Responding to the nation-wide umbrage expressed on the said passage of a Bill legalising child marriage, two senators, Akin Odunsi (Ogun West) and Atiku Abubakar Bagudu (Kebbi Central), at separate briefings yesterday, expressed concerns over the outrage against the Senate over its perceived move to legalise child marriage.
Odunsi claimed that the Senate was misrepresented over the issue, explaining that the alleged under age marriage provision as contained in Section 29 clauses 4(b) had been in existence in the 1999 Constitution, stating that ”any woman that is married in Nigeria is of full age.”
He explained that: “What the Senate attempted to do that day was to expunge that clause but couldn’t do so due to shortage of 13 votes because 60 senators voted for its removal as against 73 required votes, while 35 voted for its retention. Therefore, from what happened on the floor of the Senate last Tuesday, the Senate attempted to expunge the somewhat archaic clause and not in any way created the law as it is now wrongly portrayed by Nigerians.”
On his own part, Bagudu expressed regret that the Senate had been put on the spot by the allegation of endorsement of under-age marriage in Nigeria, describing it as terrible misrepresentation of what the Senate considered or voted for under Section 29 clauses 4(a) and (b) of Nigeria constitution and as presented for consideration by Senate Committee on Constitution Review.
According to him, it was renunciation of citizenship that was considered and voted on as contained in Section 29 clauses 4a and b, insisting that it was not anything about marriage.
“Clause 4a of section 29 of the 1999 Constitution defines a full age for any Nigerian who wants to renounce his or her citizenship to be 18 years and above while clause 4b states further that in the case of women, aside the 18 years prescribed in clause 4a, any woman that is married can be considered to be of full age,” he noted.
He also claimed that in many places around the world, marriage below the age of 18 years for girls is allowed by parental consent, since according to him, the Holy Bible, the Quoran, the Torah and the like, all view full age for women from the age of puberty.
Yet, another senator, Ayo Akinyelure (Ondo Central senatorial district), added some tinge of drama to the under-age marriage saga, when he broke down in tears while trying to explain his role in the controversial vote in support of the under age marriage law.
Akinyelure, who is the Chairman Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Petition, told the gathering, mostly women from the six local governments that constituted the senatorial district, that he voted in error.
The explanation of the Idanre-born senator, popularly called ‘Allover’ came as women stormed the premises of the Ondo State Cultural Centre, Adegbemile Akure with placards of various inscriptions condemning the action of the senator.
The senator was said to be the only lawmaker in the Upper Chamber in the South West who voted in support of the under age marriage law.
Some of the placards carried by the women include “Allover Be Warned Yoruba Culture is not for sale”; “Allover should make good law to better the lot of people not immorality”; “Allover should be recalled”; “We say no to early marriage”; “It is allover, Allover sold Yoruba”, among others.
Minor crisis ensued when some people loyal to the embattled senator started hauling pebbles at the protesters, which almost degenerated to free for all but for the timely intervention of the policemen that were stationed in the premises.
Addressing people inside the Adegbemile Hall, the senator in emotion-laden voice said the vote was misrepresentation of what he intended to do.
“What the Senate considered for determination under the review of Nigerian Constitution was ‘Renunciation of Citizenship Under the Nigerian Constitution contained under Section 29 (4b), which provides that any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.
“The question before the Senate for which I voted in favour was that whether married woman is deemed to be of full, age to renounce her Nigerian Citizenship and not whether a woman can marry before attaining the age of 18 years.
Meanwhile, still peeved with the said vote for child marriage, members of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) have passed a vote of no confidence on the leadership of the Senate for legitimising underage marriage.
Besides, they also called for the immediate prosecution of Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima at the International Court of Justice at The Hague for alleged child abuse, having married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl.
The Senate had last week voted in favour of the underage marriage
during a debate on the ongoing constitution amendment, a development that had generated condemnations and furore in the country and beyond.
In a statement yesterday in Ado Ekiti, NANS Chairman, Ekiti axis, Oluwadamilare Bewaji, described as sad and unprogressive, the
annulment of the constitutionally recognised age for adulthood by the
Senate, saying this would further debase womanhood in Nigeria.
NANS said the passage of the bill, had brought serious ignominy to the nation in eyes of the international community, adding that the action must be challenged by all right-thinking Nigerians.
The students’ body added that it was a serious slap on African culture for minor to be given out in marriage, saying the body will
continue to fight hard to ensure that Nigerian children are not
desecrated in any way.