116 children currently residing in the Vine Heritage Home have been saved from infanticide, but many more have not been. The murder of infants, particularly twins, has been a long-term issue in Nigeria that is shrouded in secrecy. Hidden behind the spotlight of the eight-year-old Boko Haram conflict which took the lives of 20 000 civilians and displaced 2.1 million, according to Human Rights Watch, the murder of babies, particularly in the Basso Komo community, has continued to go ignored. Both the international community and, to a large extent, Nigerian officials themselves have turned a blind eye to this atrocity. Thus, the Vine Heritage Home for so-called “evil” children, established in 2004 by Steven Olusola Ajayi in the Nigerian capital Abuja, has been the only saving grace for twins – babies whose mother died in childbirth or while nursing, those born with birth defects, and even infants whose upper teeth had grown in before their lower teeth. This variety of justifications make it no surprise that 116 children, according to The Guardian, currently live in the Vine Heritage Home. Nevertheless, there is only so much one shelter can do, as babies continue to be murdered to this day. Therefore, awareness of this problem at a local, national, and international level needs to be spread with the same success as the #bringbackourgirls campaign in order to save more lives.
Up until 2013, it had been widely believed that infanticide in Nigeria had been stopped by Scottish missionary Mary Slessor in the 19th century. However, in 2013 local newspapers exposed the lasting enormity of the problem in present-day rural communities adjoined to the Nigerian Capital. In response, the Nigerian government began an investigation, and the National Orientation Agency (NAO) in conjunction with the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) launched an awareness and eradication campaign, according to VOA News. The campaign introduced various vital strategies: the building of primary health care centres, primary schools, and educational billboards in strategic community locations. The former has been indispensable, given that it works towards reducing maternal mortality rates, which UNICEF placed at 814 deaths per 100 000 in 2015, as communities such as the Basso Komo justifies the murder of babies by deeming them evil and need to be removed as a preemptive measure to protect the members of the community. When paired with the other provisions, especially the billboards, which circumvents the issue of the lack of technology in the area, these strategies have been essential in educating the community. For example, spreading awareness that these practices are not necessary, as modern science can correct any birth defects, is one viable alternative. This has caused gradual improvements. More and more people are likely to tip off the missionaries at the Vine Heritage Home when babies are at risk. Crucially, it has also reduced the number of those who are killed. TheVOA News reported that, in the Kutara village, there are now seven pairs of twins living within the community, demonstrating that the community dialogue that these campaigns opened up between the six council areas in Abuja have been effective. This is extremely important, because even though the Vine Heritage Home saves children, due to factors such as lack of breastfeeding, Ajayi, unfortunately, told The Guardian that many children in his care will inevitably die.
Unfortunately, more recent interviews conducted by the Guardian reveal that silence still surrounds the grave issue and that the strategies implemented 4 years ago have been revoked. According to National Orientation Agency spokesperson Ruth Oguns, the campaign has been cancelled due to a lack of funding. This will put more pressure on the Vine Heritage Home Foundation in the near future, as they will have to continue to rely heavily on their covert informants, rather than open negotiations with community leaders. The reason that addressing the issue of infanticide has been low in priority can arguably be said to be a result of a lack of international awareness. It is no doubt, given the information given from the NOA investigation, number of infants in the Home, in conjunction with the testimonials of locals, that this is a case that needs to be addressed. Despite the abundance of evidence, Country Director of the Amnesty International in Nigeria Mr. Makmid Kamara claimed lack of knowledge on the matter during an interview with the NAIJ, stating that: “We are not aware of this particular incident.” But in the same event, Kamara asserted that infanticide was a serious issue, expressed his concern over the problem, and vowed to investigate “as a matter of urgency.” The interview was conducted in 2014, yet nothing can be found on Amnesty International’s website on the matter at hand, resulting in neither an investigation nor report. This issue has been met with silence at the local, national and international level.
It can be seen from the most infamous human rights abuse in Nigeria during the last few years, and the kidnapping of young girls by the Boko Haram, that international campaigns provoke national and, to some degree, local responses. Therefore, I propose that, as a potential solution, missionaries, NGOs, and individuals should follow the framework set by the highly successful social media campaign #bringbackourgirls. Launched in April 2014 by Obiageli Ezkwesili, the former Federal Minister of Education of Nigeria and Vice President of the African division of World Bank, after over 300 girls were kidnapped from boarding school in Chibok, #bringbackourgirls brought awareness to the world, which thereby sparked protest marches in New York, as well as the strategic placing of the girl’s pictures across Nigerian capital city, according to Pri.org. Although social media campaigns have their limits and disadvantages, as it can be noted that #bringbackourgirls has been criticized for only focusing on Chibok girls and making celebrities out of them. Despite the fact that girls are routinely kidnapped, the latest occurrence had been on the 19th February in Dapchi, according to the OWP. Thus, the campaign can be considered an overall a success. The use of a simple slogan such as #SaveOurBabies paired with a photo series with the infants in the Vine Heritage Home may be enough to start a course of action. An alternative of using their drawings alongside their stories in order to protect their identities would also be sufficient to promote awareness. The visibility of the children who have been saved will go a long way to counter the silence. It will stop a problem that Dioka Bridget, a researcher at the Centre for Igbo Studies, University of Nigeria outlines: “Many researchers don’t believe this practice takes place in [Nigeria] because it is absolutely absurd and ridiculous. And since most of us believe the stories to be fabricated, there is reluctance to approach or investigate the practice.” Hopefully, as she told the Guardian, “as more media reports confirm [it],” more investigation will serve to debunk skepticism. Therefore, education from above at an international level will necessitate education at a national and local level. Donations to the campaign and NGO aid, paired with international scrutiny, may reestablish the community programmes that have been cancelled.
Nonetheless, what is undoubtedly most important with this campaign would be to educate those practising under these beliefs as well. They need to understand that, as Josephine Alumanah, professor of anthropology at the University of Nigeria stated in the Guardian, “You can’t convince people to change a belief system that has been with them for [hundreds] of years in a few weeks.” This will be a long-term process. We will not see immediate results, so patience and peaceful cooperation is paramount. Nevertheless, #SaveOurBabies, or a more creative social media strategy may be the solution to stopping the murder of infants in Nigeria.
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