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The Och’Idoma and Chairman of Idoma Traditional Area Council, HRM Dr. John Odogbo Elaigwu, has commended the Founder, Eunice Spring of Life Foundation (ESLF) and First Lady of Benue State, Dr. Eunice Ortom for her noble initiative to spearhead advocacy to eradicate all forms of harmful practices meted to widows in Benue State.

The Och’Idoma gave this commendation during an advocacy visit led by Dr. Ortom to his palace at Otukpo on two proposed bills: the Widowhood Protection Bill and Women Inclusion in Traditional Leadership Bill put together by the trio of ESLF, Office of the First Lady of Benue State and the State Gender Based Violence Policy Advocacy and Implementation Committee.

Dr. Elaigwu who described harmful widowhood practices in the strongest of terms as “barbaric, inhumane, draconian and demonic”, declared that the proposed bill to eliminate such obnoxious practices was “100 percent approved on arrival” as the bill’s intent tallies with his desire to abolish such vile practice within his domain but sought to study the drafts of both bills so the council could properly deliberate on them and come out with a unanimous position on the proposed bill to include women in traditional leadership.

Earlier, chief advocate of the 2 proposed bills and First Lady, Dr. Eunice Ortom who disclosed that she was not working merely of her own volition but with the mandate of wounded victims who had for long borne the whiplash of obnoxious practices against them, maintained that such “age-long practices are clogs in the wheel of progress which have since been abolished by forward-looking societies”.

The ESLF Founder who appealed to the traditional rulers to “move swiftly to stop the cries of their weeping subjects by supporting the bills”, said their position on the proposed bills was potent enough to mould views and opinions as well as attract the authority needed for them to sail through seamlessly.

She charged them to see their support for the bills as “a chance to show love to their subjects and leave a lasting legacy for generations to come”.

The First Lady pointed out that the proposed Widowhood Protection Bill includes provisions for setting up a Commission to cater for the interest of Widows and pointed out that capacities of traditional rulers’ wives would be built to ensure their active participation in their respective domain.

Dr. Ortom who lamented that “social vices like cultism, kidnapping, substance abuse and cybercrime were on the rise and need everyone, including women to contribute to curb the menace, maintained that women inclusion in leadership up to the traditional level would be of immense help in this regard.

Lending her voice to the clarion call, the Queen of Idoma land, HRM Ogabanya Omaba Martha Elaigwu who appreciated the Governor’s wife “for driving the affairs of women and giving them their pride of place”, prayed that “the door of the 2 proposed bills be opened” saying “her effort to take up fights to ease other people’s pains was noble and commendable”.

On her part, Wife of the State Deputy Governor, Justice Mary Abounu who averred that the appeal for women inclusion in traditional leadership was not out of place as the former Och’Idoma had, in December 1994, bestowed chieftaincy titles on 4 women namely, Dr. Enyantu Ifene, Mrs. Omojo Obande Obeya, Mrs. Regina Agbese and herself “as (“Akwonya k’Idoma”), pointed out that the expected traditional leadership role women sought in the proposed bill was “advisory” and added that what they seek was NOT a show of contest with their male counterpart but a chance to complement their effort.

Justice Abounu explained that women exclusion from traditional leadership was not an express provision spelt out in any law book in the State but rather an issue of convention laid down overtime which could be corrected through affirmative action to right the wrong.

On his part, Mr. Bob Aboje Echikwonye of Opia toha k’Idoma who spoke for the socio-cultural groups in Benue State assured the Och’Idoma and the Council of the merit of the proposed bills adding that as “foot soldiers for the Och’Idoma who had been part of the advocacy group, we call for your unflinching support for its presentation and passage into law”.

Narrating her blood-curdling widowhood ordeal earlier, Mrs. Becky Idoko, a widow of over 16 years who spoke for Benue State widows, thanked Dr. Ortom for responding to their cries. The mother of two who disclosed that she had lost her spouse at a tender age, lamented that her late husband’s relatives had seized all she ever laboured for with him and cried that traditional rulers listen to their cries and take steps to wipe their tears.

In their various remarks, State Chairperson, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Barr. Prisca Ula, Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Tabitha Igirgi, State Coordinator, UN Women He-for-She Network, Mr. Nathaniel Awuapila, a former Commissioner in the State Mrs. Ladi Isegbe-Ajene, representative of Mzough u kase, Mrs. Victoria Tarbo and Programme Officer of Opiatoha Women and Youth Empowerment Programme, Mrs. Victoria Esa all called for support for the two bills drafted to emancipate the womenfolk and pave the pathway for a more just and inclusive society for the good of all.

The parley with the First Lady was attended by First Class chiefs, Second Class chiefs and Third Class Chiefs across Idoma land.

Emmanuel Enenche Umele


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