As our senators re-constitutionalise child marriage, By Ogechi Ekeanyanwu

Senator Ahmad Yerima

There is a need to vehemently protect the constitution against any form of injustice disguising as religion or culture.

It is important to separate religion from politics. It is true that most Nigerians are religious, but there is, certainly, morality besides religion. And with variety of beliefs out in the world, the focus should rather be on the greatest good, rather than pacifying personal religious beliefs and interpretations on the grounds that it is an untouchable, a sensitive issue.

This is why the Nigerian constitution should be secular, tending to all in the society, upholding the rights and dignity of every human person regardless of personal beliefs.

Now, the members of the National Assembly are currently voting what laws should go into what would become the newly revised constitution. A constitution they promised will be “participatory and all inclusive”.

They had said the “review process that will aim to address the concerns of all Nigerians.

“We intend to consult with all shades of opinion and interests. As the holders-in-trust of the peoples’ mandate, we know that achieving constitutional change requires peoples’ participation and we will not proceed to amend any section of the Constitution that does not meet the criteria of popular public support,” the lawmakers promised.

But at the centre of their debate, surprisingly so, is whether or not to outlaw child marriage. Of course, this is one of the malignant symptoms of patriarchy, as it places a girl child at the mercy of a man (paedophile) who finds her attractive enough to marry; talk about repulsion.

At the senate voting session, majority of the senators had passed a vote outlawing a clause that upholds child marriage..

The 1999 Nigerian constitution, a very tricky and contradictory one, provides for a secular system of governance, yet integrates Islamic law. It is incomprehensible how this is possible and what should suffice when one part of the constitution, say the secular, conflicts with another part, the Islamic.

This was the case, as former Zamfara State governor cum senator opposed strongly the removal of a clause that constituionalises girl child marriage under the guise of religion.

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According to him and rightly so (according to the Nigerian constitution), removing the clause will be tantamount to disregarding Islamic law, which the constitution incorporates and protects.

Note that this man married a 13-year-old Egyptian child in 2009 amid strong condemnations. Four years later, on the floor of the senate as a senator (who voted him into that position?) he still defends his actions, insisting that a girl child is of age once a man marries her.

Currently section 29 of the Nigerian constitution permits Nigerian adults – adult hood being pegged at 18 years according to the constitution- to forsake their citizenship if they wish.

In addition, the section considers a female who is married, to be considered to be of age. This is regardless of the female’s age.

While it is commendable that at first, the senators voted overwhelmingly to outlaw the clause, it is despicable, that they decided to revisit a second time, despite a Senate policy excluding repeat votes on clauses.

It again eludes comprehension how one man forced the senate to revisit an issue and forced them to a second round of voting, despite a stipulated policy against revisitation.

The second time around, the vote, with a 60-35 result in favour of outlawing the clause was not sufficient to be removed from the constitution.

The constitutional amendments require two thirds, 73 legislators, for a proposal to pass.

Mr. Yerima had his way gaining rights to marry more children since he is permitted to have more than one wife.

But should we sit and watch as Nigeria, supposedly a secular state, accedes to religion to the detriment of the girl child.

Is it not high time that natural justice and fairness take precedence? This is just one of the reasons feminists arise, with anti-feminists dismissing the advocacy for gender equality as trivial.

How is it that a constitution meant to protect Nigerians, in fact, puts a vulnerable group, girl child, at the mercy of paedophiles?

It will be the right time to remind the legislators to keep to their promise of making the constitution all inclusive. It will be the right time to stop excusing injustice in the guise of either religion or culture.

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