“It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” ~ John Philpot Curran (1790)
Sometime last week, the news broke out that a constitutional amendment that was meant to de-legalise child marriage was thrown out in favour of the status quo. The Senate house was said to have voted twice on the issue due to the objection raised by a certain Senator Yerima. Senator Yerima (now fifty-three years of age) is a former governor of Zamfara State in Nigeria who married a thirteen years old girl a few years ago.
Immediately the news got the youth division of the Nigerian Sociosphere, concerned members floated the hashtag: #ChildNotBride and quite a number of tweets were sent back and forth in galvanising support for the cause. Some prominent members of the Nigerian twitterverse quickly supported the cause and called on people to join and share as much as they could. The sharing went on BlackBerry, Facebook as well as on Twitter.
By Wednesday, an online petition to the United Nations to Stop the Nigerian Senate from allowing the odious law from continue was established. This was shared well on all the social media outlets too. Late on Friday, the idea to actually collect hardcopy signatures was raised and even though the idea was shared late on Friday, as many as heard about the idea spread word that the signatures would be collected in different parts of the federation as long as someone was willing to bear the cost of organising the signature collection. The signatures were intended to be collated and sent to the Nigerian Senate House to show our disapproval of the result of the House vote.
The above is a summary of the events leading to the signings.
Later on Saturday, the day of the signature collection, some blogs popped up with supposed oppositions to the idea of the signature gathering. The opposition to the idea can summaringly be described as ‘legal’. Some were of the opinion that such spontaneous actions don’t last long so why bother, others were of the opinion that we were misled having little understanding of the Nigerian constitution. Others just opposed the idea because they weren’t involved in the signature collection. Since all these oppositions to the signature collection started, the momentum of the cause has taken a nose-dive. As at today, the only place i found the issue being mentioned was on Al Jazeera’s twitter handle: @AJStream.
It seems that the move is gasping for breath about now.
The Issue At Hand.
The question we need to be asking ourselves is not the specific rightness of the cause or the genuineness of the signature collection but if it is true the Nigerian law allows children to be married off before they are eighteen years of age or not. Irrespective of under which guise the same act is perpetrated, does the Nigerian Constitution allow that to happen? If the answer is No, then we all should close shop and go about our usual duties. But if the answer is yes, then everyone who has devoted a certain time of their lives to hampering the move can please back off.
Whenever someone is fighting for a worthy cause, what to do is not to throw spanners in the wheels of their progress or as the parlance goes: ‘piss on their parade’; what these self-righteous intellectual nay-sayers eventually do is that they make it harder for the next person to stand up and fight for their own rights. For everyone that is shut-up for speaking out, millions more suffer in silence.
I can authoritatively tell you that there as been no great move in recent times and arguably in all of history where the historical first-movers got it right the first time. Every successful move in all of history started small, disorganised and practically ignorant of prevailing established laws. You can decide to start researching history starting from the Boston Tea Party Crisis, to the French Revolution, to the Montgomery Bus Event to present day Occupy protests without forgetting the Arab Spring. All these moves started as a spontaneous reaction to an issue followed and refined along the way by of collective support (in principle and in practice) of all cadres of the society who gladly render their resources (financial, professional, emotional etc) to the cause.
Be it known to these spontaneous ‘parade pissers’ that the reason the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya failed was due more to the internal disputes among the Kenyans than due to the military might of the British.
Furthermore, these arm-chair pen-grabbers always look for loophole in every organised protest that springs up via social media. They quote extensively from the constitution without realising that anyone who doesn’t know that the law is an ass is just as dumb as an ass and as blind as a bat. They prescribe remedies but sit in the comfort of their home zones; they wait for the wheels of progress to start rolling before screaming to the highest heavens about the possible failings of the same. They are like black wandering clouds that give the false hope for rain but eventually just cast darkness over the land. Wittingly, they appear like comrades but are really serving the purpose of the enemy.
When a protest is called for something that connects all of us, joining the protest is voluntary, one may decide there are other ways to rectify the wrong, one may just decide to refrain from joining actively in the protest, all these are legitimate ways allowed and given by the constitution. But to harshly criticize a growing move that is concerned with a real rather than imagined wrong, or diminish the persons trying to mobilize for the cause is a great injustice to all concerned.
Child Rights Act
Many say we are crying foul over this issue of Child marriage because the amendment being discussed was particularly about the issue of renunciation of citizenship. The question still remains that since Section 21 of the Child rights Act of Nigeria stipulates that it is an offence to marry persons below the age of 18, why does the Section on Renunciation of Citizenship have a proviso that subtly allows a girl below the age of 18 to be considered an adult if she is married?
Part III of the document from Sections 21, 22, 23 makes it a criminal offence to marry, allow to be married or betroth a child to be married while Section 31 and 32 criminalises sex with a minor without or without consent. Are these not the issue we should bring to the fore? Should we not have a discussion on the implications of the not deleting the section that legalises a criminal act? Oh yes, we should. Senator Yerima should be brought to the court of law since the court of public opinion means nothing to him. When taken to court, Yerima appealed to Article 61 Second Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution, which stipulates that the Nigerian Government has no power to legislate on “marriages under Islamic law and Customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto”. This part of the Constitution MUST be re-visited and re-worded to exclude Child Marriages.
How do we hope to achieve The Millenium Development Goals, specifically the first five goals if we allow girls to be married off before maturity? How do you promote gender equality and empower women? How can we reduce infant mortality and improve maternal health? The girl-child is key to the achievement of the MDGs; moreover, it is said that if Sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t achieve it then it is impossible globally and if Nigeria doesn’t achieve it, then Sub-Saharan Africa cannot. And here we are, backsliding rapidly and descending fast into the abyss of child abuse.
You see people like Senator Yerima can try to hide under the pretext of religion but we can see clearer than that. All the moslems I have had this discussion with say it is not right in Nigeria even if the holy book says it is okay. I have also read that the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Nigeria has judged that Nigeria is not the place for such practices. Where is the Senator reading his interpretations from? Should a man who practices the African Traditional Religion also go ahead and sacrifice human beings because his religion allows him to do so? Your answer is as good as mine. Your rights and religious freedoms are guaranteed as long as it does not encroach into the constitutionally-back rights of mine or that of the under-priviledged (in this case, minors). That is what Child Not bride is all about.
The Child Not Bride is not a religious movement, it is not about amala politics neither is it about sharing Ghana must-Go bags so I can understand why the senators hurriedly voted without consulting their cerebral hemispheres. It is a call to the very soul of the nation that is being trampled upon and seared with hot iron daily by men and women in the houses of assembly.
Beyond the signatures, we should hold town hall meetings and call stakeholders meetings if the Senate refuses to look into the issue of Child Marriage under the Nigerian Law and enforce the statutes of the Child Rights Act. We should lobby organisations, start advocacy groups and walk the talk knowing fully well that Twitter Activism is just a tip of the iceberg, what is under involves boots on the ground and hands in the gloves as we build our nation from the bottom up.
We The People must rise up and push for the kind of government we want to see. When the history of this era will be told, let it be said that we did what we could do. We must let our elected (or is it selected?) representatives know that they are functioning a million depths below the salary we pay them. Afterall, he who pays the piper dictates the tune.
P.S. There’s a spirit in man…