The Girl-Child Marriage Conundrum and the “Place” of Religion in our Democracy!

“If the Berlin Conference of 1885 sealed her fate, then the Amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates inextricably complicated Nigeria’s destiny. Animists, Moslems and Christians alike were held together by a delicate, some say an artificial lattice”- Chinua Achebe
If my memory doesn’t fail me, the last time the political atmosphere was heated the way it has been lately based on the interpretation of some constitutional provision, was way back in 2010 when the provisions of section 145 of the constitution betrayed the interpretation and application of the entire senators and stakeholders in Nigerian politics and therefore generated a storm that nearly engulfed the polity, save for the ingenuity of senate president, David Mark with his “Doctrine of Necessity” principle. With that development, Nigerians especially those in the “endangered” zones were able to sleep again with two eyes closed.
This time, it is section 29 of the same constitution, but this one seems to be stirring much controversy and catching the attention of the entire population, thanks to the “court” of the social media, but also no thanks to unemployment rate that has tripled in the last 36 calendar months. Many people have managed to buy a liter or two of the Petroleum Motor Spirit to fuel their I-Pass My Neighbor generators since PHCN has decided to “hold” on to power, one need not put all their eggs in their Power basket. They may even eat up your eggs. They manage to charge their various devices and swim in the big waters of the social-media where everything is allowed in-so-far-as you are subscribed to the uncensored internet to air their views about what many call a degradation of the Girl-Child and many others, as a clear-case of where Ignorance meets illiteracy. Perhaps, the hashtags- #childnotbride, #Giveherpennotpe*nis, #EducationnotChildLabor and many others will not be forgotten too-soon, the height of amnesia notwithstanding.
However, in all of it, I am somewhat appeased to a great extent not because of the controversy it has generated, but because Nigerians are beginning to take part in partisan politics. We are beginning to influence the activities of government by at least not failing to re-fill the pressure bags of government and putting them in constant checks every now and again. Were Baron de’ Montesquieu been alive to this era, he would have considered to widen the scope of his principle of “Checks and Balances” to include citizens in the equation and not just the three tiers of government – Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary as they hardly live up to that responsibility and when they do, they fail to balance same. Nigerian citizens should be considered for a National award when next the “Sadaqa” unfolds.
Apologies for the deviation from the real problems of this piece and now let’s get into the “theatre”. It is my presumption that too many a reader are already acquainted with the issues that has led to the latest quandary so it will be almost needless to go into the knitty-grities but an appraisal must be made nonetheless.
While the National Assembly was more interested in section 29(1) of the constitution which has “the Renunciation of citizenship” as its marginal clause, the house was swept off its feet when the senator representing Zamfara central and also public opinion’s new found nemesis, Sani Ahmed Yerima spoilt the fun by not agreeing with the proposed abrogation of subsection 4(b) of the same section which states that, “for the purposes of subsection(1) of this section, any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age” which subsection4(a) pecks as 18 years and above as according to him, it logically means that an abrogation of subsection 4(b), will bring an end to the “culture” of marriages with women below the constitutional age of 18 and also an aberration of Islamic Law doctrine which allows the marrying of a girl below the age of 18 hence consummation of the marriage takes place when she has approached puberty and the earlier marriage concluded with the fundamental elements of offer and acceptance both of spouses and parents.
The house was thrown into a near turmoil and as in every other democracy; the leader of the senate conducted a voting process which terminated in favor of the pro-girl child marriage senators as the opposition couldn’t furnish the constitutional 73 votes required to that effect. They could only arrive at 60 votes but the other 13 won’t just come and it is not surprising. Of course it should be expected that with a matter of such bearing on religion, the predominantly northern/Muslim senators, have the power to do and undo because of their number and in a democracy, majority will always carry the day.
Ever since then, the media has been aghast, making frisk business since virtually everybody wants to hear the latest development to that effect. That is Nigeria for you. Religious/ethnic sentiments have taken the reins in place of our objectivity.

Haven said the foregoing, it is commonplace, that we are up against a religious debate than a socio-economic one and commentators must at least be discordant with respect in treating issues of such import. Bearing this is mind, I have chosen not to peer into the issue in controversy from the socio-economic angle as public sentiments has done thus far as I would never get it right and in the same vein, risk trampling and desecrating upon the religious beliefs of the next man which in every manner and respect is unfair to him-that I hate to do.
Prima Facie, I tend to agree with Senator Ahmed Sanni Yerima’s position since it is rooted in the principles of Shariah and authenticated in the Sunnah (way of life of the prophet). A person who Yerima and the entire Muslim Umma, see as the finest example of mankind when he took marriage for Aisha with her parent’s consent, but consummated the union when she approached puberty and visibly seen to go through the rigorous experience of child birth. Expunging section 29(4)b as the senate had earlier canvassed for, that fateful tuesday, would have made the practice criminal and hence the justification for Yerima’s position but in this justification, lies the bigger question: Is Nigeria an Islamic State?
To this question, section 10 of the same constitution, expressly answers thus: “the government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as state Religion” Nigeria remains a secular state, but amidst her secularity, religious views have at one time or the other, been the basis for not allowing certain bills see the light of full legislation. One, which comes to mind, is the most recent Gay Right bill that was unanimously thrown away on religious, moral and cultural grounds. The argument therein is: if religious sentiments, have played a role in throwing away certain bills in the waste bin, it should also be a furnis able ground for allowing some bills or Laws to be retained in our statute books. It is even worse when a region of the country has their culture engraved in their religion. A view to the contrary, I make bold to say will usher us into a debate as to whose religion should be the litmus paper on which issues of this nature should be tested. That again, is Nigeria for you and I. it is the situation we unfortunately find ourselves lurked in and true to Achebe’s words that is what has “inextricably complicated our destiny”.
Religion has cut through our politics and our democracy and has separated us more where we ought to have been knotted together and it won’t stop recurring. Child-Marriage socially, morally and economically ought not to have been what we should be discussing now as many people have come out to say and true to their words, there are obviously other pressing issues begging for national attention. The effect of such early marriages no doubt, is devastating to any nation’s economy. Who wants that population explosion that comes with such or the medical impediments in the form of Vesico Virginal Fistula (VVF) and so on and so forth? But that is not the question. Religion holds sway and peoples’ religious beliefs transcend all of these.
We did not make the world but accidentally find ourselves here being born into different families and broadly separated along two religion and diverse cultures. So there is no reason we should be “quarrelling” with what a person’s religion celebrates. If any group on its own decides that its religion or culture is not worth talking about or practiced, it can stop talking about it. But I don’t think anybody can suggest to the other person whether expressly or implicitly: please drop your culture or religion, let’s use mine. That is the height of arrogance and the boast of imperialism. I think cultures know how to fight their beliefs and it is up to the owners to ensure theirs survive and if they don’t want, they should act accordingly but not being cajoled out of it by the legislative gavel. If anything, it is an open invitation to religious “war” and acrimony. Who wants that now?
My grouse with Yerima, is his veering of the religious justification for his position when he replied his critics. Such vulgar words and innuendos shouldn’t have come from him irrespective of how much pressure he may have been subjected to by the media. Such acts, questions his intelligence and puts a doubt to his leadership quality of self-control. He owes Nigerians an unreserved apology.
Finally, if this entity must coexist, the interest of the regions that make it must be accommodated as no Law can thrive if the “people” or their representatives haven’t approved of them. And it is immaterial, how high the price is. I will conclude with the post on my face book wall 24hours ago, that has continued to generate comments- “An average Muslim finds his culture engraved in his religion unlike his Christian counterpart who has his culture and religion separated in the same way a coin has two sides. He gives to “Caesar” what belong to Caesar, and to God what belong to him. His Muslim counterpart hasn’t that luxury of options; so it is always easier for many Christians to see the Girl-Child Marriage as a taboo or something close to an anathema. Let’s not meddle in such sensitive matters with subjective minds but rather, objective ones. Let the Muslim brothers be allowed to practice that which their religion holds germane and not be seen as bunch of pedophiles and let Christians alike, do that which their culture and religion propagates” God bless Nigeria.
Raymond Nkannebe tweets @yung_silky
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