CAN says no to child marriage, spoils for war with senators

By The Rainbow

President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, has urged the Senate to revisit resolution on child marriage.

Oritsejafor, said he was prepared to lead Nigerians to protest against the Senate resolution to amend Section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution under which married underage girls are deemed to be adults.

The cleric was particularly irked by the  comment credited to former Governor of Zamfara State Ahmed Yerima that the proposal for the deletion of the section contravened Islamic Law.

'It presupposes that Nigeria, a secular state, is populated only by Muslims,' the CAN president said in a statement on Tuesday.

He  described Yerima's argument as offensive, urging Nigerians to reject the resolution which he described as provocative and dehumanising.

He said, 'By the grace of God, I will, personally mobilise Nigerians and lead the street protest against this oppressive and dehumanising resolution. Why would the Senate, after voting recoil, simply because of a point of order premised on religious basis?

'We, Christians, also have Canon Law, which frowns on marriage of girls who are not of age. Christianity abhors such marriages. The protest will be soon.

'Finally, I urge the Yerimas in the Senate to toe the path of the Holy Qur'an, which states that one who kills a person unjustly in effect has killed everyone and one who saves another has saved everyone. They should save these girls and Nigerians the agony of having their children married off at ages below 18 by unfavourable legislations.'

Oritsejafor noted that Yerima's latest comment would stir up another controversy in the country.

Yerima as a governor introduced the controversial Sharia, the Islamic Legal code, in Zamfara State.

According to Oritsejafor, people like Yerima are approaching Qur'anic teachings from extremes and disturbing the balance.

'It makes me wonder the source of the emotions and thoughts that nurture them,' he said.

The CAN President said as a Senator, whose case of marrying a 13-year-old Egyptian girl was still fresh in the memory of Nigerians, Yerima should 'only be seen and not heard in matters of this nature'.

He added, 'If now Yerima is commenting on a case in which he has interest, it can only mean the action of a man frenziedly trying to get himself out of the hook through some undeserved legislations. I appeal to those individuals who have been educated along this line in the Senate not to use their rights as lawmakers to harm children below the age of 18, but to choose the interest of these children above their own.

'These girls should be allowed to develop, individually because this resolution, if implemented, would hound girls below 18 years into marriages they know nothing about. This is only one dimension of this tragic resolution.

'I feel that when individuals attain a certain way of thinking and understanding and reach certain status in life, they should be able to comprehend that it is necessary to adhere to conventions in line with best practices the world over and not harm other members of society, no matter their ages within the same society.'

Meanwhile,  the Senate on Tuesday said its members did not vote on Marriage Age.

It said the Child's Right Act is still intact and the lawful age of marriage is 18years.

The Senate made the clarifications in a special note in Abuja by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Enyinaya Abaribe.

The note said: 'For the avoidance of doubt, at no time did the senators vote, neither did they ever deliberate on any clause that has to do with marriage age. They also did not vote to introduce any new law on underage marriage.

'The senators only voted to amend some clauses in the articles that were already in the constitution. What is important is for the issue to be put in its proper perspective.

'This clarification has become necessary because of the wilful and deliberate act to distort and misinform the general public on what was never discussed nor contemplated by the distinguished senators.

'At no time was marriage as a section of the constitution discussed or voted for.'

The Senate gave details on what transpired at its plenary last week during the consideration of proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution.

The Senate said: 'It is pertinent for the public to know that the section up for amendment had to do with persons qualified to renounce Nigerian citizenship.

'The 1999 constitution as amended in Section 29, (which has suddenly become a hot issue for both informed and uninformed interpretation in the press and social media) states in Section 1 S29(1): 'Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for the renunciation'. S29(4): 'For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section, (a) 'full age' means the age of 18 years and above; (b) 'any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age'

'The prevailing view of the committee before the initial vote was that Section 29(4) (a) was gender-neutral but with section 29(4) (b) specifically mentioning 'woman', it now looked discriminatory and, as such, is in conflict with Section 42 of the constitution, which prohibits discrimination of any form. The committee thus sought for it to be expunged from the constitution.

'Senators therefore voted earlier to expunge that sub section and it scaled through by 75 votes. Note that under the constitution, to amend any clause you will need 2/3 of the members of the Senate, which translates to 73 votes.

'However, the revisiting of the voting on that section was to take care of objections raised by distinguished Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, among others. He pointed out that removing the clause 29(4) (b) contradicts section 61 of the second schedule of the constitution which restricts the National Assembly from considering matters relating to Islamic and Customary law.

'Revisiting the section was pure and simple a pragmatic approach. It had to be so, considering that the Senate as the representative of the people, represents all interests and all shades of opinion.

'Therefore, a fresh vote was called and even though those who wanted that section expunged were more in number, they failed to muster the needed votes to get it through. What it meant was that majority of senators voted to remove it, but they were short of the 2/3 majority or (73) required to alter an article of the constitution.

'Had voting in constitutional amendment not been based on the mandatory two-third or (73) votes of senators at the sitting, perhaps the issue would have been rested by now, but be that as it may the outcome of the voting remains the position of the Senate. S29 (4) (b) still remains part of the constitution.'

The Senate insisted that by the provision of The Child Rights Act, the lawful marriage age in the country is still 18 years.

It said: 'The National Assembly in 2003 had passed 'The Child Rights Act' which specifically took care of the fears being expressed in a cross section of the media. The Act clearly states in Section 21: 'No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage and accordingly, any marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.'

22. 1. 'No parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person.'

2. A betrothal in contravention of subsection (1) of this section is null and void.

'Therefore under the Childs Right Act, the lawful age of marriage is 18 years.