Badagry was the first community to receive the Christian religion in Nigeria, yet its coming into early contact with the missionaries has not translated into Ogu people acquiring a healthier understanding of fair play in the context of widowhood practices. Despite the overwhelming presence of Christian relics in the ancient town of Badagry, traditional customs such as wife inheritance and widowhood rites have continued to appear significantly associated with violence, against which women are not well-protected. It is against this background that this article uses the experiences of the Ogu people of Nigeria to answer the following questions: what are the different widowhood practices among the Ogu women in Lagos, Nigeria? To what extent do these widowhood practices criminally affect widows? And how best can women trapped in widowhood regain the control of their lives?
Quantitative and qualitative methods were adopted for the study, including questionnaires, five in-depth interviews, and three focus group discussions to collect primary data, which were used to complement quantitative data. 220 Ogu men and women were randomly selected to participate in the study, covering a range of socio-economic positions. Of the 220 participants, only 83.3% averred that they were indeed Ogu people, with 12.4% identifying as Yoruba people. This may indicate slight cultural conflict between the majority Ogu, who assert ethnic independence, and the minority who identify with mainstream Yoruba culture. This is pertinent to the question of widowhood practices as the Yoruba traditionally believe more in fairness in such matters.
The study found that although the Ogu people of Lagos acknowledge the position of the scriptures on society’s non-criminal relation with widows, they still believe that their culture comfortably drives the greater proportion of their widow-friendly interactions. This tallies with the authors conclusions that harmful widowhood practices are not an African issue per se, but instead reflect the way in which European colonial cultures treated their widows. This study suggests that the adoption of African centred cultural best practices in handling widows will tone down violence in customary widowhood practices that are inimical to widows’ interests, such as those that commodify women, regard widows as part of their deceased husbands’ inheritable property, and exploit them for gainful use.
Flowing from the study, the following recommendations are suggested to reduce the incidence and intensity of widowhood practices among the Ogu people of Lagos, and African widows elsewhere:
Governments should strengthen the policy framework for the elimination of violence against widows through laws providing for gender equality in inheritance matters.
Education should be used to refine African tradition, remove harmful practices, and develop a personality that is truly and traditionally unique, and that connects with the realities of the African people.
Men should use traditional methods to prevent disruption to fragile networks of customary relationships after their death. This does not have to take the European outlook.
Governments should criminalise any attempt by someone or group of people to force another person to experience any harmful widowhood practices.
African widows should take advantage of contemporary support networks to activate their human potential, and access community-based support resources for self-development.