It is 98 years ago that Mary Slessor, the Scottish missionary to Nigeria, died. She was reputed to have led crusades that stopped some societies from killing twin babies at birth. Such births were taboo and not tolerated.
While her history remains alive, as her remains were interred in Nigeria, it seems some communities in Nigeria, even today, are out to rubbish and undo what Slessor did.
It might shock you to hear that there is still a community that still sees twins or multiple birth as abomination. But it is more confounding to find that the communities are in the nation’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT). How awful that even within the world’s newest city, with all the trappings of modernity, the preponderance of religions and inclinations that abhor killing of human beings, twin kids are still sacrificed to the gods of tradition that don’t want them alive like the biblical story of the notions that passed their babies through the fire of Molech.
Imagine yourself visiting a community called Basa Komo in the FCT and all of a sudden, you come face-to-face with a crowd. You move closer and are confronted with a helpless infant, struggling to set himself loose from the grip of community leaders, who want to bury him alive.
This scenario is not from a Nollywood film or a best selling novel. It happens today in a community in the nation’s FCT. In Bassa Komo, it is abomination to be born a twin, or a mother dies within three months of a baby’s birth, or a child grows upper teeth first or is born with defect. These are all faults of the baby or babies involved.
All these, to the people of the community, 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.
Such bizarre drama was witnessed by a couple, Olusola Stevens and his wife. Stevens is the North Central Director of the Christian Missionary Foundation (CMF). He has been in missionary work for 22 years. In all his years as a missionary, nothing prepared him and his wife, Chinwe, for the trauma of hearing or witnessing the practice of killing infants or burying some alive with their dead mothers even in the domain of the FCT.
They are considered as strange spirits and not fit to live among men. When they are delivered, they will be poisoned (the child dies gradually) or is 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. They believe the dead children are spirits that want to come back but they are not welcome.
Mum’s death after birth
Another outrageous practice is the killing of babies whose mothers die after their birth. 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.
Wrong teeth child
A child that grows upper teeth first is also bound to die. The couple discovered that babies that grow the upper teeth first are also killed because they are bad omen. 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.
According to Stevens, the practice is not common among the Abuja indigenes alone, “We also learnt from some other agencies that we work closely with that twins are not allowed to live in Uturu, Abia State.”
“There is also sacrificing of young children to the fertility god during planting season to have bountiful harvest that is common amongst the Bassa. They don’t physically slaughter the baby but once they pick a baby, a child that is healthy now will mysteriously die. You will hear the child cry and complain of a minor ailment and the next minute, he or she is dead. We have two children in this category, they were brought to us by their mothers so as to save them from being sacrificed by their fathers,” the rescuer couple hinted.
If a woman delivers triplets or quadruplets, they will be thrown into the Gurara River or strangled and later buried in the bush.
The couple said they learnt that Gbagyi Yama also practise killing of twins but “we are yet to rescue any child. We were to rescue a set of twins two years ago but they did not allow us. They were taken to the ancestral home and usually the babies will not return if taken there.”
The villages in these practices today are up to 40. Some of them are in Gwagwalada Area Council, more of them in Abaji, some in Kwali and part of Kuje.
“Since I live among them, we have missionaries, working in those villages. There are even natives, who are no longer comfortable with the practice after hearing the word of God and they run to tell non-native missionaries once they are about to kill twins or any other child. We tell them if you don’t want these ‘evil’ children, give them to us; we want them.”