By Olutosin Oladasu Abedowale, Nigeria Correspondent for Safeworld
Ondo State – Western Nigeria
The journey into the secrecy shrouding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) continued into Ondo State. My first point of stop was Akure, the state capital. I stopped at High Court area, to pay homage to a respectable community leader: Pa Josiah Bola. At the elder’s compound, he advised me to search for girls who were NOT cut; according to Pa Josiah, “Every girl child here is cut”.
This, according to him, is the acceptable custom.
According to him, genital mutilation is a cut that curtails the clitoris from growing. He said that it is a common belief that the clitoris will grow to become a female penis if it is not cut. He narrated his experience, when he was a pupil. He said that there were girls who were not cut and they were always ashamed to swim with their mates because they were referred to as hermaphrodites. Their clitoris – according to him, grew like the size of their male counterparts’ penises in those days.
He went further that there are worms that grow underneath the clitoris skin and when it is cut, the worms would be expelled and this ends the scratching of the genitals. He directed me to his son, Mr. Gbenga Josiah (Baba Esther Josiah) at Abusoro a suburb of Akure. On getting to Abusoro, Baba Esther and his wife corroborated Pa Josiah’s assumption.
Esther’s father, Mr. Gbenga Josiah, who was pleasant, said that although he was at first against the cutting of his last female girl child’s genitals, he could not stand the itching and bedwetting, which he said was caused by not mutilating her genitals. He has three daughters, all genitally mutilated.
Mr. Gbenga Josiah said that his last girl child is four years old and her genitals were cut last year, when according to her mother, Mrs. Josiah, said, “Being uncut made her bed-wet and she was always scratching her genitals in school; her teacher reported her to me, too.” He said Esther was cut at the age of three years and few months.
Therefore, he approached a nurse who helped them to cut the last girl’s genitals when she was three years and few months old. It was his mother in-law (wife’s mother) who held Esther when her genitals were being cut because her screaming was deafening and heartrending. She has known pain at that age, he said.
Mr. Gbenga, just like his father, believes that there are some worms inside the clitoris, which were removed by the nurse. In his words:
“She removed the worms from underneath the clitoris, wrapped it in a tissue paper and gave it to my mother-in-law. We threw it inside the toilet,” he concluded.
Mr Gbenga Josiah went further to say that it is a shame to leave a girl child’s genitals uncut; to him, it costs only N2,000 and that is too cheap to become unaffordable for a good parent.
As he was talking, a girl child of about a year old passed by and he pointed to the girl “Look at this girl: her hand is forever inside her pants, scratching her vagina and crying at the same time because her parents could not spare N2,000” he continued. “The cutting will stop the scratching” he said.
Mr. Gbenga said as a matter of fact that it is only poverty that can stop a girl child from being cut.
Hospital Nurses Perpetuating FGM Behind Closed Doors
Mrs. Gbenga Josiah confirmed that nurses in government hospitals will refuse to perform genital mutilation to a girl child in the hospital’s premises.. She added that some of them will even warn parents not to cut their daughters’ genitals while in the hospital, but these same nurses will go behind to give their house address to the mothers – this is where they will mutilate the girls.
She smiled as she rounded off her statement.
She also confirmed that all her daughters were cut and if she has another baby girl, she would ensure that she is cut, too, because, every mother cuts her girl child in this city.
Churches Promoting FGM
In Abusoro, it was revealed by young mothers that many churches who have midwives in their missions house also help mothers to cut their daughters' genitals. It costs only N2,000 for non-members, but it is usually free for church members.
This led the investigation to become more and more interesting. I was in a city where it is not easy to find a “girl uncut”; I agreed later on to investigate when I traveled further.
Senior Matron in a Rural Government Hospital - 'Mummy Matron'
The next day, the journey took me straight to Ala Quarters, at the hair dressing salon in the junction. The hairdresser had her baby’s daughter's genitals cut, too. She is from Benue State where it is forbidden, but she is married to a man who is from Ilara Mokin, in Ondo State where it is the tradition. She traveled to Ilara Mokin for the girl’s genital cutting.
At Ilara Mokin, the procedure for interview was too cumbersome because an official letter must be presented to the king before we could access information about genital mutilation in the town.
Moving further into Ala, we were directed to a senior matron in one of the government hospitals in rural Iju-Akure. She denied cutting any girl child in Iju and its environment but confided that she ‘circumcised’ her granddaughter who is less than five months old. As she was talking, she invited her daughter into her sitting room. Her daughter, Mercy, came out from one of the rooms with her granddaughter Elizabeth in her arms.
The matron collected the baby girl, removed the baby girl’s diaper, and opened her vagina to expose a mutilated clitoris that was actually cut but perfectly healed. The wound is healed but the effect is lifelong. The baby smiled without knowing what awaits her in the future.
According to Mummy Matron, as she is called, she would not circumcise other people’s children but she would cut the genitals of all her granddaughters. Mercy, her daughter, who is Elizabeth's mummy, now sat beside her mother (matron), is a graduate of pharmacy from a Nigerian university. She said that she cut her baby because of the “old gist” and that she would cut all her daughters in the future if she is blessed with more daughters because she does not want them to be promiscuous.
Mummy Matron invited other women from the neighboring houses and they confirmed that their baby daughters were circumcised. Mrs. Akintide, one of the women who joined the conversation, gave a shocking statement when she said that when her daughter gave birth to a baby girl, the nurses refused to cut her genitals in the hospital, so she brought her home and had cut the baby's genitals by herself because according to her, she was trained by her grandmother on how to circumcise children in Kogi state.
She spread both hands towards me and said “Is it the government that helped me to give birth to my children, or is it the government that will help me to stop her promiscuity when the time arrives?” She walked closer as she asked her rhetorical questions.
When confronted with the fact that it is not the cultural practice of Kogi people to cut their daughters' genitals, she refuted the statement as fallacious because there are many tribes amongst the Kogis and it is only few of the ethnic groups that do not cut their daughters. She said that it is still practiced in her local community in Kogi State.
The accusing finger being pointed at the church midwives made it more interesting to speak to a few midwives in some churches. The journey on a bike took me to Aiyedun Quarters in Akure, where I met three midwives who work in different churches.
Ms Agbaje was warm and welcoming; she agreed to speak on camera said that “A girl child who is not cut will become barren aside from the fact that she will continuously scratch her genitals and insert objects into the vagina.” When asked if she cut her daughter’s genitals, she responded positively and even went ahead to reveal that she had a daughter at Ilawe Ekiti, where FGM is against the law and was disallowed.
Therefore, she had to wait till an opportune time, when they moved to Akure, where everyone does it; it was beyond surprise when she confided that she had to cut that daughter’s genitals when she was 12 years old. That was two years ago, because the girl is now 14 years old.
Mutilated at age 24
Mrs. Bamisaiye who was also present buttressed Ms. Agbaje’s story by narrating her sister’s story. Shade was 24 years when she had her genitals cut because she had become promiscuous and came for assistance.
Shade was cut in her older age at 24, after which she retraced her step, went to attend teachers’ college and now, she is a school teacher in Ifon, Ose Local Government area in Ondo state, and living a decent life - ostensibly because she was genitally mutilated at the age of 24, as she proudly explained.
FGM to 'Prevent Infant Mortality and Prostitution'
Deaconess Florence who is also a midwife in Aiyedun said that the tradition and culture support FGM because if a girl was not cut as a baby girl, she must be cut whenever she grows up. And when she is in labour to deliver her own baby, she must not be allowed to deliver the baby without her genital cutting, because if her unborn baby’s head should touch her clitoris, the baby would die immediately, she explained.
When asked if she has seen such occurrence before, she responded negatively by shaking her head and she quickly added that that is why all our girls’ genitals are cut. She said, “We do not want evil occurrences around us here in Aiyedun Quarters”. She went further that female genital mutilation cannot be stopped in Akure.
At Oke Ileri Church, the midwife (iya agbebi) who sought anonymity and refused any recording said that stopping female genital mutilation is a dangerous move against God; according to her, it is a fight against God. She explained further that, God instructed Abraham to circumcise all children and she asked rhetorically, “Are female children not children again?”
She warned that ending female genital mutilation is an avenue to make every female child go into prostitution.
With regards to her children who live outside Lagos, Iya Agbebi revealed that she travels to Lagos to cut the genitals of her daughter’s children in Lagos. Since it is difficult to find nurses and midwives who would agree to cut the genital of any girl child in Lagos, “I traveled to Lagos to cut the genitals of my three granddaughters” she proudly revealed.
Christianity and FGM
The main challenge facing the cities where female genital mutilation thrives is that the people who are supposed to dissuade parents from the dastardly act are the ones perpetuating the act.
In churches, women leaders who are experienced midwives are supposed to teach mothers about the evils in genital mutilation – yet these are the very ones buttressing their act with wrong Biblical passages. In many instances, the Biblical passages quoted are nonexistent.
Mrs. Agbaje said that female genital mutilation cannot end in Akure because it is the culture. Deaconess Florence said it is a fight against God and no one can win against God. Iya Agbebi said that every Christian should read this as the sign of the end of times.
Local Health Workers - 'Aunty Nurse'
It is also distressing that the local health workers who are supposed to know and understand the issues better are the ones upholding the act. In a few instances, retired nurses are also guilty of this act in these cities.
It is disheartening that even auxiliary nurses, who are not expected to perform such surgeries are now referred to as Aunty Nurse because semi-illiterate women do not know the difference between an auxiliary nurse and a skilled nurse.
Hospitals are not aware that the so-called auxiliary nurses do perform such surgeries in their homes.
Lack of Intervention from Government
The missions clinics, herbalist traditional birth attendants’ homes, and nurses’ houses which are being doubled as auxiliary hospitals are not supervised nor investigated by the government of the states concerned. Therefore, these personnel would continue to fuel the fire of female genital mutilation in these affected places.
Religio-sociocultural reasons are being used to fuel the fire of FGM in cities, towns. and villages in Western Nigeria – then it will be a futile effort to fight against female genital mutilation. FGM is done in darkness, so it will be difficult to ask all daughters to show their genitals during daylight to confirm if they were genitally mutilated; that is another form of abuse.
The people who are involved in female genital mutilation in Ondo state are ignorant of the subject.
Education is Needed at the Grassroots
Laws against FGM, police arrests, and fines are not enough to combat this menace if the mindset of the affected populace is not changed. Education targeted towards mindset change is imperative to curbing mutilation in the states where local people are upholding this illegal act.
The government must be prepared to work with the ordinary citizens, through bringing the local people to a new consciousness of education on female genital mutilation.
The answer should no longer be “The government said there is no need to mutilate girls’ genitals”, but a convincing curriculum and genuine engagement with the people is highly needed in Ondo State because individuals affected must see the light, understand the issues, and take a conscious step and decision towards stopping this illegal act.