By Julius Afolalu & Nwachuku Nnamdi
Renowned British anthropologist, Edward B. Taylor, defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of a society.” Elementary Social studies define culture as” the ways of life that is generally accepted amongst a particular group of people”
Nigeria is a country vast with tradition and diverse tribes that are deeply rooted in various cultural practice most of which are beautiful, elegant, and colorful. Culture is supposed to be worthy of association, it should impart a sense of belonging and should be a catalyst of growth in tourism. However there are still some customs that are dark, archaic and unbelievable. Up until the mid-19th century, Africa was widely referred to as the “dark continent”. Although many theorists have tried to insinuate that the reason was because little was known of the continent at the time, just maybe, our dark cultural practices was the reason for the unflattering tag.
Mary Slessor is globally celebrated for her role in the successful campaign to abolish killing of twins. Sadly, her legacy is being brought to ridicule in certain rural communities in Nigeria, ironically in Abuja, the Federal capital territory’s rural communities populated with indigenous villagers. It is hard to be believe that civilization and enlightenment eludes some communities within the fastest developing capital city in Africa. The Abuja Times as usual conducted thorough independent investigations on the subject matter and even visited an orphanage, where victims of this dastard act are taken care of and given some sort of solace. What did we find? Yes, these killings amongst others are happening. Is anybody doing anything about it? Does the government know? Yes, a woman in her late 40’s, alongside her husband have decided to end the trend, but it is not as easy as easy as it sounds. Continue to read our findings.
THE VINE ORPHANAGE
Located in Kiyi, a suburb city in Kuje area council in Federal Capital Territory, FCT, is The Vine Orphanage owned and managed by a Christian mission worker, Mrs. Chinwe Stevens and her husband Pastor Olusola Stevens. She founded the orphanage in 2004, consequent upon terrible experiences she witnessed during her youth service days. According to her, “During my youth service days here in Kiyi, I became exposed to certain ungodly culture the indigenes of this place engage in, and I was determined to do something about it. So in 2004, I started a care home, not an adoption center but a care home where children who were otherwise condemned for death could come and be shown mercy. They can come here and grow and experience life like every other normal child”. She lives with her husband, their only biological issue alongside over 85 other children who age from as young as 6 months to the oldest amongst the lot, precious, 19 all live in the orphanage.
DOOMED FOR DEATH
Children otherwise known as the “fruit of the womb” are more or less acknowledged by majority of the world as a gift from God, thus most people see twins as double blessing from God, but not to local indigenes in the rural villages around Abuja. According to Mrs. Stevens, there are more than 40 communities that still engage in the sinister act of killing twins. “When a lady delivers a set of twins, the villagers see it as a bad omen. They kill either one of the twins in some places, while others kill both of them. There are four methods they use in killing these twin babies. First, their mother can out rightly starve them by not feeding them; the young children emaciate in size and die for from starvation or secondly, the fathers go into the bush, find certain poisonous leaves like tobacco, make a concussion and feed the babies with the poison. Thirdly, they have a tradition that bans women from seeing the village masquerade. If a mother gives birth to twins, the villagers use the masquerade to storm the woman’s house. Upon arrival, the woman is forced to run away from the scene and before she returns, her children would have been taken away or killed instantly. Finally, in some villages, some old women are appointed to go to the homes of mothers who deliver twins after pregnancy. The old women go with a calabash and have only one aim, to suffocate and kill the babies in the calabash.” Madam Chinwe said it was unbelievable that people could see twins as a curse when so many women around the world were asking God on daily basis to bless them with gift of children.
GUILTY OF MURDER; SENTENCED TO DEATH
Another set of children that were condemned to extra judicial killings were babies whose mothers died during child birth or died within three years of birth. Such children were tied to the chest of the corpse and buried alive. They were seen as bad luck and as such could not be allowed to grow amongst the populace. Culturally, a mother is expected to breast feed her children till they are three years old. If any mother died before weaning her baby, the child is buried alive with the mother! It is unimaginable that such terrific crime against humanity is being perpetuated under the guise of some stupid, sinister and dark tradition.
THE PLIGHT OF ALBINOS & TEETHING KIDS
As of 2016, there are over 10,000 NGO’s worldwide whose sole cause is to create awareness of albinism. A lot has been invested to enlighten people that albinism is not a sickness but a hereditary condition. Albinism in humans is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. In some parts of the world especially in eastern Africa, albinos live in fear and are constantly hunted down, killed and used for ritual purposes. In these rural areas around Abuja, they suffer the same plight as they are victims of human disdain and wanton callousness. In the words of Mrs. Stevens, “the villagers are extremely cruel to all albino children or youth, they believe that an albino symbolizes evil and should be killed to avoid the wrath of the gods. If a woman gives birth to an albino, she may stab the child to death herself, it is unbelievable, but these things happen on a daily basis, we have been doing the best we can in terms of orientation, but our efforts are not just enough, these people require massive enlightenment”
Speaking alongside his wife, to Abuja Times, Mr. Olusola said he has since been infected by the helpful nature of his wife. He said they had both dedicated their lives to the plight of the innocent children and would not be discouraged despite persistent threats by the villages. He explains that there is an archaic belief prevalent amongst the villages with regards to teething children. If a child’s upper tooth or teeth appears before the lower one(s) does, such a child is considered to be a mini god who mistakenly found his or her way to earth and is therefore killed to return the supposed god back to the divine realm.
BOUNTIFUL HARVEST; SHOCKING REQUIREMENT
Yet another shocking revelation is the belief that there exists a co-relation between a bountiful harvest and sacrifices to the gods of the land. These villagers are mainly farmers; hence the evil practice of killing children in the guise of appeasing the gods for a bountiful harvest is widespread. Each year, the chief priest chooses the child in the family to be sacrificed. Baby Halima was nine months old when she was selected by the priest as the sacrifice for the agricultural year; her mother Husseina Ahmed (Real name withheld) sneaked her baby to The Vine orphanage after losing four of her children for four consecutive years. Husseina who is an indigene of Kutara village in Kwali area council of the FCT still comes once in a while to see her seven year old daughter. At the time, she was ostracized from the village and generally seen as an outcast; even today she hasn’t fully reintegrated into the society simply because when the time for the child to be killed came, she refused to give up the location of her baby.
From 2010, till date the orphanage have received and taken care of over 20 children whose parents decided to save rather than surrender them to be used as sacrifices.
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS DONE?
In 2013, the news of The Vine orphanage broke and went viral. Olusola and his wife were summoned by office of the Minister of state, FCT, Mrs. Akinjide Olajumoke. After their testimony, the minister set up a 39 man powerful committee to look into the matter. Again, Mr. Olusola was invited to testify before the committee, after which an independent investigation was carried out.
The findings of the committee were not different from the couple’s testament. A total of 44 villages were fingered as being part of the malicious deeds. The panel combed through communities to verify claims and put up recommendations to end the killings. The government through the National Orientation Agency, NOA, swung into action and carried out massive sensitization through print, digital and new media. On-the-air campaigns started on radio, followed by a torrent of transistor radios into the communities to enable them tune in to campaigns that aim to pull remote residents out of the dark ages.
Government agencies like NOA tread with caution, although communal beliefs accept the practices, the NOA has also tried to create awareness as to the culpable nature of the so called tradition. Initially, the agency worked with the Stevens when the first stories emerged but such support has dwindled down and the fate of The Vine orphanage is left to kind gestures of individuals, corporate entities and missions.
BLESSINGS NOT CURSED!
Chinwe and her husband have both reiterated their desire to keep up the good work and have refused to be stifled by repeated threats from indigenes and rising costs of taking care of the children in the midst of the biting economic decline. She speaks of how she has coped through the years. “We receive help from missions abroad, church members and kind hearted individuals but there is no consistency and many times we have had to manage and make do with the little we have. Our joy is in seeing these kids grow up and become responsible members of the society. We want them to become useful to themselves and their immediate environment. We want their villagers to see that they are not cursed but normal children and they equally have rights to life.” “Every morning they go to school with the bus, the driver goes in batches, same way after school. The joy I derive from seeing them grow is satisfactory. These kids are neither cursed nor ill-willed, these children are BLESSED!”
Asked whether any of the children were being given out for adoption, she responded in the negative. “Most of the mothers who bring their children to us rather than allow them be killed still come back from time to time to see the children. While they may not contribute to the wellbeing of their children, they still come to see them and we do not prevent them from coming, so no, none of our kids are up for adoption. We are all one big family and we eat from the same pot’.
IT HAS NOT BEEN A BED OF ROSES
“Some people have confronted me more than once and to ask, why are you exposing us?’ ‘they have threatened to attack us, others say we are cursed and the gods of their land will strike us with fire but the God who has kept us all these Years is still alive, He will keep us, and he will keep these children” says Mr. Olusola ‘my interest is to save the lives of children, and saved they must be, they will not be sacrificed for anybody’s interest.”
“In 2012, we took a five year boy we saved when he was 3 months home because we felt the community was cleansed, can you believe that two weeks later that young boy died from food poisoning, from the day we heard the news, we decided we would take care of these kids till they grow and become adults. Except on very special occasion, we rarely allow saved children go home.” Mrs. Chinwe tearfully recounts the countless threats, stigmatization, insults and verbal assaults hurled her way because of her love for ‘cursed children but she says she is resolved to continue her good works as she is answerable to God.
A CALL TO ACTION
The Stevens belief that of all government agencies, the NOA has been the most proactive to the situation by initiating sensitization seminars and deploying field officers to the rural areas to compliments its media efforts. Nevertheless, much still needs to be done in order to completely rid the FCT suburbs of this virus.
With the economic crunch and drastic reduction in budgetary allocations, efforts of the National orientation agency have largely dropped. Irrespective of the alleged recession, it is the responsibility of government to protect the rights of her citizens, prime of which is the right to life.
It is pertinent for the government to take urgent steps in righting this wrong. We cannot allow efforts of our leaders past to be marred by a sick and psychotic culture. It is also worthy to note that The Vine orphanage as a matter of urgency require both moral and financial support to keep up the good work. They also require a certain level of security to avoid attacks from the villagers who bear grudges against them. It is would be extremely sad if they were to be attacked, as they would have capacity to defend themselves and the children.
Other Government agencies should take up the cause so as to end this unacceptable menace. The Ministry of Information should carry out heavy sensitization campaigns. The need for sensitization cannot be overemphasized. Other than that, it is high time the government brings to book some of the culprits as ignorance of the law is not an excuse to abuse it. If one or two examples are convicted, others in the rural areas would begin to see that their actions are wrong. Requisite legislation as well should be provided by the National assembly to address the problem. For example, Laws should be made protecting the rights and lives of albino children as was done in Malawi recently. The government could set up an inter-security agency to curb the menace and increase awareness programs in the affected areas. The Abuja Times is watching and we would continue to do our part in throwing light on the issue.