A Mother’s Fight against Female Circumcision

For protecting her daughters from the archaic and outlawed tradition of circumcision, Chiemelie Ezeobi writes on the mental torture, physical abuse, abduction and even rape a mother recently went through in Lagos

A mother’s love they say surpasses all and can best be described by how a hen guards its chicks jealously from any potential threat.

The same applies to a young mother of three, Mrs. Bello (first name withheld), who is currently embroiled in the battle of her life to protect her two daughters from the hands of an archaic tradition.

Her attempt to prevent her daughters from being subjected to the outlawed tradition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has seen her go through the worst kind of torture; from mental and physical abuse to abduction and then rape at the hands of her abductors.

With civilisation, many cultures were either modified or dropped in their entirety. Cultures like killing of twins, prohibiting kids from eating meat and so many others were eradicated but not FGM, which still exists in some communities.

The reason for the global stand against FGM is the dangers it poses to the victims. From severe pains caused by lack of anaesthesia, to shock, excessive bleeding, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and even death.

In this 21st century where FGM has been outlawed in so many societies, the same is still being practiced in some supposed civilised states in Nigeria. It is therefore shocking that despite the fact that the National Assembly has passed a bill to criminalise FGM, the practice still holds sway, thus promoting the lack of enforcement to the front burner.

In the beginning  

Going down memory lane narrating what led to her entire ordeal she said, “I got married to a tribe in Auchi, Edo State that believes in female circumcision. When I got married to my husband, my mother-in-law told me that once I give birth to a girl that she would be circumcised. I thought it was a joke.

“I even told her that practice was out of fashion but she insisted that since her husband was a cleric it must be done, adding that she did it to her own daughter. As fate would have it, I had two girls and a boy.

“For a long time, nobody brought it up until recently when my mother-in-law called me that it was time since my daughter has clocked 10. We had a big fight and she said if the circumcision isn’t done, people will look down on her in the village but I didn’t budge. I tried to be polite as possible.

“She then involved one of my husband’s uncles, a prominent man and when I also refused, he said they never knew I was this stubborn when they married me.”

Bello further said that things went downhill from there, adding that one day, the said uncle drove to her street and physically tried to take her daughter. She said, “While we were struggling for my daughter, he injured me. At that point, I reported the matter to the police station but he knew his way around because he is quite influential.

“I still reported the case but nothing came out of it and they didn’t give me any protection. Yet, I still refused to allow my daughter go through that. The knives used aren’t even sterilised.”

She noted that when all attempts to get her to give up her kids failed, it was then the abduction and subsequent rape occurred.

The abduction, then rape 

For refusing to subject her 10-year-old daughter to the practice, Bello was recently abducted and raped in the gang’s hideout at Ajah, before she narrowly escaped.

She said, “On May 14, 2018, after I had dropped my kids at school, I was on my way to the market when I noticed a car that kept following me. At a point, I even thought they would hit me but they just double crossed me and surrounded my car. They were about four men.

“They opened my door, pointed a gun at me and then took me away. They blindfolded me too. We got a point and they came down from the car and took me through a bushy area. We walked for a while; about 3km. I could count that because I am a runner. Meanwhile, I kept hearing them say this is the woman. She is stubborn. We will show her.

“They took me to their hut. It was hot and smelly. They kept me there for a day with no water or food. I kept asking for my offence but got no answer. I was afraid something will happen to me because they were all men. In the night, they removed my blindfold and I got slapped because again I asked what my offence was.

“That night, I was raped violently. I was fortunate that only one man raped me. The next morning, they gave me water and left me in the smelly hut. I was just praying to God. The next night, I didn’t know who they were talking to on the phone but they were on the phone for a long time.

“They kept telling the person on the other end that my kids were not with me. At the same time, they were asking me where my kids were. At that point, I didn’t know exactly who they were talking to but I could guess.”

The lucky escape 

On how she managed to escape that night she said, “That same night, they tied me up with a rope before they went to sleep. They didn’t know the rope was not tight enough. I tried and wriggled free but they didn’t wake up because they were drunk .

“I walked for a long time till I got to a hut. When I entered, I saw an old man with a hunting gun. I woke him up and told him that I was running from some bad men. He locked the door and I stayed there that night. In the morning, he brought out his scooter and drove me to Ajah express. He then stopped a taxi for me.

“Meanwhile, I took my phone as I was running from my abductors. I then called my husband and he met me at the estate gate to pay the taxi man. After I had taken my bathe, we left for the court to start off the case because my husband had already gone to the police to complain about a missing person.

“Meanwhile, I was taken to the hospital for a checkup and then given some drugs because the rapist wasn’t protected. My husband also went to the police station to report that I have been found.”

A plea for help 

In her plea for help, Bello called on the government, civil and human right organisations, as well as the police to step into her case and expedite justice for her, and at the same time, remove the burden of fear over her.

To the government she charged them to look into the nefarious practice of female circumcision and back it up with enforcement adding that although the government keeps saying they have abolished it, it’s still in practice.

She also called on human right bodies to come to her aid and save her daughters from their father’s people, adding that the police have thus far treated her case with levity with no arrests made so far.

The seeming inaction of the police has again raised questions on their role. This is because the police should, ordinarily, be a first resort for citizens who are in danger. In this case, however, the victim said she got no protection after she reported the physical abuse and even after she was abducted.

About female genital mutilation 

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) otherwise known as circumcision is an invasive and painful surgical procedure that is often performed without anesthesia on the girl-child before puberty. It is an old traditional practice still being practiced in parts of Nigeria, making it one of the 27 countries in Africa where FGM is still being celebrated.

In this circumcision, the prepuce of the girl-child is removed and their clitoris may be partially or completely removed and in some cultures, they go as far as removing the labia minora while the labia majora are sewn together, covering the urethra and vagina. At the same time, a small opening is retained for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid.

Breaking it down further, Emmanuel Ajibulu, a social commentator and a communication strategist, in one of his reports said there are different types. He said, “There is Type I (commonly referred to as clitoridectomy), Type II (commonly referred to as excision) and Type III (commonly referred to as infibulation) are the most common forms of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC) practiced in Nigeria.

“Type IV is practiced to a much lesser extent. The form practiced varies by ethnic group and geographical location. It crosses the numerous population groups and is a part of the many cultures, traditions and customs that exist in Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, the Women Centre for Peace and Development (WOPED) said Nigerians continue this practice out of adherence to a cultural dictate with erroneous and fallacious views that uncircumcised women are promiscuous, unclean, unmarriageable, physically undesirable and/or potential health risks to themselves and their children, especially during childbirth.

FGM in Nigeria

In Ajibulu’s report, while focusing on the prevalence of FGM in Nigeria, he however admitted that with its over 250 ethnic groups and an estimated population of 150 million, a national estimate of this practice is very difficult.

Breaking down the prevalence state by state he wrote, “Abia (no study); Adamawa (60-70 per cent, Type IV); Akwa Ibom (65-75 per cent, Type II); Anambra (40-60 per cent, Type II); Bauchi (50-60 percent, Type IV); Benue (90-100 per cent, Type II) and Borno (10-90 per cent, Types I, III and IV).

“Cross River (no study); Delta (80-90 per cent, Type II); Edo (30-40 per cent, Type II); Enugu (no study); Imo (40-50 per cent, Type II); Jigawa (60-70 per cent, Type IV); Kaduna (50-70 per cent, Type IV); Katsina (no study); Kano (no study); Kebbi (90-100 percent, Type IV); Kogi (one per cent, Type IV); Kwara (60-70 per cent, Types I and II); Lagos (20-30 per cent, Type I); Niger (no study) and Ogun (35-45 per cent, Types I and II).

“Ondo (90-98 per cent, Type II); Osun (80-90 per cent, Type I); Oyo (60-70 per cent, Type I); Plateau (30-90 per cent, Types I and IV); Rivers (60-70 per cent, Types I and II); Sokoto (no study); Taraba (no study); Yobe (0-1 per cent, Type IV); Fct Abuja (no study).

“While all three forms occur throughout the country, Type III, the most severe form (narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris), has a higher incidence in the northern states.

“Type II and Type I are more predominant in the South. Of the six largest ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ibo, Ijaw and Kanuri, only the Fulani do not practice any form. The Yoruba practice mainly Type II and Type I. The Hausa and Kanuri practice Type III. The Ibo and Ijaw, depending upon the local community, practice any one of the three forms.”

Criminalising FGM, zero enforcement

As far back as 2002, there were talks by the Nigerian legislature to outlaw FGM and impose a two year jail term for offenders, although it allows for an option of a fine of 100 dollars or the imposition of both a fine and incarceration of six months.

The bill was actually unanimously passed by the House of Representatives in 2001 before it was sent to the Senate to pass the bill.

Reports said the Senate was expected to conclude its deliberations on the bill in May of 2002 and then send it to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo for his assent. It is however unclear what happened and the bill was not passed as projected.

Finally, after much delay, the Senate recently finally put words to action and passed the bill to criminalise FGM. The bill which is called ‘Violence against Persons (Prohibition)’ seeks to prohibit female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices.

Sponsored by the then Leader of the Senate, Victor Ndoma-Egba, the bill was also intended to eliminate violence in private and public life and provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of violence, and punishment of offenders.

The bill also prohibits forced isolation, depriving persons of their liberty, economic abuse, incest, separation from family and friends, substance attack and indecent exposure, among others.

However, despite a law clearly stating the government’s position against the practice, lack of enforcement has been the bane of it. The apathy of those that should enforce this ban has been declared 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.

So, with the law criminalising FGM, it definitely behooves the executive to enforce the laws passed by the legislature, even as community leaders should be engaged to help raise awareness on the dangers of the age-old cultural practice.

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