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NGOs wage war on Yarima over ‘child bride’

But a few days after Yarima’s marriage to a girl from Egypt, controversy began to brew as stories spread that his new bride is a…

But a few days after Yarima’s marriage to a girl from Egypt, controversy began to brew as stories spread that his new bride is a ‘child’ of about 13. The marriage between the senator and the Egyptian girl was said to have been held at the Abuja National Mosque after payment of $100,000 USD (about N15 million) as dowry. At the realisation that Yarima has taken a ‘child’ for a wife, several human rights organisations as well as women advocacy bodies began to condemn his action. They threatened to expose the senator for what they all termed ‘child abuse’ by a federal lawmaker who should be the one to protect the children from exposure to health and social hazards associated with early child marriage.

After sending their complaints to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a coalition of women associations in the country led by WRAPA stormed the National Assembly calling for action against Yarima who is the Senate Minority Whip. The women argued that Yarima’s new wife is just a ‘baby’ of school age that has not matured enough to bear the burdens associated with the marriage institution. The NHRC through the Chairman Senate Committee on Women Affairs, Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette has sent a petition to the National Assembly for the matter to be investigated. The Senate referred the matter to its committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions for action. However, the Senator Omar Hambagda led committee has handled several controversial cases in the Senate and has either refused to turn any reports on such issues or such reports are never debated on the floor of the Senate. Invariably, the committee is the Senate morgue where controversial issues are kept.

The matter is likely to have ended in the Senate because while briefing newsmen, the spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze said Yarima has not violated any section of the Senate rule and therefore no action can be taken against him. According to Eze “If there are people that feel strongly that the man has broken the law, they should feel free to go to the court and you know that all sorts of things are involved. You need to present the girl’s birth certificate and her parents and other things. If you say that he has broken the child’s right act, then report him to the police and law enforcement agents that he has broken the law. There is no part of the Senate rule that he has violated and there is nothing that we can do about it.”

In its petition, the NHRC said it is investigating the matter on its own because the child rights act is operational in Abuja where the marriage was held. The petition said the marriage is “a seeming violation of Section 21 of the Child Rights Act 2003, which is applicable in Abuja where the said marriage purportedly took place. The act forbids marriage with anyone under 18 years and criminalises same with a fine of N500, 000 or 5-year jail term, or both.” The NHRC petition is now cause for investigation in both chambers of the National Assembly.

While briefing newsmen on their mission to the legislature, the National President of the Medical Women Association of Nigeria (MWAN), Mrs. Mma Wokocha said the women are against the marriage due to the negative implication of the act of the ‘baby’ bride. She said: “We have decided to come to you for help, because we will not stop, we know the outcome of this problem. The outcome of this problem is disastrous to the affected little girl. The pelvis, the female organ of this little one is not mature or ready for the duty she has to perform naturally, which is reproduction. When you marry them off at this early stage, is it because they are viewed as a commodity that can easily be disposed of and a new one acquired? The preamble I am giving you could be tolerated if this act is committed by an illiterate in our society, but our shock is that the people who should be guarding the nation because we are practicing democracy are the ones we are seeing breaking the rules. Hitherto, Nigerians have hid either under the guise of Christianity or Islam, but the issue in question is the marriage of one of our senators, former governor of Zamfara State has gone to Egypt and I want the press to know that Egypt is an Islamic country, yet Egypt has a functional law prohibiting this very act. Yarima went there, remember that our people whether in Egypt or here in Nigeria, majority of us are poor, maybe because of poverty he bought this little girl and he could not complete the marital rite over there he brought her to a country that is filled with policies but very lawless, Nigeria. This happened two, three weeks ago and everybody kept mute, which is the problem in this nation. We are calling on Senator Yarima, we don’t care how he feels about it, this girl could be my daughter and she could be any of our daughters. We are calling upon him, because this is not the first one, we learnt that the first one he had taken before now just clocked 17 and nobody spoke about that.”

On her part, President of the Global Association of Female Attorney (GAFA), Mrs. Chinelo Iriele said it is unfortunate that Yarima as a lawmaker chose to break the law by violating the Child Right Act. According to her, “As we speak today, we want Zamfara people to start proceeding towards withdrawing Senator Yarima from the Senate. We are not afraid, we want to leave something for our kids coming up and if we don’t do the fight, nobody will do it for us. Senator Yarima is sitting at the highest lawmaking body of this country committing the same offence that attracts the penalty of N500, 000 or five years imprisonment or both of them.”

The matter has also become a subject of discussion among people in Gusau, the state capital of Zamfara from where the Senator hails. However, when contacted, most of the Islamic scholars in Gusau preferred not to speak on the issue for political reasons.

Speaking on the matter, Mrs. Ifeyinwa Mary Obegolu a member of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, an umbrella body under the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) said they have decided to take the case to court as it infringes on the right of the girl in question. “We intend to take the matter to court as his action has contradicted the Child’s Right Act. Though he has come out to say that his wife is not thirteen years and it is his words against ours as even as we speak no one has seen the girl in question to ascertain if she is really a minor and what her actual age is. As we speak efforts are been made to establish what her actual age is.”

Speaking on behalf of Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEPDA), Mrs. Bolanle V. Ojo said, “Women as an umbrella body have already tabled the case before the relevant authorities. Even if he is found guilty of the offence of violating the Child Rights Act some parts of the Constitution will still pose as a problem for justice to be effectively enforced.”

Reacting from far away Egypt, the home country of his new bride, Yarima debunked the allegation saying that his new wife is not 13-years-old. When asked to state his wife’s age the senator said that amounts to invasion of his privacy. Basing his action on Islamic traditions, Yarima said: “Whatever the Qur’an and the hadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammad authorises, I try my best to live up to it. Whatever they forbid, I try my best not to do it. Those are the guiding rules of my life. So if anyone decides to judge me according to rules other than those prescribed by Allah and the Holy Prophet, then he is wasting his time, because those are not my guiding principles.”

 And contrary to fears expressed by the women associations in the country that the Egyptian girl is out of school, Yarima disclosed that the girl returned to Cairo where her parents live to continue her education soon after the marriage in Abuja.

 An Egyptian embassy official said on Wednesday to AFP: “The girl is still in school in Egypt and nobody has complained to the embassy in respect of the girl.” He, however, said that the embassy would investigate the matter. In a telephone interview with the BBC Hausa service on Thursday Yarima defended himself, saying, “I don’t care about the issue of age since I have not violated any rule as far as Islam is concerned. History tells us that Prophet Muhammad did marry a young girl as well. Therefore, I have not contravened any law even if she is 13, as is being falsely peddled around.”  

Yarima has been away from the Senate chamber since the controversy heightened. What is left now is to witness when Yarima appears before the Ethics Committee to defend his position on the matter. That day, he may have to answer series of questions including the one that has to do with the age of his new found Egyptian love.

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