EXCLUSIVE: One-on-one with Rep. Abdullahi Musa on Widowhood Bill

Elizabeth AtimeApril 1, 202415 min

Rep Musa says the Widowhood Leave Bill when assented to will greatly contribute to the emotional healing of spouses who lose their partners as 14-day bereavement is not adequate.

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Reactions have continued to trail the “Widowhood Leave Bill 2023” that scaled through a second reading in the House of Representatives last month (19th March 2024). The proposed legislation gives widows and widowers a leave of 5 months to enable them time and space to grieve, seek counselling, and adjust to their current realities.

Many Nigerians including some lawmakers have expressed their reservations about the benefits of the proposed piece of legislation which prompted our OrderPaper correspondent, Lizzy Chirkpi to seek an interview with the sponsor of the Bill, Rep. Saidu Musa Abdullahi, of the All Progressives Congress (APC) representing Bida/Gbako/Katcha federal constituency of Niger State.

The Niger State lawmaker who doubles as the Deputy Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Finance said the Widowhood Leave Bill when assented to will greatly contribute to the emotional healing of spouses who lose their partners.

 Find excerpts of the interview below:

Question: Can you elaborate on the motivation behind proposing a five-month leave period for bereaved spouses in Nigeria?

Answer: Thank you so much, once again, for coming to my office. I think primarily, our responsibility is to make laws for the good governance and welfare of our people. Part of what we do here is to look at the challenges our people face and the laws that we propose, which eventually become laws. Responses to situations or challenges that we see that people are faced with. The Widowhood Bill is about our values and is about our humanity. I have seen women go through some pain, and agony after the loss of their dear ones.

I was made to understand that as it were in the public service rules, they have about 14 days recommended for bereavement. And if you look at our culture, our tradition and our religious affiliation, you will appreciate the fact that 14 days is not adequate to take care of the demand, especially for women, when they lose their spouses. You know, we give an example of the expectation of the Muslim woman, when she loses a spouse. There is what we call either in Islam, which is a period where a woman is supposed to be confined to her home, you know, it’s about four months 10 days period, where she is not supposed to go out she’s supposed to be confined to a home for us to observe some rituals, especially as it relates to whether or not there’s pregnancy between the spouse that has passed on or not.

I think beyond the Muslim woman, I have also tried to engage some clerics and intellectuals who have a Christian leaning. I spoke with Dr. Sam Amadi who is doing in-depth research for me, as far as the topic is concerned. And I think, from what he has shared so far, you can see that is beyond just the Islamic woman. You know, Christianity, of course, also has recommendations for women who pass through the difficult period of losing their loved ones. So I’m sure even in the traditional religious setting, people that are traditionalists of course, there are demands on women, you know, so we came by this.

More importantly because of the challenges our women face after losing their loved ones, we also made recommendations for men. Because we also have feelings. We also go through these pains when we lose our loved ones, but the time that we set for men is different from what we said for women, looking at one month for men, and five months period for women. As I said, the five months, what inspired that is the demand on Muslim women’s performance standards, and why I feel we should not see it as something too complicated.

As it were, we already have provision for maternity leave, which is about the same period in the life of a woman, there is a possibility that she could give birth three or four times. And if she’s a working woman, there will always be that accommodation for her. But for most women, I think bereavement, especially for a loved one or a spouse will happen only once in their lifetime. So if we are setting aside a four to five-month period, for her to be able to get over the pains and the agony of losing, somebody is not something that we should be bewildered with, it is not something that we should see as too much of a demand from the system.

Question: What research or consultations informed your decision to advocate for this policy change?

Answer: Well, like I said, the laws that we make are supposed to be responses to the challenges that we see in our society. I will give an example. I said it even on the day that the Bill went through a second reading, that I had a misfortune, so I went to meet someone in January. I met him as early as morning on that fateful day he was healthy. In the middle of our conversation, he started gasping for breath. And, low and behold, within one hour, the guy was late, and he passed on. And, of course, two weeks or so after, I decided to pay a condolence visit to the family to check on the family once again.

And on going to the house. I met one of the wives who is a working-class woman. I met her struggling with official work trying to catch up with commitments. While I have been in the dark, it pricked my conscience. You know, for a woman going through such an experience in life. She deserves some holiday. I saw her with her young children, you know, less than five years old children and what have you. I said that because the proposal was already in the offing, I decided at that instance around July (2023) to hasten the process. So I decided to hastily speed up the process of getting through the legislative process. And that’s why we had to take it on the second reading on that fateful day. So it’s the response to the challenges that women folks especially are faced with after losing their loved ones.

Question: How do you envision this extended leave period benefiting bereaved spouses, both practically and emotionally?

Answer: Well, I am a firm believer in the fact that time heals. At times, when you’re faced with challenges like that, it’s difficult for you to come out of it. But God’s wisdom has a way of seeing people through. It’s such an agony and it is such a painful experience. So I think losing someone very dear, you need time to yourself for a period of four or five months, so I think it is enough time for you to recoup and recover from such a loss. So that’s how we came about the idea of the full five months. 

Question: What challenges do you anticipate in implementing this policy, and how do you propose addressing them?

Answer: Well, I think some of the concerns that have been raised so far, even from the chamber before it went through the second reading, there were some reservations from my colleagues in the House. But I think we owe the people an explanation. We need to do lots of advocacy for them to appreciate what we are trying to achieve with the Bill. And I intend to do this. I have already started to do this, even before going to the public hearing stage of the legislative process. The people deserve to know what we intend to achieve. And I’m sure no one will have a grasp of what we are trying to achieve that will object to it.

Interestingly, on the supposed day of the second reading, there was a heated debate on the subject matter, even on the platform of my hometown forum, the Bida forum. There was a heated debate from the people trying to understand. Somebody even said we should sponsor better Bills rather than this, This is about our shared humanity. It does not matter how good our intentions are, if we can not take care of ourselves, I do not think we will be able to achieve much. So there will be challenges springing up, hopefully, we will be able to counter them with explanations that will be given to the people.

Question Some may argue that such a policy could place an additional burden on employers. How do you plan to navigate this concern?

Answer:  I think there should be a humane face to everything that we are trying to do, some employers have that target, they have their objectives and what have you, but that human face must be inculcated in everything that we set out to do even as corporate bodies, somebody must have to be alive, somebody must have to be emotionally stable, for him to be able to give you his or her best in the workplace. So if we are coming at this, to give an emotional boost, to give emotional support to our women, and even men, I do not think there should be any corporate entity or any work that should be resistant to that.

I was in the private sector, I worked in the bank, I was in oil and gas and up in the construction industries, but the one thing that is common in all these industries is the fact that we have policies that are geared towards ensuring that you get the best out of your manpower in the part of it is why we came about this, people have to be emotionally stable, they have to be strong for them to be able to give you their best. So I don’t think there should be any challenge in accepting this even from the corporate environment. 

Question: How does this proposal align with existing labour laws and policies in Nigeria?

Answer:  Well, like I stated earlier, yes, 14 days is what we have, as it were in our laws, even though I tried to do a comparative analysis. I think what we’re trying to do is beyond religion like I stated earlier, is about our shared humanity, it’s about our support for ourselves, you know, so, if we look at it unbiasedly, if you look at it from an open mind perspective, you will be able to appreciate what we are trying to achieve with this, you can not have the best of your workforce of your manpower, if they are not emotionally stable.

Question: Have you considered the potential economic implications of this policy, both for the individuals taking leave and for the broader economy?

Answer: For the individual, what we have proposed will not be taken out of their minimum wage while he or she is observing their leave period. And even for the corporate entities or entities of government institutions. I do not think it should be too much of a burden for them, because as I stated, you already have maternity leave. If maternity leave is not a burden on the corporate entity and government agencies, I do not see how this will be a burden on them. If you have a workforce that is not emotionally stable, you are not likely going to get the best out of them because it impacts negatively on their productivity. But when you have confidence in somebody who is going to perform, I’m sure by the time he or she resumes office, they will come with even more energy than you expect them to be going to work.

Question: Are there any specific criteria or eligibility requirements for spouses to qualify for this extended leave?

Answer: Well, as the title of the bill implies clearly that widows and widowers, you know if you lose your wife, you are entitled to one month’s leave. If a woman loses her husband, she’s entitled to five months’ leave. So it’s very, very clear is for that our target is for this particular group of the countrymen, the widows and widowers.

Question: What kind of support systems or resources do you envision being available to bereaved spouses during their leave period?

Answer:  Well, I think I know for the corporate world, it’s usually accompanied by some kind of cash incentive when you lose someone. When I was in the bank, it was obtainable. At the time, it was not even restricted provided it is a close family relation, you have more than five children and what have you. So I think if the clauses are not clearly defined in our proposed Bill, hopefully by the time we get to the public hearing,  you will have this input to build it as part of the final report before presenting it to the House as a work in progress. And that’s the whole essence of having a public hearing. By the time we get to the public hearing, you get more input from the people.

If these are some of the proposals or the suggestions coming from the public, we will deal with them as part of the Bill. Before we take the report to the house, we have an almost perfect document, which will take care of some of these concerns. And as I said, we will also do lots of advocacy as we are already involving the women’s groups. You know, we are also talking to leaders of religious bodies, we want to build a consensus sort of, before we even get to the public hearing stage, such that by the time we get to the public hearing, we will be speaking with one voice and the input that we expect to get at the public hearing stage, will make the document even more perfect than what it is today.

QuestionHow do you plan to gather support for this motion amongst your colleagues within the border community?

Answer: For the Bill to have gone through a second reading, it means it has enjoyed some level of support. And as I said, if the people are sceptical and have any reservations, but with an explanation, they would be able to understand that we are trying to activate the old kid. So on a broader scale. We will take this message all around, let the people see it from its face value and by the time we build consensus around it we will now take on the public hearing stage of the Bill.

Question: Finally, you seem to be more focused on women, why so?

Answer: I think that part of the provisions also affects the male folks, but I’m a proud ‘’He for She’ in the 9th Assembly and a member of the House Committee on Women Affairs then. And even when we came back this time around, it was a personal request that I should be included in the Committee on Women Affairs. So I am always for anything that is for the good and betterment of our women, especially but generally for everybody, but especially for the women folks. I know what they go through, you know, by natural design. Women are weakest as you know, they tend to detach more when they go through these experiences. So that’s why they are more or less the focal point of this proposal. And I’m sure by the time we get the bill passed through the legislative process and get the assent of the President, I’m sure it will more than take care of the concerns of everybody.

Elizabeth Atime

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