#ChildNotBride: Senator Yerima’s Claims & A Nation’s Burden By Odusote Oluwakayode
He stared the nation in the face with the declaration of Shari ah law in Zamfara state. Expectedly, the large Muslim faithful embraced the policy as a new dawn to the realization of Islamic tenets and principles. Much as the policy is suitable to fulfilling religious laid down rules especially as it relates to the states, the nation was thrown into hot debate on the need for such a law in a secular nation like Nigeria.
The sincere intention of the promoter could not be ascertained and due to the sentiment attached, the critic who felt such declaration was borne out of a selfish need to garner political followership, were termed enemies of Islam.
Now, we have been jolted to yet another controversial issue with the strong influence of Sen. Ahmed Sani Yerima’s religious claims. The confusion has been set in motion with a nation left to counter each other on claims of understanding issues better. It has even become a funny terrain when personal opinions are subjected to thrash so far it does not suit the reader’s claim to the topic of debate. That is simply the Nigeria we have allowed.
It is unfortunate that the confusion has gotten to a point that there are alleged deliberate attempt by some agitators to fuss the debate to religion by sadly misrepresenting the protest against “child marriage” and of course the possible misconception of Sen. Sani Yerima’s intentions by the critics of the Senator. Nigeria is a secular state; therefore, our desire to argue what govern us as a federating unit should not be based on religion. We, as a people should be able to transparently debate what affects us as nation freely without bias, self interest, affiliations or lust.
There is no doubt that the section of the constitution had existed for a long time without an uproar till the day Senator Sani Yerima’ agitations, resisting the deletion of Subsection 4(b) of section 29 of the 1999 constitution by drawing the attention of the senate to the fact that the constitution forbids any amendment to any provision of the sharia and customary laws.
One thing that should be noted is that the senate didn’t pass any bill on age limit for marriage. What the Senator Ike Ekweremadu led constitution amendment committee presented to and which the senate considered was an alteration of Section 29, and delete subsection 4(b) of the constitution which in my opinion contradicts subsection 4(a). In looking at the debate, it should be noted also that the senate was not debating on marriage; it was actually on renunciation of one’s citizenship. The debate however opened the eyes of Nigerians to the complexity of the subsection.
Now here is the confusion, in defining what full age means, the constitution in subjection (4) of section 29 provides that: “(a) “full age” means the age of eighteen years and above while subsection (b) says “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
The reproduction of section 29 of the 1999 constitution is detailed thus:
“29. (1) Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for the renunciation.
“(2) The President shall cause the declaration made under subsection (1) of this section to be registered and upon such registration, the person who made the declaration shall cease to be a citizen of Nigeria.
“(3) The President may withhold the registration of any declaration made under subsection (1) of this section if-
“(a) the declaration is made during any war in which Nigeria is physically involved; or
“(b) in his opinion, it is otherwise contrary to public policy.
“(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section.
“(a) “full age” means the age of eighteen years and above;
“(b) any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
The debate is interesting because the constitution has given room to it. Going by Sani Yerima’s claim to Sharia and Customary laws, the candid question to be asked is what type of federalism is Nigeria practicing? As a federating state, I believe we are supposed to be a secular state where the basis of the national law will not be twined to religious laws, whereby, the country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state is expected to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion/no religion over other religions/no religion.
Our secular system should afford no recognition to religious interference in national affairs, and canon/ sharia laws are not recognized or applied within the nation’s laws. What is expected therefore is that in making our laws as a federation or in amending it, religion should be deemed to be irreconcilable with the state and is not permitted to interfere with politics or the law.
If a customary law even provides that a child could be “married off” what definition of marriage do we call such? In my opinion – Forced marriage.
A Forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both of the parties are married without their respective consents or against personal will. A forced marriage differs from an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent which could of course be through the assistance a third party (Parents, friends etc).
The United Nations views forced marriage as a form of human rights abuse, since it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that a women’s right to choose a spouse and enter freely into marriage is central to her life and dignity, and equality as a human being — for a marriage to be valid both parties must give their consent freely.
My intention is not to dwell in the arguments over the qualification for marriage or the religious clauses enshrined for permissions to be granted in marriage. I feel it is a personal choice to be married or not, what baffles the mind is the ambiguity in law as subsection 4(b) provides.
There is a need for the nation to seriously reconsider what we call our constitution. This is just one out of the ambiguity hidden in our constitution. What is the beauty of a constitution that those governed by it fight over? There are sound intellectuals on both ends of the argument that will debate brilliantly, the truth however is that we have a subsection that is dividing us.
As a secular nation which I believe we are, religious sentiment should not be allowed as a basis for making our laws.
Our burden remains that we have not truly drafted a working document for ourselves and we do not live by the preamble of the constitution that says. “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation, under God, dedicated to the promotion of inter-African unity, world peace , international cooperation and understanding and to provide for ourselves a constitution for the promotion of good government, and welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for consolidating the unity of our people Do hereby make, Enact and give to ourselves the following constitution”.
Do you know why? Cause “We” didn’t draft it.
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