By JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE
In March 2013, Daily Sun, broke a story of how over 40 villages in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, were enmeshed in absurdities. They considered giving birth to twins as an abomination, which must receive a death penalty. The woman who gave such birth must die within three days.
Twins were not the only things abhorred by residents of these villages. It was also a taboo for a child to bring out the upper teeth first or for the baby to be born with any form of deformity. Such child was considered evil and would be summarily buried alive.
When twins were born, they were poisoned or forcefully taken away from their mother by masquerades and strangled.
Each household where twins had been killed was required to set up an altar as sacrifice to their deity, to prevent the twins from reincarnating. If, in the process, the woman died, and the child survived, the child would not be allowed to live.
The newborn would be tied to the corpse of the deceased mother and buried with her. However, if the nursing mother died without weaning the infant, the baby would be killed. The belief was that the child was possessed by strange powers and was responsible for the death of the mother.
One thing that was common among the villages was the glaring absence of government presence. No road, pipe-borne water, hospitals, schools in the villages.
The story elicited the attention of the FCT Administration resulting in the Ad-hoc Committee on Infanticide and Twin Killing being set up. There was also an awareness campaign in four area councils of the territory, namely Abaji, Kwali, Gwagwalada and Kuje carried out.
The three-week advocacy campaign against the scourge went to Yaba, Gulida, Gomani, Tepase, Dawaki, Warambi, Kiyi and Shetuko villages.Also the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), with support from Amnesty International, in collaboration with Christian Missionary Foundation (CMF), mounted an awareness campaign to stop killing of twins in the communities.
Pastor Olusola Stevens, the North Central Director of CMF at the centre of the battle against the practice recalled: “We had challenges from some of the locals who came here to fight us and accused us of painting them in bad light. They threatened court cases, abused and threatened to kill me, destroy this home but I stood my ground.
“I told them you will not appreciate what I’m doing today. As a Christian and according to my own Bible, wherever innocent blood is shed that land will become desolate and I’m trying to save you from that. Just like it happened between Cain and Abel, the blood speaks from the ground. I told them that killing an innocent child today might appear nothing is happening but over a long period of time desolation will set in, things will no longer work, they will plant and their crops will fail and they will be wondering why.
“I told them that they will continue to do ceaseless sacrifices to the gods that will never answer. I told them you can fight me but in no distance future you will realise that what I have come to do for you is to help you curb what will happen to you in the future.
“Of course, some of those who came to fight me were their local councillors who wanted to know how I got to know about their practices. I told them that as missionaries working in these villages, we come across these evil practices.
“We just didn’t start by telling the stories, we provided boreholes, our medical team attend to the sick or take them to the hospital when we have to. We have also done things to help their communities to grow not just preach the gospel. They have now seen that we are not just there to make converts but also to contribute positively to the growth of their communities because we believe in the holistic gospel that is soul, spirit and body not just to preach Jesus to them.
Update on the practices
”The last administration tried in the sense that after all the talk we had with them they invited us, so many of them visited from women ministry and related ministries concerned with women and children. They did set up two committees, the first was to investigate the story and they confirmed that it was true.
“The second committee was inaugurated after that report came out. Part of what the first committee asked me for was to give them names of some of the villages still practicing the killing of twins. After telling them the number, they told me it was not possible to visit them all. I gave them 24 villages, I made sure the names I gave cut across all the area councils, Gwagwalada, Abaji, part of AMAC.
“Of course, after the first report was submitted the minister challenged the council chairmen involved and some of them denied. After The Sun report, a television station came and so did This Day. We went to some of the communities and we interviewed them and the chairman of Kwali Area Council. Some of them denied it initially, but cannot be denied with proofs of children and their family names, head of the village.
“So after the investigation the FCT minister called them and told them that the killing of twins that you earlier denied has been proven to be true, what are you going to do about it? That was what gave birth to the second committee. The second committee visited them, I got feedback from my own local contacts some of whom our church members that have been reaching out to such communities.
“What the committee did was to call the people together, asked questions about children, about twins. They concentrated more on the story of the killing of twins than the other aspect of infanticide practice, like the nursing mother who died and the baby was left there with the corpse. The child was at risk of being killed as they believed the child must have killed the mother. This was what led to a billboard being put up by the FCT administration saying, “twins are special gifts from God, we love twins let’s not kill them.” They gave out T-shirts with same message to sensitise the people.
“The committee visited 22 or 23 out of the 24 villages that I submitted to them before the elections last year. But after the elections, I have not heard anything from that committee.
“I have been visiting the different communities every week and if the committee were there the local people would have hinted me. When other groups like churches, NGOs come to the community we are informed about them. But since this new administration came, they have not done anything about it.
“After your report too, I gave a talk with the DCDD in collaboration with Amnesty International. We did an advocacy programme for some months because I met their representative on one radio programme on the twins issue at Bush House Nigeria. We collaborated because it was on children’s right, few communities were chosen. Through playlets, talk shows with some clips of videos and pictures of grown up twins we engaged the people.
“These advocacy and sensitization have led to some positive reports coming from the villages. I know about four villages that have delivered twins and are keeping them. One of them was a local convert from one of the villages after some of the visitation from the government and other groups.
“In fact, recently in a village they had three sets of twins and they kept them neither did the villagers threaten to kill them. This success stems from what we did about six years ago in that particular village. There was a set of twins we were to rescue but luckily their village chief was wiling to work with us.
“I asked him then that instead of taking them to our home, can you join hands with our local workers and ensure nobody threatens their lives and the twins are not forcefully taken and let’s watch how they will grow among their people. Those twin girls in Kutara village are all grown up now and today that village alone has three sets of twins.
“There are other villages like Bangodo, we have a set of twins there. Another set in Nasarawa under Bayewa Area council, in Kepete one of the twins is alive unfortunately the second died. All these were made possible because of the talks and sensitisation.
“The practice where a child is declared evil and left with the corpse of the mother to die or killed as well has been reduced drastically. In collaboration with some of our local workers, if they feel they cannot nurse the children after the death of their mothers they bring them to us themselves.
“We encourage them to come and see the children from time to time in our home. That too helped in convincing them that the kids are not evil. They come around to see how we are taking care of these children. We demonstrate to them that there is nothing special about it but just being extra careful. Only recently, Ruth whose mother died at birth was brought to us, her father and aunt came visiting recently, they were very happy with what they saw.
“The good is that if they can’t take care of the children they can drop them off at our home or with our local workers. We have also assured them that none of the kids will be given out for adoption because we believe seeing them alive will help their psyche as they see their so-called “evil children” growing up normally, going to school, playing with other children.
“There were some villages we never even thought off before now practicing this, they now drop off the children with care givers on their own after finding out from the villages that are already in touch with us. That to us is a very good report.
How to stop these evil practices
“We have a doctor and a nurse at the CMF, who Mondays through Wednesdays visit these villages for medical missions. They attend to the sick, talk to pregnant women.
“One of the things I told the first committee was that if primary health care is available in some of the villages, the issue of pregnant women dying in the first place will not arise. The fact remains these villages do not have pre- and post-natal care.
“Everything about delivery is handled by traditional birth attendants with limited knowledge of what is now happening in the medical world. What our medical team has done is to train some traditional birth attendants from selected villages. They are told signs that require advanced medical attention, which they cannot handle.
“They must look for any form of mobility and move the pregnant woman to the hospital. They are told what kind of situation is an emergency and why they should seek help immediately to avoid killing the baby or the mother dying. Today, more people are aware and any sign of complication they bring the patient to Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada.
”Just like we have those fighting us, there are also others thanking us for what we are doing. Last year some of the people came here with various gifts. You could see the love. If they don’t appreciate what we are doing why will they bring gifts? Some will come and see their children, some will send for their children. That for us, is a great joy because it means their minds are changing.
Appeal to government
”We appeal to the Federal Government to assist those who are genuinely taking care of orphans, abandoned children or like in our case, those rescuing children from evil practices. I wish government can place some genuine homes on National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) so that when the children are sick they should be able to take care of them without us caregivers running up and down to source for funds to pay the bills.
“If the government takes off that burden from us because the work is enormous, they will be helping a lot. We source for money to pay nannies, drivers and run our generators.”