By Rotimi Fasan
THIS space was slated for an issue entirely different from what you have before you now. I had been mulling over what to write about for two days and had yet to finally resolve on a particular topic by Friday last week. But by Saturday morning, I’d come to the conclusion that the topic I had chosen to write on was the right one for the week.

But I still had not put anything down in writing by the time I saw the front page report of Sunday Punch on the fourteen year old Bayelsa girl, Ese Oruru.  Ese was allegedly abducted from her mother’s trading stall in Bayelsa State and taken to Kano where she was coerced into marriage by one Yinusa, a wood seller turned commercial tricycle rider.

Ese, her abductors (and that’s what we must continue to call Yinusa and others supporting him who didn’t see anything wrong in suborning a minor into marriage without the knowledge of her parents) reportedly claimed, had converted to Islam and is now known as Aisha. The abduction took place last August, which means that as we speak the young girl has been away from home for six months!

The Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, is said to be very much in the know of this case. He is even said to have ordered the release of the child to her parents after they lodged a complaint with the Kano Emirate Council. Why the Emir’s order had not been effected is one of the mysteries that investigators must now explain.

But it would appear from the Sunday Punch report that the Emirate Council sees Ese Oruru as a prized convert to Islam who must be married to Yinusa irrespective of her age or the disapproval of her parents. Their own take of the matter is that once young Ese has converted to Islam of her own volition she could no more change her mind than her parents could be allowed to have a say in her alleged conversion.

Viewed at as it is, the report makes one’s blood boil at the kind of impunity that would make an individual or groups of individuals take a girl away from her parents without their consent. It would not matter that this girl could have of her own volition eloped with her presumed lover and chosen not just to change religion but also to be delinquent and irresponsible.

The important point remains that she is but a minor under the guidance of her parents. To the extent that her parents have not given up their parental claims over the child and they have not been adjudged to constitute any danger to her, to that extent do they have the right to insist on the return of their daughter. In any case, it is not the responsibility of the Kano Emirate Council or any other such body to assume responsibility over issues concerning a child of a different faith.

Nigerians must not condone this, not when as individuals, groups and as a nation, we continue to campaign for the return of the Chibok girls. By April this year it would have been two full years since nearly three hundred school girls were abducted from their dormitories by Boko-haram insurgents. The Nigerian state has more or less given up on them even when we continue to hear news of unverified sighting of the girls.

Former President Obasanjo recently poured cold water on any hope that the girls could still be found while President Buhari appears ambivalent about it all. One moment he appears to be hopeful of a happy resolution of the matter, the next moment he is said not to be too hopeful in spite of contradictory statements by his field commanders that the girls could still be found.

Nigeria has failed the Chibok girls and by implication failed itself. Until those girls are found and returned to their homes we cannot confidently say that Nigeria is worth dying for. The future of this country is in jeopardy for as long as human life, especially the life of the helpless and vulnerable, remains worthless.

The claim that Ese has converted to Islam and must remain in a forced marriage is an insult that must not be allowed to stick. As a minor her parents bear responsibility for her and it’s their wish that should be respected here. Not until somebody is able to show that they are a danger to their own daughter.

And even at that the solution couldn’t possibly be to marry her off to a scoundrel who stole her from under the watch of her parents. All kinds of strange things from unprecedented corruption to outrageous cases of ritual murders and religious extremism are everyday occurrences   in Nigeria today.

The bizarre is now normal and right before us our values are being upended by people who would be better off living in the wilds. There is no compulsion in religion is what followers of Islam say. Therefore there should be no way violence against a minor or her parents by way of forced marriage can be a peaceful act.

Just three years ago, it was the case of Charity Uzoechina and the Bida Emirate Council. Against the wish of her parents she was alleged to have converted to Islam and contracted a marriage. While her parents struggled to have her returned home, she was held in the palace of the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar under the pretext that she would be harmed by her father, a pastor of the Redeemed Church of God. Like Ese she was renamed Aisha and her parents were told she could not return with them.

I do not know now how that episode ended but it is a measure of how frightened we have become of religious and ethnic issues that we are no longer able to be truthful. We would rather remain silent and die in the face of gross violation of other people’s rights and values than be seen to be speaking against criminal acts perpetrated in the guise of religion.

If Charity Uzoechina’s case could be overlooked on grounds that she was at twenty four years of age an adult, how does anybody in their right senses justify the case of a fourteen year old who was abducted when she was thirteen? What kind of values are we condoning when any miscreant can in the name of religion commit any kind of outrage? Why has it taken both the Bayelsa and Kano States command of the Nigeria Police this long to conduct their so-called investigation without any resolution of the matter? No, Ese Oruru must be returned home now. Not later.

 

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