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Child marriage: Umuada Ndi-Igbo in Diaspora writes Senate

SIR, I am writing to you as a bona fide citizen of Nigeria and also as Founder/ National President of Umuada Ndi-Igbo in Diaspora, Inc. (a not for profit women organisation with headquarters in California, USA).

I want to take a moment to first express my sincere appreciation to you and your fellow law-makers in the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for all the work you do to foster democracy and create an environment conducive for both foreign and domestic investment in our beloved country, Nigeria. Many of us have been following with very keen interest the progress our country is struggling to make towards democracy and in the development of her physical infrastructure.

I am particularly happy that we have not had any interruption in the governance of our country since the Nigerian people decided to embrace the doctrine of power through the ballot box, as opposed to power through the barrel of the gun over a decade ago. We understand that democracy doesn’t always come easy — not even in the most advanced countries of the world.

But because it is the bedrock of real lasting progress and /or development, we have no other choice but to embrace and nurture it to the best of our ability as a nation. You, the law-makers are obviously at the vanguard of the sustenance of democracy in our country.

Whether or not democracy takes root and thrives in Nigeria depends on you, members of the Senate and House of Representatives. This means the way and manner in which you get yourselves to the Senate, the type of laws you make, the nature of relationship you establish/maintain with the executive and judicial branches of government, the way you relate with your constituencies/the citizens of Nigeria should all be guided by the overall and best interest of ONE progressive Nigeria.

In other words you, the federal legislators hold the key to Nigeria’s future! Incidentally many of our senators and members of the House of Representatives do not appear to understand just how important their portfolios are to the prosperity of our country.

Lately we have heard so much about a purported bill in the Senate regarding legalising marriage for under-aged girls. My blood and that of the other     members of my organisation was already boiling. We were already planning massive rallies across the USA and Nigeria, to express our distaste for such inhumane and insane proposition.

Fortunately, and thank God Almighty, that Senator Ike Ekweremadu,   the Senate’s Deputy President and Chairman of its Committee on Constitution Amendment, clarified the issue in a timely manner at a press briefing in Abuja on July 23, 2013. Senator Ekweremadu is an honourable man. I respect and trust him very much.

I, therefore, have no reason to think that he might not be telling Nigeria the truth this time. That notwithstanding, I still had to do my own homework and found that the Senate failed to remove Section 29 (4) (b) from the Constitution, rather than added anything new to it. Section 29     states:

*( “29. (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.

(2) The President shall cause the declaration made under subsection (1) of this section to be registered and upon such registration, the person who made the declaration shall cease to be a citizen of Nigeria.

(3) The President may withhold the registration of any declaration made under subsection (1) of this section if-

(a) the declaration is made during any war in which Nigeria is physically involved; or

(b) in his opinion, it is otherwise contrary to public policy.

(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.     )*

No big deal, one may say. But what worries me is why we should have a different age for males and females when it comes to renunciation of Nigerian citizenship, and why should it be senators from a particular region of the country that want to ensure that the clause “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age” stays /remains in the Constitution? Is it a shortcut to legitimizing under-aged marriages for girls?

No matter the motive behind this move, one thing remains clear. This whole issue has brought to light the dark side of some senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that some of us did not know before now. I don’t know for you, but as a proud Nigerian I am ashamed to know that a senator would take a 13-year-old child for “wife”! I mean I’m sick to the stomach!!

Hon. Senate President, this is no longer a private matter. It is not even a cultural or religious thing! A lawmaker sleeping with a child young enough to be his granddaughter!! If this is not pedophilia, then the Senate should please give concerned Nigerians their own definition of child molestation.

You expect us to stay quiet in the face of this very despicable act of serial raping of a child? Where is the collective conscience of our nation? Shouldn’t this child be going to school like her other age mates across the globe, to prepare her for a better future? Shouldn’t it also be the responsibility of our law-makers to protect such unfortunate children from predators like the senator in question?

As a concerned Nigerian and head of a group that stands up for the rights of women and children (Umuada Ndi-Igbo in Diaspora, Inc.), I am calling upon you, Hon. Senate President, to cause the Senate to investigate this matter and bring out the truth. We are living in the 21st century, and Nigeria cannot afford not to protect her own children.

My organization will be deliberating on this issue very soon, and possibly liaise with other women rights groups, especially the Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), through its founder, Mrs. Funmi Falana, to urge the Senate to review its decision by deleting  the controversial section 29 (4) (b) of the constitution. I do also support Mrs. Falana’s ultimatum to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), to prosecute Alhaji Ahmed Sani Yerima (Senator from Zamfara State) for marrying a 13-year-old girl.

Mr. President, once again, many of us appreciate the good work some of you are doing. But I hope you take this call for action very seriously, for we shall not hesitate to mobilize all Nigerian women against the senate, should you (the senate) fail to protect our children against any form of sexual abuse under any guise or form, even if it were perpetuated by one of their own.

Wouldn’t Nigeria be better off if only our senators and other elected officials could worry more about the very high unemployment rate, lawlessness/insecurity on our streets, runaway inflation, dilapidated healthcare infrastructure, deteriorating standards of education, etc; rather than wasting our precious time and limited resources in scheming to marry helpless under-aged children?

Thank you very much for your service to our great country. Thank you too for your understanding and anticipated positive response to this matter.

Long Live our great Children and Women of Nigeria!

Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Mrs. ADA OZO GRACE AGUDE is member of Umuada Ndi-Igbo in Diaspora.(USA)

 

 


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