There is an ongoing culture of killing twins and infants within Nigeria's Federal Capital Territory (FCT) area councils. Award-winning investigative journalist and Managing Editor of NAIJ.com, Aderonke Bello breaks the silence by speaking to victims, rescued children, and to locals who have been directly and indirectly affected.
Bwari, Kuje, Gwagwalada and Kwali are some of the area councils in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in which communities are killing twins, albinos and children of nursing mothers who have died. An investigation revealed that the practice is still going on.
Twins and albinos are seen as bad luck within these communities and they are not allowed to live. “There is a belief on this land that any woman who give birth to twins is a witch, and also the children are seen as bad luck who can draw diseases, deaths and misfortune to people within the community,” Joel Sunday, an indigene of Kiyi in the Kuje area council, told NAIJ.com.
This practice, which has been around for decades, is accepted by some indigenes of the communities or seen as nothing special. Others believe the practice has stopped.
During this investigation, it was discovered that at least seven twins across the four area councils had been murdered in a month. Pa Alkali Magaji, a farmer living in Kaida-Ganuwa in the FCT whose courtyard housed two twin altars, said it is a normal thing for them to kill twins.
“Right from the beginning we don’t accept twins in our village. If they happen to give birth to twins they believe that they are witches. Some they will order to kill them, some they will say no but some will do charm to block their coming again and if it happen that the twins die, the masquerade will eat them.”
Murder process and altar
The infanticide is carried out by various means, most of which are local and in line with the traditional culture. Some babies that have been condemned to death are killed through a gradual poisoning with cooked locally made herbs.
The babies will be kidnapped from their parents. Some people will dress up like masquerades to scare away the mother, and then take one or two of the babies.
Suffocation is another method; these processes are termed ‘shaura’. After each ritual, a twin altar will be raised inside the house to appease the spirit of the twins so they will not come back to torment the community, and some also use the altar to worship the spirits of the children. Some were also said to be dumped inside the evil forest.
“If you can enter some houses, you will see the altars of twins. It is made of ashes and some other local herbs and no one must go there. It will be there in remembrance of the dead babies and to also plead with them not to fight the community,” Madam Sidi, an elderly woman, told NAIJ.com.
Contrary to Madam Sidi’s claims, Baba Shuaibu said that altars are raised to celebrate twins in their deaths, a claim which was rejected by some, as the question many asked was: “How do you celebrate dead children?” . He said: “We build altars to celebrate twins. Any house that produces twins will build a barn-like altar in their remembrance.”
Mr. Olusola Stevens, who runs a rescue centre for such children in Abuja, added: “They build curves for the twins. That’s a sign when you see any of those curves and some sacrificial items in that compound. That means they have already given birth to twins before, and they are dead because if they are alive the altar will not be there, but have also seen triple altars, but is not very common. I have seen in two different communities where those altars are made. That means the woman has given birth to triplet but you will not see any of them alive.”
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Another gory discovery is the fact that some of the locals are fond of burying children alive. Whenever a nursing mother falls sick and dies, the child will be blamed for the death and accused of witchcraft. Sadly, the baby will be buried alive with the dead mother.
“Well this is strange but true. It is not a big deal. The baby will be laid face down on the dead mother’s chest and then will be covered with earth, sometime you can hear the sound of the crying baby inside the grave but that is how it is around here,” Beatrice (not her real name) an indigene of Bwari area council told NAIJ.com on the phone.
Some people who NAIJ.com’s reporter asked about the practice declined to comment for the fear of arrest within the community. They neither denied nor confirmed these stories. The only people prepared to comment were those who chose to have telephone conversations.
They called to confirm the stories when the reporter left her contact number. The mostly anonymous callers pleaded with the government to come and stop these heart-wrenching act from occurring.
A man who identified himself as Peter Raymond said his wife and child were dead. He had made up his mind never to get married again, and he believed that he is also under a curse from his ancestors.
“As you see me, my wife fell sick, she was bleeding and I don’t have money to take her to big hospital because she gave birth in the house. About a month later she slept and didn’t wake up. Elders in the village snatched my baby and bury her with my late wife. I was very angry,” he said.
Unfortunately, there are no native albinos within the FCT area council who are living in these communities, as they are perceived to be spirits and are rejected.
Albino babies are not allowed to survive until the next day. Further investigations revealed that the local midwives on their own kill these children as it is also not a good omen to them as healthcare workers.
Lives are snuffed out of their lives quietly, and the community goes about its business as if nothing has happened.
Olusola Stevens told NAIJ.com about his discoveries since he started working in the area councils in 1999. “We have one albino, she too was threatened. We never knew of albino until they brought that girl so when they brought her I was like ‘Where is the mother?’ They said mother is there and the father too, so I said why bring her here because they are thinking she’s a spirit how can a child look like this so?
“Of course once a child is perceived to be born with evil they don’t want to have anything to do with the child so let’s do away with the evil child is the next thing. After her we have not been able to rescue any other. I wish they are not killing them secretly though and I have not also seen albino in some of the communities we have gone.”
“Albinos, even imbecile. Anybody that have a form of imbecile in some village they kill them. They don’t give them opportunity to live or even correct whatever wrong that came with their birth.”
When teething becomes evil
“Any child who brings out the upper teeth first is bad luck to his parents and they are cast away in the evil forest. We have rescued some babies in the past,” Mr Stevens said.
Teething normally happens in babies between six and nine months of age. It is usual for the lower teeth to come out first in babies, but is not abnormal for the upper teeth to come out first. The myth believed by some people is that babies that grow the upper teeth first are evil and belong in the evil forest and should be left either to be killed and eaten by wild animals, or to die of hunger.
A nurse at a hospital in Wuse II, Abuja, Mrs Shola Aremu, said: “It is ignorance. There is nothing wrong with a child developing the upper or lower teeth. These people only attach unnecessary things to the poor babies. Upper or lower teeth; the way each child develop differs.”
An elderly woman in Angwa-Sabudu in the Gwagwalada area council told NAIJ.com that any child that develops upper teeth first will be killed.
“If anyone gives birth to a child that has upper teeth, such child is a witch and we will do the cultural thing to take the life of the child,” Martha Wakili said.
Some locals who spoke to NAIJ.com denied the existence of such infanticide, while others were of the opinion that such things only existed in the past.
However, many people agreed with the continuing killing of twins in the present day because it is their culture and belief.
“I am from Kiyi in Kuje area council FCT, Abuja. It is not true we kill twins in our environment. People are getting awareness and the awareness is still going on. Some people are saying something is wrong. Yes, it existed before, and that was then not now anymore,” Adamu Ahmed said.
Aminu Galadima, also an indigene of Kuje area council said: “Since I was born I heard about it that some villages in Kuje council do such thing, but our own village nothing like that, even my wife gave me twins and we are taking good care of them.”
Another FCT local, Madam Cecilia Hosea, said such practices existed in the past but people no longer do it.
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“My name is Ruth Stevens. It’s been very nice staying here. This place is a home for me and mummy and daddy are my parents. It’s a very good place to stay. They take good care of us, send us to school and give us food to eat. I want to act in movies. My message to Nigerians is to stop killing twins: children are gifts from God.”
Those were the words of 20-year-old Ruth, who was rescued as a baby by Mr and Mrs Stevens who run Vine Heritage Home on the outskirts of Abuja, a sanctuary for rescued children. The children all bear the couple’s surname.
“My message to Nigerians is that they should stop killing twins and they should embrace twins. They should welcome children, because there are some homes that without children. Their home will not be in peace and children are gift from God.”
These area councils often lack adequate health care facilities which frequently results in maternal deaths. A pregnant woman with no ante-natal treatment is likely to die in labour.
However, a lack of adequate health care facilities and facilitators are national problems. Regardless of the region, many pregnant women have met their untimely deaths because of this issue.
“We have a beautiful clinic which is empty; no drugs, no doctors to take care of us. This is a beautiful nonsense. Most times we have to drive on okada for 40 minutes on the bad road to take women in labour to the only hospital around here, which is Gwagwalada general hospital. Even if you don’t have money they will not attend to you. Many women have died because of this,” Amos Jeremiah, an indigene of Abaji area council, said.
When a nursing mother dies due to the lack of proper health care, before, during or after labour, and the child lives, such a baby is never allowed to survive. He or she will be buried with the mother because it is believed such a child is a witch who took the life of the mother.
Moreover, the lack of adequate health care may lead to stillbirths, deformed babies, and imbeciles. Such babies are quickly poisoned because they are perceived to represent the ‘anger of the gods’.
On NAIJ.com’s visit to Vine Heritage Home in April 2016, a Christian missionary orphanage in the Kuje area council, it was revealed that some locals still indulge in the killing.
A 5-month-old twin who were rescued currently lives in the home.
War between illiteracy and tradition
According to research, this infanticide results from the ignorance of these locals and the culture, which is their way of life.
Culturally, twins are seen as taboo, while the illiterates accept this and turn themselves to murderers. Traditional leaders aid these killings and sacrifice the babies together with a black goat which will be slaughtered to send the children along a smooth path to eternity.
“Many of them are not educated. The percentage of those educated ones in that community are not up to 10% when you talk of education, so that tells you that majority of them are still illiterate,” Olusola Stevens told NAIJ.com.
During the visit our reporter discovered that many locals, children included, cannot communicate in simple English, and most stick to the local dialects which are mainly the Gbagyi, Gbabi and Bassa languages.
National Orientation Agency (NOA)
The NOA is a governmental body that was set up to communicate government policy and stay abreast of public opinion by promoting patriotism and the development of the Nigerian society.
This agency recently embarked on an awareness campaign within some communities in the area councils. Signposts were erected, and T-shirts and public address systems were used to enlighten the locals about the importance of twins.
Despite their efforts in 2014, the killing did not stop. Vine Heritage Home housed a pair of twin toddlers at the time this report was written.
This report was put together by Aderonke Bello, an award-winning journalist, an associate editor and the head of sports desk at Naij.com. Her Twitter handle is @Aderonkew