In the synoptic gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus, while teaching at the temple in Jerusalem, eulogised the widow’s mites. She has given all from her heart. The New International Version (NIV) of Luke 21 verse 4 says: “…but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” And so was the widow of Benin, Mrs. Joy Ifijeh. Unfortunately, the widow of Benin had put in all she had to live on in the wrong place at the wrong hour.
The plight of Nigerian widows is that which needs not be overemphasised. It is common and well-known. The challenges widow’s face at the demise of their husbands, who customs bequeath the role of the head of the family, is no longer a strange phenomenon, as it cuts across different cultures in Nigeria.
Inevitably, the widows assume the role of the head of the house, a role which comes with a lot of responsibilities. In such a situation, life becomes so difficult, especially for widows who are not financially independent prior to the passing away of their spouses. The unexpected transition bestows on them a father figure.
Mrs. Joy Ifijeh must have had her share of widows’ plight. She had been a victim of theft by a truck pusher who went away with her goods, a week before her encounter with Governor Adams Oshiomhole. To avoid such an occurrence again, she placed her goods on the road contrary to the state’s law on street trading.
On the other hand, the law is no respecter of persons and so was the governor. The widow’s encounter with the helmsman of Edo State was a blend of pain and gain. Despite government’s effort to rid the state of street trading and other unhealthy practices due to the hazard they pose to public safety, the governor, who was on inspection, was enraged at the widow’s attempt to sabotage his administration’s effort. Just like Jesus, so many of us had expected the governor to tell the poor widow to go and sin no more. On the contrary, she was upbraided. “The law”, Anatole France said, “In its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” But, the diction was, nevertheless, too strong for public consumption.
Such an uncensored utterance from an elected public figure was deemed inappropriate. While apologising, the governor said: “…but when I said go and die, that one was said in a fit of anger. And I am really sorry.” Not only did the governor realise his mistake on time, he tread the path of honour by employing the widow to enforce that same law she flouted.
As Aristotle puts it, “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. Anger is a normal emotional response to a perceived provocation but never should we allow it to cloud our sensibility. It was the same hubristic anger that led to the downfall of Odewale in Ola Rotimi’s The gods Are Not to Blame. Beyond fatalism, anger has led to the downfall of great men. Such is the case of the rage of Achilles.
The ironic twist of event was due to the governor’s anagnorisis, as explicated in Aristotle’s Poetics. He discovered his weakness before it was exploited by the opposition party in a fit of mischief. For the widow, it was a reversal of fate. The peripatetic governor’s regret was her fortune but the peripeteia, nevertheless, was an act of divine providence.