Vol. XX, Issue 3 (Summer 2013): Video-Films, Youth and Vaccination in Nigeria
Olayemi Akinwumi (South Africa)
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In this issue of Africa Update we once more focus on the Nigerian Film Industry. An Osakue Omoera point out that language endangerment is an issue with respect to the Benin language. English language dominance is one of the causes of this and so, too, under - exposure to the Benin mother tongue. Omoera argues that film can be ‘a weapon of mass instruction’ in the case of indigenous languages. Encouraging Benin film culture is a way forward. Recall that in the 2013 winter issue of Africa Update, Omoera introduced us to aspects of the Benin cinematic experience and some of the pioneers in the field.
Bosede Afolayan points out that there is much that is wanting in Nollywood’s portrayal of diviners, witches, psychics and the supernatural. Is there a covert agenda to elevate and vindicate specific religious value systems? Do these video film portrayals reinforce existing Eurocentric stereotypes? And if I may add to the list of questions- what forces are behind this campaign of negativity? Afolayan reminds us that many playwrights and novelists have engaged in portrayals of the supernatural world-from Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, to Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare. Such portrayals show up in the Harry Potter films and Hollywood productions such as the Crucible. So in the world of film and literature, this preoccupation is not new, the professor points out. But what is disconcerting to Dr. Afolayan is the imagery of the macabre and gruesome that some Nollywood films perpetuate in their portrayal of the supernatural and the message projected. The stereotypes and film narrative do a disservice not only to traditional religious systems, but also to traditional practitioners and Nigerian culture as a whole. Dr Afolayan uses two series of films to reinforce the point, namely, Witches in the Palace and Mothers Cult.
Bosede Afolayan’s informative analysis is a reminder that even though a fair amount of the seventeen hundred Nigerian video films produced a year, on the average, does not fall within this category of film, there is cause for alarm. We must find a way to inform film producers of the impact of their portrayals, and the disservice they do to non- monotheistic religions, traditional practitioners and Nigerian culture, as a whole, by their gory stereotypes. This could probably be done through thoughtful workshops and systems of awards and disincentives. By so doing we would help to make the video-film ‘a weapon of mass instruction’ in the positive mode envisaged by Osakue Omoera in his illuminating discourse.
Our third contributor to this issue is Aliyu Bala. Aliyu, provides a useful retrospective on vaccination and its discontents, so to speak. The article was no doubt triggered by the assassination of nine health care workers in Kano in February 2013. May we add that the politicization of immunization campaigns also took center stage in Pakistan, given the modalities surrounding the tracking down of Osama Bin Laden a year earlier. Aliyu emphasizes, however, that young lives are at stake and that Muslim countries with successful immunization campaigns may be useful role models for the skeptics. I must confess that this piece was not written for publication in Africa Update but for a more general audience. The author kindly agreed to permit me to include it in this issue as an Op-Ed.
We thank the contributors to this issue for their scholarly analyses and their illuminating and provocative insights.
Professor Gloria Emeagwali
Video-film has come to stay for good in the Nigerian cultural and entertainment industry and indeed in the global entertainment business enterprise. It can be deployed in addressing many other critical issues, including language endangerment, in contemporary society. This is one of the ways Nigerian video-film fulfills its utilitarian value as an agent of linguistic and cultural exploration and emancipation. The dying Benin language can benefit from the artistic function of this cultural medium.
Exploring the Chilean experience, Larraín (2010:24; 2011:16; 2012:1) observes that historically, in art and communication, the development of technology has proved a close bond between technique and culture, generating unique dialogues, applications and appropriations that provide amazing scenarios. These also allow the articulation of new meanings and fields of interaction. Larraín (2012:1) further asserts that film in Chile provides an interesting understanding of cinema and its aesthetic, expressive, conceptual and socio-cultural characteristics and possibilities. Lorrain’s account of film’s socio-cultural significance in Chile is relevant to understanding current trends in Nigerian film culture. It is in an attempt to extend this discourse and call attention to the applicatory potentialities of the video-film that this study deploys the historical, document observation and interview techniques to theorize, albeit from the ivory tower, on the Benin language question and how the nascent Benin video-film can be used to stem the tide of its endangerment in Nigeria. At any rate, the ivory tower connotes a place, a city, a university, where people from different backgrounds assemble for the purpose of constructing, imparting and imbibing knowledge. Although Okecha (2008:2) vehemently argues that in Nigeria, the universities are ‘ ivory towers’ with neither ivory nor tower, he concedes that the ‘ ivory tower’ ought to enable individuals to participate with greater understanding in community affairs and development. However, it will be safe to foreground this discourse with the language endangerment situation in Nigeria.
The Language Endangerment Question in Nigeria
Language endangerment with its attendant consequences has become a subject of animated discussion among language, communication as well as culture researchers in contemporary Nigerian society. Although historically many languages which have not been privileged to enjoy the status of lingua franca have gone into extinction, the threats they are presently facing are more frightening than ever before. In Africa, particularly in Nigeria, the cultural heritage of many ethnic groups is also crumbling with little or no resistance and this heritage is hinged on language. Thus, there appears to be a state of “arrested development” in many sectors of life, including language and custom, in Nigeria. But if Nigerians and indeed Africans wish to make solid progress, the foregoing trend must be reversed. Okezie’s (2010: 204) contends that:
The languages and customs of Africa define and identify the people at their local settings. They guide their behaviour and determine the outcome of their efforts. It means that without their languages and customs, the continent has no identification and thus cannot be defined, cannot think, nor act constructively and independently, which are necessary elements for development.
Nonetheless, some scholars have noted that Nigeria has a high degree of multilingualism, with over 400 indigenous languages spoken within its borders (Hansford, Bendor-Samuel and Stanford, 1976:1; Adegbija, 1997: 6; Grimes, 2000:2; Okeke, 2003:82; Omo-Ojugo, 2004:19). This is in addition to English (the lingua franca) and the Nigerian pidgin (NP) existing alongside. In spite of this prevalent multilingualism together with multiculturalism and multi-faith systems, minority languages are declining at a frightening rate as a result of the assimilating influence of Hausa in Northern Nigeria ( Haruna, 1998:277; Dawlung, 1999:53; Blench, 1998:203). A similar situation has been observed in Western Nigeria, where Yoruba prevails over and above minority languages (Oyetade, 2007:182). Other languages that have assimilating influence are the Nigerian pidgin (NP) in the East and South-East (Egbokhare, 2001:105); Efik in the South-East (Oyetade, 2007:170) and to some extent Igbo in the East (Emenanjo, 1999:83).
While discussing multilingualism and language endangerment in Warri metropolis in the Niger Delta, Anyanwu (2011: 159; 2012:88) argues that within the next 50 years the three indigenous languages of Itsekiri, Izon, and Urhobo, spoken in the area would become extinct, giving way to the Nigerian pidgin (NP)/English language. Anyanwu’s position seems to agree with that of Elugbe and Omamor (1991:64); Egbokhare (2001: 105) who previously reported the pervasive role and creolization of NP in the Warri area.
In another study, Anyanwu, Okecha, and Omo-Ojugo (forthcoming) lament the impact of the hegemony of English over indigenous languages in Nigeria. Omo-Ojugo (2004:1); Obinyan (2010:12), in separate studies on the Esan language situation in South-South Nigeria, observe that the Esan language may become atrophied if urgent steps are not taken to rescue it from the corrosive and imperialistic influence of the English language which is unfortunately propagated by elites in the area. Fakuade (1999:67) also reports that a number of minority languages, including Dendi, Babbure and Bura are endangered in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria.
Furthermore, Hoffman (1963:1); Mu’azu (2009:3; 2012;715) observe that many languages in parts of Northern Nigeria such as Kilba, Mada, Marghi, Eggon, Higi, Shuwa, among others, are at different stages of atrophy as a result of the domineering presence of major languages such as Hausa and English. The consequence of the foregoing is that, nationally, all Nigerian languages are threatened by English, being a language looked up to as it ultimately places one in a class and promotes communication with the outside world. At the regional/state/local level, some languages are also being threatened by major or more prestigious languages such as Hausa, Igbo, Efik and Yoruba.
Indeed, Connell (1998:207-208) has already reported cases of language death and endangerment in Nigeria. He identifies up to ten languages as extinct in Nigeria and up to ninety languages as endangered in Nigeria and Cameroon. Although there are no universally accepted criteria for pronouncing a language endangered or dead, language endangerment could be seen as either an ongoing process of language shift or a complete shift. That is, language endangerment results from a process of, or a language shift (Anyanwu, 2012:77). Emenanjo (1999:80) agrees with this as he conceptualises endangered languages as:
Those used or found in speech communities where native speakers are threatened because their intergenerational continuity is proceeding negatively with fewer and fewer users every generation.
In order to reverse this grim picture of language endangerment or language shift in Nigeria and indeed across Africa and the world, Emenanjo (1990:88); Crystal (2001:130); Fishman (1991:1; 2001:3); Obiero (2010:201) call for a change of focus from the global theorizing on language endangerment or vitality, to the pursuit of a wide spectrum of intervention efforts for endangered languages across the world.
The Linguistic Situation and Video Culture in Beninland
Benin language is spoken by the Benin people in the former Bendel State of Mid-Western Nigeria (now divided into Edo and Delta States in South-South Nigeria). The term Benin is vested with several meanings (Egharevba, 2005:1; Osahon, 2007: par 1). It is interchangeably used with the term Edo (Agheyisi, 1986:39; Omoregie, 2000:10-11; Lawal-Osula, 2005:2) to mean the language or the geographical entity or the people who inhabit the southern part of Edo State (Edo South). At present, Edo South comprises seven (7) local government areas (LGAs), namely, Oredo, Egor, Ikpoba-Okha, Orhiomwon, Uhunmwonde, Ovia South-West and Ovia North-East. Figure 1 shows the area where Benin (Edo) language is mainly spoken. However, the English language or its pidgin variant as well as other indigenous languages are also spoken in the area under study.
Benin language is classified among the Edoid languages, which are minority languages within the Nigerian linguistic landscape (Amayo, 1976:1; Omoregie, 1983: 6; Elugbe, 1989:1; Omozuwa, 1989:317; 2003:246; 2012:18). It is a core member of a larger group of genetically related languages and dialect clusters; the Edoid group of languages, which in turn belongs, along with other Nigerian languages such as Yoruba, Nupe, Idoma and Izon, to the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo family (Agheyisi, 1986: iv; Omoregbe, 2003:345). Its closest relatives are Esan, Orra, Afemai, Urhobo, among others. But, Omozuwa (2003:246) expresses fears that in years to come it is very likely that many of the minority languages (including Benin) will be forced into extinction if nothing is done to preserve them now.
The above observation is further underscored by the fact the number of Benin people who can speak/write/understand the Benin language is on the decline as a result of the pervasive influence of English language/NP in Beninland. Omadeli Uwagboe (in an interview with this researcher in 2012) remarked that it is now fashionable in the Benin area for parents to relate to their children in the home, in English. This is because they (the parents) believe that English will be of greater sociolinguistic and socioeconomic benefits to them in an increasingly urbanised Beninland and beyond. Even the uneducated parents, who are not proficient in English, struggle to communicate with their children in the home in NP, with the conviction and hope that it is at least closer to English which, in their reckoning, offers better opportunities than the indigenous language (that is, Benin).
Overtime, this attitude has had a negative impact on the intergenerational continuity of Benin as a language in Beninland. Anyanwu, Okecha and Omo-Ojugo (forthcoming) argue that “a language is threatened and could be endangered, when it is not passed to a new generation of children.” This is unfortunately the precarious state the Benin language has found itself today. Apart from the failing at the home front where parents and guardians in Beninland take pride in their children learning/speaking English, other institutions such as the mosque, the church, the media, schools, community development unions (CDUs), among other social organizations in the area have not helped matters. Many of them tend to shirk their corporate social responsibility and, in fact, constitutional duties as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), the National Policy on Education (NPE), the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (NBC), etc.
The CFRN, for example, recognises and encourages the use of indigenous languages in states’ houses of assembly as members may by resolution approve. This is besides its averment that the three major Nigerian languages, namely, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, in addition to the English language, should be used at the National Assembly (CFRN, 1999: Chapter V section 55). The Edo State House of Assembly (ESHA) has not deemed it fit to approve such a resolution to encourage the use of Benin language, being that it is a core member of a larger group of genetically related languages – the Edoid group of languages such as Esan, Owan, Orra, Afemai, etc, which are spoken within the borders of Edo State. The ESHA’s reluctance may not be unconnected with the politics of what Omozuwa (2003:246) aptly calls “the search for lingua franca” within the Edoid group. This absence of a common language across Edo State has in no small way contributed to endangering the Benin (Edo) language.
The non-observance of the provisions of the NPE in Beninland appears to have also aggravated the endangerment of the Benin language. The NPE, with regard to language(s) for educational purposes, encourages and supports the use of a child’s mother tongue (indigenous language) or language of the immediate community in pre-primary and the first three years of primary education (NPE, 2004: section2.14c; section4.19e). These provisions are observed more in the breach in Beninland. Public and private nursery and primary schools in the area hardly see the need to hire Benin language teachers/instructors, let alone, encourage their pupils (who are mostly of Benin extraction) to acquire competencies in speaking/writing/learning the language. Worst, concerned authorities such as local government councils, traditional rulers, local education authorities, have at best, paid lip service to efforts aimed at revitalising interest in the teaching and learning of Benin language in Beninland.
The increasingly limited domain of usage of Benin language, which is a precursor to its getting endangered, is also occasioned by the unwillingness of the media, particularly radio and television channels operating in Beninland to design and produce well-thought-out programmes in the indigenous language, that is, Benin, in the area where they operate. Although the NBC (2006) stipulates a 60:40 ratio for local/foreign broadcast content, with emphasis on programmes in indigenous languages, broadcast outfits such as Edo Broadcasting Service Television, Benin (EBSTV), Independent Television, Benin (ITV), Independent Radio, Benin (IDR), Silverbird Television, Benin (STV), Bronze FM, Benin, Nigerian Television Authority, Benin (NTA), etc, are not keen on mounting Benin language programmes, which could have helped to provide congenial platforms for the people, especially the growing population to acquire some proficiency in the language.
The few Benin language programmes such as Ibota on Independent Television (ITV) Benin City, Ugieomo and Uyi-Edo on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Benin City, Ugie-Edo on African Independent Television (AIT), Benin City, etc, are featured once in a week and at very unfriendly time belts such as Sunday mornings, when most people might have gone to the church. Moreover, in the church or similar places of worship the English language is mostly used to the dereliction of Benin. In fact, speaking English in ethnic gatherings is seen as sign of ‘high’ social status in the Benin area. Hence, it has become passé for parents/guardians to speak Benin to their children/wards in Beninland. This trend is consistent with the observation of Rafiu (2007:178) who states that:
For a variety of reasons, speakers of some languages abandon their languages and begin using another. Parents may begin to use a particular language with their children and gradually the intergenerational transmission of the heritage is reduced and may even cease.
Thus, a number of crippling factors, including the imperialistic tendencies of English language, limited domains of use, low demography of competent/proficient users, etc, have exacerbated the threats of endangerment of Benin language. In any case, the process of language endangerment as captured in the following formula by Tandefelt, who is cited in Fakuade (1999: 61); Rafiu (2007:178), is germane to this discourse:
Fakuade (1999: 61); Rafiu (2007:178) theorize that in the above illustration, ‘A’ represents the socially dominated minority language and ‘B’ stands for the majority language, that is, the dominating language in a multilingual society. The intervening variables between ‘A’ and ‘B’, according to the formula, refers to the process of second language learning, followed by a period of bilingualism ‘AB’, then followed by almost total language shift, ‘aB’. Drawing on the foregoing, it is obvious that the Benin language is virtually being dominated socially as those who can write or speak Benin are thinning out in number on a daily basis in Beninland. This is a worrisome trend because the culture of the Benin people, like every ethnic culture, is enshrined in the Benin language and if the language is threatened as indicated, then, the culture is by the same token endangered. Among other efforts, the video-film production in Benin language can be used to effectively arrest this trend. This is ostensibly because it cuts across all manner of persons in the society: the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated, children, parents, among others, who are enamoured of it.
Canonically historically, apart from the traditional Benin stage dramas, the Benins have produced videos long before the commonly acknowledged ones. The first generally acknowledged Benin video-film appeared in 1992 with the Uyiedo Theatre Troupe’s Udefiagbon. However, it is Evbakoe, subtitled in English as Reap what you Sow which was released by Soul 2 Soul Films Nigeria Limited in 1998 that many people regard as the first video drama of Benin language expression. Ozin Oziengbe, aka, Erhietio Sole Sole, a man widely believed to be the doyen of Benin video drama contends that drama shot on video format had existed in Benin before 1992 or 1998 (in an interview with this researcher in 2009). He argued that as early as 1988 he had produced films in Benin language. Ozin Oziengbe cited works such as Ikioya (1988), Ewemade (1989), Ehizomwanogie (1990) and others which he made with technical support from the NTA, Benin. Today however, Peddie Okao of Prolens Movies Nigeria Limited and Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen of Lancewealth Images Nigerian Limited, are perhaps, the most clear-headed, resourceful and prolific among the Benin language filmmakers/videographers.
Available data indicate that there are close to 400 Benin video dramas that have been made, with some of them gaining national and international recognitions. For instance, Peddie Okao’s Ikoka (2003) and Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen’s Ebuwa (2009) have had impressive outings in film festivals and cinemas. Many of these films embody rich language tropes and portray the rich history, costumes, among other cultural artefacts of the Benin race. Moreover, there are many video production sites strewn around Benin City and environs, with major producers such as Osagie Mega Plaza, Prolens movies, Ninety-Nine Entertainment and Triple ‘O’ Resources, releasing a considerable number of quality video-films yearly. The local audience is also very enthusiastic as it readily patronizes the producers. Omoera (2008a:234; 2008b:39; 2012: 28; 2013: 47; forthcoming) asserts that the Benin video-film has emerged as a viable variant of Nollywood owing to a large Benin speaking audience. It is within this dynamics that this discourse explores the interventionist potentialities of the Benin video-film production in arresting the endangerment of the Benin language.
The Role of the Benin Video-Film in the Revitalization of the Benin Language
It has been noted earlier that all manner of persons, including the rich, the poor, the literate, the illiterate, among others, can watch video-films within the comfort of their homes in Nollywood film cultures and elsewhere because of its affordability, accessibility and popularity. Thus, the video-film production has assumed the position of an informal education channel for viewers. Rafiu (2007:179) affirms that “…many acts, namely, dressing, language use and a whole lot of other manners, put up by people today are copied from either the television or home video.” Going by the problem observed in the linguistic competence of the younger generations of Benin native speakers, this study suggests ways that the video-film can be used to pass the language on to the growing Benin population who are hardly understand the language.
Apart from democratising the global cinematic experience, particularly in the developing areas of the world, including Nigeria, Chile and elsewhere, the expressive, interventionist, instructional capacities and capabilities of the video-film, which are, at present, largely unexplored in the Benin film culture need to be dialectically negotiated for socio-linguistic and socio-cultural ends. Film has the potentiality of being a ‘weapon’ of mass instruction if it is thoughtfully deployed, especially in linguistic and cultural education matters. This is more so at the level of the Benin video-film, which has ample linguistic resources to revive (revitalize) the dying Benin language in Nigeria.
This can be achieved through the use of Benin language videos to instruct the younger generations, especially children at different domains of socialization such as home, school, mosque, ethnic gathering, etc, in the Benin locality. For instance, in the increasingly paced up living patterns as we now have in most areas in Beninland, Benin parents can bond as well as instruct their growing children through collective viewing of wholesome Benin language movies. Aside from learning basic terms in Benin, the younger ones can overtime acquire some competencies in the use of Benin proverbs, adages and anecdotes through such experience. Films in the mode of Echoes of a Kingdom: Great Benin (2010), a Benin documentary film from the stables of Butterworth Productions Limited, a Benin City based production outfit under the direction of Onions Edionwe, is recommended in this regard.
Furthermore, Benin language film producers/videographers should ensure that stories are well scripted and edited in order for the didactic imports of the script to be sustained in the memories of the viewers (especially the younger ones) even after viewing. Again, the subtitling in Benin video-film productions should always be professionally handled by competent film editors who should be linguistically versed in both Benin and English languages. The dramatic weavings of Benin videographers should not run contrary to the Benin cultural values or deprecate the language in favour of English. Instead, Benin film producers should take advantage of the latest developments in video technology to make riveting Benin language movies, including animated films/cartoons, etc., imbued with mores, linguistic finesse and striking mise en scene, in order to buy into the ‘world’ of the growing Benin people.
As part of the revivalist agenda, well-meaning Benin (Edo) indigenes, Benin culture experts, video-filmmakers, development agents, concerned education authorities, traditional rulers, religious organizations, etc. in Beninland, should as a matter of urgency convene a stakeholders’ meeting with a view to, among other things, give the necessary support to Benin language revitalization efforts, which Benin video-film productions have inadvertently started.
This study has explored the interventionist propensities of the video-film, besides its edutainment functioning in contemporary Benin society. Adumbrating from an ivory towered perspective, the study argued that the Benin language is endangered because of its increasingly limited domain of use, crisis in its intergenerational continuity and the hegemonic influence of English in Beninland. It further noted that the endangerment of the Benin language portends a greater danger to the Benin culture if not checked. Consequently, it suggested that, among other efforts, the Benin video-film can and should be used to effectively express and teach the linguistic and cultural endowments of the Benin people to the younger generations in order for the Benin language not go into extinction.
A noticeable feature of Nollywood is its portrayal of the supernatural. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to depict gods/goddesses, diviners witches and witchcraft in Nollywood. This depiction is made more vivid with the advent of the new media – the video film, which has become the main stay of Nollywood. Rites, rituals, chief priests either as Babalawo or Dibia, sacrifices and people seeking solutions to their problems have been explored variously such that outsiders see Nigerians as fetish and steeped in ritual. In this light, this paper examines the depiction of the supernatural in Franklin Onyemenzeuwa’s Witches in the Palace I & II and Martin Onyemaobi’s Mothers’ Cult, I & II. Is the preponderance of this feature in Nollywood a reflection of the Nigerian culture? In what ways has this affected Nigeria’s image abroad in spite of the huge success Nollywood has been? How has the medium of the film highlighted this depiction? In other words, what is the impact of the video CD over similar portrayals in the Travelling Theatre of Hubert Ogunde for example? These are some of the salient questions this article seeks to answer.
One important area that attracts many audiences interest in Nollywood is religion and spirituality, and many producers have appropriated religious themes in their works even when such productions are not overtly tagged religious. In the introduction to Haynes’ Nigerian Video Films, he hints at this. He says “the supernatural appears routinely, as even the most “modernised” of Nigerians may have recourse to “traditional” magic when under the sort of stress to which these melodramatic films routinely subject their protagonists.”(3)
The recourse to “juju” and the occult is not strange or limited to Nigerian Literature. In fact, in detailing the origin of drama in classical Greece, attention is usually paid to the festival of Dionysius just like the evolutionist theory believes that African drama emerged from festivals, religious ceremonies and rituals in general. Drama emerged in the worship of gods/ goddesses and this ritualistic origin cannot be totally erased from Nigerian dramatic arts and performance either as live performance of the Travelling Theatres, literary drama or the new burgeoning Nollywood art.
Adedeji J.A., Biodun Jeyifo and Ebun Clark’s seminal works on the Travelling Theatre troupes are germane in explaining the significance of this stage to the development of Nigerian drama. Some of the troupes these writers investigated are the Alarinjo and the Ogunde’s Travelling Theatre. The Alarinjo’s art incorporates the real with the fantastical. Mythical elements and figures populate their works as they draw inspiration from the world of the supernaturals. Indeed, Ogunde’s first productions were based on Biblical themes and figures (The Garden of Eden). He moved away from this to the explorations of the supernatural, the ritualistic and the profoundly mystical in Aiye and Jaiyesimi (Clark and Bamiloye). His concern was not to dismiss the craft of witches, diviners and psychics but to expose their activities to human knowledge. Even before now, the art is incomprehensible and is made more terrifying by the depiction on stage. He seems to depict these in order to come to terms with the mysterious and its workings. His depiction suggests in the long run that witches are bad and evil. This trend has been appropriated by Nollywood in a way that is made more real with the aid of technology which is accessible to all and sundry.
The supernatural can also be located in the works of Wole Soyinka, J.P Clark-Bekederemo, Zulu Sofola and Ola Rotimi (all Nigeria’s first generation dramatists). They have made significant recourse to oral tradition. Elements of myths, fantasy and pride of place are given to the activities of gods and goddesses. In fact, in Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests, fantasy, the unreal and the real mix up in the world of men and ghosts. In these playwrights’ works, resolution of conflict is put at the doors of the gods.
This development is carried over to the works of Femi Osofisan especially in Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels and Many Colours Make the Thunder-King (see Afolayan). However, Osofisan has subverted the role of the gods by radically placing the destiny of man in man’s hand.It is therefore no surprise the preponderance of the mythic, the fantastical and the ritualistic in Nigerian Video films. There is a certain high display of rituals, terror, the “fetish” and the “heathenish” in Nigerian video films. Haynes lends credence to this assertion when he opines that “witchcraft as a weapon in domestic or neighbourly antagonism, mysterious fates that can only be elucidated by a diviner, selling one’s soul to a dark occult power for the sake of wealth – all are stock elements in the videos.” (3)
Many of the characters almost always find succour and solace from diviners. Thus, it can safely be inferred from this recurrence that Nigerians are very religious people who are deeply rooted in religion. Every problem to them is more spiritual than physical. This dimension can also be isolated in our literary drama. For example, Baba Fakunle is invited to “divine” the future of Odewale at birth in Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not Blame. Also, in his Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, the Ifa Priest warns the king against rash decisions that could lead to his downfall. Thus, the herbalists, in these plays, are not originally evil. Indeed J.P. Clark’s Song of a Goat shows Ebiere consulting the masseur in the case of her barrenness.
However, the depiction of “juju” and the supernatural in Nollywood is usually the expression of the diabolical. Charms and amulets are used for monstrous activities. Traditional priests, spiritualists and sorcerers (Babalawo and Dibia) are shown as evil, pandering to devilish and demonic acts where material and often human and blood sacrifices are done for money rituals or the elimination of a rival/competitor. Many of these priests are shown as clairvoyant, psychic and shrouded in an air of mystery. Does it mean that all Nigeria’s diviners are demonic while none favours the healing of his people? What then is the moral intent of these depictions? Issues of traditional African spirituality and religion are usually confused with evil. This is a view propagated by the colonial masters such that anything that the colonisers did not understand was termed “heathenish”. Many African traditional healers are equated with witchcraft and thus, the treatment of these issues is usually shallow, biased and not fully researched into. There is no in-depth portrayal that will show an intellectual engagement.
Abimbola Adelakun in an article entitled “Derided, Misrepresented, Ifa Priests Tell their Stories” elucidates on the lack of depth and bias with which traditional priests are portrayed in Nollywood. The depiction is one of misrepresentation. They are derided and because the writers do not understand the mysteries, the priests are seen as evil. Drawing from the experiences of renowned herbalists in the theatre in Nigeria such as Yemi Elebuibon, Peter Fatomilola and Fakuade Ajanaku, Adelakun submits that such portrayals are based on bias, ignorance and stereotyped prejudices.
In his opening paragraph, Adelakun paints the picture of a typical video film in Nigeria where there is a clash between traditional religion and western religion. The usual trend is that Christianity/Islam is shown as superior:
Lovers of Nigerian films will be familiar with this trend: a man or woman who wants to harm his/her neighbour goes to an Ifa priest for help. He/she is given a charm and the evil intention most likely succeeds. The victim suffers for a while and then a Christian pastor or Islamic cleric is invited to pray for him/her. The victim is delivered and everybody goes home rejoicing. For good effects, the “Babalawo” who carries out the evil is sent some spiritual missiles when prayers or Bible/Quran is hauled in his direction. He slumps, dies and the power of light which Christianity/Islam represents is seen as having triumphed over darkness and evil which the African traditional religion is seen as representing.
Kenneth Nnebue’s Living in Bondage, produced in 1992, started this trend in Nollywood. Many others, too numerous to mention, have caught up with this trend as if it is the norm. The famous Fadeyi Oloro is a character in this form. Live, young babies are pounded in mortals for rituals. A man uses his wife for blood money and her ghost will not let him be until he goes mad (Living in Bondage). So much is shown of the efficacy and potency of these rituals that these, again, might be called the norm in Nigeria. And to use Akinwumu Ishola’s words, “In whose image are these done?” Moradewun Adejunmobi complements this view when he asserts that:
African cultural heritage as presented in most Nigerian video films has few redeeming qualities and its insertion into the narrative often marks the beginning of a time of moral regression, torment and suffering for major characters. (109)
Akpovi-Esade, documents one of the negative impacts this portrayals has on Nigerians:
The National Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB had to step in when some Nigerians were murdered in a mob action in Accra, Ghana in the late 90s. Offence; Nigerians were accused of being responsible for the death of a little girl that had her head severed after she was murdered, presumably for ritual purposes. The conclusion reached by the angry Ghanaians was that Nigerians being ritualists as portrayed in our home videos must have been responsible for the death! (2003:66 quoted in Adediran Ademiju-Bepo)
The shrine becomes the site for these displays. The backcloth shows a skull on a black painting. The room itself is usually filled with odds and ends, medicine gourds, divination trays, beads, and “opele” stringed objects of divination, skulls hung on the walls and all sort of fetish materials are found in such locations. A typical shrine of Ogun is given to us in Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame – “the shrine of Ogun in its stark simplicity: two upright palm-tree fronds supporting horizontally a third; a lone machete is stuck in the ground within the frame” (1). In this simple environment is seen the paraphernalia of Ogun.
The world of the shrine is “the opaque but deadly world of the occult” (Okome 4). It is the world of the spirits where dead spirits can be called to life. With the aid of the diviner’s power, events in the future can also be revealed as if in a trance or in dream sequence, sometimes through a mirror or when such uninitiated’s eyes are washed by “special water”. Such eyes can behold the future even through a piece of white cloth on a wall. The world is one where ghomids and spirits talk usually to the diviners and occasionally to the uninitiated.
Wole Ogundele has referred to this world as “the world of the folktale”, a world of “fantasy in which animals and inanimate objects take on anthropomorphic attributes, in which human beings acquire nonhuman features and both interact on a more or less equal basis of existence. It is also the world of witches and wizards who may be benevolent or malevolent, depending on circumstances. But above all, it is a morally idealised world in which, eventually, good is rewarded and evil punished.” (101)
The character of the diviner is usually grotesque and fearful looking. If bald, he hangs on his necks several beads and small gourds of medicine (Ado Oloro). If otherwise, he covers his head with a cap. The cap itself is with caked blood and the end products of sacrifices that must have been rubbed on it. The priest is usually one-eyed; his body painted with white chalk. His cap has cowrie shells sewn onto it and he dances wildly as if possessed by the spirits. His waist may have palm fronds wrapped on to it and sometimes he is struck dead by lightning as we see in Christ in Me.
Apart from this physical appearance, the diviner is not just evil looking but accepts evil requests from his “clients” to eliminate people in return for money or material possessions. Co-wives want their rivals destroyed; criminals want to rob with impunity; politicians want to win election at all cost and people want to be rich overnight. All these people visit the diviner for spiritual help and he accedes to them all. To achieve success in their endeavours, these clients are requested to bring materials and human parts for rituals such that the society wakes up to see headless bodies at T-junctions, and bodies whose vital organs have been carefully severed on street corners. In most cases, as shown in Living in Bondage, these ritual activities work in favour of the character (but only for a while) so that the character becomes exceedingly rich. In other cases, the herbalists like Brother Jero in Wole Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero are mere charlatans who exploit the desperate situations of their client and swindle them.
The question this paper seeks to ask is whether this is the norm in Nigeria or Africa in general? Africanus Aveh in “The Rise of the Video Films Industry and its Projected Social Impact on Ghanaians” captures this essence clearly, when he states:
How authentic are these images? What about traditional priests as healers and custodians of knowledge about the medicinal powers of plant and tree species? What about their roles as counsellors on social problems? Don’t they also act as intermediaries between man and the Supreme Being and foretell looming dangers and how looming dangers and how to avert them? Our traditional rulers also function as priests as they sit nearer to the ancestors on the sacred stools that are their symbol of office. They also lead the community in ritual ceremonies during traditional festivals in communication with the ancestors and the gods. (128)
The processes of consultation with the gods are strange and weird to the uninitiated. The herbalists consult his gods through divination, incantatory chants and the panegyrics of the gods. He casts his strings on the board and reveals the cause and the solution to the problems of the seeker, sometimes without the seeker’s prior confession. In this case, the herbalist is shown as “omniscient”. In most cases, the seeker is tormented or possessed by evil spirits which must be banished through exorcism or appeased by sacrifices. To protect him/her, the seeker may also be initiated into a cult of witchcraft or the occult. These cults empower him through metaphysical means. The process of initiation is usually done in secret and may include blood oath or human sacrifice as depicted in Living in Bondage.
In the light of the above, our traditional priests are shown only as they destroy the lives of innocent people or aid criminal intent of evil minded people. But they are more than these in reality. The traditional priests are healers, diviners, conjurers, physicians, helpers, counsellors and above all, intermediaries between man and gods. They are also a repository of our culture as it is amazing their wealth of knowledge when, having no formal training ( in western institutions), they recount stories of the beginning of the Yoruba world, for example, and the feats of the gods/goddesses.
It is against this backdrop that this paper explores the use of supernatural elements in Onyemenzeuwa’s Witches in the Palace I and II and Onyemaobi’s Mothers’ Cult I and II. A random sampling of Nollywood film reveals this trend. Thus, our choice of these relatively unknown films is to validate the point that this issue is common in Nollywood films. By supernatural elements, we refer to all those strange features that are beyond the ordinary; “defamilarising” the ordinary; the use of “possession”, witches and witchcraft, sudden disappearance, fantastical figures, lightning to announce arrival, humans taking other peoples’ image and form, use of guttural voices, incantatory language, humans turning into cats, horror and thriller, among others. All these elements are appropriated to the fullest in the selected films. The fantastical is made more real with the aid of lighting, cosmetics and drumming. The eerie feeling of the mysterious is created and the young at heart become afraid, while the bold and courageous hold on to their seats.
SYNOPSIS OF WITCHES IN THE PALACE
The story revolves around the Pastor Newman who is tormented from the witches’ coven. His wife’s materialistic desire is exploited by a witch turned into a beautiful lady. The lady gives the pastor’s wife an expensive gift which she accepts innocently but it allows the giver access to her spiritual life in such a way that her only son is bitten by a python and dies in his sleep. The aim of this dastardly act is to cause disarray in the Pastor’s church such that he cannot function well and assist his brethren in time of need. The prince of the witches’ coven promises to unleash terror not just on the church but also in the land. He appears mysteriously in the palace, entering through a locked door and threatens to marry seven wives on the same day in the land. The first woman he picks is the King’s wife and other wives of important personalities in the land. To resist him, a Pastor is invited but his antics are foiled by the prince of the coven, so that could not help. The princess becomes possessed, ill and speaks in gibberish. She coils and straightens like a snake because she has been possessed by the spirit of the snake from the coven. At last, Pastor Newman prays and delivers her of her ‘possession’. Being possessed in this case, can be referred to as being bewitched.
SYNOPSIS OF MOTHERS’ CULT
The story line reveals Obidiya (Patience Ozokwor) and Achalugo (Ngozi Ezeonu) who are co-wives but are very poor. They sell all they had to visit a Babalawo in Ijebu-Igbo in order to make money rituals. These women are initiated into a cult. The diviner makes them choose between poverty for their sons’ generations or to be so wealthy beyond human comprehension. As it is, it is case of what the devil gives with one hand, he takes with the other. The children become very rich but their mothers live in abject poverty. They could not even spend out of the ritual money because disobedience spells doom for them. All they ask from the children are two cows every six months. Rumours are rife in the village of the evil these two women have done. The children become suspicious of their mothers especially when they refuse to visit an orthodox doctor. The women endure their shame and poverty until they cannot bear it any longer. One of them, Obidiya decides to buy the required cows for the ritual from the money from the children. The witches get angry because it is a taboo for the women to spend the ritual money. The two women are struck down by lightning, a terrible disease, and snakes coming out of their festering sores. All avenues for help from other Dibias and Babalawo cannot save them. The play does not end – and we are not allowed to see whether they die in their wretchedness or not. This ambivalent end leaves the resolution to our imagination.
The two films under study reveal an important issue regarding an aspect of Nollywood. They have made a significant recourse to the sacred in our society. However, this appropriation is an exposition of the mysterious, the fantastical and the ritualistic – a deliberate exploitation of that aspect that is untoward and does not glorify our culture. There is usually the exploitation of this power for evil. The sudden appearances of humans in space, humans turning to cats or possessed of evil spirits, or the spirits flying in broad daylight are not only strange but mysterious. The two films show witches and their craft in their full glory resplendent in their antics and tormenting naïve beings.
As earlier stated, the eerie becomes the natural thing and the aim is to reveal witchcraft at its height. It is believed that witches exist and are usually feared anywhere in the world and in history. They have been known to be stoned or burnt at the stakes. In fact, it is a viable subject of literary treatment. It has been shown as a phenomenon. There are two contrasting perspectives on this phenomenon. One is the traditional religious view which sees witchcraft as supernatural power that can be applied for good and for evil. It is an uncanny spiritual essence and it is usually attributed to women. Women are believed to be closer to nature and are more spiritual than men. This sexist and stereotypical designation sees women’s spiritual powers as evil because of course, most of this extra knowledge is always employed for evil and destruction through jealousy and hatred. Ogunsina corroborates this stereotypic view of women when he states that:
The woman is responsible for most of the evils in the society. She is cruel, treacherous, unreliable, obdurate, sharp-tongued, of low esteem … deceitful, gossiping and an agent of indiscipline (cited in Olujinmi 120)
Tendai Chari, writing about the “representation of women in selected Zimbabwean films and videos” laments the negative presentation of women’s power in African films. He states:
Another very faulty portrayal of the African society exists in the negative use of esoteric powers in the African films. These include the powers of magic, sorcery, witchcraft, herbalists, witchdoctors and others. As in every human society, the African continent has her share of the magical arts, spiritual powers and metaphysics. Such powers are real and not subjectible to scientific proofs or analysis. In traditional African societies, such powers are harnessed, controlled and used by cults of people for collective protection and improvement of the human society, to check misdemeanour both among the citizenry and among the citizenry and among rulers with tendency towards despotism” (172)
This quote is necessary to show that witchcraft has not always been used for evil especially when harnessed. It is also important because it helps to analyse its features – its real and yet cannot be proven or logically and scientifically examined.
The other view is the Christian. It sees all the activities of witches, wizards and familiar spirits as evil, fetish and heathenish. It goes all out to condemn it. This is the view held by Christians and there is a total and deliberate effort at stamping out the activities of the evil forces out of the church and the world. In fact, it is the view and purpose of Jesus Christ on earth, and many Christian – themed drama groups in Nigeria set out to propagate this view (see Mount Zion Agbara Nla).
William Shakespeare in Macbeth gives a vivid description of the witches’ physical apparel and features. This is captured in the words of Banquo:
So withered and so wild in their attire
In this play, the weird sisters show that they “can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not” (15). The three witches are shown as spirits with uncanny powers and in one way or another, they contributed to the fall of Macbeth. The other elements of the supernatural used in this play include the owl, which is the evil bird portending bad omen, the dagger appearing in the sky and lightning. All of these create the atmosphere of doom and the mysterious in the play.
We can locate the use of the supernatural in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. The eponymous character is said to have practised the dark arts. As a magician, he summons Mephostophilis who appears as a dragon to make a pact with the devil. The devil appears to him but Faustus considers him “too ugly to attend” to him. He tells him to “return an old Franciscan friar….” Faustus signs the deal of his soul for 24 years with his blood. With this power, Faustus travels the world, makes himself invisible, performing horror and conjuring up images. The morality at the end of these two plays is not lost on the audience as both Macbeth and Faustus pay the ultimate price for their over ambition and pride. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible equally explores the theme of the accusation and confession of witchcraft in the Puritan New England town of Salem, Massachusetts. Invariably, witchcraft is depicted as evil and an issue that can tarnish one’s reputation.
The witches in Witches in the Palace do not contribute any good thing to the lives of the people but only torment. They manipulate events and perpetuate evil machinations that lead to the discomfort, pain and agony of their victims. They “inject” their evil spirit into the life of a beautiful princess that even her parents run away from her. What we find in Nollywood is the preponderance of witchcraft and of blood-sucking witches who employ the powers to punish, destroy and annihilate others with sheer effrontery and impunity. People live in fear, helpless and hopeless.
In Mothers’ Cult, the two women in desperation get entangled in a cult that demands animal sacrifice every six months. If it was just that, it would have been understandable. But its conditions were sheer torture: they must not wear good clothes; they must not live in a good house (only in a mud house); they must not cry even when they are sick and above all they must not spend out of the money gained by the children from the sacrifice. The depiction of horror and thriller is not unique to the Nigerian film as it can be located in the Dracula film, the Frankenstein monster, Harry Potter series and the Merlin series. All these films show the horrific, mysterious and the weird. The replication of such in Nollywood reveals the similarities in global cultures. One interesting dimension to all of this is the fact that no matter how powerful these witches or mothers or cults are they usually bow at the altar of Christian pastors or orthodox medicine.
The use of the word “mothers” in Mothers’ Cult – (our mothers) Awon Iya – shows that mothers are special people. The birthing process symbolically confers significance on them in that they can make or mar the lives of their children. As used here, the two mothers consult the diviners in order to alleviate the sufferings of their sons’ lives. In this way, they are shown as caring and devoted. They could go to any length to see that their children’s lives are better off than theirs. A lot of suspense is created in the film because at the shrine, we are not told what the sacrifice would be. What we see is the upright rejection of the option by one of the women. She at first refuses to do it but after weighing the options, she agrees.
The two films examined in this paper have shown the activities and the esoteric powers of the witches and of cult activities. They represent Nollywood’s characteristic view of this phenomenon by demonstrating the use of fetish, rituals, sacrifices, magic and African metaphysics. They show that these extraordinary uncanny powers can be used for both good and evil. The recurring image projected in these films is that the powers are usually employed for evil. They are depicted as malevolent and mischievous. Many of these films decry witchcraft and its magic as gruesome. Their depiction of the gory and the macabre ultimately gives the country a bad image and it tends to agree with some of the worst European views of Africans as evil, diabolical and as cannibalistic. The tendency is towards the deliverance of the victims by Pentecostal Pastors and Orthodox Medicine. For an illustration, the “possessed” princess in Witches in the Palace is delivered by Pastor Newman after the Pastor returns from the mountain of prayers, prays and casts out the demon from her. Eventually, the witches are shown dying one after another by being struck by lightning. In Mothers’ Cult, the children of the two mothers insist they will not visit their mothers again unless the women agree to be cared for by an orthodox medical doctor. In the end, it seems that there is an acceptability of Christianity and its medical arm as the ultimate rescuer from the evils of witches, sorcerers and magic.
The didactic import in these two films appears to be in the fact that these esoteric powers are disgraced. Thus, the recourse to the supernatural elements is not for its own sake, it is to teach a lesson apart from help others to come to terms with this phenomenon. The over-reliance on the strange and the mysterious as seen in these two films is to elicit from the audience a response which can be captured in one word: nemesis. This law of retributive justice always catches up with the evil doers who patronise the witches’ coven or apply “juju” to make ritual money. While the depiction of this phenomenon is usually negative, the didactic essence is not lost on the audience. Even though, these films promote fear and helplessness, the resolution of the conflict reassures especially in the triumph of good over evil. It holds out hope in the form of Pentecostal Pastors and orthodox medicine as shown in the selected video films.
Martyrs of Vaccination: Kano 9
Martyrs of Vaccination: Kano 9
The news of the gruesome massacre of nine female health workers in Kano ona polio vaccination routine exercise on Friday, February 8, came as a greatshock to Nigerians and the rest of the civilized world. Who wouldn’t be shocked at such gruesomeness? They died in the line of duty, trying to free children of the crippling effect of the deadly polio virus. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet. However, dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s in Nigeria’s complicated political and religious minefield is not a piece of cake. Countless murder cases remain unresolved after decades including those of individuals like former Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Chief Bola Ige; and that of erudite Islamic scholar and preacher, Sheikh Ja’afar Adam.
The felling of those poor women in Kano marked the crescendo of an “age long debate” that has been ongoing- the controversy surrounding oral polio vaccination. However, this controversy is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. In 2003 the polio endemic was limited to only seven countries- Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Niger, Pakistan, and Somalia. With the exception of India, all other five countries are Muslim countries! Nigeria on the other hand has a large Muslim population. By 2013, all the other countries have successfully kicked out polio except Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In late 2012, an estimated twelve health workers in all, administering oral polio vaccines were killed in a series of attacks in Pakistan. This article intends to look at the issues from both a national and international perspective.
An avalanche of conspiracy theories and the appeal of its propagators simmer deep down in substantial Muslim communities, homes and hearts irrespective of education and exposure. In a region and country like Nigeria, religion and culture are the easiest galvanizing factors for or against any cause. Labeling a person, a thing or an idea as pro or anti- Islam generates widespread acceptance, rejection and sympathy or aversion. And so it has been with the polio vaccine thus far.
The origin of anti-polio vaccines like earlier vaccines for Smallpox, Chickenpox, Measles, Diphtheria, Tetanus and a host of others are as old as the development of vaccines themselves. The smallpox vaccine in England and the United States in the mid to late 1800s were met with fierce resistance and doubts and resulted in the birth of several anti-vaccination leagues.
In the article They Might As Well Brand Us: Working-Class Resistance to Compulsory Vaccination in Victorian England published in the “Social History of Medicine,” Oxford, Nadja Durbach writes: “…many people objected to vaccination because they believed it violated their personal liberty, a tension that worsened as the government developed mandatory vaccine policies.” Wolfe R M and Sharpe LK, in their article “Anti-vaccinationists past and present” published in the British Medical Journal point out as follows:
the end of the 19th century, smallpox outbreaks in the United States led
to vaccine campaigns and related anti-vaccine activity. The Anti
Vaccination Society of America was founded in 1879, following a visit to
America by leading British anti-vaccinationist William Tebb. Two other
leagues, the New England Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League (1882) and
the Anti-vaccination League of New York City (1885) followed. The
American anti-vaccinationists waged court battles to repeal vaccination
laws in several states including California, Illinois, and Wisconsin”.
“Toward the end of the 19th century, smallpox outbreaks in the United States led to vaccine campaigns and related anti-vaccine activity. The Anti Vaccination Society of America was founded in 1879, following a visit to America by leading British anti-vaccinationist William Tebb. Two other leagues, the New England Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League (1882) and the Anti-vaccination League of New York City (1885) followed. The American anti-vaccinationists waged court battles to repeal vaccination laws in several states including California, Illinois, and Wisconsin”.
Furthermore, the 1985 book: A Shot in the Dark written by Harris Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher [President and co-founder of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC)] is credited with having sparked the first modern popular concern about the risk of neurological damage from vaccines.
Interestingly, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US says that Most U.S. states, with the exception of West Virginia and Mississippi, allow individuals to apply for religious exemptions to mandatory vaccines based on their religious beliefs and objections. And in the US, such religious vaccine exemptions have risen in recent years.
In 1995, the Catholic Women’s League of the Philippines won a court order halting a UNICEF anti-tetanus program because the vaccine had been laced with B-hCG, which when given in a vaccine permanently causes women to be unable to sustain a pregnancy.
The website http://www.historyofvaccines.org/ from which I have drawn substantial information in writing this article states:
and apprehension about vaccination is fairly common, particularly among
several specific disenfranchised communities in the United States and
internationally. For these communities, the suspicion is best understood
in a social and historical context of inequality and mistrust. For
example, several studies have found that the legacy of racism in
medicine and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a clinical trial conducted
with African Americans who were denied appropriate treatment
opportunities, are key factors underlying African Americans’ distrust of
medical and public health interventions, including vaccination.
“Suspicion and apprehension about vaccination is fairly common, particularly among several specific disenfranchised communities in the United States and internationally. For these communities, the suspicion is best understood in a social and historical context of inequality and mistrust. For example, several studies have found that the legacy of racism in medicine and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a clinical trial conducted with African Americans who were denied appropriate treatment opportunities, are key factors underlying African Americans’ distrust of medical and public health interventions, including vaccination.
The website documents armed eviction of vaccinators in the following words:
“Despite vaccination’s successes against smallpox, opposition to vaccination continued through the 1920s, particularly against compulsory vaccination. In 1926, a group of health officers visited Georgetown, Delaware, to vaccinate the townspeople. A retired Army lieutenant and a city councilman led an armed mob to force them out, successfully preventing the vaccination attempt.”
Again the website says:
“One of the most striking instances of vaccine suspicion in Africa has concerned the polio vaccine. In 1999, British journalist Edward Hooper wrote The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV/AIDS. He speculated that the virus that causes AIDS transitioned from monkeys to humans via a polio vaccine. He argued that the polio vaccine was made from the cells of chimpanzees infected with the primate form of HIV (Simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV), which adapted in humans and caused disease; and that there were coincidences in the sites where the polio vaccine was first administered and where the first cases of HIV originated. Although scientists and medical scholars have provided plentiful evidence to discount Hooper’s ideas, media attention has sparked conspiracy theories and concerns globally.”
But in reality, the twelve women who were killed in Kano on that black Friday on February 8 died a long time before now. They had long been killed by the high dose of socio- cultural and religious conspiracy theorists. In the heydays of the Obasanjo Presidency, northern Nigerian states, following in the footsteps of Zamfara declared to run their states in accordance with the sharia. Riding on the deep religious sentiments of the masses, it was a priceless bait. But no sooner had the various governors settled in than they turned their backs on sharia. It was the classical duality of trophies – “Sharia” and “democracy”- yet truly giving none. They and their families were governed by a different set of laws and they decreed a different one entirely for the masses. In 2003, the then governor of Kano state, Ibrahim Shekarau, refused to allow the polio vaccines to be administered in his state. The BBC records show that renowned medical doctor and President-General of the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, (SCSN), Dr Ibrahim Datti Ahmed told the BBC back then that “the vaccine is part of a United States-led conspiracy to de-populate the developing world.” Media Trust records give him credit for having brought the vaccine contamination issue to public domain.
Islamic scholars also fell over themselves in pronouncing the vaccines unsafe for administration to Muslim children. The BBC quoted prominent,eloquent and charismatic Kano based Islamic scholar and preacher, Ibn Uthman as follows: "I am sceptical and apprehensive about the polio campaign given the desperation and the rush of the sponsors, who are all from the West." "They claim that the polio campaign is conceived out of love for our children”. "If they really love our children, why did they watch Bosnian children killed and 500,000 Iraqi children die of starvation and disease under an economic embargo?”. He further said: "The Pfizer drug test in 1996 is still on our minds. To a large extent, it shaped and strengthened my view on polio and other immunisation campaigns,"
In those turbulent years, Dr Haruna Kaita, then Dean of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical sciences was also at the forefront of the anti-polio vaccine group from the academia. Weekly Trust kept us abreast of the unfolding controversy. Dr Kaita it was who took samples of the vaccine to labs in India for analysis. Using WHO-recommended technologies like Gas Chromatography (GC) and Radio-Immuno assay, Dr Kaita, upon analysis, said he found evidence of serious contamination. “Some of the things we discovered in the vaccines are harmful, toxic; some have direct effects on the human reproductive system,” he said in an interview with Weekly Trust. “I and some other professional colleagues who are Indians who were in the Lab could not believe the discovery,” he said. A Nigerian government doctor tried to persuade him that the contaminants would have no bearing on human reproduction. “…I was surprised when one of the federal government doctors was telling me something contrary to what I have learned, studied, taught and is the common knowledge of all pharmaceutical scientists—that estrogen cannot induce an anti-fertility response in humans,” he said. “I found that argument very disturbing and ridiculous.”
On the other hand, another test conducted at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital by consultant physician, Abdulmumini Rafindadi and experts recruited by the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN) found them free of HIV and anti-fertility agents. Rafindadi told reporters that "The findings of a series of tests which we carried out on the polio vaccine at the instance of SCSN have proved that the vaccine is free of any anti-fertility agents or dangerous disease like HIV/AIDS. Twelve (12) samples of the oral polio vaccine were subjected to hormone assays to determine if they contained anti-fertility agents. Specifically the assays sought to determine the presence of Luteinising Hormone, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Prolactin, Progesterone, Testosterone, Oestradiol (E2) and Human Chrionic Gonadotropin in the vaccines. Professor Emeitus Umaru Shehu, foremost public health consultant who was the first chairman of the National Programme on Immunization (NPI), Professor Herbert Cocker, a pharmaceutical scientist and chemist from the University of Lagos and Dr. Rafindadi led the federal government delegation to South Africa in November 2003 with ninety-six (96) samples of the Oral Polio Vaccines (OPV). Professor Umaru Shehu dismissed Dr. Kaita's claims on the vaccines. "The best methods and equipment were used, and no such thing as Dr. Kaita described were found in the vaccines," he said. He added that the test carried out in the University of Pretoria corroborated earlier tests carried out on the vaccines in Nigeria, which found the vaccines safe and free of foreign substances. Sadly, the then minister of health, Professor Eyitayo Lambo could not reconcile the divergent positions of both groups thus jeopardizing the eradication of the polio epidemic in northern Nigeria.
Dr. David Heymann, a UN official, said that the vaccines sent to Nigeria were the same as vaccines used in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere, and that they have no effect on fertility. The vaccines are not produced in the U.S. Many are produced in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world he said.
Add this to the cases of America’s sterilization over 60,000 women, mostly African-Americans and Hispanics like Elaine Riddick in the 1920s, and several other clandestine CIA operations in several countries around the world, the position of the skeptics won’t be long lost. So, quite assuredly, it is very convenient for people to believe in the conspiracy theories against the backdrop of American antipathy. With such strong voices as Dr. Datti, Dr Kaita, Ibn Uthman and a host of other scholars with considerable influence who are considered as gatekeepers and “our eyes” in the affairs of the world - more or less seen as a chess game, the people definitely do listen to the trusted scholars than they would the Federal Government or the UN Secretary General.
In her book “The Politics of Polio in Northern Nigeria” Professor Elisha P. Renne reports an interview she conducted in 2006 where there is the suggestion that the malamai have a duty “to protect their subjects” by advising them to refuse vaccination. However, the questions that agitated my mind when I read those articles in 2003 and 2004, and later saw Dr Kaita in one of his “awareness” lectures in ABU., include the following:
How did Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar and other Muslim countries eradicate polio?
It has been about a decade now and my agitations have not abated. Sadly, innocent kids are being needlessly crippled while the controversy rages and the conspiracy theories thicken.