Senator Ahmed Yerima
By Morenike Taire
IT initially appeared like a joke – a very bad joke- when Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima took the microphone at a hearing of the Senate constitution review committee, which had earlier recommended alteration of section ‘29’ of the constitution that deals with the manner of renunciation of citizenship, questioning why the section dealing with age of a married woman was deleted, describing the move as “un-Islamic”.
The constitution states that full age means 18 years and above, and the committee had proposed a removal of part ‘b’ of the clause which states that any woman that is married shall be deemed to be of full age, a move originally overwhelmingly backed by the upper house.
In the popular Nigerian parlance, Monkey no fine, but im mama laik am. If after the scandal and infamy of the event in 2009 when Dr. Yerima took a 13-year old as a bride to much public renouncement the former governor had been slapped on the wrist by his constituency, he would not have been given another chance at leadership.
It is safe, therefore, to assume that the people he represents either are oblivious of his antics or are perfectly happy with the way they are being represented.
It can even be the topic for another discussion, that of the possibility that Sani Yerima is representing the interest of his people better than many other of his peers are doing. And so, while the South throws its arms up in outrage, there are sections of the country in which Yerima’s attempt automatically bestows upon him a hero’s status.
There is no doubt that the unspeakable has happened, and Senator Yerima has been emboldened, his tongue loosed by activities of self styled Moslem terrorist group Boko Haram. There is no doubt, either, that votes cast in the Senate during the constitutional review hearing that Tuesday in which the age specification was inadvertently removed on when a woman can marry were influenced by a mindfulness of not heating up the polity any further than it is heated already.
There are those such as Abiola Akiode-Afolabi of the Gender and Constitution Reform Network, GECORN, who have insisted, in their protests, that Islam as a religion is being misrepresented by Yerima and his clique. Voices such as these are likely to be muted, even stifled.
It gets more complicated in view of the recent anti-homosexuality law, which amazingly criminalizes homosexual acts and associations in the country. Again, the tension lines are being identified and difficult to ignore between human rights, religion and morality.
In a country where preventing a man from engaging fully in the practice of his religion can be deemed an attack on his fundamental human right, religion can easily be wielded as a threatening weapon in the face of moral logic and natural law. Already, we are seeing this in the public defence of the Senate by its president, David Mark.
It is a situation worthy of concern that the lines have become blurred between religion and politics, and this phenomenon is not restricted to Islam alone. Very seldom are the actual holy books consulted for purposes of authentication or disproof of theories and passages being bandied by those using them to further political ends.
Looking on the bright side of things, Nigerians have become suddenly interested in how their respective senators have voted with respect to Local Government autonomy and marital age, among others. For the first time, they are seizing the power of our vote and taking steps that suggest they are holding their federal representatives responsible.
It is heartening that the Yerimas of this world cannot single-handedly make laws. Political messiahs are fewer and further between, while ill gotten wealth obtained at the expense of the governed is now more likely to be frowned at and questioned.
Ethnicity and religion are less and less likely to be considered as factors in assessing performance of politicians. If we were ever on the way to democracy, we are now. But by far the most urgent matter arising is that of the progressively widening gap between one Nigeria and the other. Within this geographical expression, there are so many Nigerias that it becomes increasingly difficult for one Nigeria to recognize the Nigeria of another.
In The Great Divide: global income inequality and its cost, a Ford Foundation research report, Nigeria was named one of the countries in which oil money was widening the gap between the rich and the poor, rather than bridging it.
The widening economic gap between the rich and the poor has been an issue for so long that it is no longer an issue, particularly as that gap is being effectively bridged by the things we do all have in common: insecurity and low standards of living across board. The bigger issue now is that this insecurity and religion have prevented free movement of people and ideas within the country and free debates between those of differing religious sentiments.
As a matter of urgency, insistent and deliberate steps must be taken to unite Nigeria and Nigerians physically, psychologically, economically and most importantly, culturally. This ought to be:the first focus of any constitutional review.