[Bamidele Upfront] Senator Yerima, child marriage, and woman right, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

The entire country must come together to save the North from itself.

So, the social media went agog over misrepresentation? Yes, it did.

At issue on the Senate floor last week, was the right of a woman to renounce citizenship of Nigeria; and at what age and marital status is the right conferred.

Section 29 of the 1979 Constitution allows a Nigerian citizen of “full age” (18years and older) to renounce his or her citizenship by declaration in a prescribed manner for the renunciation.

Nigerians on social media misread and misunderstood the Senate deliberations. It is not about child marriage, and the senate did not pass any law relating to child marriage.

The Senate Committee had planned to expunge subsection 4(b) of Section 29 from the constitution on the grounds that citizenship rights is not specific to gender. Subsection 4(b) provisions that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”.

Senator Yerima it was who championed and lobbied Northern Senators against the removal of the clause.

He argued that a girl, regardless of age; once married, assumes full mental capacity to renounce her citizenship. In his reasoning, deleting subsection 4(b) goes against Islamic tenets.

On social media, the misrepresentation and misunderstanding is understandable especially in an angry Nigeria seeking a cause célèbre as a platform to express bottled outrage.

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, facts are routinely picked up in a peripheral, semiconscious fashion leading to distortion of concrete information into cruder and lesser versions of the truth coloured by experiential reasoning.

The mass outrage is fed by suspicion of hidden motives by Yerima; a man well known for hunting underage girls across continents.

I bought into the outrage too, because anything Yerima rubs me raw and you do not have to add Sani to it.

The misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the Senate proceedings served us common enemies of Sani Yerima and advocates working against child marriage as well.

It brought the issue of child marriage to the front burner of our national conversation.

Sani Yerima, Zamfara’s former governor and hawker of political Sharia it was who married a 15 year old and divorced her at 17. He had encouraged her to drop out of school in favour of marriage only for him to divorce her 2 years later to marry a 13-year-old daughter of his Egyptian driver so as to remain within the four wives limit.

Senator Sani Yerima’s kind is what we get when we elect zealots into positions of leadership.

Our outrage should be about defining the age of marriage in the constitution and removal of the clause restraining the legislative arm from making laws on Muslim women and children.

Section 21 of the Child’s Rights Act of Nigeria forbids the marriage of persons below 18 years and prescribes a punishment of N500,000 or a 5 year jail term, or both to offenders. This law is in the books like many other laws of the land that are never enforced.

Women and child right advocates, lawyers and leaders of thought should lend their voices and advocacy powers to enforcing this law.

On their radar should be the removal of Item 61 of the Second Schedule, Part I in the Exclusive Legislative List.

This item states that the Legislative Powers include “The formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages other than marriages under Islamic law and Customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto”.

Across the land in poor, rural Nigeria, child marriage most often is the norm. Parents arrange their daughter’s marriage; this means one day, she is at home with her siblings and the next day she’s married off to a much older man; a complete stranger.

The girl-child in these rural communities is often pulled out of school, separated from her peers and married off.

The girl-child once married, is more likely to be a victim of domestic violence, a silent sufferer of sexual exploitation culminating in health complications associated with early sexual activity and childbearing.

In most parts of Nigeria, especially in the North, idealized love based on individual choice and free will is still considered outright foolishness and infantile inclinations of an immature mind.

Our outrage should be about making Nigeria honour International conventions that declares child marriage as a violation of human rights because it denies girls the right to decide when to marry and who to marry among others.

Islam does not permit marital relations before a girl is physically ready and the Holy Qur’an contains no specific age restrictions.

Masculinist predispositions tend to push men into interpreting feminine issues from perjured lenses of protecting honour and virginal innocence under the guise of religion.

Marriage and marital issues are the province of family and religious guidance and are subject to different interpretations. Widely accepted schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh) are not united on the age of marriage and definitely there is nothing on citizenship in Sharia.

The concept of nation state is a recent phenomenon as people moved across boundaries without recourse to citizenship until nation states were formed.

What we are witnessing is the continued use of religion to divide Nigerians by power hungry and irredeemable sexual perverts pretending to be religious conservatives.

Sani Yerima is only furthering his political career and advertising his appetite for under-age girls he desires to ravish. Well meaning Northern leaders should rise up and be counted. Identify with your people and do right by them for once!

Child marriage and Almajirai education system are the major reasons why the North has continued its decent into chaos.

It is urgent and important for well meaning political leaders in the North to device means to changing the social norms that serves to legitimize child marriage and undermine education.

Parents and communities should be educated and helped to understand the harm in child marriage, because poverty and lack of education are crucial factors underlying child marriage.

Some parents genuinely believes that marriage will advance their daughters, while some other parents see their daughters as a commodity to be auctioned off.

With this mindset, there is no doubt that child marriage stands in the way of healthy and productive lives for the girl child, it also threatens her health and well-being. It is noteworthy that the North continues to up-end Nigeria’s tiny improvements on maternal and infant mortality rates by registering increasing complications from underage pregnancy and childbirth.

In 2010, Nigeria ranks 10th in the world in maternal deaths and 15th in Infant Mortality Rate in 2012.

Puberty is widely acknowledged as the beginning of a gradual transition to a healthy and productive adulthood. For many girls disadvantaged by early marriage, puberty signals the march into inequality, truncating a critical growth period for learning and identity formation, which are essential in moulding a mature woman and complete human being.

For child brides, HIV and VVF remain potent threats to their existence, condemning them to a world of stigma and rejection.

Senators from the North should worry that their states continues to underperform the odds, we must not leave these political charlatans to their own devices.

The entire country must come together to save the North from itself.

We must not be intimidated, taking concrete steps towards ending child marriage will help Nigeria and it should be a high priority in our development plan.

The North has become the geographic “hotspot” for low education, child marriage, terrorism, fewer opportunities etc and these things have a way of feeding themselves.

Policies and programs are needed in the North to delay marriage, including raising the legal minimum age at marriage to 18, ensuring that girls go to school and attend beyond primary level, addressing underlying factors perpetuating the practice, identifying alternatives, creating opportunities for girls, and reaching out to communities to support these moves.

Girls need, education, health, social and life skills to become fully empowered citizens.

Most importantly, the Yerimas of this world should guard their loins instead of obsessing about a woman’s sexual parts.

The lesson for me in all of these is for what it is worth, the Internet in this country is not aiding learning, it is accelerating outrage and that is a good thing; in a twisted kind of way.

Kindly follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo

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