The enduring practice of circumcision

Though many people have increasingly embraced the idea of circumcision of their male children in the hospitals nowadays, it is still believed that some, especially those in the rural communities, still do this at various traditional homes where crude items are used. TADE MAKINDE paid a visit to some of the practitioners who reveal that they are still in business as their trade is growing in leaps and bounds.


IN the days gone by, especially in this part of the world, it was a vocation well-respected in the society. Every male child – and sometimes female child – delivered in the community has to be circumcised according to cultural dictates. In the South West , they are known as oloola. Everybody knows the oloola’s compound, due to its unique nature.

The vocation is family-based as there are families whose major profession is carrying out circumcisions on children. Their tools of the trade are simple metal objects which they had been using down the ages. However, with improvements in the practice of modern medicine, compared with the seemingly crude nature of their implements, enlightened people began to shun the oloolas, preferring instead to circumcise their baby boys in the hospitals.

Gradually, they began to lose their customer base. To make matters worse, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Non-Governmental Organizations began to frown on circumcision of both male and female children by these practitoners. That was when the bubble began to burst and governments began to impress it on the practitioners to begin to look elsewhere for another means of livelihood and dump the profession which has sustained their families for ages.

While some had heeded the call by finding other vocations, others believe they will be doing their forefathers a disservice to abandon the profession which had earned them social recognition.

Chief Abobade Matthew, who has been in the business for about three decades, is one of those who have refused to let go. In fact, according to him, he still has a good number of clients. According to him, the economic recession has not affected his job in any way.

“Recession doesn’t stop people from having children and parents must circumcise their kids for hygienic and even religious injunctions,” he said.

At a meeting where Sunday Tribune spoke with him and some others, Chief Matthew disclosed that he had carried out two circumcisions before coming for the meeting, just as he carried out four sessions of circumcision the previous day and would attend to two other clients immediately after the meeting.

“They still come. Though ours is not a job we do strictly for the money, because it was handed over to us by our forefathers, what we eventually make is nothing compared to what those who we taught the art and act of circumcision now make. We do this for humanity, but all because some are saying they studied it at a university or school of technology, we are suddenly seen as no-do-gooders, but our accusers are only about the money,” Mathew said.

A woman oloola, Dasola Humani, is still much into the job as she carried out a circumcision exercise a day before. “I have customers to attend to after this meeting. My mother taught me how to do this and this is what we do for a living, though we do it at a minimal fee. It is a family inheritance, a Yoruba thing and we don’t teach outsiders unless you are from an oloola family,” she said.

Shefiu, another practitioner, also told Sunday Tribune that the recession has not stopped patronage from mothers who appreciate what oloolas do.

“As cheap as we come, many still come to us because they trust us to do better and permanent jobs than those at hospitals. For as little as N2,000, we would work. For anything above N10,000, it means that the procedure will require more than one practitioner. Many still come to us despite the recession. I did two circumcisions yesterday (recently). I had done one before I came here. Those mothers who can’t afford the high hospital bills come to us. Even the rich come. We are much in business because we don’t do this for the money,” Shefiu said.

While berating the argument by the WHO, the NGOs and others over the ‘crude and unsterilised’ implements used by the oloolas which are believed could transmit HIV/AIDS and other diseases, Matthew said it is a totally false assertion.

“You’ve heard it said that omo kiiku lowo onikola, (a child does not die at the hands of an oloola) but rather, it is in the hands of these people who are scheming to send us out of this business. Let them prove to the world where the highest death rates from circumcision are recorded – our homes or their hospitals?

“We asked those with marks on their faces if they had HIV. None of them said anything affirmative. But try and investigate how many children have contracted anything at hospitals and you will marvel.

“If the so-called professors can come from major teaching hospitals to seek our help, why have they not deemed it fit to begin courses on circumcision? If they do this, it can probably help in modifying, not change, what we do and how we do it. They use our tools, but it’s a modified version; yet they call us archaic.”

Still on the issue of sterilization of equipment a local circumciser said: Simply called Abobade, said: “We have our ways of sterilising tools. We use fruits, snails, etc. Excretions from them are medicinally useful. We particularly use charcoal and osun (camwood) among many other natural products and by-products. They are antiseptic in nature and are good for cleansing wounds.”

































Secretary of Egbe Oloola since 1993, who wants to be identified simply as Hamzat, and was also at the meeting with UNESCO, had thought the foreigners and their Nigerian partners really wanted to learn one or two things from the oloolas, “not knowing that they were all about the propaganda. They have come from behind to take what is ours. This is a Yoruba traditional job. We will not allow it to die any legislative death,” he asserted.

Moshupa claimed that many circumcision errors committed by trained medical doctors had been corrected by the oloolas and that there are over 100 ways known to oloolas on circumcision and healing of any wound.

“We gave them just two at UCH and they have yet to perfect it. How do I know this? They keep inviting us there to assist them when things go wrong. This much they never tell the public,” the oloola who is also an undergraduate added.

However, there is an assumption that the recent upsurge of nymphomania among ladies between the ages of 15 and 18 in the country should be blamed on the non-circumcision of girls in the past two decades. A local circumciser, Baba Adele, said a lady that has not been cut would play with herself often because “her private parts will itch her often.”

“We hear reports that these days, it is no big deal for a lady to have sex with two or even three men at the same time. Such ladies were not cut on time. These days, it is not uncommon to see two to six-year old girls ‘fingering’ themselves. At such ages, what does a girl know about what her private part should be used for? But the thing will itch her. Grown-ups who notice this can lure such girls and defile them. The little girl will keep going back to the man to help her ease the itching. Most parents who claim to be educated risk a lot if their daughters are not cut until it is too late,” he warned.

Shehu Ogunbamiji, Otun Baale Oloola lending his voice to the issue of the bill sponsored to send oloolas out of business added that “politicians who believe in what we do, and who are in the House of Assembly, will not allow the bill to see the light of the day.  There are people in the House who cherish tradition and won’t just fold their arms and watch tradition eradicated by desperate doctors, NGOs and other agencies.”

But supposing the bill against local circumcision in the National Assembly sailed through what will become the lot of the oloolas? Chief Abobade does not see this happening. Bill or no bill, we don’t see this tradition dying because some people are out to do the bidding of WHO, UN, etc. Only God can reward us because what we do is not for money but for humanity. And if all fails, we believe the people will stand up themselves and fight for what they believe is right.”

Many oloolas are not happy that government is even in the vanguard of closing down their business though they do not make a fortune from it. The practitioners for example are aware that in Oyo State, there is a subtle attempt by the government to turn them into farmers. Among others, an oloola, Nafiu Mashopa, confirmed that the practitioners are labelled as lazy lots who would do better on the farms.

“For a while now, the government has been telling people that what we do is wrong and that they are ready to employ us as farmers and therefore, people should plead with us to take the government’s offer for our people not to go hungry I heard it on the radio. Can you believe that? Who is that governor, doctor or who you may be, who was never circumcised?

“Those running the jingle were circumcised by traditional practitioners. Those pushing the bill were traditionally circumcised. Those doctors at UCH, LUTH and wherever, were trained by our forefathers. Now, they want the world to believe that we are not good at what we do. This is a blatant lie,” Mashopa said.

Chief Abobade Mathew and Mrs Dasola Humani
Chief Abobade Mathew and Mrs Dasola Humani

The situation in Oyo State is even more bearable compared to what is being done in Abuja to totally eradicate circumcision by local practitioners.

“We know that legislative efforts are now being made in the National Assembly to take our means of livelihood away from us permanently. We will resist it,” Alhaji Kareem Adetunji, Baale oloola, leader of the practitioners in Ibadan, said.

The traditionalists had suspected something was cooking when they were invited to a meeting at Adeoyo Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo state by UNESCO in 2014. At the venue, the organisers brought adires emblazoned with anti-female circumcision slogans and told them to put it on.

“We didn’t know it was all for ‘show,’ only for us to be hearing now that there are attempts to pass a bill in the National Association that will prohibit circumcision at homes,” he said.

This was a few years after the oloolas verbally agreed with some stakeholders that they would stop female circumcision.

Mashopa, who said that he learnt the practice from his father in 1988, and took over his business when he passed on years ago, was among those who attended that meeting. He remembered that those at the meeting never agreed on a lot of things with the government.

“When I asked if they were not going to come in the near future to ask us to stop male circumcision as they had done with female circumcision, none of them, including the professors, doctors, government officials and oyinbos, could answer us,” he said.

That was when the traditionalists became suspicious that something was going on, but they couldn’t put a finger on it. Be that as it may, the members shifted grounds with government by agreeing to stop female circumcision.

“We believed that if they condemned our approach to female circumcision, nothing would stop them from asking that we stop even male circumcision in the near future. So, we did not sign any formal agreement with anybody. All we had, even on female circumcision, was an oral understanding. It was not written, but we didn’t say we wouldn’t do male circumcision,” the young man added.

“They asked us to stop female circumcision, but till date, they can’t do anything medically about lakiribotos (hermaphrodites). They have no case if they continue to raise the issue of tribal marks because we don’t do that anymore. It’s been decades now since the oloolas marked anyone on the face. General Sani Abacha called us in the 90s and told us to stop it. We agreed with him.

Hamzat while also contributing said: “As regards lakiribotos, the first error they commit is that of guess work. They don’t easily know whether it is the male or female organ that should be cut for the other. Here, a simple urine test is what we carry out. We wait for the victim to urinate. The opening that passes the most liquid is what we spare and we cut the other. You don’t determine what to operate on on its face value. Because someone looks like a male does not mean that the body makeup will fit a male genital. The dominant genital when the person urinates, not the face, determines the genital that will be spared for the other. Even if there are medical solutions to lakiribotos, they are never perfect. They (medical practitioners) still consult us,” he said.

Uneducated as the oloolas were thought to be in the 40s, but understanding the power in numbers and the registration of its members with the national agency, in July 1956, they registered the Egbe Oloola. The office first operated in Ibadan and its members have since grown to over 20,000 practitioners.

With this singular act of registration, the members believe they had done what was expected of them before they could carry out their traditional duties unencumbered and Alhaji Adetunji believes that recent effort to muzzle them, for medical practitioners to rise, would end up in futility because it’s an ancestral job.