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Did the minister misunderstand the speaker?

A man was kidnapped in Niger State by bandits who demanded a ransom of one million naira. The family scraped and struggled to pay the…

A man was kidnapped in Niger State by bandits who demanded a ransom of one million naira. The family scraped and struggled to pay the ransom. When the bandits got the ransom, they increased it to N2 million.  Now the family couldn’t pay. What to do? 

The man had two daughters with suitors. So they asked the fiancés to bring money to pay the ransom so that the marriage could be done upon the release of the father. The two suitors managed to raise the money and the family paid the bandits. Upon receiving the money, they still killed the father. 

Now the suitors wanted marriage without delay or their money back. However, the family needed money to do so. So the widow reached out to the speaker of Niger State Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkin Daji,  for help. He did help them with the marriage and set them up for success. 

Then he reasoned that other orphans may need similar assistance. So he set up a committee to investigate identical cases. The committee reported over 270 people who needed the same support. So he mandated the committee to screen the list to only orphans and need basis. The list was reduced to 100 orphans who voluntarily submitted themselves that they wanted marriage. 

So the speaker agreed to give each lady N500,000 and the men N50,000 for their dowry. When the Governor of Niger State, Farmer Governor Bago heard about this, he said was going to give the ladies an additional N100,000 for business. 

That’s the background. At least that’s how Dr Ibrahim Daurawa told the story as related to him by the speaker himself. 

Here’s a summary: The Speaker of Niger State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Abdulmalik Sarkin Daji, with the support of the Governor, the traditional institution and Muslim scholars, is sponsoring the wedding and businesses of 100 orphans. 

But out of nowhere, we read, “Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, minister of women affairs, has petitioned the inspector-general of police (IGP) and sought a court injunction to halt the marriage of 100 girls in Niger state.” TheCable reported. 

“I want to let the honourable speaker of the house in Niger state know that this is totally unacceptable by Federal Minister Of Women Affairs and by the government,” Kennedy-Ohanenye said.

The Muslim scholars in the North and Niger State in particular see the minister as an interloper and deem her comments as insults to both the northern tradition and the religion of Islam. 

The Council of Imams in Niger State issued a one-week ultimatum to retract her comments. Dr Umar Farouk, the secretary of the Niger State Imam Forum, delivered the warning during a press briefing in Minna, the state capital. He stated that the Minister had overstepped her authority and that the Forum would not tolerate her remarks, which they believed could incite a crisis both in the state and nationwide.

The Speaker, himself a barrister, said: “I am highly disappointed in the minister for women’s affairs and it is unfortunate that she allowed herself and her office to be misled by social media reports without finding out from me the true situation on the ground concerning this marriage.

“This is politics taken too far by the minister. She should be properly educated on the culture and tradition of the north that girls of marriageable age are not allowed to roam the streets.”

Now Barrister Abdulmalik is refusing to participate in the wedding without withdrawing the financial support. 

“If the parents wish to go ahead with the marriage of their daughters, so be it but I have removed my hands,” he said. 

As for me, I think the minister made some dangerous assumptions in a bid to earn a name for herself. 

First of all, she referenced the Child Rights Act and said that every child is a ward of the state. 

“Because there is something called the Child Rights Act and I said it from the onset, that it is no more business as usual. These children must be considered, their future must be considered, the future of the children to come out of their marriage must be considered,” she said. 

Here, she assumed that the 100 orphans to be married were children. The more dangerous assumption is that any marriage in the North is done between men and girls. Because logically, if she jumps to the conclusion that these are girls, you must also admit the conclusion that she thinks only girls are married off in the north. She would be surprised that these are women in their late teens or early 20s. 

The second assumption is that these “girls” have no education and have no skills. 

The Minister said: “As the speaker did not think about empowering these women or sending them to school or giving them some kind of training support financially. The women’s affairs have decided to take it up and we are going to educate the children.”

We don’t know the level of their skill set, but the fact that northerners don’t want to send their children to school is stretched by some people to fit their theories. You would be surprised that these orphans have at least graduated from secondary school and have started a trade in which they only need money to scale. 

I’ve sponsored some orphaned girls to school because they want to go to school. If the minister really wants to help, we have many girls who want to go to school but can’t afford it. I’ll personally help with the list. They’re in thousands. 

So we’re lucky that the Minister is offering to sponsor our children. 

The third assumption is that these orphans are being forced into marriage. It’s also the most irrational assumption. 

The Speaker said: “She never bothered to get across to me to even find out the motive behind this Humanitarian gesture because I didn’t force any girl into marriage, it was the parents of the girls that approached me and solicited for my support and I gladly accepted to assist them.”

A committee screened those who applied for help and the list was reduced from 270 to 100 based on need. They applied! They sought help. And the help was specific: help us get married. What will the Speaker gain by forcing girls to marry other men?

If the minister did intend good, she could have cleared these assumptions by a simple request to the Speaker asking for the profiles of the ladies. The profiles don’t need to be detailed. Indeed, only three questions are enough: age or date of birth, level of education and employment status. Parental approval can also be added. 

I’m sure the screening committee already has this information and could’ve emailed it to the Minister within minutes. 

But in a bid to earn a name, she chose to pick a fight, a fight that she can’t win. More importantly, she’s causing needless problems for her principal among the people who still have doubts about the intentions of the presidency. 

This woman has become the reactive minister. The first time I saw her was during the Lead British School bullying episode. Now, this. What’s she done that’s proactive? The Speaker said that she hasn’t visited even one IDP camp in Niger State where these vulnerable women live. 

In sum, the speaker is a good guy who wants to help his people. I know because we’re neighbours. We just finished planting trees together. He sponsored the tree planting.  That’s the kind of guy he is. 


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