When Mary Slessor visited this part of the world exactly 100 years ago, the killing of twins scandalised her missionary soul. Locals thought them a taboo. Twins sprang from the bad spirits in the ether world. So, slaughtering them did not amount to barbarism. Rather it freed their cultural consciences. Mary Slessor may have seen the killers in the light of Apostle Paul’s words, that their “consciences were seared with hot iron.”
But they did not hate the twins. They only feared them. The strange creatures were malformed dainties. They had to let them go. The culture wept when ogbanje’s slipped out of its own fingers. But the same culture exulted at the barbarity of its own hands that wrung twins to death.
Mary Slessor did not judge them. They did not know what they did. Even in Achebe”s Things Fall Apart, the novelist only scratched the surface of the benighted act, and no one looked at that primitive era of infanticide with righteous horror. Culture defines morality, and when culture is dark, good can be evil. Like in the poem Paradise Lost. Poet John Milton paints Satan in magnificence as a brutish beauty. “All good to me is lost,” chants the devil in that epic opus.
One hundred years after, the child still suffers in solitude. What will Mary Slessor think of the fate of the child today in Nigeria, especially the girl child? In the past half year, Boko Haram has hatched a new idea. Girl children are now deployed as bullets and bombs. They are no longer beauties but beasts. They haunt the innocent in the market, in the public square, on the populated streets, in churches. Young girls are innocents, but they are the scare of the adults and children and men. This is the height of perversion. They are like horror movies where girl children doom adults.
But Mary Slessor would have mused on the savage irony of the day. Young girls roused a different odium a year ago. We frowned, including in this column, at the sexual perversion of girl-child marriages. A governor married a girl of about 13 years, and he tried to fetch justification from the constitution. We mourned the prevalence of VVF, the physical damage and the psychological trauma, of the big men crouching in sexual ecstasies over unformed female organs. Governors do it. Senators do it. Bankers do it. We moan it. But no one has stopped it.
Mary Slessor would have campaigned against it. A moral heroine of that day, she changed a whole culture. Can a voice rise today to save the girl child up North? Mary Slessor had no Internet, or newspapers, or television, or the sort of bandwagon convulsion of the #bringbackourgirls movement. Yet she succeeded with the charisma of faith and majesty of moral suasion. Is this an age of irretrievable evil?
It is justified falsely in the name of religion. The answer, we opined, is the brilliance of education. Reports have shown girls in revolt. Some run away into an uncertain world, but prefer the wilds of uncertain streets to the servitude of sexual tyranny. Others sulk to their hoary graves in sullen slavery.
Now, while bemoaning this, we face another tyranny: the girl bomber. Last month, Zaharau, a 13-year-old, did not detonate her bomb in the Kanti Kwari Market in Kano. She disavowed the paradise of her so-called liberators and chose to live. Others have gone who obeyed.
Is the girl child not an endangered species? In one case, we moan rape. In the other, we mourn their murder-suicides. Those who marry them see them metaphorically as bombshells, alluding to their physical charms. The others see them as bombshells. The Chibok girl saga still haunts a nation that looks with paralysis at the failure of a government to do something strong, or to even pursue even a symbolic story that could ease the pains of the loss. The president visited Maiduguri to mark the Army Day Memorial, but was it an act of empathy from a president? He has not up till now visited the town of the notorious abduction. Does the president’s visit assuage any conscience? Who would say the president’s visit was not cynical? He goes to Maiduguri one month to election at the same time CNN features the eerie testimonials of Nigerian soldiers who buy their own uniforms and cannot access drugs. They confess that Boko Haram soldiers have better weapons and are better motivated.
In those circumstances, how would the Boko Haram fighters not raze down Baga town, and make away with the girls, and kill the men and recruit the boys? The greater evil is a government that fails its primary responsibility: security of its citizens. Foreign media have flayed President Goodluck Jonathan for condemning the attack on a French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, while keeping mum over the massacre of Baga town that wipes the place out of the map.
How are we sure these girl bombers are not being radicalised by the sect, and launched back at us as messengers of death? Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, has terrorised many villages in Uganda and environs, and abducted hundreds of girls in the past decades. Some of the girls are stigmatised while others with children from rape and forced marriages are trapped forever. That is the prospect for the Chibok girls and others abducted. Zaharau’s case is another dimension. Her father decided to volunteer her for Boko Haram. This is another form of early marriage. Rather than force their 13-year-olds into marriages, they prefer apocalyptic paradise.
By ceding their kids to the sect, they believe they have done good to the Almighty. Whether they are defiled sexually or strapped with bombs to die while killing others, the parents think they have done good to their souls and to the Almighty. The new defilement is bad. I don’t know which is worse though. Is it the girl who lives in psychic turmoil all her life in a forced marriage or the one who dies in meaningless martyrdom in the name of the Almighty? One a living dead, the other a dead living.
This tragedy happens only when a state fails. That is why the president’s visit only helped to worsen a sense of alienation in the beleaguered citizens in the Northeast. If President Jonathan had visited them often and done more symbolic acts, his empathy would have registered, but not a few days to elections.
Essentially, to save the innocent girls, we must mount a campaign around the North to tell girls not to allow anyone strap any devices around their body. It is time to incite girls against murderous parents. These girls are too young to know what is happening to them in the name of religion.
Let us do what Mary Slessor would have done. Let us save the girl child. Girls are the mothers who fashion families that make cultures. It is one of the great tasks of this generation.