Ever since the exposure of a disturbing, but unsurprising practice of infanticide among indigenous communities in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there is no doubt that the FCT Administration faces a daunting challenge towards eradicating such an evil and barbaric act.
According to the Oxford dictionary, infanticide is the practice in some societies of killing “unwanted children” soon after birth. It is also the crime of a mother killing her child within a year of birth.
However, the practice of infanticide in Abuja, the nation’s capital territory was first reported by the media in 2013.
Early in 2013, Channels Television produced a short documentary on the practice of killing infants especially twins or burying some others alive with their dead mothers in some communities in the FCT.
Also, the Sun News in a report on the alleged child killings recounted the bizarre story of the North Central Director of the Christian Missionary Foundation (CMF), Olusola Stevens and his wife, who witnessed the killing of twins and mothers whose children die within three months of a baby’s birth, is one of them.
According to the report, in Bassa Komo, Abuja, it is abomination to be born a twin; or if a mother dies within three months of a baby’s birth; or if a child grows upper teeth first or is born with defect. As these are all faults of the baby or babies involved. To the people of the community, these are signs that such babies were fabricated in the factory of the devil and are themselves evil. Such offences by the evil baby or babies are punishable by burial alive.
This is coming 98 years after the death of the Scottish missionary to Nigeria, Mary Slessor, who led crusades that stopped some societies from killing twin babies at birth.
In the report, it was revealed that when twins are delivered, they will be poisoned to die gradually or strangulated after being forcefully taken from the mother by masquerades that women are not allowed to see. Once they are killed, an altar will be raised on the walls of their huts to worship their spirits and make sacrifices to ward them off from returning.
Similarly, if a woman delivers and dies during childbirth, the child will be tied to the body of the dead mother and buried alive with her. If the nursing mother should die of any cause without weaning the baby, the baby will be accused of having strange powers that killed the mother, the penalty for this is also death. In some villages, the children may be abandoned on the grave of the dead mother while some are left unattended to in the village, leading to starvation and eventual death.
Again, babies that grow the upper teeth first are bound to die, because they are believed to be bad omen. But this is neatly done, an outsider may never know when and how unless you understand their language and pay close attention to young babies in the area.
“If you are not very observant, you will not know this practice is going on and it took us some time to actually confirm. Some of the enlightened indigenes of the area deny the practice, maybe out of shame, but it is still happening till date,” Stevens was quoted in the report.
The missionary who noted that up to 40 villages are still involved in such practices in the Abuja, said so far, the foundation has rescued about 33 kids spread across several villages. Some of the kids were rescued at tender ages, a day old, two weeks old, a month old and so on.
Interestingly, it was reported that at the time they started rescuing the children; one of them had asked the villagers if they would take the child back if after four years the child remains healthy. They bluntly refused, saying the evil spirit would still be in their bodies.
In a swift response, the FCT Administration instituted a 30-man committee in September 2013 to probe the existence of such primordial cultural and inhuman practices in some FCT communities.
The committee headed by the chairman of Kuje Area Council, Mr. Ishyaku Tete Shaban, was mandated to conduct a thorough and far-reaching investigation on some infanticide practicing communities in the FCT; to assess the general conditions of the child in the affected communities against the provisions of the Child Right Act; and to advise the FCT Administration on what steps to take to ensure the best interest of the child in the affected communities.
According to the Minister of state for FCT, Oloye Olajumoke Akinjide, “the FCT Administration received the report of such primordial cultural practices with serious concern and considers the development unacceptable and totally reprehensible considering the time and age in which we are.
“After preliminary investigations, we became apprehensive that besides the communities already reported on; there might still be others whose cultural practices, in so far as the welfare of the child is concerned, have not kept pace with civilised standards.”
She noted that the domestication of the United Nations’ Charter on the Rights of the Child by Nigeria in 2003 made it incumbent for the country to establish necessary institutional framework for the protection of the child.
According to the minister, Section II of the Child Rights Act of 2003 provided that “no child shall be subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, including sexual abuse as well as torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, among others.
“Conscious of its duty and obligations towards the child, therefore, the FCT Administration has considered it necessary to undertake a comprehensive survey of the conditions of the child in the affected communities.
“This is with a view to assessing the depth of these cultural practices, side by side with basic tenets of civilised conduct and the Child Rights Act 2003.
As expected, just last week, the committee presented its findings and recommendations to the FCTA. And the report showed infanticide was being perpetrated in some communities.
Specifically, it was revealed that infanticide was being practised in 22 communities in four Area Councils- Abaji, Gwagwalada, Kuje and Kwali, respectively.
Other findings in the committee’s report include the absence of basic social amenities such as potable water and healthcare facilities in the concerned communities.
The report also showed that the lack of potable water was identified as a major cause of “bilharzia’’ which is described as the passing of bloody urine in some communities.
According to the Chairman of the committee, Shaban Isiaku, said although in the course of the committees’ interaction with the targeted communities, it was revealed that indeed the crime was being practiced, but the harmful practice has however ceased to exist in most communities of the FCT.
“In some scenarios, some pregnant women, without access to prenatal care, do sometimes give birth to malformed babies.
“The wide use of herbs not prescribed for pregnant mothers, killing and abandoning of twins and other babies due to lack of proper medication or due to religious beliefs have all contributed to the practice of infanticide.
“In such cases, the babies are usually handed over by the community elders to the village deities or masquerades to be ‘taken care of’,” he said.
He stressed that the report was structured to serve three basic purposes, which include serving as a useful guide to address identified cases of infanticide in the affected communities.
“It is also to serve as a community needs assessment document for the communities visited, with a view to bringing to the fore the infrastructural and social amenities gaps therein.
“Also, it is to serve as cultures, values and traditions’ reference document on the researched communities,’’ Ishaku expressed.
To effectively address the harmful cultural practices in the area councils, the committee urged the FCTA to study the observations, findings and recommendations highlighted in the report carefully, for diligence implementation.
Consequently, the FCT minister of state, who received the committee’s report, announced that FCTA would, henceforth, prosecute residents found guilty of infanticide in the territory.
The minister who said the FCTA would no longer condone the crime as its core mandate included the delivery of maternal and child care, also assured that all recommendations by the committee would be implemented immediately, to ensure that such practice was erased completely.
“The FCTA will make sure it brings to an end such an evil act. We will ensure the practice comes to an end in the FCT and Nigeria,’’ Akinjide said.
She therefore commended the media for exposing such acts, and called for more synergy between the FCTA and other organisations to bring such evil acts to an end.
Nevertheless, going by the graphic descriptions of the barbaric practice, including the alleged reasoning behind such primordial inhuman cultural practices even in the domain of the FCT, it therefore beholds on the FCTA to go beyond making public the outcome of the committee’s work, but immediately expedite action towards tackling the scourge head on, to ensure that such practice was totally erased.