By BARTHOLOMEW MADUKWE
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe is the Chairman Senate Committee on Media. In this interview, he spoke on issues surrounding the widely condemned Child Marriage. Excerpts:
So can you tell us what really transpired at the senate, leading to the “Child Marriage” issue?
The committee that was set up by the Senate to amend the constitution looked at 4b of Section 29 and felt that because it makes specific mention of a married woman, which actually has nothing to do with 4a and renunciation of your citizenship, was not meant to be there. This is because that subsection is in conflict with Section 42 of the Constitution, which talks about discrimination.
And so we could not have two sections that are against each other, because by bringing in 4b that has a specific mention of a woman, we felt that it was against Section 42. So the committee now brought it to us and said rather than continue to have a problem, let that particular Section 4b be deleted since 4a is there and it is gender neutral. And that was what played out on the floor of the Senate because at that point we voted on it.
When we voted, the Section 4b actually passed to be deleted. But what now happened was that subsequently one of our distinguished senators, Senator Yerima, raised a point-of-order. Now in parliamentary practice, you can raise a point-of-order either on the basis of the constitution or on the basis of our rules.
Now, he raised a constitutional point-of-order that under the second schedule of the constitution, Section 61 defines the area that you legislate on as the exclusive list. And Section 61 talks about Statutory Marriage. And in Section 61, it says that we cannot go into Customary law or Islamic law as the case may be.
Now once you raise a point-of-order, it is bound to be taken by the presiding officer, the Senate President. And so he (Senate President) now looked at it and decided that in the interest of everyone of us that were in the chamber because everybody in that represents a constituency. And once a point-of-order is raised, somebody from a constituency wants to point out that there is something that he is seeing there is against whatever he feels his own feelings, as epitomized by his constituency, is.
So the Senate President had no option than to take it. It could not muster the required two third number that would be used to be able to delete it from the constitution. And that is exactly what happened. What really we see is that several commentators, several editorials and all manners of things have been put out to the public with respect to Section 29 and what we voted on was not child marriage.
When the point-of-order was raised, was it raised before the vote was taken or after the vote had been taken, and could the point-of-order be raised after the vote had been taken?
The point-of-order was taken after the vote. Usually every presiding officer, in other to make sure that every interest is catered for within the Nigeria states, bends over backwards to accommodate things that are sad by members who represents a constituency.
When Senator Yerima raised that point-of-order, the presiding officer was bound to take it. And on taking it, those who voted against the position for us to leave it there where in the minority; it came to 60 to 35. But the point really is that constitution stipulates that for every position to pass, there must be two third majority. And because that two third could not be gotten, that is how that particular section is still in our books as it is today.
Item 61, part 1 of the second schedule of the constitution talks about Customary law and Islamic law with respect to age of marriage, but bringing it in with respect to this one, people think that was able to happen because of the ambiguity of Section 29 (4a and 4b) and that if this is not deleted such things will always pass?
Renunciation of citizenship
That is not correct because this particular section is specific to renunciation of your citizenship and does not have anything to do with any other part of the constitution, with respect to either Islamic law or customary law. And let me also say this, this same national assembly in 2003 had passed the Child Rights Act. And in Section 21 of the Child Rights Act, the age of marriage is specified there- 18 years. That means that we already have a subsidiary legislation on age of marriage.
Simply thinking that somebody is trying to go back to that section and try to use it does not come in at all because that section is specific; it deals with the matter of renunciation of your citizenship or keeping your citizenship. Now what we know today is that the age of marriage as passed by this national assembly, under the Child Rights Act is 18 years. But the Child Rights Act will need to be domesticated in each state. As at today, most states have passed the Child Rights Act or have adopted it. I think only 12 states are remaining. What we have been doing is interfacing with Houses of Assembly of those particular 12 states and telling them to go ahead to adopt the Child Rights Act.
So, with respect to child marriage, the National Assembly has already done something about it. The question of this section, has nothing to do with child marriage. But why did the Senate wait this long to explain this to Nigerians because truly the 2003 Child Rights Act has states talking of so many issue relating to marriage age or maturity age, which most of them said is 21 years.
But in all of these, did anyone stampede the senate or deceive the senate into retaking that particular vote after it was done the very first time?
Nobody bullied the senate, nobody pushed the senate, nobody did anything to twist the hand of the senate. This is mainly a pragmatic approach that we normally take in legislation. Legislation is done for all times. And some of the times, somebody can get up and say we may have to revisit this section because we now have further information on that. All that simply happened was that there was a point-of-order raised and usually anytime a point-of-order is raised on anything, we vote on it.