Crude. Cruel. Absurd. Call it any of these words and many more and you won’t be wrong. Twins are still not spared in some communities in Kwali and Abaji Local Government Areas of Abuja Federal Capital Territory (FCT) decades after a Scottish missionary, Mary Slessor, championed the campaign that stopped the killing of the children in Nigeria. The story as packaged by Sunday Vanguard’s LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU AND LAIDE AKINBOADE.
The journey into the villages of Tunga, Gomani, Zaiha, Dongoruwa, Tubudu, Kutara, Paiko began from Abuja-Lokoja highway. The connecting village was Dafa. And it was here that we parked our vehicle, hired two motorbikes to continue the journey because of the rough terrain. The villages have a common language called Bassa just as they are united by their cultural heritages. They believe that twin babies are a taboo and the children desecrate the land, and must be dealt with accordingly, i.e. killed. The people are no Christians or Muslims. They are traditionalists. There is total lack of government presence in the communities. No road, pipe- borne water, hospital, school. Yet the villagers vote during elections. They have representatives in the Council Areas, House of Representatives and Senate.
Guide and interpreter
Before Sunday Vanguard set out on the journey, arrangement had been made with a guide who would also have been the interpreter. But it turned out that the guide could not make it. We resorted to using motorcyclists as interpreters with the villagers.
The first port of call was Gomani where we met some men under a tree. They told us there were missionaries in the villages and took us to a building, described as a church, where we had a chat with a 60- year-old man who identified himself as Moses. He is the pastor in charge of the church. He declared that he was posted to the village only recently and that he was yet to know the practices of the people. He viewed the question as to whether twins were being sacrificed in the village with suspicion and declined to answer.
Leaving Gomani, we waded through the forest on motorbike until we were greeted by a cluster of mud houses, signposting Tubudu village. On arrival, we met some children playing games. Our presence interrupted their games. One of the boys smartly greeted, “Good afternoon, sir”. We tried to establish a rapport with the people through the boy. But our looks betrayed us as we were marked out among them as total strangers. How to get answers to our enquiries became difficult. We asked for the village head and chiefs but were told that they might have left for their farms.
In a manner that tended to depict “it -is –our- culture- and- therefore -we- will- show it off”, the villagers built shrines that dotted everywhere. In every compound, there was a shrine strategically carved on the wall of a barn, simply announcing that twins had been sacrificed there.
Our enquiries produced one resident who claimed not to have been an indigene but had lived in the village for five years. He spoke Hausa and English Languages. The man subjected us to a barrage of questions trying to ascertain our identities and mission. By the time he became convinced, he agreed to talk to us on the condition of anonymity. He was one of the missionaries there on rescue mission. He said his mission was to fight infant mortality. When we shared our experience with him, he said, “If you are a stranger, they will not tell you that they kill twins in the village but if you live among them, they tell you. Bassa people kill twins.”
Our source began his story: “I work for Christian Missionary Foundation in the North Central of Nigeria., I am here because I was posted here and our aim is to reach out to the unreached in Abuja. I have been here for the past five years. My mission here is to stem infant mortality. In this village, they believe a woman is not supposed to give birth to more than a child; so they kill one of the children at birth if they are twins and leave the other because twins are a taboo to them.
They also kill single babies if, at the point of birth, the mother dies. Initially they were not giving us the children, but a woman with a strong heart for her children would come to us and say, ‘I cannot accept this, I don’t believe this child is a witch’. So, some of them bring the children to us. When a woman brings her child to you at the point of death, you won’t be able to say no. You see innocent child about to be killed, you won’t be able to say no. Some of them bring their children to us and say, ‘look they want to sacrifice these children’. We live among them. “As they deliver twins, they don’t waste time to bring them to us because they imagine the evil that can befall them. ”So how do they kill these children? They poison them. You will see a child is eating but terribly ill, they use spiritual means to poison the child. Sometimes the child dies instantly. It is a spiritual thing, you see a woman gives birth and within seconds the child dies.
”Few months ago, one incident here. There was a woman who had lost four children. It turned out that it was her own brother who was the one bewitching her. Spiritual things are things you don’t see with naked eyes. The husband went to a herbalist to promise him that if the baby she was carrying didn’t die, he would give him something. But when the woman gave birth the baby died within three hours.
Practice not strictly religious
“The villagers are traditional worshippers, they worship the spirit of the dead, river and trees. Though we have Muslims and Christians among them, they still go back to their traditional practice. So, it is like they practice their religions and hold their culture passionately. And they initiate their children into it also; so, as the
older ones die, the younger ones continue. So, what we do is to help the children.”
Asked whether it is everybody in the community that practices traditional religion, he said: “Some of them that are enlightened are against it and, even then when they are not enlightened, the women are against it. But what can they do? The leadership and most of the people are involved. It is their culture and they hold it tenaciously.”
According to him, some of the village women are excited about his foundation rescuing the children. “They come around to see their children living fine. Some of the children have even started school. As they pass out of schol, they would be taken back to the villages to proclaim the gospel. Initially, people outside the villages were coming to us for adoption of these children but we refused, they have been saved to serve. Initially some of the villagers were proud of the culture but when they discovered that it wasn’t good they tried to do away with it. Some of them have come to give their lives to God. Some of them are happy with us, “he added.
“But some of the village women are still ashamed to see the children, maybe because of their positions in the community. So, they don’t come to see the children;. even when they come in secret and tell you they want this baby to be rescued. Some of them might not be happy for rescuing the children. Because Basa people are proud people and they are proud of their culture but with the help of enlightenment and gospel, some of them want to do away with it. About three years ago in Kutara, a woman gave birth to twins, both girls. They called me and I told them that if they poisoned the babies, the foundation would take them to court. So we left the village but I kept on monitoring the babies. When I went back few weeks later, the girls were okay. The twin girls are doing
wonderfully well. If I hadn’t threatened them they would have poisoned the twins as they usually do in their culture.
Building a home
“The foundation has been rescuing children for the past 16 years ago. Initially we were not rescuing the children, because in the vision of the ministry, the mandate was not there. But when you see a problem and the Lord gives you solution then and life is involved and lives are being taken everyday, what do you do about it? So, our Directors decided that these babies must be rescued. Right now it is one of our core focuses in this work.
In the home, we have about 42 children, some of them are twins. Five of the children were rescued from this village. The oldest of the children is about 16 years and the youngest is months old. Culture in these villages is not a tenable reason for getting rid of them.”
On government presence, he said, “We really don’t have government presence in the village. “There is a group, Greenfield Mission, that wanted to build primary school but they didn’t come on time. The local government came and built the school. I was teaching in the school. For teachers to come from Kwali is really difficult especially during raining season as the whole place is flooded,” he stated.
“There is no clinic around here. There used to be one close to EYN but the building is bad. If there is any medical emergency the villagers are left on their own or they use traditional medicine and make sacrifices. But now there are two doctors that volunteered and come every Monday to administer drugs.”