The flagrant abduction of a 14-year-old girl, Ese Oruru, from Opolo, Bayelsa State, to Kano, by a paedophile commercial tricycle operator identified as Yinusa, is a galling example of the growing impunity in the country that must be visited with the stiffest of sanctions to ensure that it is not repeated in any other part of the country.
Although Ese, who was abducted from her mother’s shop on August 12 last year, was released to the police last Monday following the launch of a campaign for her release by the media, the story of her abduction to Kano, her forced conversion to Islam and “marriage” to Yinusa, is the stuff of which blockbuster movies are made.
It captures, in bold relief, the audacity of the abductor tricycle rider and his accomplices in the crime; the agony of Ese’s parents; the fruitless journeys of her father and mother to Kano to secure her release at different times; the duplicity of the Kano State Sharia Commission which did not ensure her prompt release in spite of reported directives to that effect by the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, and the complicity of the security agencies, which did not stand in strong defence of the abducted girl-child or act promptly to rescue her and return her to her parents, until a scathing report on the matter hit national headlines.
We strongly condemn this willful abduction of a minor and call for condign punishment for the abductor and his accomplices. It is a big shame that such a heinous crime was committed in the country and those responsible for it held on to the little girl for almost seven months.
For the avoidance of doubt, the abduction of anyone is a criminal offence punishable under our laws. The girl involved in this particular instance is a minor, being just 13 years old when she was seized from the custody of her parents, although she turned 14 earlier this month. The abduction is contrary to Section 361 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and the analogous provisions of the Criminal Code, Laws of Bayelsa State, which define abduction and provide that “any person, who with intent to marry or carnally know a female of any age, or cause her to be married, or carnally known by any other person, takes her away or detains her against her will, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.”
Since Ese’s abductor is also likely to have slept with her following the alleged “marriage”, he is also guilty of rape, as she is well under the age of consent when she can legally agree to sexual relationship. Our laws are clear that any sexual relationship with a minor is rape and her abductor must answer to that charge if found to have defiled her. His abduction and forced marriage to Ese are contrary to the African Child Rights Act and Nigeria’s Child Rights Act, which in Section 21 states that “no person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage”.
Beyond the suspect, the roles played by the Police Command in Kano and the Kano State Sharia Commission in this matter are unsalutory. These institutions failed to protect this vulnerable child. In this regard, the officials of both institutions that were complicit in this crime should not go unpunished.
We must not fail to point out that the forced marriage of Ese has no redeeming features, whatsoever. Looked at from the religious angle, there is no religion practised in the country today, whether the traditional African religions or the received religions of Christianity and Islam, that favours forced marriage. Even when a female is of the age of consent, which is variously put at 18 or 21 years, it is still required that a suitor formally seeks her hand in marriage from her parents or guardians.
We also do not know of any culture in Nigeria which favours the abduction of girls for religious conversion and marriage. Indeed, most of the major religions, including Islam, affirm the fact that there should be no compulsion in religion. All Muslim leaders should, therefore, educate their members on this fact so that abductions, forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages to unwilling persons do not recur. The religions and marriage cultures of all parts of the country should be respected by all suitors. The consent of parents and guardians to the marriages of their children should be sought.
Forced marriages of underage girls is a despicable sin against the girl-child and womanhood in general. It is an abuse of their rights which should not be tolerated in any decent society, and we commend all the media houses and non-governmental organisations which have, in the past six months, brought the plight of Ese into the public domain and kept it alive in the minds of the people. We also commend the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, for the speed with which she was released after the recent report on her abduction.
Now that Ese has been released, we advise that she is tested to ensure that she is in the best of physical and mental health. She will also require counseling to help her get over the trauma that she has passed through.
We commend Ese’s parents, for their unrelenting efforts to rescue their daughter. Theirs, indeed, is an example of parents’ undying love for their children, and we commend their example to all Nigerians.
Now that the IGP has instituted a probe into this incident, we urge the members of the panel to do a dispassionate job and ensure that all those that participated in this criminality are brought to book to ensure justice for Ese Oruru and deter similar offences in future.