My thorny walk into widowhood- Ijeoma Igwe

Ogunsakin Mustapha
28 Min Read
Mrs Ijeoma Igwe

For 16 years, Mrs Ijeoma Igwe lived happily with her husband, James Chidiebere Igwe in their modest home at Ayobo, Lagos. The couple had three young children, two at the secondary school level and the last one, seven years old is still in primary school. On October 16, 2023, James left home in the morning with his daughters. He wanted to drop them off at school, get to his office, and from there face the business of the day. Shortly after dropping them, he encountered traffic. He came out of his car to know the cause, and suddenly slumped. He was dead before he could get help. His corpse was taken to a hospital, and then to the morgue.

From that hour that he dropped dead, his wife, Ijeoma, and children have not known peace. First his family came to the house, harassed his wife about “a briefcase that contains the house documents”, then got her arrested and detained, and changed the locks of the house. Since then, Ijeoma has not stepped into that house. They did not allow her to take anything, not even her clothes. They took away her first two daughters, and left the youngest for her. She does not even know whether they are in school or not. She has been moving around from one friend’s house to another to lay her head down. The problem became too much for her to the extent that she had partial stroke! The stroke affected half of her body, including her face and limbs.

She survived, but is still nursing herself back to health. James was buried yesterday, March 29, 2024 in his village, Akanu Item, Bende Local Government Area of Abia State. The fear of what her in laws did to her in Lagos prevented her from attending the burial.

In this interview with Mustapha Ogunsakin, Ijeoma narrated her story, her thorny walk into widowhood.

Q: What is your name? Please introduce yourself.

A: My name is Igwe Ijeoma. I’m from Onicha Local Govt., Ebonyi State. I’m a widow, as I recently lost my husband, and I have been going through a lot in the hands of my husband’s people.

Q: Can you narrate how it all started from the beginning?

A: On the 16th of October, 2023, my husband left the house for the office and to drop our 3 kids at school, around 7:30am. By 12:30pm, I heard a knock on my gate and it was my daughter wearing her school uniform, Joseph, my husband’s brother and two of his friends. Then I asked my daughter why she wasn’t in school by that time and she told me her uncle came to pick her, saying that her father told him to come and take some things from the house. I also asked Joseph (who had lived with us for more than 14 years) what he wanted and he told me my husband asked him to pick up his briefcase.

I was still trying to find a way to call my husband to talk to him when Joseph pushed me out of the way while his friends held my hands. They went into the house and searched everywhere but couldn’t find anything.

Mrs Ijeoma Igwe, when the going was good…

I was shouting and calling out to my neighbours to come because I didn’t understand what was happening. Joseph kept asking for where “the box” was, threatening to beat me and eventually hit me with a bench. My neighbours who were in the compound started shouting and questioning him for hitting me.

Joseph and his friends later left the house and immediately after, I ran to the closest Police Station around Ayobo to write my statement and tell them what had happened. While I was there, a call came in from my children’s school, informing me that my brother-in-law and some strange persons had gone to the school to take my children. I instructed them not to allow anyone to do so and ran down from the Station to their school. I got there and kept trying to call my husband but his line wasn’t going through. I asked them why they were trying to take my children without permission and they

After a long back and forth, some staff of the school offered to accompany us back to the house.

Getting back home, I saw two hefty men by the gate in a red lexus car and they were asking to take my children but I refused. This was around past 6pm in the evening. One of my husband’s brother’s friends, Julius, tried to cajole me into letting them take my children but I still refused. I then called a family friend who stays around the area and she came with her husband. They were also trying to find out why those people wanted to take my children away and it was at that point that Julius, for the first time, broke the news that my husband had died that morning. I broke down in tears and wondered why he was just mentioning such important information at that moment.

Initially, all they had told me was that my husband was in police custody and that he had asked them to bring his briefcase. He then told me to calm down, that all they wanted to do was take the kids to a safe place to break the news to them quietly. I have 3 children and the youngest of them is 7 years old, so I told them they could go with the older ones (12 and 14 years old), and leave the baby with me. They did this and when they left, I called a family friend to tell her my husband was late and then called their uncle to tell him of all that had happened and confirm what I had heard of my husband’s death. He confirmed the news and when I asked for where his corpse was or what hospital he had been taken to, he refused to tell me but just stated that they were already on their way, carrying the corpse to the East. I was shocked at this and then decided to go back to the police station.

On my way there, around 11pm/12am at night, I met the friend I had called earlier. She asked where I was going and I told her I was looking for my husband, that he had died and no one was telling me what happened. She suggested that I go back home because of how late at night it was. I refused but asked if I could stay at her place as I had already packed some bags and she agreed. By the next morning, we went back to my house and several people who had heard of my husband’s death started coming.

To my greatest surprise, on 20th October, four days after his death, his elder brother, Igwe Paul Onyike, the younger one, Joseph Igwe and about 9 other family members including his sisters barged into my house and started shouting, looking for me and a briefcase that belonged to my husband and some other belongings. As soon as I noticed some of them carrying sticks, I hid my phone so they wouldn’t be able to get it from me. I told them I didn’t know what they were talking about and they started hitting me and even my friend with slaps, threatening to kill me if I didn’t bring out the briefcase which contained the house documents. They also locked me and my friend inside the house but I tried reaching out to my neighbour who then called the street chairman. They all came in but when the chairman saw my husband’s people, he said it was a family matter and they wouldn’t be able to intervene. I was begging him to stay and not allow them to kill me, but he left.

Mr&Mrs James Chidiebere Igwe

Shortly after he left, some police officers came in from Area P Command, Ipaja Road, opposite Gowon Estate roundabout. When they got in, they started asking for the suspect (me). At that point, I had become really thirsty and I was begging my husband’s people for water but they refused and told me that I was going to die. The police then arrested me and my husband’s people followed in their cars. As we were moving, they found out the address of my friend within the area and went there to question her about the briefcase. They told her that I had said I dropped a box with her, which was a lie, but she denied and said that all I had dropped with her were the two bags I packed. They took the bags and the police also arrested her.

When we got to the station, the police didn’t ask me any question other than where the briefcase and documents were. They later asked me to open my two bags and I told them it was my personal belongings that were there and I didn’t want to open it. After much bullying, they forced me to open the first bag and saw that it was my clothes and some documents that were there. They also asked me to open the second one but I requested to see the Area Commander first or at least a lawyer before opening it. They refused and called one of the other officers to make a video while they searched my bags. I was crying and begging them but they kept threatening to lock me up in the cell and so I eventually gave in and opened the bag. When I opened it, they saw my personal credentials, school certificates and some of my children’s documents.

Since they had still not found the main thing they were looking for, they asked a lady to search me and in the presence of my in-laws and the police men there, she dipped her hands inside my bra and private parts, and brought out my phone. They took it and refused to give it back to me. This was around 10:30 pm that day. I was still there till past 12 midnight and I asked them if I could go back to my house. The police told me that if I went back, they (my husband’s people) could kill me because they had already taken over the house. I tried to rush down to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) in Ikeja that same night and when I got there, they had to put me on a wheelchair as I couldn’t walk properly. They still delayed me at the hospital, telling me they were on strike and that I needed to pay some money first, but they eventually gave me some treatment and told me to come back for the results later.

The following day, I called the Area Commander at Area F Police Station to narrate all that had happened. He was shocked and said he would call the Area Commander of the police station where I was taken to and bullied. The Area Commander denied knowing anything about my ordeal. The IPO was instructed to give me back my phone but he refused. Despite all my pleas to get my phone back so I could atleast contact my family and friends to let them know my whereabouts, he refused and asked me to leave his office and come back the following Monday to get my phone back. Eventually, the Area Commander re-instructed the IPO to return my phone and it was finally given back to me. 

Mrs Igwe with her children

The following Monday when I was meant to meet with my husband’s family, I went with my lawyer, Barr. Wale Williams, but they refused to show up and I was so sure that they were around because I saw their car which they used to pick my children from school and drove in to the police station, in that premises. They were around the vicinity waiting for me, thinking I would go there alone, but they hid when they found out I was with my lawyer. The police called them and for over 2 hours, they did not show up. Eventually, they were reachable and said they would show up on Friday, 27th October, that same week.

By Friday, I went there again with my cousin, lawyer and one of his colleagues. My husband’s family also came with their own lawyer, a woman. They stated their position on the occurrences and I shared mine as well. Later on, the Area Commander said that we should first proceed with my husband’s burial and afterwards, we should come back.

Q: Did they explain to the police how your husband died?

A: Yes, they did.

Q: How did they say he died?

A: They said he was driving on the road, came out of the car during traffic to check what was happening, and then he slumped and died. I then told the police that up till that point, I still hadn’t seen my husband’s corpse because it was the same day he died that they carried him to the East to bury. I did not even fully believe that my husband was truly dead. The police still said we should leave and come back after my husband’s burial. After this, I waited throughout October, November, December 2023, till even January this year (2024) and I still did not return to my house. By February, I went to the police station to inform them that I wanted to travel to see my family in the village and I needed to take my bags which they had seized and still had in their custody. They refused and I told them I would come back to collect it after I return the village.

Mrs Igwe after the partial stroke

Q: So all this while, you didn’t take anything out of your house and not even your clothes which you packed in your bag because it was with the police?

A: Yes.

Q: So how were you dressing, eating and where were you living in throughout this period?

A: What I was doing since I only had the same clothes I had been wearing for days, was to wash it in the mornings and tie a wrapper and dry it in my friend’s place. After drying, I would rewear it and continue this cycle. I wasn’t even eating so much because I barely had any money. All I had was my phone.

I later went to my big daughter’s house who gave me a dress to wear and I stayed with her for a little over a month. Afterwards, I stayed in some friends’ houses. I was basically sleeping in the different houses of my friends, just to get by. 

Q: So it was in February 2024 that they got in touch with you?

A: Yes, I didn’t hear from them till then. When they reached out, I was surprised and I told them I had mourned my husband for those 3 months already. At some point, I even barbed my hair to a low cut. I had decided to tell my family all that was going on and since my husband’s family was not carrying me along, I wrote a petition against them. At that point, my children were not going to school, they were no longer enrolled in the previous school my husband and I put them in. My two older children who they (my husband’s family) had taken were not schooling at all. These people had even made my children block my number from their phones so I could not reach them at all throughout that period.

I decided to transfer the case to Zone 2 so that they could at least call them to know why my children were not going to school anymore and also allow me to get in touch with my children. The police at Zone 2 then said they would invite my in-laws and one Mr. Bamgbose called them and they told him they would come around sometime early in the month of March. They first postponed showing up two times. By the third time, which was around mid-March, they came around with my two children and then explained what happened. Meanwhile, three days before the day they finally agreed to come, I slept one night and by morning, I woke up with a partial stroke, which I am still recovering from even now.

At the meeting, Joseph denied hitting me with a bench and the police asked my daughter if he really hit me. She said she saw him carry the bench but did not know if he hit me with it. This clearly meant that they had turned my children against me and tried to make them speak negatively about me so that they could have their way. The police told them that their actions in failing to carry me along with the whole process and not letting my children go to school were wrong. They gave no response.

Mr. Bamgbose, who is an official at the police station, at some point threatened to put them in a cell and to get a detention order against them, especially when Joseph tried to interfere in what the police were saying, but their lawyer pleaded for them.

Eventually, the police told them to carry me along with the burial rites and allow me to have access to my children. When the police asked my children if they were going to school, they said that they were attending St. Saviours at Igando road. I told them I knew the place and the police told me to go and verify if my children were really schooling there. On the day I went there, I was denied entry by the school authorities because they said they don’t allow strange people to visit the wards. I told them I was their mother and they allowed me in, took me to my children to confirm whether I was indeed their mother and my children affirmed this. The school authorities told me that they couldn’t let me take them since I was not the one who registered them in the school (it was the daughter of my husband’s elder brother, Igwe Paul Onyike who registered them).  I decided to go to my house (where I lived with my husband and children) to see if anyone was there, and I met the gate locked. It was people around my area who then told me that it was the elder brother who used to come around, open the gate and go in at intervals. They were also surprised that I was still alive because most of them thought they had killed me. I also didn’t have any key to the house. I went to see one of my neighbour’s that day and he told me that he heard that they planned to do a wake keep in my house on March 15th, and I was not aware of this. I went there on that date but met the gate locked and there was no function holding there. All I saw was a poster at the gate, announcing my husband’s death and showing that he is survived by “his children, family and friends.” I was completely excluded and I could not fathom what exactly was happening. People around me were also surprised that they fixed my husband’s burial and informed almost everyone but me, and didn’t even inform everyone else that they had cancelled it. After this encounter, I have still not heard from them till this point, as I speak to you.

Q: So what is the latest development on this matter?

A: On the 29th of March, they are going to bury my husband without my knowledge or presence, somewhere in Akanu, Bendel Local Government, Abia State. One of their uncles said he wanted to see me but he postponed it till a later date. Meanwhile, he didn’t give me any hint or information about the burial they were planning. I reached out to him again later concerning the meeting he said he wanted to have with me and he told me that it had been cancelled, but that by 28th and 29th March would be my husband’s wake and burial ceremony respectively. I asked what the preparations were and he said all they were working on was the house…

Q: Did your husband have any house in the village before his death?

A: No, he did not but he had some acres of land and there is a house he inherited from his father at Aba. He had also recently bought some lands in Eket. He also had land in Agbara.

Q: Are these people your husband’s full siblings (same father and mother)?

A: Yes, they are. Someone also called me during the period of this whole ordeal to tell me that Paul Onyike had gone to my husband’s place of work in Egbeda to ransack his personal office and pack some of his items and belongings.

Q: How long were you married to your husband for?

A: We were married for sixteen years, and we lived together all those years.

Q: At what point did you move to your house in Ayobo?

A: Sometime in 2012. He bought that land for 250,000 naira and we built that house together.

Q: Was there any fight between you and your husband before his death? And do you know if he ever reported you to his family members if you ever did something wrong?

A: No, there wasn’t. I was never nasty or mean to him. I never really did anything to warrant him reporting me to his family.

Q: Do you think yoy would be able to attend the burial, as it stands?

A: No, I won’t because based on all they put me through here in Lagos, I fear that they would kill me if I go all the way to their village. 

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