It all began with my camera man and I assembling our gadgets in front of a trader’s shop. We had planned to shoot a vox-pop in Akute-Oja, a government-forgotten part of Ogun State. Victor Erumewa, owner of the shop whose frontage we had encroached, turned out to be more than a host. He made a compulsory part of the news list.
Engaging in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is now a crime in Nigeria. I had actually planned to sample the rural public’s understanding of FGM, to find out if they were aware of its criminality. While setting up, the chatty Mr. Erumewa started a discussion. It was an extremely sunny Thursday, early indication of a heavy downpour. With no time to waste, I throw the question at him, never expected what dropped out of his mouth. “Bros, abeg wait. You go talk am for front of my camera?” I ask him. “No problem,” Erumewa, who can’t be younger than 35, replies, still smiling. So accommodating.
“Female circumcision is not a bad thing,” he says, staring into the camera, his tone categorical. It doesn’t end there. He is a father. He’s got two daughters. “I don’t use the knife on them, but I have circumcised them and still working on the younger one,” he continues in pidgin English.
I am confused. “How?”
“When they are still very tender, I use my finger to push their clitoris back in while bathing them. I massage it for a very long time everyday.”
My mouth widens.
“Does it work?” I manage to ask when I catch a breath.
“Of course!” He reels on. “The first girl’s thing has entered inside. It’s no longer there. I’m currently working on the second girl. She’s still an infant.”
Chineme, my cameraman, is more stunned than I. “But, aren’t you committing the same crime?”
“No.” Erumewa is certain. “It’s good women are circumcised but without a knife as I’m doing. It will help them stay married without looking outside.” He then advises parents to emulate him and the government to allow bloodless FGM.
A light shower begins. Chineme and I are now more interested than when we began, we continue our news hunt in the less-than-a-drizzle. It stops soon enough. We get more parents who rattle on, obviously with very poor knowledge of FGM. Many are lost between being pro and anti-FGM. They don’t take a concrete stand.
Nwanne, but popularly known as Nne in the only food items market between Osaro and Akute-Oja, the vegetable and local soup ingredients seller is very bold and knows what she wants.
“I’m begging the government to make female circumcision a must in Nigeria,” she finally says on camera after giving us her do’s and don’ts. We agree to record her rare view. She is yet to take permission from her husband and since we say we couldn’t return the next day for the interview, that’s the best offer on ground. We are more than grateful.
“Eh-hen,” other market women mutter and nod her to continue. No fewer than 10 of them gather to give Nne moral support. They are totally Pro-FGM.
“If government pass it into law, more marriages will be saved.” Chineme’s eyes pop out. I throw him a quick glare. The other women nod in the affirmative.
“Why do you say so?” I also speak pidgin with her.
“I sell in this market. I always see women and the way dem dey shake jiaaaaa jiaaaaa,” the sound connotes their inability to control themselves. “Women these days can’t hold themselves, even in the market, you see them turned-on when they see a man. It shouldn’t be so.”
“Na true!” Some of the women by my right hand side chime in. It’s so true, they agree.
“If they were circumcised, they will keep themselves and sit in their marriages,” Nne continues. She reveals she was neatly circumcised and her husband ‘enjoys’ her. I ask if she has a daughter?
She doesn’t have one. She’s got five sons.
“Would you circumcise your daughter should you have one?”
“Yes! I will circumcise her. It will help her in life. I was circumcised and it’s helped me, why not my daughter?”
Nne’s message to the government remains unwavering. “I’m calling on the government to make law that all Nigerian females be circumcised. It’s for our good.”
Off camera, I’m surrounded by these mothers who tell me about the benefits of FGM, how it’s helped them, helping their daughters and will help the modern woman. Being turned-on is a crime, to this group, worse still, in your husband’s absence.
“You’re to only ‘give’ him when he ask, not shaking up and down (turned-on anywhere),” they lecture me further.
I will keep thinking about this experience back in Lagos as my camera man and I return to the country’s business capital. Is more thorough advocacy needed? More awareness campaigns? But many of the women we spoke with had heard about the health risks, the pain, the disability, all the bad things about FGM. Yet they still advocate it. The women of Akute-Oja have a message. A response is needed.