Entrepreneurship: The Widows Alternative

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– As widows pour tears on International Widows Day in Port Harcourt

(First published in BD Sunday)

Introduction

Your husband drops dead; breadwinner has left you. Darkness seems to envelop you. What do you do; run or run berserk? A team of lawyers and women organizations in Port Harcourt say such women should no longer lose hope run to entrepreneurship, the widow’s alternative.

Eugenia Marcus; FVI

This was the narrative garnered from the venue of the International Widows Day (IWD) marked in the D-Line area of Port Harcourt under the auspices of Fresh View Initiative (FVI) founded by a widow, Eugenia Marcus. She said IWD is ratified by the United Nations (UN) and set the day aside to focus on the plight of widows so as to mobilize efforts towards their emancipation. According to her, this tries to review the burdens of widows. She urged widows at the event to hear what the law says about widows and how widows can fight poverty. “Widows grapple with financial lack, school fees, health issues, etc.’, he added.

According to Marcus who made opening remarks at the event, the solution to the plight of widows is entrepreneurship. She pepped up the motivation by extracting the inner lessons of the biblical widow and her little left-over oil. The late prophet’s wife lost out after the death of her husband and was about to give up in the heat of her economic crisis, when a prophet came along. To help her, the prophet asked for anything in her hand. “This means, as you seek help up and down, pause, look and see that thing in your hand. It was a little oil left for the widow. Was it seed or food?. Two, she was asked to ‘borrow’ containers from everywhere. This endorses the principle of loans and borrowing to cause multiplication of seed. Next, she sold the surplus. This concludes the theory, which is, invest what you have, borrow what you do not have, create harvest, sell the surplus to survive. This experiment was conducted with a widow, and it worked. It will still work today.” This attracted huge applause.

She went on: “It also works for non-widows. Entrepreneurship is what every woman should embrace such that should a husband leave you, you can fall back on your small business. Those working are not left out of this strategy; keep a small business by the side. You never can tell. By the way, you need that extra income. It may turn out to be the X-factor; that last ditch fund that may save you in strange situations.”

Marcus revealed that her NGO, Fresh View Initiative, was formed out of her own ordeal that taught her a lesson. “It was my ordeal in trying to move my business out of my home to a shop. I later sat back and tried to figure out how many other women out there were facing that same situation at one time or the other. So, I started Fresh View initiative (FVI) to bring women together so we can tackle our problems before they overwhelm us.”

Business Finance by Ife Ibitokun of BizNurture

To help women structure their small businesses for effectiveness, FVI brought Ife Ibitokun, a chartered accountant said to habour a passion for financial inclusion and literacy of SMEs. Ibitokun is said to be the founder & CEO of BizNurture Financial Services Limited that helps small businesses get access to finance with over 200 seekers so far processed with impact.

Ibitokun, with her rich background from the University of Lagos Nigeria, Cranfield School of Management in the UK, and Kobe University Business School, Japan, drilled the women with eye-popping details about how loose structures and poor financial records ruin very good businesses.

The expert said: “The place of record-keeping in a business especially SMEs is crucial. Consider cost of sale in an SME because record keeping would help bring this factor out. The world is moving to business accountability which requires strict account keeping in your business place. Consider assets, sales, income & liability. Important; create a savings account for your business to lodge the profit you make for the sake of the proverbial rainy day.”

She went on: “Absence of a structure for your business will crash any size of money. Starting a business, growing a business, and defending a business, are all important stages of a successful business. The key is, chase your debtors, else they conclude you are not keen on your money.”

Ibitokun went on: Keep records, bank all income, do cash reconciliation every day so you can catch the details every day, buy together to enjoy economy of scale, add value to your sales to retain customers, do feasibility studies, consider business risks of the product you want to do and the mitigations, and consider that not all businesses make profit immediately.

Cordelia Eke: Widows Rights

The emerging voice for legal defence of women in the Niger Delta, Cordelia Eke, who is

the secretary of the Port Harcourt chapter of the NBA and a dogged fighter for women & child rights as well as leader of the female section of the African Bar Association in Rivers State, took it from there.

She said: “When a man dies, harmful traditions emerge to torment the wife the man left behind. Find out what the law says on any matter concerning a widow. The kind of marriage rites you entered into will decide what a woman gets in a marriage.”

Eke mentioned the various types as court marriage called marriage under the act, marriage under native law, church/mosque marriage (religious marriage). She said there is a fourth marriage, marriage under no law at all, which is however validated by the many years of living together like husband and wife with children that have become factors in that union.

She went on to teach an aspect in the marriage under native law, saying it seems to allow people with wicked agenda to succeed. “It is amazing that women pursue these injustices with more aggression and more vigour against other women. There is trial by ordeal such as forcing the wife to drink water with which the corpse was bathed, making a widow sit on broken shell of cocoanut for days, forced wailing, etc.”

She urged women to know that the UN has made treaties to protect widows and women. The Nigerian constitution gives right to life and dignity of human beings, plus freedom of movement. “These laws and conventions seek to protect you, but you must seek help to be helped; go to a lawyer or to court.”

Eke also pointed to the Criminal Code that she said treats wicked customs that are repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience as crimes. “There is a lot to protect widows in Rivers State such as the 2003 law against drinking of bath water, etc. The fine is N300,000 or two years imprisonment; violence against a woman is N500,000. The solution is, report to the police in case of maltreatment. Many women do not report due to ignorance, poverty, etc. There are women lawyers ready to help widows and women in legal distress.” He gave the contacts.

Eke told the widows that there is an estate department in the Ministry of Justice that helps women whose husband’s estates (property) are being forcefully denied them. The unit acquires the right to manage such estates and remit funds for basic things such as feeding, school fees, the mother of the dead man, etc, until the dispute is resolved. “So, a widow has options: petition to the Nigerian Bar Association, find out more, go to God.”

After hearing tearful lamentations from widows who are now stranded in courts in trying to seek justice, the legal activist observed that lawyers are fast losing their wigs and gowns due to professional misconducts. She said that the marriage act supercedes other laws. She advised widows to first seek economic power, then other things would fall into place. “Cling to God”, she counseled them.

The founder of Fresh View Initiative in an interview later revealed plans to educate more non-widows to reduce tragedies during widowhood. She also revealed plans to teach women to help their husbands live longer to reduce number of widowed women. She also said loan facilities would soon be part of FVI. This requires working with banks to create access to finance to widows and other women.