Gbenga Adeniji and Adelani Adepegba
Some widows of soldiers killed in the decade-old war against Boko Haram fighters are currently lamenting the failure of the Ministry of Defence to pay them their husbands’ life insurance claims several years after their demise.
The widows, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH during separate interviews on condition anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said they fulfilled the requirements to qualify for the payments yet nothing was done. The dead soldiers were mostly officers in the Nigerian Army with ranks ranging from lieutenant to captain.
Speaking during an interview on Friday, one of the women who lost her husband to an ambush by terrorists who attacked 157 Battalion in Metele, Borno State, in 2018, said the situation had left her and her children in a thorny situation.
She said, “Some other widows and I wrote the defence ministry which is in charge of the insurance but there was no response. We have resorted to begging them. The sudden death of our husbands was a hard hit on us. We need help. The Federal Government should help us.’’
Another widow who was moved to tears as she narrated her ordeal to said life had been extremely tough for her and her children since the death of her husband.
She noted that it was excruciating when the news got to her that her husband died at the battlefield. The woman said, “But that sadness has been compounded by the silence of the defence ministry on my late husband’s life insurance claim. It’s quite traumatic. It has been difficult to survive with my children. My husband was killed by insurgents on August 7, 2014 in Borno State. I went to the Army Headquarters many times to know when the insurance would be paid and they kept saying they were working towards it. It’s frustrating.’’
gathered that the insurance under the “Group Life Assurance” is supervised by the Ministry of Defence mandates the widows to submit the required documents for onward processing of their late spouses’ life insurance claims. learnt that the claims vary based on the ranks of the slain soldiers.
Section 4(5) of the Pension Reform Act 2014, provides that “every employer shall maintain a Group Life Insurance Policy in favour of each employee for a minimum of three times the annual total emolument of the employee and premium shall be paid not later than the date of commencement of the cover.”
exclusively gathered that to commence processing for claims accruable to their husbands, each widow is to present a condolence letter, affidavit and declaration as next-of-kin, (from a magistrates’ court), death certificate (from a hospital), death notification including 12 passport photographs of the next-of-kin and the slain soldier among other requirements.
In the long-fight against insurgency, both the Nigerian Army and terrorists had recorded casualties. In one of the recent attacks, over 30 soldiers were killed in April when the Islamic State-aligned fighters ambushed a military convoy escorting weapons and overran a base in Mainok, Borno State. Also in the same month, troops killed at least 40 insurgents in the town of Dikwa, Borno State.
A widow, who said she was told that her husband died in December 2014 in Gombe State, added that all she was told when she inquired about the life insurance claim from the army was that they were resolving some issues associated with it.
She said, “It has not been easy taking care of my child. I have tried everything possible but there had been no positive response. There was a time I was told that the issues had not been resolved. They should help us and not let us suffer because our husbands died fighting for Nigeria.’’’
The pain of losing her husband in Gombe in 2014 is still fresh in the heart of another widow who noted that he was pregnant when the news of her husband’s death was broken to her.
The woman added, “The boy is now six years old. It has been me and my God. He (my husband) was killed in an ambush. We have tried to get the life insurance claim but it has been difficult. My children and I survive on the little I get selling confectioneries.”
Contacted for his comment on the matter, the Nigerian Army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Yerima, said the payment process was ongoing, adding that the service was desirous of facilitating the insurance claims as soon as possible.
Yerima said, “We know that they (widows) need the money more than you do, so we are still processing the claims and as soon as it is done, they would be given the cheques.”
Asked how long the processes normally take, Yerima noted, “Our own is to process the payment and once this is done, they (beneficiaries) would be invited to pick up the cheques and you (media) will be invited to the cheques presentation ceremony.”
Commenting on the development, a human rights lawyer, Mr Jiti Ogunye, said the development was yet another sad indicator that the country doesn’t treat its own well.
Ogunye stated, “Soldiers prosecute wars successfully based on their weaponry, training, fighting spirit, morale and patriotism. Men of our armed forces may have the best weapons in the world (and we know they fall short in this aspect) and could be well trained. If, however, they lack motivation; if their morale is low and their fighting spirit is down, they can hardly succeed in vanquishing the enemy. And there can be no worse subverter of the fighting spirit, morale and motivation of soldiers than the knowledge that should they die in battle, making the supreme sacrifice, their family would be left in the lurch, their children would become abandoned orphans and their wives neglected widows. At that level, therefore, by abandoning the families of our slain soldiers, Nigeria is cutting its nose to spite its face.’’
He noted that at other level, the legal level, the non-payment of the insurance claims was illegal.
The lawyer added, “It is an inhuman breach of insurance contract. Our understanding is that the armed forces are not the insurers of the soldiers; all the same they played a key role in paying to the insurance companies or deducting monies from the salaries of the soldiers and remitting same as premiums. The armed forces should therefore be interested in ensuring that the claims of these fallen heroes are settled.
“We recommend that instead of perpetually weeping and supplicating , the widows should approach the court to compel the payment of the insurance claims .They could bring a group or class action in this regard. They deserve to secure the remedy that is provided by law , for once there is a wrong , certainly there must be a remedy ’’
On her part, the Executive Director, Neem Foundation focused on conflict, reintegration and rehabilitation, Dr Fatima Akilu, said widows of men who had given up their lives fighting insurgency deserved support from the state.
She stated that it was heartbreaking that the widows had to wait for the payment of their husbands’ insurance claims.
Akilu stated, “This is a right and the state has a moral obligation to ensure that these widows are taken care of. Most of our leaders have a military background and understand more than most the sacrifices that these men and women have made to secure our state. I am often surprised that there is not more outrage for the plight of these widows from the general public. These women are left in a psychological limbo, where they may experience anger, bitterness, rejection at the way they have been treated. It might seem to them that their husbands were not appreciated by the state and might have given their lives in vain.
“Depression, anxiety, post- traumatic stress disorder is common in these victims which is often exacerbated by the extreme poverty situations they find themselves in, especially if the spouse was the main breadwinner. Untreated psychological distress could be passed on to their children, creating a generation cycle of psychological distress. We might also witness vicarious trauma in their children. This could include truancy, anger issues, drug abuse, violence and mental distress.’’
She noted that soldiers on the battlefield seeing widows of their fellow soldiers neglected and marginalised by the state were prone to psychological distress.
Akilu said, “These can include emotional responses such as anger, sadness, feelings of hopelessness, lack of trust in the state, a questioning of their worth, bitterness and even more severe psychological symptoms including depression, anxiety and post- traumatic stress disorder.’’
Source: Nigerian Newspapers Online