SENATE-REVIEW: How Yerima played Religion to force Senate votes against the girl child
LEGISREPORTS NG – The Senate has come under severe criticisms over the rejection of a clause that seeks to specify 18 years as the “full age” required for consent by a Nigerian citizen during its voting on the constitution amendment on Tuesday.
During the course of voting on a clause-by-clause basis of the report of the senate committee on Constitution Review, what started out as an exercise driven by objectivity and reason assumed a religious dimension when Senator Yerima Ahmed (ANPP, Zamfara) insisted that the upper chamber revisit and subject clause 4 of section 29 to another round of voting.
The clause, when first considered and passed, clearly specified 18 years and above as “full age”, thereby deleting subsection (b) of the extant law that provided that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
Senator Yerima argued that the adoption of 18 years and above by the Senate to mean “full age” ran contrary to the religious teachings of Islam which provides that any married woman was deemed to be of full age no matter her material age.
LEGISREPORTS recalls that Yerima attracted massive infamy on himself in 2010 when he married a 13 years old Egyptian girl under the cover of Sharia law practiced in most parts of Northern Nigeria as he could not have married the minor under the laws of Egypt because she was not yet 18.
The infusion of religious sentiments by Yerima into the renewed consideration of clause 4 subsequently swayed the votes of those who identified with the senator’s argument, all of whom were northern Senators who had initially voted against it.
It is worth noting that the controversial clause 4 was not in anyway amended by the committee’s recommendations to interfere with the marriage practices of Islam, but only sought to address the renunciation of citizenship.
Section 29 which dealt with child rights and protection states that: “Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner of renunciation.”
The basis for the controversy on child marriage however ensued due to the religious tone infused into the whole definition of what should be deemed “full age”.
While it seemed convenient for the country to adopt the stipulated 18 years and above as full age, which is the practice the world over, even in some countries such as Egypt, this was however argued against by Senator Yerima who felt otherwise of course due to his controversial marriage to a minor.
Obviously sensing the unhealthy tension being generated by Senator Yerima’s argument, the Senate President, David Mark, in his wisdom allowed for another round of voting on the clause.
The outcome of votes showed northern senators making a turnaround. The results showed that 60 senators voted for 18 years and above as “full age”, while 35 voted against it; the 35 being of northern extraction.
Despite the votes of 60 lawmakers to save the girl child from possible abuse in Nigeria, their votes fell short of the needed 73 (two thirds majority) for it to become law.
The protection of child rights, especially the girl child, was therefore thwarted by the insufficient number of votes due to the deletion of the recommended clause to provide for same as contained in the committee’s report to the senate.
The implication means that marriage to a minor is deemed legal in Nigeria, with no case of abuse attached to the act. Principally too, a married minor can be made to renounce her citizenship under instructions from her husband.
The weighty criticisms currently trailing the Senate’s failure to amend the law to make 18 years the ‘full age’ for a child seems to have rubbished the years of hardwork by the upper chamber to maintain a reputation integrity which it has overtime become associated with.
And it all boils down to a senator’s penchant for playing the religious card in his political career even if it brings him public opprobrium.
LEGISREPORTS recalls that Senator Yerima, a former Governor of Zamfara state was responsible for the introduction of Sharia law (an Islamic law), during his administration in 1999 to 2007.
This review was prepared by our reporter in the Senate