Women who had gone through the excruciating torture of female genital mutilation, have recounted their heartbreaking experiences.
Jedidiah Mmesomachukwu, born three and a half years ago in Orodo community in Mbaitoli Council Area of Imo State, was a chubby little girl, full of life and was the delight of people in the neighbourhood as a result of her beauty and cheerfulness.
She grew up like every other child in the sleepy community, her mother, Mrs Doris Chioma Asiegbu, a fairly successful business woman, showered her with affection and showed every determination to give her the best of training. Life was indeed a bed of roses for the little Mmeso as she is fondly called, as she grew up in the warmth of the love of her family.
But today, despite this glowing love and secured family background, Mmesomachukwu has escaped to far away in the UK with her mother to avoid the horror that awaits every little girl of her age in Orodo ancient community.
At the age of three, every girl child in Orodo must undergo the ritual of circumcision, otherwise known as Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, an age-long tradition that is still been religiously observed in the community.
Her mother who was a victim of the cruel knife herself had vowed that none of her girl children will go through the same harrowing experience that nearly deformed her, after defying pressures from family members, eloped with her daughter.
To make matters worse, Mmesomachukwu, is from a royal family and therefore belongs among the direct custodian of the tradition.
Prior her escape into exile, the mother’s refusal has thrown the ancient community into turmoil as the ‘Umu Ada’, the women cult that supervises the tradition, vowed to ostracise her entire family from the community if they fail to produce her for the circumcision ritual.
Memsomachukwu’s case was even made worse by the role of her grandparents and Uncles who also insisted that she must be circumcised as every other girl child in the community to avoid the wrath of the gods coming upon the family.
This is so because, in Orodo, it is believed that any uncircumcised girl is a harbinger of evil and cannot be married by any indigene of the community and also stands the risk of dying during childbirth.
The embattled mother, who spoke to The Nation on the telephone, said that she has been inundated with calls from her parents and relatives who have repeatedly warned her to return the child to be circumcised or face whatever ill fate that will befall her and her child.
But she insisted that she will never give up her child to be tortured and mutilated in the name of a “barbaric” tradition that has been globally condemned.
Narrating how she escaped, Mrs. Asiegbu, stated that, “when the ‘Umu Ada’ started coming to remind me that it was time to circumcise my daughter, I told my mother that I will not allow my child to go through the torture and mutilation but instead she rebuked me and warned me not to put the name of the family to ridicule. My father said almost the same thing. It was then that it dawned on me that I must do something to save my child.”
She continued that, “I contacted my Church member in Lagos and she agreed to relocate us abroad if I can foot the bill. I scrapped all my life savings and I ran away with my daughter to Lagos from where we travelled abroad last year. Even as we are here they are still threatening that if I don’t bring back my child that they will invoke the gods of the land to come after us”.
One of the messages she allegedly received from one of her relations and forwarded to The Nation reads in part, “I believe you are happy and laughing at us wherever you are now with your daughter. You have refused to bring her back for her circumcision. You want her to die. The gods of the land will not allow an uncircumcised woman to marry and you want to deny her marriage.
“Tradition demands that she must be circumcised just like every other girl and you cannot run away from the gods. You think. You think your belief in your so called modern culture will save her. Our mother did your own and today you are alive. And you think from taking her away and hiding her will make you super woman. Just remember the traditional punishment awaiting you which Death.
“Our family have been ostracised because of your running away with my niece. We will continue to curse you for putting our family to shame. Our parents did everything to make you a better person and now you are paying them back with shame. Be rest assured that you will be killed and sacrificed to the gods as tradition demands upon returning to our land without circumcising your child. Our gods will punish you with shame.”
Mmesomachukwu is certainly not the only girl child battling this barbaric tradition, especially in Imo State, which is reputed to have the highest prevalent rate of Female Mutilation/Cutting only next to Ebonyi State.
Others in similar situations were not as lucky as Mmesomachukwu, whose mother dared the powerful forces and custodians of the tradition.
Over 30 girls between the ages of one to twenty-five have died in the course of this practice in the last two years, with a greater number suffering one form of deformity or the other as a result of infections resulting from the unsterilized knives used for the circumcision by the ‘quack’ traditional doctors.
Also a sizeable number of mothers, who went through the ritual, still tell their tale of horror.
Ugonne Lazarus, a 50-year-old retiree, described her experience as harrowing, “I was circumcised at the age of nine and I lack words to describe what I went through. For many years I could not forgive my mother for allowing me to go through that experience.”
She added that “the practice is condemnable and anyone still engaging in it is still leaving in the dark age. We are appealing to government agencies to step up awareness campaign against Female Genital Mutilation.”
Nzubechi Uneze, was not as lucky as she was left paralysed in one leg after she was circumcised at the age of nine.
Recounting her ordeal, the 60-year-old Nzubechi, stated that her travails started one evening after she was lured to the home of a female native doctor who was specialized in circumcision, “my mother took me there that fateful evening and about six powerful women we met their pounced on me and pinned me to the ground and while I was struggling, a sharp pain engulfed my entire body and I became unconscious.
“I woke up three hours later and I could not move my legs and I felt paralysed from my waist down. That was how I gradually lost the use of one of my legs. Then I vowed that I will fight the barbaric tradition but as I grew up, I discovered that there is little I can do as an individual. The culture and tradition promote this practice and there is little or nothing we can do about it, except the government intervenes”.
However, hope is rising for the likes of Mmesomachukwu and others who are fighting the force of ‘obnoxious’ customs and traditions as a wife of Imo State Governor, Nneoma Okorocha has commenced state wide campaign about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting.
The Governor’s wife disclosed that as part of her vision to promote and empower women and children, especially the needy and the vulnerable, her pet project, the Women of Divine Destiny Initiative (WODDI), will be partnering with the United Nations Population Fund Agency (UNFPA) to tackle the trend.
Mrs Okorocha stated that the practice has been rampant in Mbaitoli, Ikeduru, Oguta, Ngor Okpala and Ohaji/Egbema Council Areas of the State.
She hinted further that part of the measures she has adopted to eliminate the menace in the state is to criminalise the practice through a bill that she will present to the State House of Assembly.
According to her, “Female Genital Mutilation is a form of violence against women which is perpetuated by unfounded myth and baseless traditions. It is a practice that is very rampant in our region and unfortunately, Imo State was found to have one of the highest prevalence rate of 68 percent.
“In Imo State, intervention by UNFPA through the Ministry of Health, Women Affairs and Social Development has focused on five Local Government Areas of Mbaitoli, Ikeduru, Ohaji /Egbema, Ngor-Okpala and Oguta.
“In spite of this intervention, it is noted that this practice is undertaken in our communities throughout the state and has been continuing unabated, parents especially mothers have been secretly indulging in the act, leaving the victims in perpetual agony and regrets.
“This can no longer be allowed to go on. It has, therefore, become imperative to end this harmful traditional practice”.
The State Attorney General, Barrister Miletus Nlemedum, also assured that the judiciary will take the matter seriously and assist to make the war against FGM a success in the state.
Culled from The Nation