January 20, 2018 – Bassa Kuomo Tribe In Abuja Where Newborn Babies Are Buried Alive With Dead Mothers; Albinos And Twins Poisoned To Death With Herb
By Dorcas Egede, The Nation
- Abuja Communities Where Evil Spirits Attack Missionaries Who Attempt To Rescue Children Branded Evil
6 years after the killing of infants in certain communities around the FCT, Abuja first grabbed national attention, the ripples are yet to settle. In this first part of her report, Dorcas Egede who spent weeks investigating, states that the unusual practice is still going on.
Children, they say, are blessings and bundles of joy; and when they come in twos (twins), the general consideration in the local (Nigerian) parlance is that the blessing and joy have come double-double (in doubles).
Ever since the missionary lady, Mary Slessor convinced the people of Calabar in present day Cross River State to stop the primitive killing of twins in the early 19th century, it has become a thing of the past and literally unheard of that anyone would as much as consider twin children evil, let alone think of killing them.
It is against this backdrop that the news of the killing of twin children and other infants, as has recently emerged from some communities around Abuja, the very heart of the nation, can be considered rather shocking.
The stories, as The Nation’s investigations revealed, are as varied as they are stunning. Take for instance the case of Faith (not real name). When Faith became pregnant shortly after her marriage to her heartthrob, her joy knew no bounds. Soon, it was delivery time and she had twins. Great news, you would say? But to her chagrin, her husband told her they couldn’t keep the babies, as it was a taboo in their family to have twins.
For fear of a backlash from her husband, Faith decided to do her husband’s bidding, and one of the twins was killed, using local herbs. However, as fate would have it, the surviving twin died mysteriously, and without any warning.
In another case, Mama Habiba was said to have lost three sets of twins to this culture. She was married to a Bassa Kuomo man, with whom she had three sets of twins, and other children. The three sets of twins died as a result of this practice.
According to a source who knows Mama Habiba personally, she left her husband twelve years ago for fear of having no child to look after her when she is old and grey, as her husband would have sacrificed them all to his bloodthirsty gods. The source said the first and second sets of twins they had were boys, but her husband sacrificed them all.
In the case of Amina, a young married woman, she was quick to learn that she was pregnant with twins; pronto, she and her husband relocated from their Gurara base in the Bwari Area Council of the FCT to Niger State, so her two babies, Jemila and Jemilu could live. “I left Gurara because of my pregnancy. I went to the hospital and they found out that my pregnancy is twins. So, my husband and I took a decision to leave the place because of their culture of killing twins.” She said.
But would husband and wife go back to their ancestral home now that the twins survived infancy or when they come of age?
“No,” she said, “because they may still kill them, probably by secretly poisoning them.”
While this practice is widespread among traditional worshipers around the FCT, The Nation’s investigations revealed that it is mostly practised among people of the Gbajingala clan of the Bassa Kuomo tribe. The Bassa people are originally from Kogi State, but are found in almost every part of the north, including Nasarawa, Benue and the FCT.
Communities still steeped in this culture, our investigations revealed, include the Gbajingala clan of Bassa Kuomo, Kulo, Gawu, Sabo, Guabe and Chibiri communities in Kuje Area Council. Others are Gomani, Tekpese, Gurugi, Fuka, Lapa and Dogonruwa communities in Kwali Area Council, as well as Kaida and Kutara in Buari Area Council.
Aside twins, multiple birth infants such as triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets are also endangered. The same fate awaits infants whose mothers die during or shortly after their birth, as they are considered to be possessing dark powers that killed their mothers and must therefore die. Infants who are born with certain physical disabilities like Down syndrome, cleft lips, deformed hands and legs, are considered unacceptable – same for albinos.
In the same vein, a mother can only be assured that her child would live after he or she has passed the teething stage. This is because any child that grows an upper tooth first is considered unnecessary evil and should be done away with.
Speaking to The Nation about the infanticide, missionary and endangered infant-rescuer, Pastor Olusola Stevens, noted that “many people seem to be concentrating on the twins’ story,” whereas it goes beyond that.
“We have other children whose lives need to be saved simply because they lost their mother at birth. Some others are rejected because they are albinos; and some because they have some form of deformity.”
Mode of killing
The killings, this reporter learnt, are carried out in the most gruesome ways. Reports have it that poisoning with herbs is one very common way of eliminating the unwanted babies. Other methods include, using a calabash to cover the face of the infant until he suffocates. In other instances, they are left unattended and allowed to die from hunger. The latter method is used to exterminate babies whose mothers died during childbirth or right after they were born. Some sources even revealed that such babies are sometimes buried alive with their mothers.
Another method, which isn’t so popular anymore, since the killings are no longer done in the open (like in the past), is where a masquerade visits such baby’s home, whisks him away, cuts him with a machete and throws the remains into a flowing river.
In the case of multiple births, however, some communities don’t kill both babies. What they do is keep one of the babies and get rid of the other/others. Stevens revealed: “One Gbagi man confessed to me that his father was a twin but he could not tell what happened to his twin brother till date. The dad told him that something will happen to one, while the other will survive.”
He quoted the man as saying, “I never bothered to know until I read your story; and now I’m wondering if that was the practice in my place.”
What is comforting is that well-meaning people are rising up against the evil. Osun State-born Olusola Stevens, who’s been quoted variously above is one of them. He runs a rescue home in Kiyi, a village in the Kuje Area Council of the FCT. Before venturing into child rescue missions some 22 years ago, Stevens and his wife, Dr Chinwe had served as missionaries with the Christian Missionary Foundation (CMF).
He said: “Before the home started, my wife and I had been volunteer missionaries to a body called, Christian Missionary Foundation. We served successfully as missionaries under that foundation for about 27 years. It was in the course of our work and preaching into the interiors of the FCT, especially wherever we found that there were no churches, where the people were still worshipping idols or where they were all still Muslims or traditionalists and got people to repent, that God opened our eyes to this other side.”
The first child the couple rescued was in Kiyi community located in Kuje Area Council. The child had been brought to them by her mother who feared that her husband, who had allegedly sacrificed three sets of twins, was going to sacrifice their baby girl for a bountiful harvest. “She wasn’t a twin. She was brought here based on another practice, which has completely stopped now. Back then, at the beginning of the planting season, a child is supposed to be sacrificed to their fertility god for bountiful harvest. They won’t kill the child; they just take him to the shrine and off goes the child. When they get to the shrine and the child gives up, then they know that the sacrifice has been accepted.” Stevens explained.
Since rescuing that first child in 1996, the Stevens have rescued no less than 120 children from communities around the FCT. Stevens is of the opinion that the efforts of missionaries who leave their home states to come to the interiors of the FCT to preach the gospel, have contributed in no small way to reducing the killings. He noted that since the killings are rooted in their traditions, it is only the gospel of Jesus Christ that can change things. “One thing about belief is that if you don’t have something else to counter it, it will work against you. But if people have a change of belief, either from animism or traditionalism to Christianity or Islam, there is a tendency that taboos and beliefs which you hitherto believed would harm you would also change, because now you’re on another level.”
One Kuje-based preacher, Pastor Chijioke, who condemned the killings, which he said he had heard happened in parts of Kuje, Kwali and Abaji Area Council, told this reporter that, “The only thing that can stop the killings is what the man in Kiyi (Stevens) is doing, and the efforts of missionaries who keep bringing the gospel to the locals. The power of the gospel can change the situation.”
The rescue home
Stevens founded the Vine Heritage Home in 2004. The first home was in Gwagwalada. With the combined evangelism efforts of his family and other missionaries, it became clear to the locals that it is evil to kill babies they didn’t create. As a result, the number of rescued children grew. Soon there was need for expansion, hence the home in Kiyi in Kuje Area Council.
At the moment, Stevens said, “We have 125 children. We have 12 sets of twins; two of them are very identical. We have other twins who are not identical, John and Joyce, Favour and Favourite (they are girls), Martin and Matilda. We also have a triplet and an albino.”
Their age distributions also cut across infants, toddlers, teenagers and young adults.
Continuing, Stevens said: “I prefer to call this place a rescue home or a fostering home instead of an orphanage. You know orphanage is basically about orphans, children without fathers and mothers. Under government regulation, you have motherless babies’ homes, orphanages, fostering homes. Our children are not orphans. They have parents, and from time to time, they come to visit them. However, I don’t tell them those are their parents, so as not to confuse them. My wife and I are the only parents they know.”
Apart from the rescued children, Stevens said there is a second category of children in the home – children of converts, some of whom have been trained to become pastors, who still live in the interiors. Their children need to go to school and this second category is a way of encouraging them and letting them know that they can still have a better life now that they have left animism for Christianity.
He explained that the home is run on the goodwill of many Nigerians and some international organisations. They, however, didn’t start enjoying the goodwill until they started getting media attention around 2012.
Rescued from the jaws of death
After two weeks of fruitless search for a real human who had managed to be alive in spite of the infanticide culture, this reporter was only too excited to meet Habiba (not real name) .
Habiba, 21, is one of the lucky survivors of the killing that was prevalent in her Kiyi community. But for the timely intervention of her mother who took her to the rescue home in Kiyi, she most certainly would have been a victim. Dark skinned and petite, Habiba cuts the figure of a subdued rather than shy lady in her faded tee-shirt and black skirt. The tee-shirt did a poor job of covering her already bulging stomach. She was the first child rescued by Stevens and brought up in the Vine Heritage Home, the home run by Stevens in Kiyi. Today, she has been reunited with her family. Interestingly, she took that decision so she could go take care of her father who now suffers from river blindness, having been deserted by his wife.
When she spoke, it became instantly clear that Habiba has also enjoyed good education. She spoke in fairly fluent English and responded intelligently to every question posed to her. “My name is Habiba Haruna,” she began. “I was brought up in Vine Heritage Home. The woman that brought me up told me that my dad was killing children. She told me there were either four or five children before me, but now I’m the first surviving child of my parents. I have two other siblings. I learnt that up to three sets of twins died. If you go to our house now, you will see the altar built for the twins. When twins die (are killed), they build the altar as their home. They usually sacrifice on the altar.”
Looking at her baby bump, this reporter out of curiosity asked; “What if you have twins now that you are pregnant?”
Habiba, who had yet to attend an ante-natal clinic session, looked up with a gaze that showed a clear intent to keep her baby or babies and said, “One day I was just playing with my dad and told him that my first child will be twins. He asked, “In which house?”
“I told him this house. I told him that I will dash him one. He told me he doesn’t want because the ones he had died. I said to him, “Are you not the one that killed them?” He asked me to get out that I’ve started with my mouth. They were now afraid that I want twins. I asked why they are afraid and if twins are not children? He said some twins are not good, that they are wicked, that they are not good people.”
To further underline how deep her father is into the fetish practice, Habiba told the story of how he has refused to eat yam, even when everybody has started eating yam (after the harvest). “I asked, Baba, everybody is eating yam, why don’t you want me to bring yam (yam harvested from his farm)? He said I should not touch it, that they want to do Sadaka (sacrifice) with the yam first. They will cook the yam, put palm oil without pepper, then give it to the twins first and say, ‘See what I brought from the farm.’ It is after that that they will now share it to the children to eat. When I told them I wasn’t going to eat from it, they told me I have to eat as the most senior.
“They said they perform the sacrifice so that the twins will not be taking their things. I asked how that’s possible even when the twins have died, they said they are still around and whatever you bring from the market, whether it is N5 or N10, you must put it in the shrine.”
Asked if she could show this reporter other houses, where twins had been born and sacrificed and they had such shrine, Habiba said, “It’s like only my father gave birth to twins in the village, because I haven’t seen that shrine in any other house apart from ours.”
Aisha shed further light on her community, when she said, “In my community there’s no church and no mosque; they are traditional worshippers. They believe that they came from the ground and when they die they will go back to the ground.”
Did she have any idea why her parents were separated? “My mother left my father because her children were dying. She got married to another man from Bassa, and she has a child with him.”
Asked if her father’s belief and actions were influenced by poverty and illiteracy, she said, “My father was well-to-do. He had farmlands and everything. He used to come and visit us at the home when we were in Gwagwalada, and he would bring yam and other things for us.”
On the culture of killing in her community, Habiba said, “From what I heard other children say, in some communities, the masquerade (potese) will come into the house and chase away the mother, he will then cut the babies into pieces and pour them in the river. In other instances, he will cover them with calabash to suffocate, or poison them with herbs.”
Would Habiba go back to school after she’s had her baby? Her response revealed a broken lady who believed that by getting herself pregnant, she had lost out on the opportunity to make anything out of life. “I’m crying for myself because I have already scattered my destiny with this pregnancy.” She said flatly.
As at the time of speaking, she had yet to register in any hospital. This reporter thus offered to take her for a scan, where it was discovered that she was already seven months gone, although she had earlier claimed it was six months.
More than meets the eye
Our sources believe that there are supernatural powers behind this culture of killing and that it goes beyond just killing twins. Stevens recounted a rather spooky story: “We have a case of a nursing mother, a Christian, who tried to replicate what we are doing on her own. She took the child of a woman who died. In their own case, they don’t kill the child; he or she is abandoned and left to die of hunger. This woman decided to pick and nurture the child alongside hers, but a day came when, according to her, a form appeared to her, accusing her that ‘that child is my child; it’s an evil child that killed me. So, why are you nursing him? You will also die and follow me, since that child is supposed to be punished and you’re nursing him.’ Strangely, the woman died. She suddenly became ill and died. In fact, it was after the woman narrated the story to her husband that he left the community.”
“Twice we have had cases of spirits attacking us while praying for some of the rescued children. A lady missionary working with me was the first to have that experience; on the second occasion, it was my sister that had a similar experience. That is the spiritual aspect of what we are doing. Many people tend to forget that it’s a spiritual work and it must be approached that way. I’m not just a humanitarian person, I’m first and foremost a missionary trying to save lives according to the instruction I received from God. And God is divine; so I won’t just do the work from the physical aspect alone. While I provide the physical care, I also trust God to strengthen me to cover them spiritually. I cannot tell you all our experiences in the spiritual realm. There are times that a child you just rescued would just go for hours, and we’d have to start praying for the child to be revived.
“One of them told us how she was playing and an elderly woman walked up to her, pushed a ball into her mouth and disappeared. The next thing was that the child fainted. For hours, we had to gather the other children to start calling the name of the child and praying in the name of Jesus. She eventually came back to life. She is still alive today, she’s in SS1.”
Gagged to secrecy
The greatest obstacle this reporter faced in the course of investigating this story was secrecy. Too many people didn’t seem to know anything about the culture, even those supposedly born and bred in Abuja municipality. Some who were born and raised in these communities where this death culture still holds sway, claimed not to know anything about it.
Those who claimed knowledge of it seemed to have been gagged. One missionary who would not want to be mentioned told this reporter of some communities where the killings still go on. But the information came with a warning: “It’s happening in Kwali Area Council. Go to Tugbudu and Tekpese. But, the people won’t talk to you about it. They have been warned by the government not to say anything about the issue again. In fact, recently, one of us was almost sued by the government because of the matter.”