Many widows and orphans are faced with huge challenges. Some of them resort to begging as a means of survival. In view of their pathetic situation, the need to empower them through skills acquisition has over the years become imperative SOLOMON AYADO and CHIDI NWACHUKWU have in this piece, dissected the scenario.
There is no doubt that widows and orphans constitute a large percentage of people that beg on our streets. Due to the neglect, they were forced to evolve ways to fend for themselves and enhance their living conditions. According to a recent survey on street begging in the country, scores of women who lost their husbands, and many children whose parents are no more comprise the greater percentage of those that overwhemed public places to seek for means of survival.
“I lost my husband in Maiduguri during the dastardly attacks by Boko Haram sect. He was killed when the assailants bombed a market and killed scores of persons.My husband was the breadwinner and we had six children. Since his demise, life has never been the same because our children are not grown up and the task of feeding them is not easy for me. I have to storm the streets to beg for food and money from people in order to take care of my children.”
Mrs. Hauwa Musa, a forty- year-old widow also narrated her ordeal to LEADERSHIP. She is one among many widows that are faced with lack of food and financial challenges to enhance the living condition of her family. Hauwa explained that she took to street begging out of frustration to provide food her children and buy them clothes.
Also, Adamu was only four years when his father brought him to Lafia town all the way from Sokoto state. At four years, he didn’t understand why his father brought him to a house filled up with other children. There was no food and he had to struggle with other children on the streets to get food to eat.
Adamu who is now nine years, can barely remember his surname or where he came from because he did not know the whereabout of his parents. Every single day is the same in the life of Adamu and his friends, as they had to beg for food and money on the street.
Further investigation revealed that many widows and orphans because of the necessity to enhance their living condition engage in illegal activities to simply withstand their helpless situations. And if this discovery is anything to go by, there is need for government at all levels, as well as public spirited individuals to lend a helping hand in order to ameliorate the suffering of the less privileged widows and orphans.
Many states in the country are contending with the influx of widows and orphans besieging the streets in the name of begging. Some state governments are still battling with challenges to make life worth living for these vulnerable class of people.
With a very strong zeal to seek greener pastures, some of the widows go about with little children at their backs, begging for food and money. Many of them do not have a trade and or have not acquired a skill to engage in any meaningful venture. They depend largely on kind spirited Nigerians who give them some succor.
More so that the rampant indulgence of people in criminal activities have made a lot of public spirited individuals to be skeptical about rendering help, many widows and orphans have not gained the desired level of support they ordinarily should have gotten due to the enveloping suspicion that pervades the land which made it difficult for people to come to their rescue.In one of the suburbs of Abuja for example, a middle aged woman pretended to be disabled and was always sitting on the walkways begging for money from people. It was discovered that the woman had claimed to be deaf and dumb, and that she pretended to have lost one of her legs due to a fatal motor accident that nearly claimed her life. But her gimmick was later unveiled even as it took a lot of time before some passers-by understood her trick and finally made open her criminal act.
But this, and other ugly incidents notwithstanding have not totally discouraged some public spirited individuals and non-governmental organizations to render humanitarian services to the widows and orphans, with the aim of empowering them.
The Rock of Ages Empowerment Foundation (RAEF) is among many NGOs that brought succor to them.
The Foundation which was set up by Evangelist Ignatius Newman Ezeigbo in the year 2009 in Maiduguri, has since its inception, brought relief to scores of widows and orphans in Nigeria.
The Foundation has been supporting the indigent members of the society by way of distributing relief materials such as food items, clothing, medications and household consumables to them.
Founder of the foundation, Evangelist Ezeigbo explained that he was moved to render assistance to widows and orphans due to the numerous challenges they faced. He said the foundation originally started in Maiduguri, Borno State but later moved to Abuja when the Boko Haram insurgency escalated. According to him, he published nine books and dedicated the proceeds of the sales to the welfare of widows and orphans.
He further said it was not easy for him to manage the needs of his beneficiaries at that early stage and that he had to seek partnership with other corporate bodies and individuals in funding the project when the population of beneficiaries grew beyond his provisional capacity.
“I was touched by the number of challenges faced by widows and orphans. The Foundation has only grown from grace to grace. While operating in Maiduguri, the highest number of beneficiaries that were ever reached at a single outreach was about 2,500 but today in Abuja, the number of beneficiaries has soared to a whopping 20,000. The activities of this organization has attracted the attention of many well-meaning Nigerians who have indicated interest in supporting the cause of the less privileged. At present, the Foundation has branches in Borno, Plateau, Lagos, Kwara and Katsina States and there are ongoing plans to set up branches in the remaining states of the federation,”he explained.
In order to empower widows and orphans, during the last International Widows’ Day held at the National Centre for Women Development in Abuja, over 20,000 widows and orphans were provided with different items to enhance their revenue generation. The items included sewing machines, large cooking pots, kitchen utensils, hair dryers, microwave ovens, wrappers, bags of rice and food items among others.
Several widows and orphans undertook varied training in skill acquisition programmes and each of them was awarded a certificate of participation, and further supplied with machines that are relevant to their respective trades. Also, the orphans are now accommodated in the outreach project of RAEF as their school fees, feeding and welfare are been taken care of.
Speaking during the empowerment of widows and orphans in Abuja, a Justice of the Supreme Court and former First Lady of Rivers State, Justice Mary Odili said the Nigerian Judiciary was committed in the fight for the rights of widows and orphans. Odili said the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, has promised to do everything within the ambits of the law to ensure that widows and orphans are not maltreated and molested in the society.
Justice Odili reiterated that the judicial arm of government will always rise up to protect the rights of widows who are hitherto objects of social abuse and molestation, and who cannot fight back for lack of wherewithal. She called on widows and orphans to not hesitate in reporting any acts of injustice meted out to them, to the appropriate authorities so that legal actions can be taken against the defaulters.
A popular Nigerian actress, Patience Ozokwor, herself a widow, enjoined widows to eschew the lifestyle of extravagance and waste, and to adopt diligence and resourcefulness to be able to take care of their children. She further encouraged widows to stay faithful to their families so that they would be able to perform their obligations to their children and to the families of their deceased spouses.
As it stands, street begging as indulged by widows and orphans is gradually taking a toll especially now that the economy has dwindled. It is left to be seen whether governments, non-governmental organizations and public spirited individuals will render assistance to empower widows and orphans to acquire skills and raise their financial status.