Let us agree that a relationship is created when a woman marries outside her father's family into her new husband's family. The relationship carries with it social responsibility. The husband takes over from the woman's father the duty to protect and sustain her. The woman takes on a new duty to bear children for her husband so that his name and his family line might continue after his death.
In Africa, the death of a husband puts the widow in serious dilemma especially when the couples are young, and are well- to- do.
The death of an husband in Africa, especially in Nigeria, does not necessarily dissolve the widow's relationship with his family. She would not return to her family. If her children are grown-ups they could provide the cover, protection and sustenance for their widowed mother. But if her children are young as she is, she could be pressured to marry from her husband's family. She could be sexually exploited, even by her late husband's close friends.
This is often where the problem lies. She can be cajoled or intimidated to accept one of her husband's brothers to be her new husband . Not many widows like this.
You begin to think the husband's relations would secretly be praying for the demise of their brother so they could take over his wife and estate. This is true of bible Israel. This may not hold for modern western culture where the death of a husband empowers the widow to marry who she likes.
In Africa, the widow would be led first to think of settling down with her husband relations.
In Nigeria, a man's death does not and would not abolish the wife's duties to him. The obligation to bear a son to her husband could continue (in another way) even after his death. If the husband was survived by a brother either senior/junior she could be expected to marry her late husband's blood relations. The first son of the new union is regarded in some cultural setting as the son of the late husband. In this way the widow is expected to continue the line of her dead husband. This tradition tallies with the scriptures (Deut. 25: 5-10).
'If two brothers are living together, and one of them dies without having a son, his widow must not marry someone outside her husband's family. Her husband's brother must marry her, which is his duty to her as a brother-in-law. But if a man does not want to marry his brother's widow, she should go to older leaders at the town gate and she should say, 'my brother-in-law will not carry on his brother's name in Israel. He refuses to perform his duty for me'.
'Then the older leaders of the town must call for the man and talk to him. But if he is stubborn and says I don't want to marry her, the woman must go up to him in front of the leaders. She must take-off one of his sandals and spit in his face and say 'this is for the man who won't continue his brother's family'. Then that man's family shall be known in Israel as the family of the unsaddled.' Deut. 25: 5-10.
Social customs honor the widow who honourably and willingly remarries her late brother's family to preserve his family line. (Gen. 38:26, Ruth 3:9-10).
In Africa, most widows are harassed and wooed into quick remarriage to their late husband's relatives. This happens when it is known that the late husband is a man of means or that the widow is of high societal standing.
As pastors, we have seen all manner of exploitation meted out to the Nigerian widow. Relations do not care about her welfare. Her children are denied family rights. She is left alone with the children. God becomes her husband and her sustainer. The born again widow takes God as her husband. She is dependent on God and the church for her needs. The biblical injunction on the plight of the widow is that we should care for them and not exploit their weakness and situations. Widowhood is something that must happen in a couple's life, but it is best that the widow /or widower stays without remarrying.