The veritable first republic minister, man of timber and caliber, K.O. Mbadiwe, would have described the situation of Mrs. Confidence Achinefu as a “concatenation of disaster” if he were to be alive today and heard her story.
It’s one that exemplifies the ‘knotty’ issue of the right of widows to inherit a property in a civil marriage. Seven years after the husband died, the relationship between her and the in-laws has remained frosty and brimming with mutual suspicion, allegations and counter-allegations between the two parties.
Mrs. Achinefu, a 38-year-old widow alleged that she and her two daughters were thrown out of their house after she refused to give-in to intense pressures mounted by her husband’s family to marry one of her in-laws, after the mysterious death of her husband.
According to Mrs. Achinefu, they told her that since she did not bear a son for her late husband, that their tradition mandates that she must marry one of her brothers-in-law, to bear more children, if she wants to continue staying in her husband’s house.
Narrating her ordeal to Sunday Sun, Mrs. Achinefu – a native of Mbaise in Imo State, disclosed that her husband, Mr. Louis Achinefu, died in a controversial circumstance on March 8, 2012, at Adealu in Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos state.
Her words: “I met my husband in 2004, and we married in 2005. We were married for seven years and had two daughters. On that fateful Thursday, my husband left home and didn’t return home. I was worried. I went to his shop and noticed that people were gathered there. I suspected that something was wrong and kept asking people to tell me whereabouts of my husband. But some of his friends I saw around the scene told me that he fainted and had been taken to the hospital. I was told to calm down because my husband was in stable condition and that I would see him soon. It was not until Saturday that I was informed that my husband had died on Thursday and that his body had been transported to the village by his friends. I suspected foul play and wanted to know why my husband’s body would be so hurriedly taken to the village without them informing me.
I was yet to fully ascertain what exactly caused my husband’s sudden death when my in-laws summoned me to the village. I thought that they wanted to discuss with me the way forward after my husband’s shocking death. But instead, they told me to stop my inquest and start preparing to marry any of my husband’s younger brothers. I was shocked at what I heard because my husband’s body was still in the mortuary when they told me that; he hadn’t even been buried yet! I was shocked because they kept insisting that it is the tradition of their village.
They didn’t seem bothered about the controversy that surrounded his death. So I turned down the suggestion because I had never heard of such before. I had never seen where a man died and his relations demanded that his wife should marry his brother even when he had not been buried. I plainly told them I could not do that.”
Sunday Sun further learnt from Mrs. Achinefu, that her refusal to even think about her in-law’s suggestion infuriated them and set them all against her. “After my husband’s funeral, I wanted to return to Lagos, but my mother-in-law and my brothers-in-law called me aside. They again told me that before I go back to Lagos, I have to agree to marry one of my late husband’s brothers. I told them that I could take the honour that I have for my husband and give it to his younger one. So, my mother-in-law said except I marry my late husband’s younger brother, she won’t accept me in her house. I suggested to her that I can stay and adopt one boy to be my son and bare my late husband’s name. But my mother-in-law refused. We didn’t agree with each others’ suggestion, so I returned to Lagos. That was when they started fighting me to release the documents of the house and his shops. They accused me of wanting to sell the house and use the money to marry another man,” she said.
Continuing the narration, Mrs. Achinefu said: “When I returned to Lagos, my in-laws fought and took my late husband’s two shops at Abeokuta Express road, Iyana ipaja, Lagos and the house at Ipaja- Ayobo. The two shops were fully stocked. One shop was stocked with industrial materials while the other was stocked with plumbing materials. I begged them to allow me run one of the shops, to fend for my children. But they refused and insisted I must marry one of my late husband’s brothers. They banished me from going to the shop, and the house. They stopped me from getting anything from them to take care of my children. I went to their uncle at Ketu and explained everything to him. He tried to intervene but they fought him and told him to back off.
At one time in 2013, my youngest daughter was very ill and I had no money to buy medication for her. She was only seven months old back then. I was pained and frustrated. So I decided to face either life or death and went to the shop to ask my in-laws for money to buy drugs for my sick child. But they said they had no money to give me and that I should leave their presence. I went mad and took the key to one of the shops. They rushed at me to return the keys but I refused. They threatened to kill me if I didn’t return the keys. I stood my ground telling them how I suffered together with my husband to get the properties that they had all taken from me. Then they started beating me.
They slapped and kicked me mercilessly before my children. It was some members of the landlord association that came to my rescue and took my children and I away to a safe place. I went to Ayobo police station to report the matter, but before I could reach the police station, my husband’s people had already gotten there before me to report. The police tried to mediate in the matter. I explained everything, how I was being treated and beaten. But I was shocked that the police man supported my in-laws. He said that in his place (Anambra), that a woman does not inherit property. He further suggested that I marry my late husband’s brother if I wanted to have access to his property.
Once again, I stated clearly that I could not marry my late husband’s brother no matter the condition. He then urged us to settle the matter at home, that he had tried his best.
They kept beating and quarreling with me because I had refused to agree to what they wanted. I got fade up and moved out to stay with their uncle at Ketu.
I also reported them to a human rights organization at Ikeja. The group summoned us and asked me to bring the land and property documents at the first meeting. They then asked my husband’s people to bring the shop key, my husband’s phone and every other thing they collected from me. But they told the rights group that they’ll make peace in-house and that I should come back home. I believed them and went back to the house. But that night again, I was accused of stealing one of their phones. They seized that opportunity and started beating me mercilessly again. I managed to escape with my children. I reported to their uncle again, and he advised me to leave them and go back to the village to stay temporarily. So I went back to the village with my children to avoid being killed.”
In her cry for justice, Mrs. Achinefu implored the government and relevant authorities to intervene and save her from the vicious and evil design to dispossess her daughters and herself what rightly belongs to them.
She also made these specific pleas: “I want my in-laws to leave our house for us, so I can manage it and cater for my children. They should leave the three-bedroom flat my late husband and I lived in before he died. And they should pay me the eight years rent they have accumulated since they started living in the house. Also, I want my daughters to take full possession of their father’s house when they are up to 20 years old.”
When Sunday Sun reached out to the family, one of the widow’s in-laws, Mr. Obioma Achinefu, in a phone chat vehemently denied all the allegations leveled against them by her. He said the sister-in-law has not been sincere in her approach towards them since the death of her husband. “All the things she told you are lies. I swear with my life that there is no truth in all of that. We never asked her to marry any of us before accessing our brother’s properties. And none of us tried to beat her.
She has been the one causing problems for every one of us in the family. We came in because we got hints that she wanted to sell off my brother’s properties and move on to marry another man. And we want to prevent that from happening so that my late brother’s children can inherit their father’s properties. I am not interested in taking over my late brother’s properties. I’m contented with what I have. What we want is for things to be done right. Her children are still like daughters to us and we have always looked out for them. But my late brother’s wife has refused to come forward to hold any discussion with us. She prefers to make trouble with us, and we are ready to answer her anywhere she takes us to,” he said.