This practice was prevalent in the oil-rich South-South states of Akwa Ibom, Cross River and the Ijaw nations of Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers states, although the process of initiation varied from one state to the other.
In Akwa Ibom State, a maiden was made to go into the fattening room for a period of three to six months depending on the financial capability of the husband or father. The maiden’s duty during this period was only to eat and sleep. Older and experienced women within the family circle of the maiden took turns to bath and massage the maiden, who was forced to eat and drink a pot measured of water daily. She was often rubbed with local palm oil from head to toe, believed to make her skin radiate and look attractive to either the husband or a would-be suitor.
During the fattening period, the maiden was indoctrinated and taught techniques by the older women on how to capture their husband’s interest in them alone and no one else. The maiden was then circumcised and presented before the public for admiration, in a festival called “Mbopo.” The leaders of Mbopo were the custodian and the law enforcement officers among the women.
With the coming of civilisation, families where culture and traditional practices are rooted are still engaging in female circumcision. In such families, female children are forced to undergo FGM.
Ikot Akpan and Ukan villages, in Edemaya clan as well as other neighbouring villages in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, are places where the festival of FGM cum initiation into womanhood, still holds. Families with traditionalists participate. The festival attracts a lot of suitors and other tourists. It is an event people look forward to.
Speaking on the celebration of female circumcision, older women in Ikot Akpan and Ukan villages, painted a picture of pride over female circumcision. They, however, told frightening stories of the consequences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activities.
Madam Adiaha Udo Ekpo said: “In our days, it was a thing of pride and honour for you and your family to be initiated into this group (circumcised women). It signified your joining the prestigious club of womanhood, so to say. Now only families rooted in tradition do it.”
Mrs. Angela Etuk gave another version of why circumcision was part of the fattening process then. According to her, “when a woman is circumcised, she is not easily aroused, thus attaining a climax during sex takes a longer time. This makes your husband happy with you.”
She said apart from families that cherish FGM tradition, the practice is now used as punishment for promiscuous women who are caught in either lesbianism or adultery with another man.”
According to her, in case of same-sex activities, the female offender is subjected to complete cutting of clitoris and labia, so that she will no longer enjoy sex. Apart from genital mutilation, there are other fetish rituals, including making the woman parade around the village square naked on three market days. The offender woman is also ostracised and barred from public gathering pending cleansing by the village priest, she said.
“Lesbianism and adultery are taboo in our society and anyone caught is made to undergo circumcision at adulthood or banished as punishment,” she said.
In the community, it is believed that such an act brings ancestral curse and bad luck to the offender’s family and the village at large. To avert or reduce the curse, the village priest will have to perform some rituals to cleanse the land after the offender has been punished according to the customs, she said.
Mrs. Etuk said women caught in same sex liaison, apart from circumcision and parade at the market square naked, also risk being stoned to death by youths leading masquerades, especially if they refuse to perform the rituals of cleansing the land.
The fact that the Federal Government made LGBT activities illegal, with the promulgation of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2013, makes the case of offenders worse in many communities.
The story of 33-year-old Loveth Inyang from Ikot Akpan, Edemaya clan, is still being told in the village. This woman was caught in bed with a fellow woman and the village youths were asked to forcefully take her to a shrine for rituals and cleansing, which include infibulation. She was lucky to flee the village before the youths got to her.
Narrating Loveth’s story, Uwem Inyang said trouble started for her on February 14, 2017.
He said: “On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2017, Loveth, while on a visit to her country house in Ikot Akpan, Edemaya ran into an old time girlfriend, Imaobong. It happened that they were lovers. They arranged a meeting the same day, where they re-enacted their love affairs. Unfortunately, they were caught in the act by one of the village folks who alerted other villagers.
“They were reported to the village elders, who said their case would be decided the next day. The culprits were handed over to a village woman leader who undertook to present them before the joint village council and council of chiefs the following day.
“The next day, when youths were sent to fetch them, it was discovered they had escaped.”
On what may be the fate of Loveth, Mr. Inyang said she dared not return to the village. According to him, she will be severely punished, first, for running away and, second, for the “lesbian abomination she committed.”