By Yinka Odumakin
IT’S an undiluted shame that one has to write about the voting age in Nigeria in the year of our Lord 2015! All the preceding ages of civilisations that humanity ever knew had addressed standards in one way or the other.
From stones depicting prices,through King Henry I stretched arm making a yard to the French King’s foot until international standard weights and measurements evolved,the issue has been managed by stages of enlightenment.
The procedure for verification of the foot as described in the 16th century by Jacob Koebel in his book Geometrei. Von künstlichem Feldmessen und absehen is:
Stand at the door of a church on a Sunday and bid 16 men to stop, tall ones and small ones, as they happen to pass out when the service is finished; then make them put their left feet one behind the other, and the length thus obtained shall be a right and lawful rod to measure and survey the land with, and the 16th part of it shall be the right and lawful foot.”
55 grueling and suffocating years of what we assumed was independence, Nigeria has yet to evolve standard measures in most of our national life because we are a country pretending to be a nation. Even the status of our country-hood has come under scrutiny with Chinua Achebe’s “There Was A Country”
Not a country
A few years back,Kunle Ajibade of The News presented a compendium of his essays under the title “What A country”. But the holder one of the most gifted pens of my generation, Wale Adebanwi, in a cerebral review at the MUSON centre ran through the essays and surmised “Not A Country”.
He asked for instance how a space where the thieves who are supposed to be hunted are the head hunters for the EFCC chairman should be calling itself a country. Shortly after the presentation, an old man was said to have called Ajibade asking for a copy of his “Not A Country” to which Ajibade responded “Don’t mind Wale sir,the title is WHAT A COUNTRY”. He could hardly finish when Baba (not the non-fatherly who wears it about as a title) said ” NOT A COUNTRY is more apt”
So it was that our many senators thought it was at least a country when the Upper chamber was to take a vote on the age when citizens can renounce their citizenship during the ritual of constitutional amendment in July 2013.They voted that “full age” should be 18 in concurrence with other laws setting the age of consent at same.
That would only last for a few minutes until Senator Ahmed Yerima the renowned groom to child -wives literally reminded the chambers of the clash of civilisations in Nigeria. Against the rule of the Senate, he asked for another vote on a settled matter with the blackmail of the clash between secular and Islamic laws. “By Islamic law any woman that is married, she is of age, so if you now say she is not of age then it means that you are going against Islamic law”.
By the time a second vote was called many Muslim Senators changed their mind and the amendment could not secure two thirds. Thus, a Nigerian could change his/her citizenship at the age of 18 but child-wives of any including Yerima’s could also do so since a married girl is now considered an adult in our duality.
“Every Nigerian should bow his or her head in shame because instead of crushing the head of the lustful beast that seeks to fornicate with our children, to steal their virtues and to destroy their future, what the Senate did the other day was to compromise with and cater for the filthy appetites and godless fantasies of a bunch of child molesters and sexual predators,” Femi Fani-Kayode had fumed at the Senate decision .
The same Senate session at the peak of its infamy in its last days fixed the age of consent at 11. Much as I share Fani Kayode’s angst,the Federalist in me keeps nudging on the imperatives of cultural democracy. In that context, I am of the view that there should be nothing like Marriage Act for a multi-ethnic country.
Rather each unit of the federation should have their own marriage laws and Alhaji Yerma should be able to pick his bride at five in areas where their culture permits but must not touch a girl of 17 in areas where child marriage is abhorrent.
While I’m willing to give unto Yeima what is Yermia’s as per age of consent. I do not concede to Attahiru Jega the insidious attempt to deregulate the voting age in Nigeria.The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)) has the following information on its website as to eligible voters in Nigeria according to the laws:
The voter: Who is he/she?
S/He is a Nigerian citizen.
• S/He is 18 years and above.
• S/He has registered in the constituency where he intends to vote.
• S/He possesses a registration card obtained during voters’ registration
PERSONS WHO CANNOT VOTE
• The following persons cannot vote at election.
• All persons below the age of 18 years.
• All non-Nigerians.
• All persons who did not register as voters.
• All persons who do not hold a voter registration card.
• All persons whose names are not in the voters register.
The age of eligibility was however observed in the breach in the 2011 and 2015 General elections conducted by INEC in areas of the North of Nigeria under Jega leadership.The use of Permanent Voters card and card readers for the 2015 elections was expected to erase this oddity.
The issue was however not given much attention as INEC under Jega kept creating one distraction after the other in the build up to the election. If it was not creating 30,000 new polling units, it was distribution of over 90% cards to Boko Haram ravaged states where people already fled and 40% in areas that never witnessed any crisis. The recent debate on insurgency (terrorism is more apt) in the North East by the Senate recently should sear Jega’s conscience as contributors lamented how many towns and villages have been destroyed and emptied by the wave of terror for years are now ghost towns. It is bewildering how those folks heard Jega’s clarion call and return to pick their voter cards only to disappear again
As we got to the polls in March 2015, the kid voters turned up again in droves giving the impression that Jega did aerial throwing of PVCs and it was a free pick by even infants and in the process the the voting age was permanently deregulated in a section of the country.
This duality has great implication for one-man- one-vote in our country if we don’t resolve it before we hold future elections in Nigeria. Are those kids now permanently part of our voting population as the cards they are holding suggests? Are we going to permanently live with this duality of “one nation” and different rules?
We have to open the voting age debate afresh and agree whether there is a cut-off point. We can also agree not to have a voting age nationally and by this any person who can grab a card is a voter.
One thing we must never witness again is to have different standards for different folks.This odious legacy bequeathed by Jega must go with him.