The killing of twins is regarded as a concern of the past and dark ages. It was a predicament eradicated and forgotten about. In the history of Nigeria, stories of Mary Slessor the British Missionary who fought against this is known. However, that danger is yet to abate. In the FCT, stories of the horrific practice are rife. BUKOLA OGUNSINA writes…
They say that twins are not human beings, so they should not live among human beings. When a woman delivers a set of twins, they kill them in various ways. Sometimes they will poison one of the twins; some villages kill one and leave one. Some kill the two because they believe they are not human beings…When they are born the father will go to a native doctor to get a poisonous concoction. They make that concoction from the roots of some plants, like the root of tobacco and some other plants that we have not discovered. The native doctor will then make the concoction and give it to the father of the twins. The man comes home and feeds the babies or baby as the case may be with the concoction, then the baby will emaciate until the baby dies off. And everybody will rejoice that the abomination has been cleared.”…These were the words of Mrs Chinwe Olusola, a missionary in the FCT.
For explorers who have sailed the perilous rivers in the deep mysterious Amazons of South America, this may not come as a surprise. Albeit, it can be difficult to imagine in Abuja, villages well hidden in clusters, and overshadowed by skyscrapers made of steel and concrete in a modern and fast developing capital. A place where tales of people cut off from the rest of civilisation, are living in places not easily accessible, due to rock laden rivers, impassible during the rainy season and unmotorable roads, seems farfetched and only mentioned in folklores. Well these stories are real, and so are the killing of twin babies regarded as abominations by these villagers.
It was that time of the year when the sun was at its highest and the heat scorched your skin, when we headed out to Kuje to visit the ‘Rescue home,’ as we now know it to be, and not an orphanage as generally perceived. Vine Heritage Foundation sits on the other side of the road, in Kiyi area just after Chibiri in Kuje. We were received by the couple who run the foundation, Mr and Mrs Stevens Olusola, totally gripped by the narration of how the home started, and stories of infanticide that would chill you to the bones. If only that was all they were, stories that seemed like folklores, then at the end we could heave a sigh of relief, but no, these were real life stories and some of the proof to authenticate this sad stories were with us, at the home.
Mrs Chinwe Stevens Olusola gave us a background to the Foundation and how it was conceived. “This is Vine Heritage Foundation. It is not an orphanage, it is a rescue home, in the sense that we do not have a single orphan in this place. It started as a result of our mission work in the FCT.
“During our work in the interiors, we worked among the Bassas, the Bassa Komos and the Bariamas, natives of the FCT. We discovered some practices that are not good during our mission work. One, we discover that they kill their twins,” she lamented.
“Sometimes if you go to the shrine you can find up to N6000 there, offered to the spirits of the twins in exchange for good harvests or good health.”
Mrs Olusola also added that another method the twins are being executed is through starvation. “If they don’t poison the twins, they could kill the twins through starvation. The mother will stop breastfeeding the twins, as she would see them as evil children that came to kill her, until they emaciate and die out of starvation.
“Another way the twins are killed is this, an elderly woman in the environment, will just sneak in and take one of the twins. There is this big calabash that the Bassas normally use to cross the river. The woman would use that big calabash and cover the baby, and the baby will suffocate to death.
“Now in some cases because we started as missionaries, we have planted some churches in those interiors, so some of our converts now know that it is not good to kill their children.”
Mrs Olusola said that because these new converts do not want their children killed, they attempt to hide them and avoid going to the native doctors to get any concoctions. They also do not stop breastfeeding the babies.
“But then because the community still believes that this children are evil, they will then go ahead if those parents decide to keep the children, to kill those children, because they believe they are evil. And if they keep them their gods will be annoyed with them and will attack them and maim them.
“What they do is that they get their masquerade. They call their masquerade Kotoshi. The Kotoshi will enter the room where the twins are with their mother. Immediately the Kotoshi enters there, the mother will run away because the Bassa woman is not supposed to see the masquerade. The woman will run out and then they will take the children and tie ropes around their necks and strangulate them to death and then go and bury them.
“Now because it has been a tradition among them, many of them have been brain washed to the belief that these children are evil, so they don’t cry for them they rejoice when they die, that the evil has been cleared. As a result, we began telling them to give us these children. Sometimes they give us, sometimes they don’t give us. We don’t use the police, we don’t use force. If we use force, they will relocate and move further into the bush and we will not see them again. So we just plead with them. But by the grace of God we have been able to save a good number of them,” she said.
Among these practices, is also the pitiful killing of babies whose mothers died during child birth as these babies whether twins or not are said to be evil.
“The second practice is when a woman that is still breastfeeding a baby dies; they believe that it is the baby that killed that woman. What they do is that before the woman is buried, they will place the life baby on the body of the corpse, and ask the woman to go with her baby.
They will try to force the baby to take the dead woman’s breast milk, because they believe that if the baby should suck the breast milk, the baby will die. They will ask her, ‘take your baby along with you.’ We have children here, Mark, James was rescued like that. They had already put him on the corpse of the mother, before an ECWA woman, a Christian that was just around came and started pleading, ‘Please I want to take this child; I know who can help me with the child.’ The old woman said, ‘We will not give you, nobody will take care of this evil child, this wicked child.’ But this woman insisted, ‘Please give me the child.’
“After some time they gave her the child and she brought him here. After some time when you look at him, you will see that he has not fully recovered because sometimes the torture that they give to them before they give the children out is another thing. Its like, ‘Ok you want the child? You will have the child,’ they will deal with the child first before they give the child to you. There is another set of twins, you will see them Matthews and Matilda, they were rescued from Abaji Area Council. Their mother delivered them and died, and they placed them on the corpse of their mother for a whole day and a whole night asking the mother to take them.
But thank God that a missionary that was serving in that community was around, and he is an indigene, he is Bassa too. The man pleaded with them, ‘Please give me these children, they did not do anything.’ And eventually after a long time, the father reluctantly gave them to him. They weighed less than 1kg when they were brought in. They were brought here in a small carton. They man placed them on his motorcycle and rushed them to this place, you will see them.”
Another horrifying practice is that when they ask the dead mother to take the children with her and nothing happens, the baby is buried alive with the corpse of the mother.
“After they ask the mother to take the child and nothing happens, they will bury that child alive with the corpse of the mother, because they say its an evil child. So about 90 per cent of the children we have here are from these practices. If we don’t whisk them away immediately, they will die there.
“Albinos are not left out of these practices, Mrs Olusola informed us. “The third practice is that they say albinos are not human beings they are strange, so they don’t allow them live in their communities, they kill them. We rescued only one albino and it is the Bassas that brought that girl to us. They just came and we said, ‘is the mother alive?’ They said yes, ‘Is the father alive?’ they said yes, and we said ‘No we don’t want her here this place is not for her.’ They said, ‘No, if we take her back to the village they will kill her.’ So that was how they explained to us and we had to receive her. She is here with us.
“ Then the fourth practice is that any child that brings out the upper teeth first , they will kill that child, that it is an abomination. They will take that child to a shrine and smash the head on a tree trunk or on a stone until the child dies. We have not been able to rescue any child from this fourth practice. We had one in the village, one of the villages around Sabo Kaida, there was this village after the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, but we just said, ‘Let’s leave this child in the village and see what happens, maybe the will change their mind. And we asked the missionaries to be watching , we have not been able to rescue anybody, it is done silently it is done quietly.
“Then the fifth practice is that, they use their children for sacrifice. They use their children for sacrifice for food harvest. When we watched these five practices as missionaries we decided to do something about them, and that is what gave birth to Vine Heritage Foundation”, she explained.
Being a faith based mission, the couple running the home are not on salary and depend on well wishers and ultimately on God through prayers. This has also increased the faith of the children and encouraged them to pray for their needs. The Foundation which has rescued children from these various horrific practices, fostering them, currently has 102 children resident in its care, with 74 of them in schools. One of the children has just completed an NCE programme. While some are in Senior Secondary, others are in Junior Secondary. Some are in pre nursery and others in primary. The Foundation also cares for children of missionaries, converts working in the interiors where there is lack of schools, or no good schools so that they can be provided with good education through funds raised, while their parents work.
Mrs Olusola explained that there were government schools in the interiors with good structures, but no one to teach because of the inaccessibility of such areas and high risks of crossing the rivers that can be dangerous especially during the rainy season.
“You will have to use canoe,” she said, “In fact one of the villages that my friend was trying to cross to go and see the missionaries, their boats capsized and she died. She was drowned in one of those rivers, so its not an easy terrain.
The building of the Foundation was donated and the Christian Broadcasting Network assisted with completion and furnishing of the building. Various well wishers donated chairs, fans, television, clock, and everything in the home, including the two buses used by the home. An additional building was added for the boys lodge.
The children attend Christ Academy in Gwagwalada owned by a pastor, and are on scholarship. However, the couple have to buy their uniforms and books.
Well aware that the practice is still being carried out, Mrs Stevens Olusola lamented, “It is not something that we expect to finish in one day because it has to do with their mind set, and tradition that has been over the years, but we thank God that it is making impact. They are also trying from the village now, you know it is not like before that you will plead, they come here, we allow them to visit the children and see what is happening. So they are now like vanguards of the good message. They will now take the good message to other villages that these children they are not evil, they are alive. So there’s a kind of reconsideration. “
As a result more children are being brought to the home by some of the villagers. “When you get to the baby’s room, you see the room is tight. They are now rushing more children to us and we need more accommodation because we have made up our minds not to stop them. Somebody said, take the number of children you can accommodate. And we said we can’t turn them back because turning them back means that they will go home and kill those children. It has happened before when they asked us to come and take a set of twins and we said that, ‘No we don’t have accommodation.’ Eventually, we learned that they killed those children, so we said we don’t want to do that. We said we would continue to do God’s work and we know that God will make a home for them, so the government too is aware of it,” she said.
Regarding what the government should do, Mr Stevens Olusola who is also a pastor, and Mrs Chinwe’s husband told LEADERSHIP Newspapers, “They actually started something during Jonathan’s administration. The first thing they did after they heard the story, we were invited to authenticate the story,” he said.
“You know the initial thing is that people won’t believe , even the indigenes that were doing it were pretending that there was nothing like that happening. Before we were invited, the then Minister called them and asked them, ‘We heard some stories about this,’ however he said that the people denied that such things were happening, and as such they were requested to come to the Minister of the FCT’s office.
“We didn’t just tell them the story, we showed them video clips, pictures of the rescued children, when they were given out… after that, they said that they were convinced but they need to do their own investigation.” According to Mr Stevens Olusola, the first committee, after their presentation did not work out, and another committee was inaugurated. “They now inaugurated another committee to go and see what is happening whether it is true, and that took them about seven months.
“They moved round, even at that of course they did not get to all the villages, because some of the villages are not easily accessible. In fact as I am talking, you cannot get to some of the villages. The closest to us, just behind us, you cannot get there because the water level is high and you cannot use canoe. And even if a swimmer attempted to, there are rocks inside that river, so they will not see what they are swimming against. It could be dangerous. They were able to access 23 out of the 55 villages,” he said.
The Pastor revealed that the Councils most affected by these practices are Gwagwalada Area Council, Abaji, Kuje, Kwali, and part of AMAC. If you cross the river there are ten villages under AMAC, same tribe, they still do that practice.
“Before they came with their report we had war with the local people, many of them came here to threaten, ‘We will kill you, we will destroy this place. You are lying against our people.’ Some funny stories, some even said I am collaborating with the government that we want their people to be deported from Nigeria… because they are killing twins, so we became their enemy.
“When the ministerial report came out, we were vindicated and of course they discovered other things we didn’t tell them. We didn’t tell them about the practice against albinos, we didn’t tell them about malformed babies. Any babies that has deformity, they don’t keep them. They discovered that on their own.
“The minister now set up another committee to go and start working to enlighten the people. National Orientation Agency (NOA) was there, some local NGOs in Abuja were there, social welfare were part of the team.
“After that they started going out from one village to the other, they did some vests, ‘We love twins’, ‘Twins are a special gift from God let’s not kill them,’ they circulated it in their local language. If you are going out through this road to Kuje before you connect to airport road you see they have several signboards in the interior. It’s the committee that started this, but since May last year, since the new government came, their work stopped, and they have not done anything since then,” he lamented, further adding that his local contacts would have commented if something were still being done.
“That’s how far, but they have the record of their own investigations which authenticate the story. It is no longer something they would deny again, that ‘We don’t know where the stories are coming from’,” he indicated.
Because of the high maternal mortality rates in some of these villages, Mr Stevens Olusola told LEADERSHIP Weekend that he had suggested to the Committees initially when they visited, to be sure to give functional maternity centres to those villages so that from pregnancy, they can discover who is carrying twins before their time of delivery so as to prevent these deaths, including those of the mothers.
“I also told them to improve road networks… we have had women bleeding to death. We have women dying because they had prolonged labour. After giving birth to the child the woman would die and then they accuse the baby, they say it’s the baby that killed the mother. And we are still waiting for them to continue the work, so this is how far the government has gone. I don’t know when the new administration will visit that work again.”
On how he would like this present administration to intervene, Mr Olusola stated that a form of commitment on the part of the government would be helpful. The government could provide food and most importantly, have registered Homes on NHIS services to reduce the burden of hospital bills, mentioning that presently they had a baby on admission at the hospital.
“First it was a calling to save lives, second the children are Nigerians and I expected and I am still expecting the government to make a commitment.”
Secondly he added, “You look at these clusters of villages where these practices are going on, give them a functional maternity centre with a scanning machine with medical doctor and a nurse and tell them, ‘The reason why we are bringing you here is to stop thess practices,’ and then make life comfortable for whosoever is there so that they won’t run away. Even those across, if you go there, it takes somebody who has the calling, to want to live there. That’s why their schools are not working. They have buildings in some of the villages but the teachers don’t come.
“For example, now the river level is high, a majority of where the children come from. Some teachers will not go there because how much are they going to pay you to go and risk your life on a very risky canoe. Some of the canoes, when you are there crossing, you will be scooping water. If the man is not fast, the canoe will sink and they will be all gone. We have lost some missionaries like that about four years ago. “
“After the investigation, the Abaji Council Chairman gave one of the communities a speed boat. They rejected it. They said that’s not what we are looking for. Instead of giving us boat, why don’t you give us bridges on this river, so that when there is emergency, with the motorcycle and the few things we have we can move out.”
He also further revealed, how in a documentary the village heads had lamented“Once the water level is high and somebody is sick , the nursing mother is in a dilemma. Well we try what we can locally, we call our traditional local healer. Wherever they stop, if the woman dies there is nothing else we will do. Because if we want to rush out to the hospital how do we go over the water? The other way round if you want to come out of some of the villages, maybe you go inside the ones around Abaji, Kwali you go deep into the interiors and go and bust out somewhere in Lapai in Niger State, before you now connect to a motorable road.”
As a result, the locals would not want to take the risk of the mother dying on the long journey to the hospital, due to complications caused by the tedious journey, and so they will just leave the women in their homes.
Mr Olusola explained that part of the missionary team had a medical doctor and nurse. “We have a medical doctor and a nurse who do a kind of rotational visit on short time medical. Every week, they select some villages they go there, look at the pregnant women. What they are doing now is to engage the local birth attendant, teach them, ‘In case you see this, then call for help. If you see this sign even when they are still pregnant, do something,’ so that’s what they’ve been doing. And then we also assist with small problems, but they rotate.” However this is not enough. “So, bridges are necessary, also a network of roads, those are things government can do,” he said.