The ritual practice of male and female circumcisions in Nigeria; a necessity or a nuisance? The general definition of circumcision is a surgical procedure that involves the excision or to cut off the foreskin of (male) or the prepuce of (female); either in whole or in part; and a look into the Holy Books of major religions of the World revealed the following:- The Jewish justification of circumcision is in the Torah Holy Book, where it was written that the covenant between GOD and Abraham in (Genesis 17:10) stated that “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised” thereby a strong reason for the practice of circumcision by the Jews. The Muslim way of life is predominantly based on Islamic doctrines, following and practicing the teachings (SUNNAH) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); where the Sunnah stated that circumcision was a “law for men” and in Islam signifies purification which means “Tahara” thereby leading to the practice of circumcision being widely adopted by Muslims who view circumcision as cleanliness, prevention against infection and diseases. Muslims generally perform the ritual of circumcision as early as from when a son is born to the family “at birth” to the 7th day of the naming ceremony, and the customary practice of the Kanuri Muslim is to circumcise their sons at the age of 7 (seven) inculcating culture into religion. The practicing Christian beliefs are that circumcision or uncircumcision does not count (Galatians 5:6), whereby the Roman Catholic Church stated that male circumcision was unnecessary.
The traditional practices of circumcision in Nigeria, differ from family to family, tribes, cultures, religions, regions, and state. The Muslim and Christian parents mostly carried out circumcision in males for religious reasons only; while other parents practice the procedure for cultural, and other medical reasons. Whereas parents in the southern part of Nigeria circumcised their sons for both traditional and religious reasons; with an ingrained mentality that it is a shame upon the family and their tradition not to follow the practice performed from generation to generation, and for such people not practicing the rites of circumcision is a taboo with a belief that the family will be ridiculed. The Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), local barbers or surgeons known as “Wanzams”, health workers, and medical doctors usually perform the procedure of circumcision in Nigeria for males and in some cases females; without the use of anesthesia except if performed in hospitals.
There is no fixed age for circumcision in Nigeria, the kids of the elites birth in the hospitals are circumcised on the same day or within few days before discharge whereas other hapless parents generally carried out the procedure on the 7th (seventh) day after birth, going up to the 40th (fortieth) day after birth, or thereafter but the practice in Borno state and other northern states of Nigeria is mostly at the age of 7 (seven) years. A Nigerian cultural setting where circumcision is the norm views the practice as a rite-of-passage to manhood, a symbol of self-identity and social cohesion for boys of the same age who were circumcised at the same time. Also having an ingrained mentality that circumcision is making men of the boys and that the uncircumcised men are unacceptable to be included in customs and cultural rites; these sets of men are identified, tagged, discriminated upon, bullied, ridiculed, and nick-named in order to force them into accepting the procedure to be circumcised.
The Yoruba circumciser is called “olola” whereby circumcision for the male is “ikola” and for the female, it is known as “ida’be obirin”. Circumcision for the Yorubas is totally a cultural thing for both the males and the females; where all circumcision takes place outside the medical facilities and done by the traditional surgeon known as “Olola”. The Yorubas of the western parts of Nigeria mostly practice collective circumcision for age groups with individual families deciding the age at which their kids will be circumcised. A grand ceremony with traditional cuisines to be served, musicians and praise singers to entertain; it is an open cultural ritual with all concerned in attendance to witness the next phase in the lives of those to be circumcised; oftentimes schedule for festive occasions to make men out of boys, in preparation for marital life and social responsibilities in their communities. Female circumcision is also done by the local “olola” following the traditional method of open and collective circumcision just as for the males, preparing the girls for marriage and motherhood thereby making women out of girls. Female Genital Mutilation is still practiced in Yoruba land to date despite the numerous outcry against the girl-child cut.
Igbo “ibi ugwu” is the male circumcision with the origin in Igbo traditional religious rites known as “odinala” of the Ndi Igbo. The Igbos circumcise both male and female children from ancient times which has been carried on for generations but modern times and education end the practice of the female genital mutilation known as “ibi ukwu” of the Igbo female children but the Igbo male circumcision is still practice. The circumcision of male babies known as “ibi ugwu” in Igbo land is carried out on the 8th day of the birth of the newborn, while other families circumcise their kids 3 (three) days after birth; by the traditional healers or native doctors if done at home but for those who birth at the hospitals, the procedure is generally performed by medical doctors and healing takes about five to seven days with proper hygiene and drugs. Worthy of note is that some “Ndi Igbos” tribes are known to wait until adulthood but it is a must to undergo the ritual of circumcision before marriage, for the “Ndi Igbos” the circumcision rites of “ibi ugwu” is held in high esteem considering it a great shame and dishonor upon a family for not practicing it.
The Northern Nigeria traditional male circumcision is called “Kaciya” in Hausa, and for the Kanuri, it is known as “tada kaja” where the “tada” is the son and “kaja” is circumcision; Circumcised boys are noticeable in the neighborhood, mostly seen walking around in groups, same age, from the same family or from the same household, all wearing the same clothing in color and design, with a necklace which is made out of sweets, candies, biscuits, date palm is known as “dabino” in Hausa, or chocolates. This group of boys visits families both near and far, neighbors and well-wishers within their vicinity, to inform them about their new social status, and they will be gifted cash money, pieces of clothing or toys depending on what one can afford just to make them happy and a way of telling them “sorry” but now you are a man. The Kanuri practice of circumcision is like a mini cultural festival where notables, families, and friends are invited with traditional cuisines and cultural music; for the Kanuris it is practiced as an initiation ritual into adulthood for the young boys of the same age group of 7 years; which is conducted by the “Wanzams”, who are known as traditional male circumcision specialists or surgeons. The customs and traditions of circumcision are spurred on by the “Wanzams” who live on such practices as a means of livelihood, bringing Islam into the culture by making it a necessity to have the male circumcised and conducting such acts under non-clinical settings with the use of a sharp knife known as “Aska” or razor blade thereby creating a space for medical complications and the spread of diseases.
Female circumcisions or the “cut” are popularly known and called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which includes all forms of procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for unnecessary non-medical reasons, mostly carried out on young girls, from between infancy to 15 years of age and of recent in Benue state Nigeria, a female university graduate was forced to undergo the procedure with an ingrained belief that practicing Female Circumcisions preserve family history and fertility. Female Genital Mutilation in Northern Nigeria is seldom practiced except for few tribes and traditional communities such as Edo state, the north-central of Benue state of Nigeria other ethnic groups includes the Yoruba tribes, Hausa, Igbo, Ijaw with the exception of the Fulani and Kanuri tribes who are not known to practice any form of female genital mutilation. The Shuwa-Arabs of Borno state north-east Nigeria, especially the village dwellers are very well known for the practice of female circumcision, and as such only about 10% of the Shuwa Arabs practice the female cut while other tribes in Borno State are not known for the practice of female circumcision. The reasons that were given by those that practice female genital mutilation (FGM) includes culture, a customary practice handed down from generation to generation with a deep-rooted belief that uncircumcised women are promiscuous, unclean, unmarriageable, physically undesirable, justifying their claims that such women will face a potential health risks to themselves and their kids during childbirth.
The risks and realities of female circumcision have lasting physical and mental consequences; women and girls living with Female Genital Mutilation face serious risks to their health and wellbeing; with consequences as life-threatening infections, bleedings, chronic health conditions with medical, social, and psychological traumas that can mar a life. A very vital life-line for all women involved is to prevent female circumcision which can only be possible by challenging the traditional beliefs and all reasons given for Female Genital Mutilation. There is the need for extensive community outreach on the dangers and harmful effects of practicing Female Genital Mutilation to men and women, school kids and working class, the educated elites and the poor illiterates, the health workers, and the traditional caregivers. The religious leaders also do have a great role to play in dispelling the myth that female circumcision is a religious necessity by spreading the right messages and understanding that religion does not demand Female Genital Mutilation. The older generation must step in to give a voice against the female cut, by educating and enlightening traditional communities to change the cultural beliefs and the mindset of grassroots dwellers that Female Genital Mutilation is not necessarily important in the lives of the girl-child in achieving all that she’s born to achieve. The education of the girl child comes in strong here because an educated girl-child will think and decides what happens to her body, and her life; being mentally strong to stand-up and speak against Female Genital Mutilation. The educated girls and women must also stand together to speak out for the girl-child and women who suffer in silence, all must be involved in speaking against and seeking out those that still practice Female Genital Mutilation in secret with deep-rooted ingrained beliefs, forcing the helpless and hapless girl-child to be circumcised. A grassroots mobilization from the parents, the older generations consisting of grandparents and elders, traditional rulers, and political office holders must seek for legislation to ban Female Genital Mutilation, and only then will Nigeria see the end of Female Genital Mutilation which is detrimental to women inclusion in the social and political growth of any given society. Female circumcision is a nuisance to the girl-child rather than a necessity, a total ban on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation brings major benefits for the girl-child, the women, the community, and Nigeria as a whole!