom, approved a Bill for a Law to establish the Benue State Widows Commission and to prohibit harmful practices against widows, as well as protect them from exploitative acts, punish offenders and for related purposes.
The decision of the Ortom administration to enact the law is premised on the fact that there are several ethnic groups in the state with diverse cultural
norms and practices which negatively impact widows upon the death of their husbands. These include but not limited to disinheritance from the assets of a deceased husband, banishment from a late husband’s home, being forced to marry a relation of the deceased husband,etc.
Council viewed that in some cases, a widow is likened to a property of the
deceased to be inherited by his relations. Most often, such widows
have children for the deceased and have the task of nurturing the
children without any assistance from the relations of the deceased. In
some instances, some are denied their fundamental rights enshrined
in the 1999 Constitution.
It is in face of such a helpless situation of widows that the Ortom administration has initiated the Bill in order to assuage the position of widows as regards inheritance of their late husbands’ assets and to protect and guarantee their fundamental rights as well as obviate the obnoxious cultural practices which deny them the right of inheriting their late husbands’ property amongst others. The Bill seeks to protect widows from both monogamous and polygamous marriages.
The Benue State Widows Commission envisioned by the proposed law will have the power and responsibility to support, protect and build the capacity of widows in
the state whereby they can own their property and inherit the assets of
their deceased husbands.
Consequently, the widows can fend for themselves and their children without harassment from any individual or group of persons.
It shall be the duty of the Commission to, among others, coordinate and monitor the implementation of widows programmes and activities; initiate and support measures which shall enhance the welfare of widows; assist widows by providing support services; create awareness and sensitization of widows on the protection of their rights under a subsisting Widows Protection Law in the State; support international efforts and advocacy to uphold and expand the rights of widows as enshrined in the international laws and conventions; evaluate the impact of the Commission on the plight of widows and make appropriate recommendations to the Benue State Government.
There are also provisions in the Bill which annul repugnant cultural
practices, create offences and prescribe punishments for infringement. Among the several sanctions stipulated by the Bill is that someone who subjects a widow to any harmful widowhood practice commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment or a heavy fine as contained in the law. The proposed law similarly provides for compensation to the affected widow or widows, among other measures.
Speaking on the anticipated impact and significance of the Bill, the state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barrister Michael Gusa said the proposed law affirms Governor Ortom’s proactive disposition of initiating policies and programmes for the welfare and safety of his people.
When (if) passed by the Benue State House of Assembly, the Widows Protection Law would bring to an end one of the age-long negative practices among the people and become a point of reference and emulation in other parts of the country.