By Onyemaechi Eze
WAS Ese Rita Oruru now 14 abducted or did she elope with Yunusa to have their Islamic marriage consummated in Kano? Whichever way the pendulum of varying degrees of public opinion swing, the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the entire saga call for sober national reflection. The angst it generated, ethnic and religious colourations weaved around it have brought to the front burner the urgent need to nationally harmonise all the contentious legal, religious, cultural and political issues surrounding the rights of the Nigerian child. Who is a Nigerian child? At what time and age is a child ripe for marriage?
Who gives consent before a marriage is consummated? The Child Right Act, 2003, defines a child as one who is below the age of 18 years. However, Article 2 of Children and Young Persons Act, enacted in Eastern, Western and Northern regions differently refer to a child as a “person under the age of fourteen years, while young person means a person who has attained the age of fourteen years and is under the age of seventeen years.” The above regional understanding, definition and interpretations of a “Child” have made it practically impossible for the federal laws on the rights of the child to prevail on the regional ones or the Child Rights, Act to function optimally. These issues have continued to dominate national discourse and why it has become a hard nut to crack is disturbing.
Section 21 of the Act also stipulates the protection of the rights of the child as follows: “no person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly, a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.” Sections 22 and 23 further state that no parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person… and a person who marries a child or to whom a child is betrothed or who promotes the marriage of a child; or who betroths a child commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine.
At the moment 24 out of the 36 states of the federation: Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Niger, Oyo, Ebonyi, Edo, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kwara, Kogi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Rivers and Taraba states have domesticated the Child Rights Act. Lagos and Akwa-Ibom have begun full implementation of the Act after their State Houses of Assembly passed it into law. Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara States are still reluctant in passing it due to some religious, cultural values and outright misconceptions. Kano State, where this ignoble act took place, is among the states which found nothing good in domesticating the Act. With this development, the nation has got another good reason to strengthen, ratify, implement and domesticate the Child Rights Act 2003 by all states in Nigeria.
One popular Igbo saying has it that an old man does not stay at home and watch a she goat deliver still tied to the tether. Yunusa’s parents, his community, Kano State Sharia Commission, the District Head of Kura, Hisbah and the Police in Kano or anybody who superintended over the illegal marriage of a teenage girl without her parent’s consent are depraved, demented and must have lost their moral consciousness. In fact, Yunusa got a rousing welcome for being a hero who came home with the head of a lion.
Is there anywhere Islam promotes marriage without the consent of parents? Culture and norms acceptable in the North could be frowned at in other regions. Therefore, running away with a teenager without parental consent was mischievous for the fact that issues bordering on marriage deserve mutual understanding and consensus of both sides. The name of the Emir of Kano was unfortunately dragged into the matter, his palace freely bandied as a cover, security or justification for the action. Absolving self from the case, the Emir of Kano Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was irked about the issue.
Speaking at a meeting on Monday 29, February, 2016 in his Palace, the traditional ruler described the case of Ese as an “embarrassment”. “I ordered Ese’s repatriation since September 2015, through the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 1, he said. But to my surprise, the issue is still hanging between the Sharia Commission, Hisbah, and Police. “Police are those behind this delay. The Emir also declared the marriage between Ese and Yunusa as null and void. Ese is under-age and she cannot be married off. “Every Muslim also knew that marriage cannot be without guidance. She must be taken back to her parents and can only marry when she is 18 years. It is un-Islamic for someone to marry a lady without approval of the guardian.
The abduction of Ese by my subject is worrisome because it will cause disunity among our people. I feel it is something we should urgently call to order.” The Police was, indeed, complicit in the entire saga as it became helplessly self-induced, partial and practically subservient to a traditional institution in discharging its duties. At what time did the authority of the police to perform reside with the Emir, traditional institutions or Kano Emirate Council?
Salisu Sulaimon captures Ese Oruru’s case vividly, as he affirmed, “it is a case of a child hyptonised, brainwashed, converted to Islam, married off, and kept incommunicado from her parents and her community. She often emerges to deny being coerced, inflates her age to cover up the criminality of those involved, and in some cases, she even denies her parents before the authorities claiming a Muslim man, a stranger to her, but an accomplice in the crime – as her father before the Sharia Council.”
Ese’s innocence as a child must have been tampered with and her childhood taken away. The social media is already awash with her five months pregnancy status. She was made popular for a negative reason. With the circumstance surrounding her, will her environment treat her kindly? Do you think that in future, any man will be willing to seek her hand in marriage?
Diligent prosecution of Yunusa and his accomplices is one paramount action expected of the judiciary and the concerned law enforcement agencies to take. Those found culpable in this saga should be dealt with according to the law and the gravity of the offence.
The family of the Orurus must be commended for their doggedness despite the unpleasant roles played by individuals and state institutions to deprive them of their right to access their child. However, parents must always keep tab on their wards and understand who their friends are. Evils of this nature are not perpetrated by strangers but close friends known to the child and the family.
Since August 12, 2015, a human interest story and one of national importance was totally lost in the local and international news banners and headlines. The Punch Newspapers should be commended for inaugurating a campaign to free Ese. The social media and the civil society organisations must also be lauded for raising their voices against this man’s inhumanity to man.
There are many Eses we have not heard of. A developing story of Patience Paul from Benue State living in Sokoto who was alleged to have been married off to one Sarki without the consent of her parents is another challenge and a cause we must jointly confront head-long. What Ese needs most now is rehabilitation, support and encouragement to forge ahead. It is well.
.Eze writes via [email protected]