The recurring struggle against female circumcision in Nigeria 

By Osaro Itua

The story of one Mrs. Gbe (not complete name) who has a hard time preventing her 11yr old daughter from under-going the outlawed, inhuman and barbaric age long tradition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) still been practiced by her In-Laws who hail from one of the remote areas of Edo State in South-South Nigeria is a sad tale that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

She hails from the Eastern part of Nigeria and met her husband Mere (not complete name) in 2004. After dating for about 2yrs, they decided to get married. However, their decision was met with stiff opposition from Meres immediate and extended family, who insisted that Mrs Gbe must undergo a traditional ritual which will be rounded up with her circumcision before her bride price will be paid. They explained that every female member of the family either by birth or marriage has undergone this ritual hence theyre fertile in their marriages. While the male family members also have to undergo their own rituals, the female circumcision ritual which will see the cutting off of certain parts of the vagina by the local herbalist using crude implements and local herbs is the climax of the exercise. Most young girls and women have contracted very serious vaginal infections during this procedure which ultimately lead to their death. This is because, when they fall sick from the infections, no orthodox medical treatment is allowed as it is expected that if the girl or her mother is pure, she will recover from the resultant illness by use of native herbs. When death occurs, it is termed as the will of the ancestors and as such should not be questioned. Mrs Gbe vehemently refused this proposal and had the backing of Mere. His family, nevertheless, insisted that he would only be allowed to marry her upon the completion of this ritual. 

This stand-off continued till sometime in 2006 when she became pregnant for Mere. All pleas to have the traditional marriage fell on deaf ears as his family was determined to circumcise her. She eventually had their first child — a baby girl in November 2006 and this opened another chapter of woes for her and Mere.

Since a female child has been born and as is customary in the family, Mrs Gbe was requested to bring the child for circumcision before she clocked 1 year. She also resisted this request and of course, it opened a second round of trouble for her. This time around, Meres Kindred were emphatic and categorical in their demand for their granddaughter to be circumcised. They further emphasized that nothing in this world would stop that from happening except death. 

Mere and his wife didnt take seriously to this threat until one faithful morning of the 12th of June 2007 when mother and daughter were returning from a routine immunization round and they were viciously attacked by unknown assailants. Mrs Gbe who was driving alone with the baby strapped on the baby car seat behind her were double crossed by a black Mercedes Benz car while on a lonely stretch of road leading to her house. She received a massive blow to the head and passed out instantly. 

However, the assailants couldnt make away with the baby as their efforts were immediately ruined by the brave efforts of two young men who were driving past. They fought the assailants to a stand-still and rescued the baby from their hands. On realizing the failure of the operation, the assailants took to their heels. This afforded the good Samaritans the opportunity to immediately evacuate Mrs. Gbe to the hospital. She was in a coma for 2 days and thereafter spent another 2 weeks in the intensive care of a private hospital. She spent a total of 6 weeks in the hospital and made sufficient recovery before she was discharged home. A report of the incident was made to the Police who pledged to investigate and bring the perpetrators to book. Nothing was ever heard from them. 

Surprisingly, Meres mother and key extended family members said that the attack occurred as a result of their refusal to proceed with the circumcision ritual. They blamed Mrs Gbe for the incident and repeatedly said “… this happened because of her stubbornness…” hence their demand for the ritual became heightened. To make matters worse, they started referring to Mere as an outcast and openly said they will ostracize him from the family if he doesnt heed to their demands. 

He was given a deadline for December 2007 to bring his wife and daughter for the ritual else, he would be cast away from the family and every right to inheritance of family property be taken away from him. He was also requested to stop using the family name and a curse was placed upon any member of the kindred who will communicate and keep contact with him, his wife or daughter. They were accused of bringing ill-luck to the kindred and must die as a way of cleansing and appeasing the ancestral spirits. These will be done if he doesnt comply by the deadline. 

As a result of the entire incident and the resulting threats to his life and that of his wife and daughter, Mere quickly relocated his young family to Abuja in November 2007. When the baby clocked 1 year in the same month, he took his wife to the marriage Registry where they formalized their union with a Court marriage.

However, the threats to his wife and baby re-surfaced from members of their Community Development Association (CDA) resident in Abuja. They insisted that Mere must take his wife and daughter back home for the circumcision rituals to avoid bringing calamities upon their community. They were actually physically attacked during one of their outings in Abuja. Some touts from one of the popular motor parks within the city metropolis were hired to carry out the act. Right in the presence of his wife and kid, Mere was beaten to a pulp and he lost some teeth in the process. While attempting to raise an alarm for the attention of passers-by, his wife was slapped severally. They touts thereafter dispossessed them of their jewelries, wristwatches, mobile phones and cash. Before leaving, they told Mere that he should go back home to his community and do what he has been asked to do else, himself and his wife may not survive to tell the story. This then prompted them to relocate further North of Nigeria and far away from Edo State. 

They headed for Jos, the Plateau State Capital in 2010 and lived in a quiet community in the Barkin Ladi Local Government Area amongst the Berom people who were predominantly farmers. They had more kids, established a farm business and built a home until the killer herdsmen struck their community on the night of June 23rd 2018. They had gotten a whim of the attack about 2 days before it actually occurred. They however paid no mind, noting that the Government security agencies were on ground to forestall any further breakdown of law and order. However, on that faithful night, they were jolted from sleep by gunshots sound from not too far away from their home and it continued ceaselessly. This prompted Mere and his wife to quickly grab the children up and upon getting outside through the back door, they saw several houses in the distance have been set ablaze and the attackers heading in their direction while shooting indiscriminating and killing every moving object in their sight.

They joined other neighbours in running towards the opposite direction and continued on foot for about 1 hour till they reached the Nghar Yelwa area and ran into a Mosque where the Imam shielded them from the attackers till security agents arrived in the morning of June 24th 2018. 

By the next day, they returned under heavy security watch to their community and discovered that their entire house and personal belongings have been raised down by the attackers. This completely broke their spirit and they immediately moved back to Abuja to seek refuge with friends while planning on how to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on. 

Upon arriving Abuja, they were once more greeted with the demand to go back home and carry out the circumcision ritual on Mrs Gbe and her daughters. Infact, the first daughter will clock 12yrs in November 2018 and they have been given that date as the final deadline to go back to their village and carry out the exercise. They were further assured that refusal to do so will result in the death of Mere, his wife or any of the children. Mrs Gbe has reached out to various Non-Governmental organizations for assistance, but none has yielded positive responses. Mere’s clan and kindred are vehemently bent on ensuring that she comes forward with her daughters for the initiation ritual. 

One can only but imagine the agony this family is going through with their family kindred after them and their experience in the hands of the dreaded fulani herdsmen as a result of the incessant attacks on Christians in Nigeria.

Despite the existence of the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Law in Nigeria, it is heartbreaking to note that this issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still prevalent in the Country. The Law which seeks to prohibit female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices, prohibits forced isolation, depriving persons of their liberty, economic abuse, incest, separation from family and friends, substance attack and indecent exposure, among others. 

However, the existence of this law has not deterred its practice in most local communities in Nigeria. The lack of enforcement has militated against the practicability of the law. The apathy of those that should enforce this ban has been stated as one of the main issues why the practice is still popular. 

Also, the lack of awareness of the dangers posed by FGM is another problem. It is imperative at the juncture for the executive to charge those responsible with enforcement with the need to do the needful. 

The Community leaders, traditional Institutions and practitioners of herbal medicine must be educated on the dangers associated with this barbaric, and nauseating cultural practice.

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