By Amby Uneze
Religious leaders under the auspices of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the Owerri West and Ehime Mbano Council Areas of Imo State have decided to mobilize their faithful against the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the state.
Disclosing the decision of the religious leaders in a one-day joint advocacy dialogue with the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Imo State and the support of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population (UNFPA), CAN chairmen in the two council areas, Rev. Jude Okenwa of the Strong Towers Believers Church (Owerri West LGA) and his Ehime Mbano council counterpart and the General Overseer of Voice of the Christ Church, Isaiah Onyekauwa, expressed disaffection with the practice in the communities.
In separate interviews with Okenwa and Onyekauwa, they said: “As religious leaders, we have seen and heard of the dangers associated with the FGM and we have resolved to sanction any member of our church found guilty of it.”
The religious leaders frowned on the continuous practice of FGM by some Christians despite the continued global wind of evangelism and civilization and described the practice as “unbiblical, inhuman and barbaric”, adding that they would henceforth be on the lookout for members who indulge in the act.
They also unfolded measures to end the FGM among their faithful such as meetings, adequate counseling, dialogue and preaching of sermons in the churches and commended UNICEF for her relentless efforts to end the scourge.
The Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria Office, Enugu, Mr. Victor Atuchukwu had described FGM as callous, obnoxious and offensive to humanity which has ruined many families.
Atuchukwu said that UNICEF in collaboration with UNFPA and NOA would continue to explore avenues to eradicate the practice, noting that the church is at a vantage position to assist in this regard.
The state Director of NOA, Mr. Victus Ekeocha, had also said that as a cultural practice with devastating medical, social, emotional, legal and economic repercussions for girls and women, FGM is illegal and violates the rights of women hence it should be abandoned.
The NOA director, who dwelt on FGM and religion, noted that one of the most common misconceptions is the connection of FGM with Christianity, stressing that the former violates the basic principles of Christianity.
Ekeocha said: “Misconception and misinterpretation of the scriptures need to be clarified because most of the practitioners may not personally check the authenticity of what they have heard about the scripture.”
He reminded religious leaders that as vanguards of social changes, promotion of social welfare and fight for equity, peace and human dignity, they have the responsibility and mandate to protect and promote the lives of their followers.
“Religious leaders have moral authority within their communities. They have the respect and acceptance of their community and in some cases, they are more powerful than secular leaders and this situation gives them an additional opportunity, power and responsibility to help in the fight against harmful traditional practices which are not sanctioned by the scriptures,” he said.
Also speaking on the practice, Monsignor Jeremiah Uchechukwu Ofoegbu of the St. Charles Parish, Umunumo Ehime Mbano said: “The workshop is timely and we are joining leaders on the war against FGM and the awareness is very encouraging.”
The priest described the workshop as an eye opener, adding that the religious heads had been told of the obvious dangers associated with the practice and they would go home and disseminate the information.