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YERIMA SHOULD BE BEHIND BARS — NAPTIP

By NBF News
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Head, Press and Public Relations Unit of the NationalAgency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP), Mr Orakwe Arinze, speaks on the Senator Ahmed Yerima child bride controversy.

How did NAPTIP know about Senator Yerima's bride controversy?

We are not immune to issues that have arisen as a result of that. We are part of this country and when there is a wealth of public opinion on issues like that, it is duty bound on our agencies to deal with whoever is connected and for him to respond. Many organizations in the United Nations have called to know our response. This is because of the fact that we are redefining integrity in government business, which attracted their confidence to want to know what NAPTIP has done.

What we have done is to first of all invite the senator for an interview and for his response. So we have extended that invitation to the former governor of Zamfara State, Senator Ahmed Yerima, to come to NAPTIP on the 4th of May for an interview so that we will see the level of complicity and see how we can move on from there.

Has he responded?
He has not responded. Here is a copy of the letter. It was addressed to the Clerk of the NASS, attention the Senator. I know that the National Human Rights Commission has also written to the Senate. The National Council of Women Societies has equally written. We have had a lot of responses from the U.S, UN and women asking if there is any way they can help in arresting this particular menace because if Nigeria wants assistance, they could reach out to the Egyptian government for intervention. We are told that it is illegal in Egypt and maybe that explains why the marriage ceremony was moved to Nigeria in spite of what the government has done in our re-branding project. We just cannot sit down and pretend as if nothing has happened because the Child Rights Act is clear on it, that no child can be betrothed at that age. The Child Rights Act is operational in Abuja where the marriage was consummated. So the police ought to have arrested Senator Yerima long time.

But he says the wife is not 13 years and that his action is guided by the laws of Allah…

He just said that on Thursday. And regarding the kind of law Yerima operates, I don't know why we should have individuals like him operating within that hallowed chamber of the National Assembly. He is there as a lawmaker of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Is there any law greater than the law that protects you and I? And that is the law of the Federal Republic, the law for which he was elected and is claiming to be in the National Assembly.

The law of Allah was not the law for which he was elected into the National Assembly. If there was any thing that challenge that election, it wouldn't have been based on the Sharia law he was claiming because people at various public fora have discussed this issue and I have heard people say it is even un-Islamic. Several Muslims have said that. Can Sharia law be stronger than what obtains in Egypt that is an Arab country? So if this thing is against the Egyptian law, we are not saying we are going to invoke the Egyptian law but we are saying that there is a Child Rights Act here, which makes it criminal for a child like that to be entered into marriage.

Have you handled this kind of cases before in NAPTIP?

No. But even if it is the first, there must be a time people break laws. The law was not promulgated ab initio to only catch Yerima. There are growing trends. We have had issues when we had to raise alarm to the National Assembly and the Federal Government based on the things we have noticed. In Abuja now, we have noticed that Pentecostal churches have become receptacles where children are harvested from different areas and locality in the guise of helping them and putting them into fostering and they are trafficking them.

When the law criminalizing the anti-human rights law was amended in 2005, which now criminalized house help and actually criminalized the ownership of brothel, we did not do it so that we target these people. No. We found that these are trends. The human society is dynamic. Criminals are smart. They look for several ways to go against the law. But as they are moving, we are also moving.

We did not do it because we felt like Yerima was going to be the first case. The Child Rights Act, which is operational in Abuja, was done because people felt a child under 18 cannot be dragged into any such contract. The consent of such a child is immaterial. If that child is seventeen and a half, the Nigerian law and constitution say it is illegal because the child cannot vote. All over the world, the Child Rights Act is a global thing and Nigeria is a signatory to the United Nations Child Rights Act. So it is not Nigeria alone.

What is NAPTIP's next line of action?
We are investigating the matter, which is a normal process. All these things are allegations because we heard and we owe him that right. We don't expect him to run away. We expect him to obey the same law that is there in the hallowed chamber of the Senate. So it behoves him to come here and answer some of the questions that we want to put before him. We have a copy of the complaint sent to the National Assembly by the National Human Rights Commission, that it seems to be in the character of Yerima to marry under-aged girls and that the one that he has just divorced is just barely 17.  So, it seems to be a serial case of marrying under-aged children. He has just divorced a 17-year-old child and is getting to marry a 13-year-old. He is denying that the girl is 13 and at the same time is protected under the laws of Allah not to divulge her age.

What if he does not honour your invitation?
I will not want to assume that. I will like to give him some credit that he is got some education. But if he doesn't show up, the law will take its full course because he will make himself a criminal. There is not going to be an end to this. Even if NAPTIP washes its hands off this, Nigerians would not. I know the press will not let this matter die, the NGOs would not and the international organizations would not let it die like that. The embassies would not either. So how are you going to get around it? He just has to honour the invitation.

Do you have a photograph of the baby wife?
No. You know all these things are done clandestinely. So I am sure when he consummated and brought it, he knew it was illegal to do that in Egypt. From what we have learnt, he brought the whole family here and did that thing and now I am told that the wife has gone back to Egypt.

The other side he did not know is that NAPTIP is working hand in hand with the wife of the Egyptian President to fight the cases of abused children. She has an international organization named Susan Mubarak Women International Peace Movement. You must understand that beside Brazil, Egypt has the greatest number of street children. So it is a challenge for them bending backward to make sure that the challenge of trafficking is accorded every measure and we have been working hand in hand with her. But we have not reached her on this particular matter. We are going to send a mail to one of our officers over there to let her know that we want her to intervene on the matter. We actually want to know what is the Egyptian law on this issue. It is not a hearsay thing any more. We cannot run this kind of culture any more. Muslims have said it is un-Islamic.

How can a man, a serving Senator marry a 13-year-old?

Are you saying the marriage between Yerima and the girl is illegal?

It is null and void, going by the Child Rights Act, which is explicit on it. It says no parents or guardian or any person shall betroth a child under the age of 18. Whatsoever the practice or knowledge, a betrothal in contravention of that section is null and void, and this Child Rights Act is operational in Abuja. So it means that what Senator Yerima has done is a nullity because based on the Child Rights Act, he has contravened the law. The law is very explicit because what he has done is not a marriage. The child cannot consent to, couldn't have consented to and anybody who does that or tries to do that either by proxy or whatever is running foul of the law. You cannot marry a child. That is what the law says.