After the death of her husband, Elizabeth Adebowale was abandoned by her husband’s family because she refused to give in to their demands of selling the land she co-owned with her late husband.
As if the abandonment was not enough, her mother-in-law became negative and insensitive towards her. When the husband, Samson Adebowale died from liver disease in July 2012 at the age of 39, he left behind his wife, Elizabeth, now 44, and two small children aged three and five.
In May 2012, Samson complained of fever and stomach pain. Like many low-income Nigerians who wish to avoid expensive hospital fees and appointments, he first went to a local pharmacist who gave him some medication for the pain but he did not get better.
The couple had to resort to visiting the hospital. Days later, they received a diagnosis at the hospital – Mr. Adebowale had liver disease. During the next two months, the couple frantically tried four different hospitals but none of them could help him. They spent all their money on medical bills and their joint business, selling mobile phone top-up cards, suffered.
In July, Samson asked his wife and two of his siblings to take him to a prayer mountain – a sacred space on a mountaintop where prayers and other religious practices take place – in the last bid for a miracle cure. He died there. Elizabeth was distraught, and her relationship with her husband’s family quickly turned sour.
“I did not give in to their demands”
Samson’s family demanded that Elizabeth sell the couple’s land on which they had started construction work to build a new home. In a sad tone, she narrated how it all happened, “his brother told me that they wanted to buy land where they could bury him in Abeokuta. So, they had to sell the land we owned together”.
While Samson’s brother had no legal rights over the land, his demand came from a traditional belief in the community that a man’s land is owned by his brothers. Elizabeth said that Samson’s brother seized some of his other property, including some bicycles. However, she refused to sell the land because it was all that her husband had left behind. Instead, she wanted him buried there so that their children would be able to visit his grave and still have the land as an inheritance.
She moved swiftly, asking gravediggers to dig a grave on the plot. This made it difficult for his family because there is a traditional belief among Yoruba people that once a grave is dug, the person for whom it was intended has to be buried there; not doing so could spell bad luck for the family of the deceased.
They were surprised at her refusal to give in to their demands, Elizabeth says, and has not heard from them since they ultimately backed down.“His mother became very hostile to me. She said terrible things to me; that fate had decided that I would be a widow,” she narrated.
Elizabeth claimed she did not retaliate because of the traditional expectation that women must always be respectful to their mothers-in-law. To support her children, she worked as an attendant at a petrol station and learned how to sew clothes and school bags. She used the income to send her children to school.
“Things were very tough for us but I know that as long as I have my hands and good health, we will not suffer,” she says. “And I have tried all that I could to provide good food for my children and send them to school.”
Five years after her husband’s death, she was pressured by people – particularly congregants at her church – to remarry to provide a father figure for her children. She did so and had another child, but the marriage only lasted two years because, she says, her second husband mistreated her.
Elizabeth believes her status as a widow enabled him to treat her badly. She left with all three children last year and is now gradually picking up the pieces of her life all over again – something made harder by the fact she has been diagnosed with heart disease.
Responding to the question of if her plight had affected her relationship with people, Elizabeth replied in the negative. ” It has not affected my relationship with people. These days, I sing. I bought a secondhand keyboard and I am learning to play. You know that thing that they say about what doesn’t kill you making you stronger? I have realized that I have to remain strong for my children.”
Monsurat Omobonike’s narration.
Elizabeth’s tale is quite synonymous with that of Monsurat Omobonike whose husband died at the age of 60 in 2003. Thereafter, She struggled to put her four children through school but her son, a successful footballer, died when he was 30.
In May 2003, when Monsurat Omobonike was only 35, her husband who was a security official at Lagos Airport, Usman Abu died after suffering a stroke. The couple had married when Monsurat was a teenager after the early deaths of her parents left her responsible for five younger siblings at the age of 13.
“He was a very kind man who treated me and my children well. He always brought back goodies for his children from his job at the airport,” she recounted.
For the 41-day mourning period, she was secluded within the house with her four children, aged between 16 and 8. After her husband’s death, things became difficult for the family.
Her husband had been an only child, so had no siblings who could help her. Monsurat’s catering business went through a tough time when her unlicensed stall was removed from the university campus it was located. She was forced to resort to menial jobs such as cleaning and doing laundry to survive.
Monsurat, now 53, had been unable to finish school following her parent’s death and she wanted better for her children, particularly her daughters. Once, when things were particularly tough, she sold a plot of land to pay her daughter’s school fees. Her only son, Yusuf, was good at football and was able to make a successful career out of it.
After he secured a place with a local football club in Oyo State, he promised to support his mother which whom he bought land and was paying his sisters’ school fees until tragedy struck when he died in November 2020, after collapsing during training.
“His death made me remember his father’s death all over again, It was as if I was stripped naked two times. He was my only hope; he left me hopeless.”
My Children keeps me going…
When Abimbola Ogundare’s husband hanged himself in 2006, she had to endure the shame and stigma associated with suicide, which is taboo in Nigeria.
On March 13, 2016, she bathed her children and dressed them for church. Usually, her husband, Wale, would join them later on, but on this Sunday, they waited but he never arrived. The next time Abimbola saw him, he was dead. He had hanged himself. His church clothes were still on the bed, untouched. The couple had been married for 16 years and had six children.
For two years, Wale’s body remained in the mortuary: His family wanted nothing to do with his burial after they learned how he had died and Abimbola felt it would be disrespectful to bury him without their participation.
“Because of their beliefs about suicide, his family wanted him to be buried at the site of the suicide. This was not possible because it was a rented apartment. So, they left everything to me – they wanted nothing to do with it. I did everything myself. I raised the money to pay the 1,400 naira ($3.40) weekly mortuary bill, to pay for his burial ground. Till today, they do not know where he is buried.
“I could not sleep for days,” she says. “I started using sleeping medications just to get some hours of sleep. I was also having continuous headaches. I would be going out on the road and thinking I could hear him calling my name. I was also having terrible dreams. The landlord believed that his death was a bad omen and he wanted nothing to do with it. My neighbors were calling me mad because I would be hearing him calling my name” she lamented.
Every Friday after his death, for the two years his body remained at the mortuary, Abimbola’s church pastors organized special prayers for her children so that they would not die too. This is because, in Nigerian culture, many people believe that when someone takes their own life, they will return after death to carry off members of their family.
It has now been five years since Wale’s death, and Abimbola is still struggling financially. She said there are days when they do not eat three meals and months when she has to beg at her children’s schools because she cannot afford the fees. However, her children have helped her to move on from the sadness over time.
“It is my children that make me happy. We play together. I may not have a husband but I am happy with my children. They are my husband now.”
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