By Rotimi Fasan
THIS past week couldnâ€™t have been a particularly pleasant one for Ahmed Yerima, former governor of Zamfara State and now PDP senator representing Zamfara at the National Assembly. The Senate Minority Whip was definitely in the minority when four female colleagues of his decided to take him to task on allegations that he recently married a 13 year old Egyptian girl.
The marriage, Yerimaâ€™s fourth to as many women, is believed to have been contracted at the National Mosque in Abuja. Certainly there couldnâ€™t be a better place to display this latest addition to a burgeoning harem than Nigeriaâ€™s centre of power, indecent display and city of brigand lasciviousness- Abuja.
And at the National Mosque for that matter where the world would know. In the several weeks since the news first broke, Senator Yerima, saw no need to deny it. It was apparently, for him, yet another feather to his long turban. He neither saw the need to deny the report or defend himself against the implied charge of moral turpitude. It was, in short, for him his personal business.
Or so he must have imagined. Until the quartet of Chris Anyanwu, Eme Ufot Ekaete, Zaynab Kure and Nkechi Nwaogu, all senators, decided to literally pull at Yerimaâ€™s mullahâ€™s beard and thereby shake him out of his smug silence and careless disregard of a matter that bothers on child molestation and offends our moral if not legal judgement.
It might seem ironic that Senator Yerima who had cut for himself the image of a figure of moral authority should be at the receiving end of a charge of child abuse or molestation, if not both. I said it would seem ironic but because Yerimaâ€™s moral stance had long seemed suspicious, a politically motivated act of religious offence.
Yerima, let those who have forgotten be reminded, was the man at the vanguard of the Sharia movement that all but threw spanner in the smooth running of the Obasanjo administration during the first tem of the former president. He led the group of northern governors who insisted on implementing the sharia legal code for reasons that were anything but genuine or religious but looked like an attempt to bring down the administration of a Nigerian, a Christian, of southern origin.
It was clearly an act in bad faith. Anyone in doubt of this only need to ask what has become of Sharia since the noises that heralded its implementation in the wave of copycat acts that spread across northern states at the turn of the millennium.
Yerima, it should be repeated, led the group of latter-day religionists whose actions were iconised by the stump of amputated arms that gave the misleading impression that the Sharia legal code, if not Islam itself, was a harsh, unforgiving system that insisted on the severest punishment for the most insignificant infraction.
Yet since Yerima left office he had come under the searchlight of authorities, groups and individuals in Zamfara that had accused him of corruption and misuse of public funds and have therefore called on the EFCC to investigate him. So much for the moral hunter now turned quarry.
And as the matter at hand attests, Yerimaâ€™s moral crusading does not include matters of child rights and sound health. Which may explain the call by the National Human Rights Commission which, invoking Section 5 of its 1995 Act, is asking for the censure of Yerima.
But the best that all these reactions have drawn from Yerima, who tactfully stayed away from the senate when his matter came up for debate, is denial that the child-bride is just 13 years without disclosing the girlâ€™s actual age. The Egyptian foreign office too has not been left out of the matter.
It says the alleged child-bride was yet in school in Egypt and might not be coming until after some time. Which is not the same thing as saying that the senator has been wrongly accused. What Yerimaâ€™s action, his refusal to disclose the girlâ€™s age, says is that his conduct probably wonâ€™t bear scrutiny since he is not denying the allegation that he had contracted the marriage with the child.
Aside the fact that Yerimaâ€™s former position as governor should apprise him with knowledge of the evil of too early marriage in the north, his current position as senator makes him one of several moral gatekeepers that should protect the rights of all vulnerable persons, especially minors who have no voice that can be heard on its own without adult support.
The evils of VVF and other forms of medical and mental conditions associated with early marriage mean nothing to Yerima. But even lawmakers are and should be subject to the laws they make. Yerima therefore cannot have his cake and eat it, more so that he seems to have committed the alleged act with the full knowledge of the girlâ€™s father who he had paid $100,000 as if he was buying cattle off a stall. Perhaps for the girlâ€™s father, his daughterâ€™s life or comfort is worth no more than $100,000.
It perhaps makes no difference to him whether his daughter is alive or sold into slavery. What counts for him is the amount he stands to make from the whole business. Yes, this is no more than a mere business transaction. But since, thankfully, there are still civilised people around, the matter is not entirely in the hands of one man, even a supposed biological father that had turned his teenage daughter into mere chattel.
No, this cannot be allowed to stand. Yerima must account for his action or inaction. Nigerians insist on full disclosure and deserve to know why one of their senior law makers should seem to be violating principles of civilised conduct. This is not a mere question of legal technicality as Yerima or some of his supporters have been trying to put out. Itâ€™s both a matter of physical and mental health, and of course, common sense which in this case seems a truly rare commodity for the senator.