Abuja Communities where Twins are Born for Sacrifice
On a fact finding mission, Chineme Okafor journeyed into some remote villages around Abuja where twins are sacrificed to gods because it is considered a taboo to be born a twin in such communities, though the Scottish missionary to Nigeria, late Mary Slessor led a crusade that stopped the barbaric act decades ago
Away from the hub of civilisation in Abuja, a neigbouring dry and dusty community on a string of semiarid topography within Kwali and Kuje area councils has become infamous for its centuries-old traditional practice of killing twins and children whose mother dies at childbirth.
The Bassa-Komo-Gbajingala indigenous clan in Abuja will no doubt be on a very close public scrutiny for a long time to come. The agrarian clan with a lifestyle built around subsistence farming, fishing and hunting has a cultural belief that loathes multiple births by its women just as the death of a woman during childbirth naturally puts the life of the baby born by such women on ?death row?.
Last Friday this reporter walked through the various communities where the practice still exist for several hours and truly there are signs that the birth of a twins in these community is a risky adventure by its women as it is considered a bad omen. Likewise, the death of a woman at childbirth exposed such children born alive to the practice that makes them a sacrifice to a god generally referred to as Tuwa.
Though the villagers claimed the practice as discovered had persisted for centuries and was allegedly stopped in 2006, the CMF Coordinator told THISDAY he rescued twins from being killed in the community only last November.
Without prejudice, THISDAY visited the closed community such as Tubudu along with the North-central Coordinator of the Christian Missionary Foundation (CMF), Olusola Stevens, whose decades of missionary expeditions in rural hinterlands across Nigeria has been a mixture of joy and pain accepted by him and his wife with warm hearts of contentment.
Albeit doubts of such claims, Stevens whose efforts have seen about 49 children that were once labelled ?evil? saved at various times from 1999 up until as recent as November 2012, from such practices, proved extremely useful in getting first-hand narrative of what transpired in the villages and thought-provoking story of a tribe?s ?ignorant? disposition to its offspring.
Discovering the Practice
Discovering the practice amongst the Gbajingala clan did not come so easy for the CMF which was founded in 1982 by the late tele-evangelist, Bishop Idahosa.
As narrated by Stevens, it took him and his wife about 18 years of constant investigation to discover that the clan was frequently engaged in deliberate murder of its twin offspring as well as children it considers to have come through questionable circumstances like the death of a woman at childbirth.
According to a narrative that was confirmed by an indigenous missionary who is locally known as Gambo but has now taken up a new name reflecting his voluntary acceptance of the Christian faith, THISDAY was told that the clan had often sacrificed its offspring to the god, Tuwa for bountiful harvest from their farms. It was when an indigenous woman refused to give-up her child for such sacrifice, that the long-held communal secret was revealed as she gave out her baby to Stevens and his wife for custody to help save the life of the young girl.
Gambo whose name translates to mean a male child after twin birth, also told THISDAY that while children were regularly sacrificed on false charges that they were responsible for the death of their mothers during childbirth that the clan equally experienced frequent mortality deaths occasioned by the practice of traditional birth method. He indicated that there could be possibilities in proportionate death and burial of infants with their dead mothers.
?Because the women often die at childbirth due to traditional delivery modes and following the wide belief and practise of killing and burying babies that come through the dead mothers, there is every reason to believe that the practice is still predominant in some of the villages amongst the clan,? Stevens contributed, prompting further questions on the status of such children.
A Conversation with Tubudu Women
On the way to Tubudu, one of the communities, this reporter in company with Stevens stopped to commune with a group of rural women who were sighted busy at a calm harmlet in preparations for a forthcoming traditional festival and soon engaged in a lively discussion with them after initial subtle resistance and pleas for a brief dialogue while they continued with their chores.
It was instructive to engage the young women in a discussion that centred on various socio-economic challenges of the community. They were enthusiastic and responded through the aid of an interpreter until the question around multiple childbirth puts an end to the discussion. They were no longer interested. From their body language it was clear that something was hidden. Perhaps the killing of twins exists here.
?They won?t tell you anything because they are forbidden to speak out on this, besides, they don?t know you. It took us 18 years to discover this and it was as a result of our work amongst them that some of the women and men who were touched by the gospel divulged to us the practice. They would go further to inform us on an imminent death of child and then we would act swiftly,? Stevens explained.
He added: ?They may tell you that they don?t practice it anymore, but when you go into their compounds, you will see sacrificial altars dedicated to the gods and upon which these children are sacrificed. So, it is not a matter of them saying they don?t anymore but a question that bothers on perhaps, it could be coincidental that there are no twins in all of these villages we?ve visited.?
How Twins are Killed
How are these children killed? THISDAY sought to know from Stevens as the journey continued towards Tubudu.
?It is not as if they take up knives and cut their throats but they give certain herbs to the women for the twin children to drink. This herb will gradually but lethally kill the babies after which they are presented at the altars with sacrificial incantations telling the god that they do not want the babies to come back to their communities anymore.
You will see some of these altars when we get into the village, from there, you will have the first-hand opportunity to make your conclusions and also ask the village head about the practice. Although, it has been long we had to rescue a child from Tubudu but not others because we have some sets of twins we rescued in November 2012.?
While at Tubudu, THISDAY was shown a clay-mold altar dedicated to the god that takes away the twins, in which two separate compartments for the sacrifice of twins were carved out. The compartments contained various sacrificial condiments that include eggs, local herbs, and pieced clothing. These compartments were further covered with an external drapery.
Baffled by the level of access granted to the party to rummage through the secrets of the clan, Stevens disclosed to THISDAY that the level of resistance to the works of the missionary has greatly subsided in some of the villages where there is a resident missionary.
He explained that most of the indigenes like Gambo who had encountered Christian missionaries and have taken up the faith have been extremely instrumental in reporting cases of imminent child murder as well as encouraging some of its younger generations to embrace Christianity and civilisation.
?If you don?t mingle with them, if you don?t understand and embrace their culture, you will hardly ever achieve anything. You have to understand them to even get to suspect that something fishy is going on, otherwise, you may be within them and a child will be sacrificed without you knowing,? he said.
Confirmation of the Practice
The village head of Tubudu, Seriki Yusuf Abako who eventually confirmed the practice to THISDAY, explained that Tubudu had in 2006 stopped it amongst its indigenes. He however noted that incidents of mortality rate as well as river blindness in the community remain predominant.
?Yes, it was a predominant practice amongst the clan but not anymore in this community; we stopped it about six years ago but I do not know of any other community that practises it but not here anymore,? Abako said through an interpreter.
He further said: ?Our women frequently die during childbirth and the Christian missionaries help take care of the babies left behind because we do not have the means to take care of them. We are only remembered by the government during elections. We don?t have any medical facility here, the closest you can get is the Kwali health centre but that is so far away from us.
Our women are often subjected to complications and pains through the traditional birth mode, even the primary school here is not functional because there are no teachers.?
The CMF Rescue Plan
While the rescued children are rarely encouraged to talk about their past which they are actually less acquainted with, Stevens informed THISDAY that all the children within his home have come to know him as their father, adding that he encourages their original parents to visit them at intervals.
?There is nothing secretive that I am doing and there is nothing special about what I am doing, I am just living out a mandate that was given to me and I must fulfill this mandate to the satisfaction of the God who sent me.
I give the children their various names and take care of them with the help of some domestic assistants. It is not easy but I derive satisfaction when I see a new baby rescued. I also encourage their biological parents to visit here and see that these children are not evil because their belief is that the children will kill us. Most of them visit to thank us and I assure them that as soon as the children are strong and willing to get back to them, I will definitely take them back ,? he explained.
When asked how he manages with the financial implications of keeping the children, he said: ?I get support from a few kind-hearted friends. I also have a few small scale businesses that I manage which generate financial resources to support the cause.
On the average, we expend about N270, 000 every month to keep up the children, I also have a friend who runs a school and grants the children waiver on tuition fees but we pay other fees and levies. I have friends at the university teaching hospital who regularly help out with medical consultations, so, here and there, we have good friends that come in to help out.?
Yes, Bassa-Komo may have been in the news for the wrong reasons, there may as well be several other communities across the country that may be involved in a few other crooked cultural practices, but Abako?s assertions seemed to instructively indict governments at various levels in Nigeria for failing in their duties to support local communities.