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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

Devolution Rights
By Iris Bernard-Taylor
Dec 28, 2009, 12:32
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Mr. John Blah was a man small in stature and unlike him, his wife was tall and busty. More often people make jokes about him being beaten by his wife but no one could verify such stories. They both seem to be quiet satisfied with each other, a term not commonly used in this generation. Many of the men in that menial community, poor though they may be, sought for more wives and the newest conquest. Mr. John, as he was normally referred to paid keen attention to his family more especially his three girls. They were truly beautiful children and men on many occasions have sought jokingly to pay bride prices for them even in their minute ages of seven, nine and eleven. Most often Mr. John would be so furious and would even want a fight, small as his stature may be. He saw himself as the sole protector of his family.


All three of Mr. Johns girls were attending one of the several private schools in that poor community Tondoneh Preparatory School. They were all very bright children but the second child call Jona was my, Johns favourite and she really did make him proud. She would top her class consistently and this even made the neighbours look at their family in scorn. Jona was not only intelligent but also beautiful.


Quiet often she is referred to as the belle of the family. Apart from being intelligent, these children were also dutiful. Mama John as their mother was normally referred to was always at home making little business units to help Mr. John in his bank job as a messenger. Together they had an admirable family and on several occasions people had sought to bring division to but they seemed so undivided in their purpose.


There had been difficult times in this marriage and Mr. John had sought loans from his wealth friend living not too far away from him. Each time he needed to settle the childrens fees or medical situation, Mr. John would first discuss with his wife and they two would agree on the amount, the time and the date of repaying such loan and the mode in which these loans are to be repaid. However there were periods that these loans could not be paid and Mr. John needed more money. He still asked for more which he was never refused by his friend, Mr. Blakeh.

 
Mr. Blakeh was notably every womans dream because he had the money that was an answer to all their needs. Mr. Blakeh was also like a saviour in this small shanty town community. He was normally referred to as Di Pa to which he would readily nod his head in acknowledgement. He also granted loans to people like Mr. John because he also believed in the family unit although he already had two wives. His faith was sound being a Muslim but like very many Sierra Leoneans you cannot really tell his religious goals as he was constantly in church and played gospel songs on Sundays. Mr. Blakeh had saved Mr. Johns family on several occasions and this time it was not different. 


Loud wails arose towards the semi dark clouds coming from somewhere within the scanty town. What was happening? Everyone ran helter skelter to look for where the loud cries were coming from. Could it be that a child had drowned, found missing or somehow in trouble? Nobody seems to know the reason for the cries but everyone sought to find out. A neighbour came running from the left side screaming Na Mr. John, Oho. They tried getting the right information of what must have happened but she was too overwhelmed with grief to even speak. It was after they had tried for several minutes and she still could not speak was when they themselves decided to rush to the Blahs house. There they found Mr. John lying on the ground as if asleep but was dead. His wife and children were all seating next to him on the ground crying like nobodys business.

 

Thus was the fate of the Blah family the sole breadwinner was laid to rest on a Sunday afternoon five days after his death. They did not want to keep the body at the mortuary for too long because it would incur a lot more expenses than they had really bargained for. Mama John was in a state of devastation. For days she could neither eat nor sleep but gazed as someone looking out for something that they do not even know exists. The children understood to some extent what had happened but the implications and realities of life were not so clear to them.


Mr. Johns fortieth day celebrations were done and the family gathered round to decide on the fate of his family. Mr. John had married Mama John under customary law which had never been registered though Mr. John had never attempted to take a second wife. No one had forced both parties into this marriage even though Mama John was only sixteen years old. Both parents had consented and even Mama John herself had consented to it. Mr. John had obviously died without a will and his family is here to executive their judgement on what should be the fate of Mama John and the children. The laws of Devolution of Estate Act 2007 apply to Mr. Johns situation since he died just last year March 2008.


Pa Thoronka was the eldest and therefore the spokesman for the family. He started by hipping praises on Mama John and her children and how they had survived even after the ordeal. He then explained the decision of the family which was for one of Mr. Johns brother to inherit Mama John and her children, marry her through customary marriage and take them back to the village. The house, he further explained would then be sold and the proceeds used to support the children throughout school. Mama J
ohn had started crying again, not because death had actually caused this but she saw the blatant advantage being taken in her situation. He mind worked like a clock that she did not even hear the rest of the story they heard for her. How can life be so cruel to her and her children; after all she had supported her husband until his death. How can they remove them from a home they had known into the unknown? Yes she had married under the age of 18 and her marriage was not registered at all. But from listening to the radios she had come to understand from those Krio discussion, that under this new Act of customary marriage a partners who have cohabited as husband and wife for more than 5 years will be afforded the same protection as a couple married under customary law as long as neither party is already married to another person. All of this played around in her mind and she did not continue listening to the pronouncements at the meeting but sort ways out of this mess.


As always Mr. Blakeh a true and good friend came to visit Mama John two days after the family meeting to find out how the family was faring on without the breadwinner. Mama John explained to him how the Bank for which Mr. John had worked had called and told her of his death benefit and they had promised that they would find another date for which they will call her for her final signature. Mama John further explained to Mr. Blakeh that she had decided that it was from that money she had intended paying him every cent Mr. John had owed him. Mr. Blakeh refused profusely telling her she should keep all of the money especially at a time like this when the family has decided otherwise. Mama John again burst out in tears as she remembered the pronouncements made on her and her children. She then explained that she had decided to use part of this money to fight the family back especially for her childrens sake. Mr. Blakeh then told her there was not need to use money to fight as there were laws in place for her to seek redress. He firmly instructed her to go to the Administrator Generals office where she will receive help to apply for letters of administration.


Mama John enlightened by the previous day conversation, woke up very early the next morning and headed for the Administration General Office to seek redress. She was then advised that the wife and children shall be automatically entitle to the house and household goods and the remainder of the estate will be divided in the following ways:

      35% will go to the spouse or spouses

      35% will go to the children of the deceased

      15% will go to the parents of the deceased

      15% to be distributed according to Muslim or customary law if applicable.


For Mama John there were not parents and no distribution according to Muslim or customary law if applicable. This automatically meant that all of Mr. Johns property belonged to her and her children. Therefore the two bedroom mud house built by Mr. John with outside latrine and kitchen would still remain in the hand of Mama John. They further explained that should any of her husbands family members would want to dispute the matter that they should take it to the High Court. But it a criminal offence to eject a surviving spouse or child from the home before formal distribution of the estate unless a year has passed since the deceas
eds death or if the house is a public property six months has passed or a court order has been obtained allowing expulsion. This act is punishable by two years imprisonment and /or Le 5 million.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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