Ending violence against albinos
Nigeria and Tanzania are two African countries that share a lot in common. However, located in the Western and Eastern axis of the sub-region respectively, the two countries equally differ, one from the other in a number of ways.
Tanzanians like Nigerians are blacks. In both countries, Christianity and Islam are the two predominant religion professed by their citizens. Nevertheless, a certain population of people in the two countries equally subscribe to African traditional religion. A large number of Christians in Nigeria and Tanzania are represented in the Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran or Seventh – day Adventist, the Pentecostals, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox Christians. While in the Muslim faith, many Muslim Tanzanians are Sunni. Others are of Ibadi, Shia, Ahmadiyya, Bohora, and Sufi. This classification is equally practiced in Nigeria. The remainders of the population in both countries are Hindus, Buddhists, Shango worshipers, animists among others.
Some of the values not shared in common by these countries include cultural practices and lifestyle. Also, whereas in Tanzania the women population outnumbers that of the men, in Nigeria, the story is different. Latest estimates captured from the 2012 census in Tanzania put the female population at a little over 51%, while the male population was 49%. In Nigeria, new population estimates indicate that there are 50.6% males while females are 49.4%. This is even as they differ in total population size, with Nigeria nearing 180 million, and Tanzania averaging 50 million plus. While life expectancy in Tanzania is put at 60.85 years, higher than that of Nigeria which is 52.62 years, there are over 100 different languages spoken in Tanzania by 125 ethnic entities. But in Nigeria, the number is higher. There are over 400 ethnic groups that speak no less than 500 languages or may be more.
In the midst of mixed bag of similarities and dissimilarities between the two countries, Nigeria and Tanzania are currently confronted by a common socio-cultural rot – hostilities and murder of albinos for ritual purposes. Incidentally, this negative practice has become more prevalent in the two countries than anywhere else in the African continent.
Under circumstances shrouded in mystery, some practitioners of sorcery believe that when an albino is killed, it unlocks good fortune. This is purely a voodoo myth. It is also commonly assumed under a myth that the strand of hair, nails or general body parts of an albino can attract riches. Even popular among Tanzanian miners is the parochial belief that body parts of an albino can help in discovery of precious gems hidden away from human eyes. The story is the same with certain Tanzanian fishermen who share the thinking that body parts of an albino would bring bountiful catch. These views are unfounded and exist only among sorcerers, voodoo practitioners and the like.
Worried about this growing trend in Nigeria and determined to raise public awareness, Founder of The Albino Foundation, Jake Epelle has launched series of campaigns to end the practice. One of his recent efforts, in addition to continuing advocacy against discriminatory practices meted out on albinos is cross-border collaboration with the Tanzania government.
Epelle believes that cooperation with Tanzania is needful considering the fact that the government of Tanzanian has recently taken stringent measures to tackle albino killings for rituals or otherwise. No fewer than 133 cases involving suspected ritual killers in Tanzania are currently in court. Also, in Tanzania alone, more than 50 albinos have been murdered since 2007 till date for suspected ritual reasons.
To give a head start to the cross-border collaboration, Jake Epelle explained the rationale for taking campaigns against negative practices and killings of albinos to the door step of Tanzanian envoy in Nigeria. He said the initiative is to tap into high level government intervention and collaboration, especially since the Tanzanian government had set precedence in jailing offenders.
“The Albino Foundation wants to strengthen ties between Nigeria and Tanzania in mitigating the plights and challenges faced by persons with albinism in Tanzania and Nigeria. You will recall that persons with albinism in Tanzania have in recent times faced brutal killings for money rituals by ‘witch doctors’. We understand that the Tanzania government is trying hard to halt the trend but it unfortunately continues unabated. We want to see how we can collaborate with them in order to bring an end to all forms of negative practices against the albinos”, he said.
Tanzanian High Commissioner to Nigeria, His Excellency Daniel Ole Njoolay who recently hosted the Albino Foundation, explained that the path toed by the Foundation was a worthy course which deserved commendation. He traced the history of ritual killings of albinos in Tanzania to 2007 or thereabout, saying the practice is completely alien to his countrymen.
“The killing of albinos in my country is condemned in no uncertain terms, just as we frown at the persecution of any kind going on in Tanzania against albino. It is completely novel to us. It probably started in 2007 and caught up like bush fire since then. It is all about black magic, juju men and sorcerers who are after money. Myth has it that the hair or parts of an albino would make you rich fast. And that for miners, they will discover mines, while fishermen believe it will make them catch lots of fishes”, he said.
According to Njoolay, the practice of hostilities and killings of albinos is most common in only four out of the total of 30 regions in Tanzania. He equally affirmed that such crime against albinos were more rampant in the northern and parts of central regions of his country. “It is the practice of paganism that is causing a lot of problems. And this problem we are talking about exists only in four or five regions. There are about 30 regions in Tanzania. Northern and Central Tanzania are places where the highest cases of albino killings or persecutions have been reported”, he stated.
However, Ole Njoolay gave kudos to his home government for frontally addressing the malaise, insisting that the Government of Tanzania was committed to ending all forms of hostilities and segregation against albinos in his country.
His words: “Our Prime Minister has issued a directive to all governors to take steps in curbing albino killings and harassment. In 2008, the President nominated an albino, Lady MsAlshaimarKweggier as Member of Parliament (MP) just to pass the message that albinos are normal human beings like you and I. In 2009 and in 2011, 11 culprits were sentenced to death after being found guilty. More recently, a directive was issued to Regional Police Commanders (RPCs) to crack down on all juju men and sorcerers”.
As part of response to Tanzanian government’s positive body language to end discrimination and all forms of inhuman treatment against albinos, a number of Non-Governmental Organizations have been formed to protect the rights of albinos. They include Tanzania Albino Center (TAC), Assisting Children in Need (ACN), Tanzania Albino Society Group, INATOSHA (Enough is Enough), among others.
Meanwhile, Jake Epelle has expressed the resolve to continue to fight for the recognition of rights of the albino child, even to the abolition of all harmful practices meted out on them in the country. He said although the rate of killings of albinos has been largely unreported by the media in Nigeria, it was nevertheless secretly ongoing. He affirmed that the dignity of the over five million albinos in Nigeria was non-negotiable and a course for which the Albino Foundation will continue to fight for.
He said his planned visit to Tanzania later this year would be used to open cross-border collaboration with albinos in Nigeria and those in that country, together with creating links with Non-Governmental Organizations who focus on albino rights and well-being. Epelle is expected to be in Tanzania to explore diplomatic channels in dealing a final blow on all forms of hostilities against albinos.
Fighting discriminatory practices currently meted out on albinos in Nigeria would no doubt require a concerted effort by state and non-state players alike. Nigeria needs to borrow a leaf from Tanzania where the government has come out in clear terms to condemn all forms of inimical treatment of albinos in public institutions and elsewhere.
Not only have life imprisonment sentences been slammed on convicts for ritual killings of albinos in Tanzania, the government has taken deliberate steps to uphold rights and dignity of albinos through their appointment into state and federal cabinet. Apparently, according people with albinism, rights and privileges given to non-albinos, require conscious re-orientation of the populace. This crusade has to be champion by state actors, religious bodies as well as by civil society interventions and campaign. In summary, albinos are full-fledged humans who deserve equal opportunity as others.