Dorcas Egede, in the concluding part of her investigative report ‘DEAD ON ARRIVAL: Inside Abuja communities where twins are killed at birth,’ continues her narrative of the bizarre infanticide still going on in communities around Abuja. But many within the communities deny that the killings are happening. They would not even admit that they’ve ever been involved in the practice. Yet the evidence is glaring. Enjoy this interesting read.
Synopsis of Part 1
Last week, The Nation published the first part of this feature, Dead on Arrival, which revealed the shocking practice in which locals in some communities around the nation’s capital, Abuja, still kill twin children at birth. Not only that, multiple birth children, including triplets and quadruplets suffer the same fate; same for infants who lose their mothers at birth – they are considered evil. Children born with disabilities, physical or psychological, such as cleft lips, deformed hands or leg, Down’s syndrome and albinos are also not spared.
Our reporter also visited some of the communities, hoping to zero down on communities involved in the evil practice, but ‘mum’ turned out to be the word, as they all virtually denied involvement in the practice. This edition is a continuation of her itinerary into the communities.
Death culture not binding on strangers
Over the years and owing to migration, people from other ethnic backgrounds have been coexisting with the Bassa people, leading to bigger and more complex communities. Expectedly, their cultures are not binding on these strangers. Olusola Stevens, the missionary from Osun State, who has been rescuing and grooming the infants in his Vine Heritage Home in Kiyi (a suburb of Abuja) said, “There are people living among them from other tribes who are raising children they consider abominable. Two of the missionaries working under me have given birth to twins here before, and do you know the strange thing? The villagers were coming to see the children and asking how they were surviving.
“There was a set of twins in Gwagwalada Area Council, Josiah and Joshua, and another in Kaida, James and John; they have relocated to Kogi State now. When these twins were born in Kaida, the villagers asked, “Do you know twins don’t survive in this community?” How would you want to keep your twins there? In fact, the parents became afraid and had to bring the children to stay with me for a while. But I encouraged them to pray. I told them that as long as they do not physically snatch the children from them or attack them, they should be rest assured that they would never be able to touch them spiritually. So, they stayed with me for about five months and returned. They were there until the children were about two or three years before they left.
The mercantile informant
In the course of her long search for culpable communities, this reporter eventually met a source with ‘a special interest.’ His interest, he said, is influenced by the fact that he has two sets of twins and can’t bear the thought of them being killed. He has also suffered setbacks, particularly financial, in the course of registering an NGO like Stevens’. He boasted of having the information this reporter required, but would only reveal it at a price – a huge sum.
“Any family that kills twins would build two shrines in their compound to say ‘Bye-bye, we don’t want you again in our family’ to twins children. There are evidences.” But that’s as much as he went before insisting on cash for information deal.
When asked why he was bent on receiving cash for information and why the whole thing is shrouded in secrecy, he said, “It’s not that we are hiding it, we are just trying to prevent a lot of issues; we are trying to protect our nation too from bad image in the eyes of the outside world.”
His other reason somewhat betrayed his covetous mindset: “When you write this story you will win millions. I know where this story can take you to, because you’re getting it raw.”
Gomani, Kwali Area Council
Gomani is a neigbouring village to Dogonruwa. Both communities drink from the same river, in which they also do their laundry, bathe, fish and all sorts. In Gomani, this reporter met some elders of the community seated by the gate to the traditional ruler’s palace. The elders told the reporter and her team that they could not see their leader as he was in a meeting, but assured her that they could answer all her questions.
It was almost as if they had received word from Dogonruwa, as their responses were exactly the same. “We don’t reject twins,” they chorused. And, “we would be too happy to have them, even if we have 10 at once.”
Kaida, Gwari Area Council
At Kaida, this reporter, posing as someone with a mission of sharing relief materials to the local women, met a local missionary, whose name cannot be revealed in order not to jeopardise his safety. He said the killings have stopped in Kaida, but still happening in neighbouring communities.
“About the twins here, no problem. But this people after Gurara river, are the ones who are still involved in the practice. They don’t like twins; when they have them, they sacrifice them to their gods.” He revealed however that the practice is no longer as rampant as it used to be. “Some people who have not accepted Christ still do it. But those young ones who have accepted Christ, when they know that a woman has given birth to twins, they quickly tell pastor in Kuje (referring to Stevens), who will quickly come and carry the children.” He said.
Kiyi Across, Kuje Area Council
This is a very small settlement by the bank of a river in Kiyi. It is called Kiyi Across because it is just beyond the river. To reach the row of not more than 15 mud houses, the reporter had to go through a bush path after wading through the river on foot. The first house was sighted right after this reporter emerged from the bush. This is where Habiba’s father lives. Habiba, it would be recalled, was the 21-year-old who survived the killings in her native Kiyi. She was the first child rescued by Stevens and groomed in his the Vine Heritage Home. Her narrative and that of her mother, who left her father as a result of the practice (Part 1) threw a lot of light on the despicable practice and helped situate this reporter’s mission.
With her help, the team was able to cross the river, even though they had been told it’s impossible to reach the community until around the end of January.
Something that has the semblance of a fence (a vertical slab, made from mud) demarcates the house from the nearly encroaching bush. Embossed on the wall of the house is the shrine erected for the twins. This shrine looks more like two kangaroo pouches placed side-by-side. It is positioned between a door and window, both made from rusted aluminum roofing sheet.
Inside the shrine, which was covered with white clothes, now brown and tattered with age, were white chicken feathers, 5 naira notes and some other unrecognisable items.
Several hours with Habiba’s father however revealed nothing. He flatly denied having ever sacrificed twins, let alone three sets. While he agreed to have lost two sets of twins at infancy, he revealed that one set died of illnesses and that the other was still born.
According to him, they never at any time sacrificed twins. “We don’t sacrifice twins. I had about two sets of twins; the first set came out alive and one later died. The second set of twins both came out dead and we buried them.”
How come twins don’t survive among them? This reporter asked. His reply was, “I don’t know why it is so, but God spares some and they live.”
While he denied killing three sets of twins, he however admitted to having a shrine upon which he sacrifices to the twins yearly. He said this was a practice handed down to his generation by their forefathers. “We sacrifice two goats or fowls once a year, depending on our ability. We eat the meat and the blood is for the gods. That’s how our fathers did in those days and we have simply continued.”
No government presence, high maternal mortality rate
One thing is common in all the villages visited. As close as the government seems to them, evidence of civilisation still appear rare and far between. There are no schools, no health centres, no roads, no electricity and no pipe borne water. They drink from rivers herdsmen and their cattle wade through and drink from. They also bathe; wash their kitchen utensils and clothes in it. With this level of hygiene, it may not be really difficult to ascertain the source of Habiba’s father’s river blindness.
Is it any surprise too that maternal mortality rate here is prevalently high? In the absence of clinics, deliveries are taken by traditional birth attendants or some untrained ‘nurses’ whose only training stemmed from watching their late parents or some relative practice ‘medicine’. Speaking on the maternal mortality rate, Stevens said, “In a matter of one week, we can have up to three nursing mothers die in different communities and the children come here, some a day or two old. This morning for instance, I took a set of twins to the hospital for immunisation, although the twin brother didn’t survive, the twin sister did. They were preterm babies, so at some time, the girl was on an injection of N8,500 per week. These are the challenges.”
No unified data
Sadly however, a visit to the Gender Department of the Social Development secretariat revealed that not much is being done by the department in interfacing with the rescue home in Kuje.
In a chat with Mrs. Agnes Hart Uta, Director, Gender, Social Development Secretariat, she said there are currently 40 children in the rescue home. This showed a wide disparity in the numbers given by the home and the secretariat. Stevens gave the number of children in the home as 125. The secretariat also had no idea that the first child rescued by the home had now reunited with her family. Again, while Stevens gave the number of communities involved in the killings as about 62, the directorate put the number at up to 40.
This development is a clear indication that the directorate charged with the responsibility of handling matters relating to child welfare in the FCT does not have up to date information about the killings and has not been doing so much in interfacing with the child rescuer.
Work in progress
The killing of infants in communities around the FCT is not a fairy tale. Also true is the fact that it is not as widely practiced as it used to be some 20 years back. The practice has also completely stopped in about seven communities and they now keep every kind child born, multiple births or deformed. But there are communities still steeped in the culture and yet to start accepting those children considered abominable. Rather than kill them however, they take them to the rescue home.
This of course is a result of efforts of missionaries and the rescue home, as well as government intervention activities. As you enter Kuje area council for instance, there is a bill board erected by the Federal Capital Territory Administrator (FCTA). written in English, Hausa and Basa is, “Twins are from God. Protect them.”
Commenting on the progress of the interventions, Stevens noted, “To be fair to the people, there have been so many areas of intervention from the FCT Administration; they investigated and found it to be true, then they set up committees to work with the communities affected. And they did well by visiting and engaging the communities. But the good news today, which I always want everybody to talk about, is that some communities have completely stopped while some who are no longer killing still have it at the back of their mind that the children are evil, hence they can’t keep them.
Of about 62 communities that were into the killing, some under Kuje, Gwagwalada, Kwali, Abaji; six to seven communities, Kiyi, Tumgbudu, Kutara, Nasarawa, Zuyi have stopped completely. There are some I haven’t documented, who told me they have stopped. But I don’t tell about them until I have verified. When I went the other time, some of the villages told me about other villages where they have stopped, but it is difficult to access some of the communities during the rainy, season. When dry season sets in, I’ll be moving round again to check out these other communities.
“We are looking forward to a day when the practice will be a thing of the past. I commend those who are bringing the children here. For them to have given the children to us is a good thing. It means people are now challenging the culture; government is talking to them about it, awareness is increasing and the people are getting exposed.”
Area Councils shortchanging the communities –FCTA
Curious to know what the government is doing to stop the killing, or reduce it to the barest minimum, this reporter visited the Information and Communication Department of the Federal Capital Territory Administration. Below is an excerpt of a chat with its Acting Director, Mrs. Stella Ojeme.
THE public would like to know what the government is doing to stop the killing of infants going on in certain communities around the FCT.
When it got to the attention of the administration that certain communities in some area councils were engaging in this, the former minister set up a panel that went to investigate and when it was discovered that it was actually going on, we were directed to go round these area councils and do some sensitisation that children are a gift from God, and that even if they’re twins, they are supposed to be seen as double blessing. So, we went round all the area councils, even as far as Abaji. We went to the palaces of the chiefs, called all the villagers and spoke to them; and they responded that even though it was an age long practice, with the enlightenment we had given to them, they’ve come to understand that it is wrong to dispose of their twin children.
Apart from the fact that it is against the law of God, we also told them that it is against the laws of the land. And they promised to stop. Occasionally, we do follow-up visits to see if there were changes. Some communities have stopped the practice, to be honest; but some are still stuck to their tradition. We are planning to go again and do a follow-up. We are waiting for approval. You know when we go for such sensitisations, we have to go with security agencies. If we go on our own without approval, and anything happens, we will have ourselves to blame.
How frequent are the sensitisation programmes, bearing in mind the need to regularly interface with these communities?
“We have had two sensitisation programmes this year. This one we are preparing for is the third. Once we get the approval, we will assemble the team and go. This photo-book is a record of our work in the communities. Anytime we want to go for follow-up, we show them pictures of our earlier visit and remind them of what we told them. We keep all these and use it to remind them that “you made us a promise that you will stop killing your twins, we heard that you have started again.”
If we hear that infants are being killed in parts of the FCT, it is only appropriate for us to know which communities have stopped these killings.
To protect the traditional rulers, I will not give you the names of the communities that are still doing this. You know we told them that it’s against the laws of the land. But these are communities that have stopped: Gomani, Tekpese, Gurdi, Wurambi, Shetuko, Kiyi, apart from major town like Kwali, Kuje, Yaba.
One of the commonest reasons for maternal mortality is lack of proper care during pregnancy or a result of complications during child birth. My visit to these communities revealed that only very few of them have primary health centres. What is the government doing about this?
I’m happy you asked this question, because it’s always been an issue between the FCTA and the Area Councils. You know why? The Area Councils have the jurisdiction of these communities. Now, there are allocations that are given by the federal government to the Area Councils. Every single month when allocations are released, every area council chairman comes here and collect their council’s share to the last kobo. The honourable minister has never withheld one single kobo of their allocation. It is with this allocation they are supposed to take care of their Area Councils and these communities. We are just to be stepping in when they fail or when there is a shortfall, but what they are now doing is to shelf all of these responsibilities to the administration.
In situations where we find that the allocation given is not sufficient, the administration steps in through the department of health and human resources. They go there and assist them with personnel, drugs, and sometimes, buildings. If you go there, most of all the buildings are FCT buildings. What do the area councils do?
Is it possible that the allocations are not sufficient, considering the vastness of these area councils?
If they say the allocations are no sufficient, I’m aware that the national assembly has given some of our revenue bases to them to be collecting. Right now there’s an approval given to the area councils to collect tenement rates. This is what we used to collect, it was the revenue of the FCT; but when they were complaining, the national assembly looked at the constitutionality of everything and said, “any building that is on your land, collect tenement rate.’ …tenement rate is tax on every building standing on their soil. And it is to be charged either on monthly or yearly basis. So, if they have given this approval and they have started collecting in addition to the allocations, what are they doing with it? But it still doesn’t stop the administration, whenever we hear health complaints of so and so, the health department steps in. It’s the same thing with education. Go to the local government chairmen and ask them what they do with their allocations on a monthly basis.
During my investigations, I realised that the matter is shrouded in so much secrecy; some even say the government has warned people from talking about it because it is putting the FCT in bad light.
How will the same government that came to tell you to stop doing it also tell you not to talk about it? We told them that it is against the laws of the land and if they don’t stop doing it, we will allow the law to step in. We told them that anybody who commits murder would also be killed. So, they are shrouding it in secrecy only because they are afraid of the law.
Does the administration interface with the Kuje missionary rescuing infants from being killed?
I’m aware of what he does. He is helping us. We see his good work on TV. We have a secretariat that is called Social Development Secretariat. They are the ones who interface with the man since it has to do with children. We are supposed to do the work of intervention, step in when there is a shortfall, but now they are making it look like it’s our responsibility.