Islamically, A Girl Can Marry Once She Starts Menstruation – Senator Yerima
In this interview with JOHN ALECHENU, the first Executive Governor of Zamfara State, now Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima- Bakura speaks about the recent alteration of the constitution as well as his many controversies. Excerpts:
Your position on the recommendation by the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution that provisions of section 29 (4) (b) be deleted from the 1999 Constitution has generated public outcry. Why did you demand that the matter be revisited?
People do not seem to understand the issues; most of the criticisms about my position are based on ignorance. The issue was not about marriage, it is about renunciation of one’s citizenship. If you read the section carefully, it says a woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age. The preceding section described “full age” as meaning age of eighteen years and above. Now, removing this section will infringe on Islamic law, because Islam recognises a married woman as having attained full age. Item 61 of the Second Schedule, Part I in the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution says 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.” To delete sub-section (4) (b) will amount to a breach of Item 61 as I mentioned earlier. Our people should understand the provisions of our constitution.
Now to the other part of your question, when we voted on the item the first time, I said nothing and I left to go and pray. When I returned from prayers, I discovered that there were two items which had been voted on but were revisited. I then raised the issue and the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, being a just leader, a leader who listens, said a vote had been taken and passed. But I insisted and he gave us the opportunity to revisit the issue in the interest of fairness, we took another vote and we won.
People don’t seem to understand that this provision has been in the constitution since 1979, not even 1999, it has been there. Framers of the constitution recognise the fact that Nigeria is a multi-religious society so they made provisions to guarantee religious freedoms. The constitution recognises that there are Christians, Muslims, animists and even those who do not believe in anything.
This is not the first time you are embroiled in a controversy over the issue of marriage. About three years ago, you were said to have married a 13 year- old Egyptian girl. Was she really 13?
You see, this is another misunderstanding of actions taken in conformity with the tenets of my religion. When I married my Egyptian wife I followed laid down procedures for marriage in Islam. When I informed the Ulama that I wanted to get married as is required by Islam they said they had to witness it because this was required before they could issue a marriage certificate. They were there, it was not done in secret; they witnessed it and issued me a marriage certificate, I still have it. So when NAPTIP (National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons) wrote me a letter on the issue, in my reply, I attached a photocopy of the certificate. Those who have decided to oppose anything that Yarima says or does speak about these things ignorantly. There was nothing Islamically wrong with my marriage.
Women groups are demanding that you show them which part of the Quran or the Haddith you are relying on to hold on to this position?
I will refer such people to the Holy Quran. The Holy Quran says any married woman is of full age. That is why the Holy Quran says any married woman who commits adultery should be stoned to death that is under Islamic law. It is not a matter of a woman who has reached the age of 18 years. Some Muslims are ignorant about their religion. As far as the Quran is concerned, any married woman is of full age. And the Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W) said, for you to be married, there are conditions you must have attained as a woman. One of it is menstruation. Once you start your menstruation, you are of full age, you can marry, that is the Quran and the Haddith (saying and actions of the Prophet) I refer them to.
The introduction of the Sharia legal code which you championed as governor generated another controversy. There were riots over the issue in some states but none in Zamfara… (Cuts in)
Some people have asked what the magic was. When you are elected as a local government chairman, governor or president, you must have an objective. The overriding objective is to serve the people. If you follow your personal objective, and allow your personal interest to override the general interest of the people, they will not like you after you leave. But if you ignore your personal interest, desires, aspirations and lead the people based on the tenets and teaching of your faith as well as the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, you deliver the dividends of democracy, you are very transparent, you are just and fair, they see that what you are doing is what you said you are going to do, they will continue to support you. Up till today, if I go to Zamfara, not only after the last election, I have the firm belief that by the grace of God, I will continue to win elections because I did the best I could to serve the people in the best manner I think possible.
I recall a man who stole a cow had his hand amputated, yet there are public servants who steal billions but their crime does not attract that kind of punishment under Sharia law. Why?
Sharia law defines every minute issue that affects human life from conception, even sex, even going to the toilet, how you enter the toilet: you enter beginning with the left leg, you come out with the right leg, sharia law defines everything that has to do with human life especially the life of a Muslim. It clearly defines theft, betrayal of trust, mischief, they are all defined and the various punishments are also defined. Under the Sharia law, if you are my security guard and you officially have access to my bedroom or even if you are my cleaner and I kept my money on the table and you take it, that is considered betrayal of trust not stealing. If you are appointed by government or you are an employee of government and you are entrusted with funds and you took part of it, that is also betrayal of trust, it does not mean that you will not be punished but you will not have your hand cut. The only way you can have your hand cut is take for example, my employee, you are my cleaner, you enter my room break open my safe and take money out of it, you have stolen and should have your hand cut. People should understand these things.
You have a Masters Degree in Economics; you once worked in the Central Bank of Nigeria before you joined politics. When did this passion for Islam come in?
Right from the time I was born. I was born in a royal family that was very religious. I have been educated in Islamic schools as well as conventional primary school, right from when I was a child. Even in primary school, we had lessons in Arabic, courses in Islamic studies up till University level when I did my preliminary studies in the Bayero University Kano. I also took Islamic Studies as one of my courses. I also studied Political Science, Economics and Sociology. If a Christian for example reads whatever he reads, I expect him to observe the teachings and practice of his religion, which is all I am doing. I am not an extremist, I don’t believe in extremism. I believe Islam wants you to be a moderate Muslim but moderation does not mean abandoning the tenets and principles of your religion. If you have to abandon the basic principles of your religion to be moderate, that is not moderation. I am a moderate in the sense that one, I believe in peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims, two, I believe in the right of a Muslim and the right of a Christian to practise his religion without hindrance as provided for in our Constitution. I don’t believe in killing human beings without any just cause, I believe that the only way life can be taken is through the legal process. If you are taken to court for a crime that deserves the death sentence, you are tried, found guilty and sentenced to death, the government should kill you. Any other way is unacceptable that is what my religion says. I don’t believe that people should be forced to renounce their faith. I don’t believe that, because my faith teaches me that there is no compulsion in religion. These are the kind of things; I have to practise my belief, my faith, based on my understanding. The understanding is what the Ulamas, renowned Ulamas not just any Ulama say. If my conscience is not sure of what you are saying, there are translations of the Quran in English, on the internet, on my telephone, on Ipad, Ipod, you can download it. There is the translation of the Hadith in English, so if you say anything that is contrary to what I understand through the interpretation of my religion, that will not be agreeable to me.
The so-called extremists are taking themselves out of the religion because if you go outside what the religion says you should do, then you are going out of the religion itself. Take for example; the religion says we should pray five times a day, if you pray six times you are going out of the mandate as a Muslim. You are enjoined to be a moderate as a Muslim. For example, if you cannot fast because you are sick, you cannot force yourself to fast. You are exempted from fasting, but you are expected to do certain things. For example, you feed the needy, even if you don’t have the means to feed the needy you don’t have to fast, you don’t have to feed the needy. If you say you must steal money to feed the needy, you have gone outside the religion. There are so many things that are said that when you don’t have the capacity to do it, you don’t have to, for example, marriage. As a Muslim, you can marry up to four wives if you can afford to feed, clothe, and take care of them. In Islam, a woman should not do anything; she should just be staying in the house if she wants. She can work if she wants, one of my wives is a medical doctor and she goes to work, all her income is hers, I have nothing to do with her salary. She rose to the rank of Permanent Secretary, if she retires today she continues with her salary for life as pension. I don’t even ask her how much did you get this month. It is my responsibility as is enshrined in my religion to clothe her, feed her, provide her with a car and fuel it, what she does with her money is none of my business. This is what my religion teaches me, women have more rights; my wife has total rights over me. I have to give her all that she needs whether she is working or not.
Was there a decision you took as governor that looking back now you would have acted differently?
Whenever I cast my mind back to the eight years I spent as governor, I always thank God because with the limited resources that I had, I think I did everything possible within my power to utilise them for the benefit of the people as shown by what is happening in Zamfara today and by the grace of God, for as long as I remain in politics.
You were the only governor till date to have named your successor who was your then Deputy Governor… (Cuts in)
…One week after I was inaugurated I did that. The Constitution provides for a governor and deputy governor and in the event the governor dies or becomes incapacitated, the deputy takes over and I think there should be room for continuity and if you carry your deputy along in service, I think he should be the best person to succeed you in a democracy unless he has some inadequacies exposed by himself which people saw and said no. I worked with my deputy very well; we had no problem between us. One week after my inauguration I endorsed him as my successor. Unfortunately he decided to leave my party thinking that it is the seat of power (in Abuja) that will retain you as governor but he lost because the people know what they are looking for-service delivery. And by the grace of God, I did my best and that is why I brought another person and by the grace of God, God accepted him and made him the governor of Zamfara State today.
Insecurity has crippled the north socially and economically. What do you think can be done to reverse this trend?
The security challenge that we have in the north today is a very bad and disheartening situation. It is something that all of us not only in the north, but across the nation, should look at. It is the responsibility of every one of us to contribute and support the government. That is why if you see the other issue people are trying to make a controversy of is when I took Ulamas to the President to talk to him and advise him on how best to handle this security situation. For example, at that meeting, one of the Ulamas from Borno State, a Professor, said your Excellency, blockage of GSM services in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states has some advantages because it will not allow the militants to communicate among themselves but has a disadvantage because you have now put a majority of the population in a closed position. They cannot communicate with their families; they cannot communicate with their friends, do business or even raise the alarm in times of emergencies. Their education through the use of the Internet is blocked and all that. Mr. President promised to hold a security meeting to address the issue, the next day, he did as he promised. This is the kind of contribution every northerner- if you can contribute no matter how small to resolving this problem. I believe it is the right thing to do. It is the responsibility of all of us, if you cannot use your hand to change it, speak out, you don’t have to go and address the press, you can go and advise the President on what to do and if he does it, at least you have made a contribution. I think as long as this security challenges continue, the economy of the north will continue to dwindle. Commercial activities have been crippled, farmers and Fulani herdsmen have been clashing, several lives are being lost. I hope government will continue to do what it should do to solve this problem. There are several countries that have faced worse challenges than we are facing today. The civil war for example was worse than what we are going through today. I believe that by the grace of God we will surmount these challenges.
What do you have to say to Nigerians who say the North must get the Presidency in 2015 and Southerners who say it is Jonathan or nothing?
They are all ignorant about democracy and they are all talking nonsense. In democracy, and politics it is the political parties and the electorate that decide who should be a candidate or should be elected. If a party presents a candidate and you don’t like him, you vote him out. It is not by shouting: No, I want a northerner, I want Southerner, I want Ijaw and if the Ijaw man does not win, hell fire will come, if a northerner is not President, the country will break. Let us follow the constitution, let us follow the democratic channels and express our opinions, some of these pronouncements are just overheating the system, creating unnecessary enmity.
If the All Progressive Congress is registered, it will present its own candidate, the Peoples Democratic Party will present its own candidate, then the majority of Nigerian voters will decide who should be President. People say people rig, it is only when the people allow rigging that it will take place. If you are committed politically and you believe in what you are doing, you will do what we did in Zamfara. In Kano in 2003, PDP lost to ANPP when Shekarau became the governor. It happened in Zamfara, so also in Borno State, the late governor Mala Kachalla left ANPP, moved to AD at that time and Sheriff became the governor. As far as I am concerned, what we need is to continue to live together as one indivisible nation as enshrined in our constitution and the only way to acquire power should be through the constitution.
Considering the antecedents of some of the leading figures in the APC and the tense relations some of you ex-governors had with Nuhu Ribadu as chairman of the Economic Financial Crime Commission, do you see the proposed party succeeding?
It had been said that we cannot come together because we will not agree even to have a name, Constitution or have a manifesto or logo. Later they said, leave them, when they try to set up their caretaker committee, they will not be able to do that and we have all come together in spite of all these differences and we have become APC. I want to assure you that because our constitution recognises internal democracy as the only way which candidates will emerge for either political offices or party offices, I think once our constitution is adhered to, APC will form the next government.
Will you run for the Presidency in 2015?
In 2007 I came out to contest for the ANPP ticket but I stepped down for General Muhammadu Buhari, not because of pressure from people but because I believed he was a better candidate than myself. If tomorrow he is interested, I will not be interested. The only way I will contest is if General Buhari says no, I am not running. If Buhari is running, I am his supporter, I will campaign for him, I will endorse him.
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