Female Genital Mutilation has been identified to still be very much responsible for girl child mortality in Imo state.
Our crew visited Imo state on a fact finding mission to ascertain the extent to which communities in Imo state still indulge in the practice of female genital mutilation, a tradition and custom that is not only archaic but also repugnant to natural justice.
Their findings were horrifying and disheartening
Our crew’s first point of call was UMUNNAWUIKE Community in Atta Ancient Kingdom in Ikeduru Local Government area of Imo state.
They found their way to the traditional ruler of Umunnawuike, Eze Joe Anika, who received them and welcomed them in accordance with the Igbo tradition. There after the crew made their mission known to him and to their surprise, he opened up to them. He revealed that Female Circumcision is still very much practiced in his community and it is not a tradition they are willing to put an end to in the near future.
When asked why it is still being practiced in his community. He said that it is their custom and that if stopped their girls would be promiscuous. That uncircumcised girls are usually very promiscuous and tormented by evil spirit.
Our crew’s efforts to dissuade him from those erroneous beliefs fell on deaf ears.
Our crew did not end there. They proceeded to another community in the same Ikeduru Local government area of Imo state.
The second community our crew visited was Ugiri–Ikeautonomous community whose traditional ruler is Eze Emmanuel Nwigwe told the crew that his community still circumcises their female children.
When asked if female circumcision is the only old custom they still practice in his community in this present times?
The crew was shocked to hear from him that they still hold tenaciously to the Osu (outcast) system, early child marriage and non-education of girl child. When asked why they still practice Osu(outcast) system irrespective of the fact that the first governor of Imo state, Late Samuel Mbakweabrogated the Osu(outcast) system during his tenure in 1979. Eze Emmanuel Nwigwe replied that parents of a free born child will not allow his/her child to take an Osu (outcast) for a spouse and that even if any parent allows a marriage between his/her child and an outcast, the entire family will be ostracized and nobody in the community would have any relationship whatsoever with them. They cannot even buy or sell in their community market.
Our crew proceeded to another community in another local government of Imo state.
Their next place of visit was Awogwu Village, Logara autonomous community, Ngor-Okpala Local government Area of the state. They met the Eze’s absence as one of his cabinet member who pleaded anonymity informed us that their Eze had travelled abroad for medical treatment.
We promised him anonymity so he became free with us and divulged quite a lot to us.
We inquired to know the traditions and customs of his people that are still being practiced till date.
He said they practice initiation of their first-born sons into a secret society where he is fortified against evil attacks, Osu (outcast) system, early girl child marriage, using their children as collateral for loans and non-education of their girl child.
The crew was very curious to know how the child collateral practice works and demanded to be enlightened further.
The man then said if peradventure a man lends money from an indigene or from somebody from the neighboring village and eventually fails to pay the loan back, one of the children of the lendee is sent to the house of the lender to work on his farm for an agreed period of time.
We further inquired, what happens to the child if the lendee eventually fails to repay the loan for whatever reason? He told us that if the child is a girl, and the lender is male and willing to have the girl for a wife, the girl is married off to him even if she is under age and/ or against her will. He went further to state that if the child given out, as a collateral is a male, he remains in slavery until the debt is paid off. It is worthy of note that he said their women are not allowed to practice this traditions/customs of money lending. The reason he gave was that if the lendee fails to redeem the loan, the lender (woman) is not allowed to bring into the family a child that is not her husband’s. It was interesting to know also that the loan usually does not attract interest because, no amount of interest can be equated to the child or children that may result from the marriage of the girl child that was married off in place of unredeemed loanor the labor of the male child who remains in slavery until the loan is redeemed.
The man went further to also tell us about their female circumcision custom. He said it is an age long custom which they practice to ward off evil spirit from their village and to also ensure that their girls are not promiscuous.
That uncircumcised girls are very promiscuous and that promiscuity encourages Single motherhood which to them is a taboo. That they also believe that uncircumcised girls are usually tormented by an evil spirit they call Ogbanje.
He then told us that their Ezeonce abolished the practice some years back but that there was a recent incident that compelled him to reinstate the old practice of Female Circumcision.
He said the villagers protested vehemently calling for the reinstatement of the practice of Female Circumcision that had been abolished some years back.
That since the abolition of the Female Circumcision, their female children have become very promiscuous and their promiscuity has made many of them single mothers which is perceived to be a taboo and that same has brought evil upon their land. That so many evil has befallen the community in the past and still happening.
He said that the oracle spoke through its Chief Priest that the cause of the calamities they have been experiencing were as a result of the numerous bastard children in the community (referring to the children of the single mothers)
He said the Eze and members of his cabinet were most hit by the agitation for the re-instatement of Female Circumcision. That sometime towards the end of 2018, the youths went on rampage demanding for re-instatement of the traditional practice of Female Circumcision. That the youths destroyed so many properties and left many people injured.
That majority of the destroyed properties belonged to the Eze, members of his cabinet and anybody identified by them as being against their agitation for the re-instatement of Female Circumcision Practice and other customs of theirs.
We inquired to know if the matter was incidented at any police station. His response was that nobody to the best of his knowledge reported to the Police for fear of being singled out for further attacks.
He stated further that since mid November 2018 till date all children of Awogwu village are circumcised as soon as they are eight days old.
Urualla and Ihitte-Ubomacouncils of Imo state were not left out during our crew’s visit.
It was disheartening to also learn from these communities that they are still practicing Female Genital Mutilation.
They are also not willing to do away with this cultural practice that endangers life and violate people’s right.
The crew was fortunate to speak with the Imo State Director of National Orientation Agency (NOA) Vitus Ekeocha he disclosed to the crew that it is most unfortunate that his people are hell-bent on the practice of FGM, early child marriage, child slavery, Osu (Outcast) system amongst others. This traditional/cultural practices are not just archaic, they are obnoxious, dehumanizing and a breach of the rights of the victims.
He listed dangers of FGM to include women being prone to infections, pains, during sexual intercourse, excessive bleeding in the course of circumcision, and difficulty during menstruation and difficulty during childbirth among others.
He went on to cite a community in Njaba Local Council where a young girl who was circumcised,whose blood failed to clot bleed to death before they could get her to the hospital and another child who after the circumcision has been using diaper as a result of complications.
He also gave us an instance in Awogun village, where the youths were breaking into people’s houses to abduct uncircumcised girls and forcefully get them circumcised by some untrained/inexperienced old women,under the guise that their oracle spoke through their Chief Priest, condemning the abolition of the act of Female Circumcision and how one young man escaped from them with his wife and their two years old daughter and has not returned since November 2018, and the traditional ruler and his subjects are doing everything within their powers to get this young man and daughter to ensure the daughter is circumcised and himself to face the wrath of his community for escaping with his uncircumcised daughter and consequently depriving them from circumcising her as their gods demand and he also refusing to be initiated into their brotherhood(a secret society) as their custom demands, that every first born son must be initiated into..
Vitus Ekeocha also said he has made several moves to correct the erroneous impression that Female Circumcision prevents a girl from being promiscuous, saying that a survey conducted on sex workersrevealed that even though most of them were circumcised, they still adopted such life style.
He disclosed that five states ranked top in the survey conducted on the practice of FGM. The state are Ebonyi, Osun, Ekiti, Oyo and Imo state. That the practice of FGM is higher in those five states than other states in the federation.
Also the UNICEF DESK Officerunder Imo NOA, ChigozieOjiakudisclosedat a function that out of Nine councils areas where the FGM practice is prevalent in Imo state, five of the Local council are: Ngor-Opkala, Ikeduru, Oguta, Ehime Mbano and Owerri West.
It is worthy of mention here that from our findings some of the major reasons given for the practice of FGM in Nigeria communities are rooted in culture and traditions which have regrettably done more harm than good.
A resource person from a non-governmental body, Mrs.ElizabethMbakwem, when consulted revealed to the crew that the circumcision is usually performed by old women in the village who have no knowledge of Orthodox medicine so sometimes they end up removing the entire clitoris and that the dangers include severe bleeding, shock, leakage of urine and feces complication at childbirth, and even psychological trauma in some cases.
She also told our crew that the victims are usually not given any form of anesthesia and that the environment is usually not sanitized.