I remember writing on these issues a few years ago. I am going to quote myself and the venerable Professor Soyinka in the same post! yikes!
There have been repeated incidences of the #childnotbride hashtag being part of a public outcry in Nigeria. I feel strongly that we the outcries have been directed at political figures and not at the society that needs to change. The oversexualisation of female bodies is more than a matter of political lobbying and social media panic. This post is a snapshot of the futility of being reactive to political manoeuvres. We need to invest and commit to movements of social change regardless of whose party we support or where the political figure involved comes from. Follow…
So in 2013 recommendations were made by the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution concerneding section 29 of the Constitution which refers to situations in which Nigerian citizens may renounce their citizenship. Section 29 stipulates that citizens must be of full age to do so. The section adds that “full age means the age of eighteen years and above” (S.29 (4)(a)), and specifies that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age” (S.29(4)(b)). It was suggested that S.29(4)(b) be deleted from the Constitution. A furore ensued and I wrote the following:
Foluke 2013: Child ‘marriage’ has been going on for ages, generations even. It has never needed legal validation so why seek it now? That is the question we should be asking ourselves.
I start from the premise that contrary to public opinion, our politicians are EXTREMELY smart. They are so sharp, they can cut diamond. Let us never be in doubt about that. Calling them names like ‘clueless’ and ‘silly’ and ‘idiot’, points the finger back at ourselves while they laugh all the way to bank. It points the finger at us who vote for them, who allow them to persist in government. So why were our politicians so eager to amend the age at which one can renounce Nigerian citizenship?
My conclusions therefore are as follows; there is a sinister reason behind this debate and we are being misdirected. We are being deliberately being made to look in the wrong direction. Secondly, children are being given out in marriage every day, to do something about it we need sustained protest and not the flash-in-the-pan political antics that we are fond of adopting. Finally, let us be objective and reflective in our view of issues. Don’t always argue what your adversary wants you to argue, but look to the bigger picture, look through his eyes. Do not underestimate. Beware misdirection.
A few weeks later, the furore died down. Back to business as usual. Fast forward two years.
In 2015 the Sexual Offences Bill 2015 was tabled before the legislative house, which attempted to criminalise sexual offences. In the ambit of criminalisation included offences against children. Again furore. Previous bill had defined someone who was married as not a child. Present Bill would conflict with that. #childnotbride trended on Naija twitter for a few days. Professor Wole Soyinka waded into the matter.
Soyinka 2015: ‘Well, we understand ‘child’ as defined in most dictionaries. There is however also child as defined by the Nigerian legislature. This definition is contained in a prior Bill, sponsored, no less, by a notorious serial paedophile and cross-border sex trafficker, yet lawmaker – one Ahmed Yerima.
Does Yerima’s Bill, gleefully assented to by his peers, not simply vitiate this latter, supposedly humane concern for the protection of the child? Again, I confess to being only a ‘bloody layman’ in such matters.
However, reading both bills, it strikes me that all the new bill does is empower the clique of paedophiles. All you need do is ‘marry’ even a six-year old under any local laws, and do whatever you want with her. Through marriage, she is already an ‘adult’. Her ‘defiler’ is now fully protected by this law. She is not.’
Foluke 2015: Beware the magician-politician, he is smart, he will patiently wait out your amnesiac attention span, there is a plan more cunning than we can imagine. Nigeria belongs to her people, only if her people are brave and cunning enough to take her from the magician-politician, the master of misdirection! And please, please remember the voiceless and powerless children. Their stories matter.
There are so many people that fight these battles everyday. Battles to better the nation. battles for the next generation. Those battles need our persistence, our commitment and our absolute unwavering belief in our common humanity.
And absolute conviction that a child is a child. Their childhoods must not be stolen. No more. No more.