Academic (Sort of) / Essays / Satiric / The Pontifical Papers

Now That Your Ten Year Old Girl Is Of Marriageable Age | An Appraisal by Ayo Sogunro

Fighting the Good Fight
Mass hysteria is a wonderful thing to experience in a lifetime. That overwhelming sense of being a part of a larger emotion is one of the traits that particularize the human as a social animal. You will find it in prayer grounds, election rallies, football matches and popular protests. I have been a consistent partaker of that last category, considering myself a “barricade mounter” of sorts. However, sometimes, it is necessary to step back from the alluring hysteria and examine an issue with a dispassionately critical perspective, and maybe even—protest against the protests, not because the intentions are wrong, but because the direction is incorrect. The current problem and its attendant emotions is one of such incorrect directions.

The Hue and Cry
I have assumed that, at the time you are reading this, you are acquainted with the current social palaver manifesting in the form of a general outrage at the seemingly support of female child marriages by some not-quite-honourable members of the Nigerian Senate. At first blush, the very proposition of such an idea should propel you to exclaim in horror at the pedophilic tendencies of the average lawmaker. However, a proper understanding of the set of circumstances that led to—for want of a better word—this palaver, will show just how complicated the circumstances are. I will, however attempt to discuss the problem as briefly as possible.

The Nature of the Problem
In discussing citizenship issues, a generally unremarkable provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (“CFRN” for short), the law states that, should you be inclined towards that idea, you have to be of “full age” to be able to renounce your citizenship of Nigeria.  “Full age”, not being a phrase whose specification is universally agreed on, the CFRN in it’s wisdom set the bar at 18 years of age—with a condition: a married woman (whether or not she has attained said 18 years, the provision could have added) will be considered (“deemed” was the word used) to be of full age. This provision, along with the rest of the CFRN, was drafted and set into law in 1999—and life went on as usual.

The Entertaining Part
Life would have continued on its journey, but for an attempt a few days ago, by the Senate, for some undisclosed rationale, to remove this “married woman” addendum from the CFRN as part of the perennial and often ignored charade of constitutional amendment. At the first roll of the voting dice, the Senate obtained the two-thirds majority vote (compulsorily required for an addition to, or deletion from the CFRN), the addendum was deleted and the worthy members moved on to other unworthy matters. Again, life would have progressed uneventfully, but for the sudden lightbulb that went off in Mr. Sani Yerima’s head on the deletion of this “married woman” provision

Yerima’s Meddlesome Interloping
You may recall that our main antagonist, Yerima, had had the unprecedented effrontery to publicly marry a girl, who chronologically, was nearer to 10 years than 20. Somehow, Yerima made a tenuous connection between the “full age” addendum in the CFRN and Islamic matrimonial principles in general and his own peculiar lifestyle in particular. Never too slow to exert his opinion over others, he forcefully required that, unconventionally, the Senate should take a vote again over this matter that had already been decided.

Somehow convinced by Yerima’s dubious argument, the Senate President rolled the dice a second time, and even though the majority of the lawmakers voted again to delete the addendum, the required two-thirds magic was not performed—possibly because some Senators had, understandably, washed their hands off the proceedings in disgust at this waste of taxpayer time. How and why the voting pattern changed at this second round may remain a mystery, but the result was the continued retention of the “married woman” provision.

The Alternative Scenario
Now, by virtue of Yerima’s agony over the proposed deletion, it is generally assumed that this provision was what gave him permission to indulge in his proclivity. But, sentiments discarded, what is the importance of this provision, in the first place? Let me explain through this roughly drawn up scenario. Take an Egyptian girl, fourteen years of age, forcefully handed over in marriage to an older man, let’s say a Nigerian. Preferably, our Nigerian suitor is a former state governor with plenty of cash for the girl’s parents and plenty of influence to silence critics. By general law, our Egyptian girl attains Nigerian citizenship as soon as she marries our man. However, she lives a life she hates, this barely mature girl, and every night she plots an escape from her horrible marriage.

Within a year, she manages to execute her plans, and she escapes to the United Kingdom, far from her husband’s grubby fingers. But, fifteen years and alone in the UK is not joke, and the English authorities are not too kindly disposed to this funny state of affairs. The English want to send her back to Nigeria. She pleads with them that she’s not a Nigerian. Well, your husband says you are, they reply her. Then she says, No! No! I renounce my Nigerian citizenship. Take me to Egypt, instead. She begs.

Now, the white folks are confused. So they call up their favourite Nigerian lawyer: You can only renounce citizenship if you’re 18, the lawyer says clearly. Sorry, girl, they tell her. You can’t renounce Nigeria, till you’re of full age. Now, off you go.

And so they get ready to bundle her back to Nigerians. To the waiting whips of her grubby husband.   Wait! The lawyer calls back on the phone. There’s an addendum, he explains, as a married woman, she’s deemed to be of full age and she’s therefore free to renounce her citizenship. She doesn’t have to go back to Nigeria, it’s right there in the law.

Here’s The Sense In That
What the law tries to do is simple: it tries to give a woman who finds herself in an early marriage the same rights and freedom as a person of “full age”. This is possibly, so that she does not lose both ways—being married like and adult and yet being denied the freedom rights of an adult. This, you will agree is a noble intention. However, like all noble intentions, this one also paves the broad road to hell, and the law, inadvertently, gives the nod of legal recognition to child marriages. Maybe this was a deliberate ambiguity; it’s impossible to say without exploring the mind of the drafters. However, at the very least, it is a case of terrible drafting.

One thing is clear, though, there is no purported Islamic, Christian or customary right to marry young girls being protected or granted through that provision. In fact, the girl in question does not have to be Muslim or belong to any custom to rely on its freedom. For Yerima to appropriate the addendum to the protection of the Islamic faith is therefore, gross ignorance at best, calculated misrepresentation at worst.

Bad Company and Good Laws
But Yerima relied on it—and this has made all the difference. His reliance on, and the interpretation he decided to draw from the provision—that is, that the law allows him to marry young girls—is simply unfortunate. The Nigerian law protected no such rights, but it was too late. The sensational media picked the previously innocent provision, widened its loophole, attacked it as a tool of Yerima and forever ruined its reputation.

The Moral of The Story
But what is the lesson in all these? This is the part that has mostly been overlooked by the outraged Nigerians: that we have a legislature that does not know its own laws. Let us count the mishaps of our fumbling lawmakers: First, a legal provision that ought to protect girls forced into early marriages was badly drafted to resemble an approval of early marriages; Second, ignorant of its purpose, the Senate tried to delete this legal provision, instead of refining it to be clearer in intent; Third, and worst, the Senate allowed a self-serving Yerima to hijack the law and declare it as a protection of pedophiliac intents, even allowing him to drag his religion into the fray, when he should have been quieted and educated.

In Conclusion
We may call for the removal of the provision, ambiguity and all, but we would only succeed in throwing away the baby with the putrid water. Deleting the provision will not stop Yerima and his type—they will merely find some other excuse—in fact, a deletion will only deprive victims of child marriages from claiming certain rights. Public outrage should be geared, therefore, at refining the legal provision so that its true intent is clear, imposing stiff sanctions on people who commit pedophilia in the name of religion or custom, and setting a legal limit for the consensual consummation of any betrothal or marriage. Only then, would our current mass hysteria be properly channeled, and possibly effected.

Follow @ayosogunro on twitter where he tries to unknot several problems.

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17 thoughts on “Now That Your Ten Year Old Girl Is Of Marriageable Age | An Appraisal by Ayo Sogunro

  1. Ayo,

    While I agree with most of your postulations, your conclusion/suggestions are untenable.

    The assertion that the offending provision was designed to protect victims of forced marriages is rather simplistic or at best speculative. This is because, as you conceded, there’s no way to ascertain the true desire of the law drafters and, more fundamentally, how come same courtesy is not extended to these victims in terms of voting and exercise other age-limited civil rights by same Constitution?

    Also, the provision is about Nigerian citizenship and renunciation thereof, bringing an under-age Egyptian into the discourse appears somewhat disingenuous.

    Further, as a lawyer, you know that constitutions merely set the framework for the legal system, leaving other legislations to worry about the details. Don’t you therefore think that proscription of paedophilia and prescription of marital age should be a matter for the applicable penal and marriage legislations?

    While some of the arguments in the current debate flow from misinformation or sheer ignorance, I think the provision is better esponged from the Constitution. Mr Yerima and his ilk should be dealt with by the states’ criminal laws as appropriate. The NASS allegedly embarked on nationwide consultations and weighed public opinion before recommending specific provisions for amendment/deletion, I don’t see why they should jettison all that and shit on their own rules of procedure simply for an incongruous objection by a practising paedophile

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  2. Thanks for using this medium to clarify these issues. I tried my best with some tweets earlier today but I am not as prolific :). I hope we can carry on with the awareness, which is a good aspect of this outrage but use it in a better way.

    Let us channel this new found energy and awareness to push for amendment in the marriage act to categorically make marrying a child (under 18) illegal and also make sure the Child Right Acts (2003) is adopted by all the states in Nigeria.

    Thanks a lot for taking time to share this.

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  3. A. CHILD RIGHTS ACT 2003

    The paper, as has been indicated, will focus on only some provisions of the Child Rights Act and these are: (i) the legal age of marriage and betrothal, maintenance, education, family court, child justice system and administration.
    I) Legal Age of Marriage

    The Act regards the fixing of the legal age of marriage and betrothal as protection of the rights of a child.

    The Act fixed the minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls at 18 years and for the first time, any marriage contracted before the child attains that age, is rendered null and void.

    Presently, the legal age of marriage in Nigeria is uncertain. The Nigerian Marriage Act merely provides that parental consent is necessary for the statutory marriage of a person under the age of 21 years. However if a marriage takes place without such consent, the marriage does not become null and void but remains valid.

    The Matrimonial Causes Act 19706 does not help either. It only
    provides in section 3 that for a marriage to be valid under the Marriage Act, the child must be of marriageable age but specifies no particular age.

    In this state of confusion arguments do spring up that the legal age of marriage in Nigeria can only be determined by reference to the English common law which set the age of 12 for girls and 14 for boys. This situation indeed promotes child marriage and its attendant evils…

    X) Constitutional Issues and Other Problems Affecting Implementation

    It is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that empowers the National Assembly to make laws for the Federation of Nigeria. The National Assembly has the power to legislate exclusively on matters in the Exclusive Legislative List. It also has the power to legislate on matters in the Concurrent list.

    Any matter not contained in the Exclusive and Concurrent Lists is outside its legislative competence. Only the State Assemblies can legislate on such matters said to be in the Residuary List.

    The issue of Child Rights is not in the Exclusive List of the Constitution neither is it included in the Concurrent List. It therefore follows that the National Assembly which enacted the Child Rights Act lacked the competence to enact a Law that will be applicable to the whole country and consequently that Act is applicable only to the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.

    However the Act is relevant to the extent that it has set the standard or the model for the States to follow when enacting their own Child Rights Laws. So far, only five States, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Ebonyi and Plateau have enacted Laws, similar in content and effect to the Child Rights Act. Some States are in the process of making their own Laws. The problem is that where a State refuses or fails to make this law nothing can be done about it since the matter is a state issue. Indeed, it is only pressure to comply, local and international, that may be used against such a State.

    Another perceived problem relates to the age of marriage for boys and girls, particularly for girls. The Child Rights Act set it at 18 years but it is still a fact that in Nigeria today, registration of birth is not taken seriously despite the Birth, Death, etc. (Compulsory Registration) Act 1992, so that many children born in the country, especially in the rural areas, have no birth records. This makes it difficult to prove with ease, the age of a person. The alternative way which may involve medical or scientific tests is not only expensive but time wasting. Moreover planning and budgeting becomes more difficult when the size or number of children is unknown.

    Furthermore it appears that nothing can be done to any state which decides to set its age of marriage at 12 or 13 years in its Child Rights Law. The age set by the Law can only apply to customary and Islamic marriages and not to statutory marriages. Here again, it is only the pressure to comply, that can be used against any State in that position.

    Regarding statutory marriage, there is also no specified age of marriage, and any age set by the Child Rights Law cannot apply to it. In common law, ages of 12 and 14 years have been argued to be the ages of marriage for girls and boys respectively, under the statute. This shows the need to amend the Marriage Act by setting the age of marriage at 18 years…

    XI) Suggestions Regarding the Child Rights Act

    There can be no better way forward than to suggest that the following be done –
    (a) Every State Legislature should enact the Child Rights Law following the model of the Child Rights Act 2003. It is an important first step which is evidence that the rights and welfare of children is being taken seriously.

    (b) The Federal Government should set up a special fund for the implementation of the Child Rights Act and Laws, and disburse generously out of it to State Governments for the purpose of implementing the Act…

    (d) The Marriage Act which governs all statutory marriages throughout the country should be amended to specify age 18 years as the legal age of marriage in order to avoid the present uncertainty. If this is done, child marriage may be avoided.

    –Eunice Nkiru Uzodike.
    http://www.law2.byu.edu/isfl/saltlakeconference/papers/isflpdfs/Uzodike.pdf

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  4. SEN. AHMED SANI YARIMAN BAKURA REPLIES THE CRITICS OF EARLY MARRIAGE

    Nigeria has many uncountable problems and none of them is early marriage. As a matter of fact early marriage is the solution to about half of our problems. For those who wonder if I can give my daughter(s) out in marriage at the age of 9 or 13, I tell you most honestly, I can give her out at the age of 6 if I want to and its not your business. This is because I am a Muslim and I follow the example of the best of mankind, Muhammad (PBUH). In Islam, marriage is not only about sex, it is about family and helping one another in achieving their goals, which is the attainment of Paradise.In Islam, a girl can be given out in marriage as early as 6 years old, but consummation of the marriage can only be done when the girl becomes physically mature and she gives her consent to it unlike English law, it is not permissible for a man to rape his wife in Shari’ah Law.So what can anybody tell me?~ I live in a city where young girls at the age of 12 have already became serial fornicators and cannot count the number of men they’ve had sex with.~ I live in a City where primary school children disvirgin themselves behind toilets on Valentine day.~ I live in a city where young girls flood the street at night looking for men that would give them N500 to have sex with them.~ I live in a city where parents send their daughters out overseas to prostitute and send dollars down.~ I live in a City where Government officials pick undergraduates from University car parks with Coastal Buses to wild sex parties.~ I live in a city where abortion is so common that even a Chemist shop owner can perform abortion with just N2,500.These are your daughters, and this should worry you and not Yerima’s private matters. So ask me again why I support early marriage and I will slap the Jinn out of your head.- Senator Ahmad Sani Yarima

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  5. I am not a lawyer and would like some clarification on this ambigous law. If a non Nigerian woman marries a Nigerian and decides to take up Nigerian citizenship does it mean she automaticaly ceases to be a citizen of her own country? Can she not have dual-citizenship? Because if she can, dont you think the scenario you painted is unlikely?

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  7. Pingback: Opinion: Now that your 10-year-old girl is of marriageable age | YNaija

  8. Funny enough, I like Yerima’s closing, he said he would slap the jinn out of whoever asks him the question again. I hope he does, so he can be sued.
    Yerima though right in many respects, but have addressed the issue wrongly & of course his past was chasing him. It is really not our business if someone willingly gives out the girl-child in marriage, worse things have happened. What of under 15’s marrying each other?

    The section had absolutely nothing for or against child marriage. It actually raises the status of the married teenager with regard to citizenship. Now, how often do we here people renounce their citizenship?

    The mass stampede and petition signing only showed that we as a people are a reflection of what our legislators are. Shallow minded and not patient enough to critically asses issues. Some of it is as a result of how we see marriage. We think marriage means sex, child birth and slavery. Many marriages are without sex, childbirth or slavery. A visit to Ikoyi Marriage registry and probate division of the high court can help with some statistics.

    Until we start to see Marriage in different light and attack the real issues of poverty and girl-child education, we will still come back and thread this shallow stampede path again.

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  14. Mr Sogunro, is der a possibility dat u’l start a literary class for dos of us who wud luv 2 convey our thoughts wit d same doze of satire lyk u? Pls kip writing..
    And ur message in dis piece was well received by me.. I dnt know about every oda person tho..

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