Sunday Ani, ([email protected])
The practice of abducting and converting Christian girls to Islam in the northern part of the country and marrying them off to Muslim men by compulsion recently attracted international attention and condemnation. Open Doors International (ODI), an organisation that serves the persecuted Christians worldwide, came out with a position that abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of Christian minors were under-reported in northern Nigeria, where Islam is the main religion. The group has many cases to cite from Jos to Kano, Kaduna to Yobe, Sokoto to Maiduguri.
There are cases of abductions and forceful marriage, where the parents of the Christian girls do not consent. There are cases where some Christian parents get their daughters’ Moslem husbands against the former’s wish.
In November 2017, a pastor’s daughter, 13-year-old Hauwa Dadi, from Gashua village in Yobe State, narrowly escaped that unpleasant fate.
According to reports, Hauwa, daughter of a former local secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), had gone out to help her twin brother push water home in a cart when she was abducted.
The report further stated that, when her mother went in search of her, she was told that her daughter had been kidnapped by her neighbours and taken to the Imam of Gashua.
She reported the matter to the police, and that led to her daughter’s eventual freedom from the Emir of Gashua’s palace.
According to ODI, over 40 Christian girls were abducted, Islamised and married off to Muslim men in Kano State between 2011 and 2016 alone.
ODI further alleged that abduction and conversion of Christian girls to Islam was a common practice long even before the advent of Boko Haram and its kidnap of Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014.
Also, in May 2017, news broke that the daughter of a Nigerian church leader, 16-year-old Janet Habila, was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her Muslim boss by a Shari’a court in Niger State.
Janet was abducted and married to her boss, identified as Nasiru. She was said to have been enrolled as an apprentice by her father, Habila Gambo, to learn tailoring under Nasiru.
Gambo, a leader with the United Mountain of Grace Church in Shundna village, and his wife, Asabe, were surprised when they received a notice that their daughter had been married to Nasiru.
According to reports, Nasiru was believed to have arranged a Muslim man and woman who appeared in the court and posed as Janet’s parents before the marriage took place.
Gambo said: “Sometime in 2016, I enrolled my daughter, Janet, in Nasiru’s tailoring institute as an apprentice to learn fashion designing, since she refused to continue with her education. She never disclosed to me that Nasiru was asking for her hand in marriage.
“But, to my surprise, on March 16, I came back home and met a court summons, asking me to report at the Shari’a Court, Erena. On getting to the court, I was told that my daughter had converted to Islam and that her marriage had been fixed for 2pm that same day.”
Gambo allegedly protested to the court that he was Janet’s real father and that he was not aware of the marriage arrangement. However, the distraught father said an official of the court told him that the marriage would go on as planned even without his consent.
“My daughter has never told me that she wanted to convert to Islam; she didn’t talk of marrying a Muslim. I paid a lot of money to train her and I would not allow this to happen while I am alive,” Gambo protested.
He eventually reported his concerns to the Niger State Police Command, urging the police to rescue his daughter from the “unlawful marriage.”
According to the report, Nasiru was subsequently arrested and detained in Minna. The police also questioned Janet, who confessed she was not aware of all that happened in the Shari’a court.
“I was confused. I didn’t know what happened, but I was taking every instruction from him, Nasiru. I was afraid to let my parents know because of the consequences. I was equally afraid to turn down Nasiru’s love advances, even though, inside me, I didn’t like the idea,” Janet was quoted to have told the police investigator.
Although Janet was initially returned to her parents, she and her parents were asked to return to the police facility five days later after the investigation was completed.
When they returned to the police station, Janet shocked her parents. She declared that she would rather be with Nasiru. Following that proclamation, the police returned her to her Muslim husband.
“This will never happen in my lifetime. My daughter is not a stray animal, and even a stray animal has an owner. Nobody can take my daughter from me for free without my consent. I will challenge this with the last drop of my blood,” Gambo vowed.
According to the report, when Janet’s mother, Mrs. Asabe Gambo, visited her daughter’s home much later, she was allegedly beaten by Nasiru’s relatives because she was not a Muslim.
“I only wanted to see my daughter when the women in the house gathered to beat me, calling me an unbeliever who should not be welcomed into the house. They told me that my daughter was already a Muslim, therefore, she did not need any unbeliever around her. They didn’t allow me to even sight my daughter. I am seriously in pain as a mother.
“I want God to take my life instead of experiencing this kind of situation as a mother. This is quite unfortunate. I don’t want to believe that this is happening to me. My daughter’s sudden change of attitude is not ordinary. As a Christian, I strongly believe that God will surely pass judgement over this unfortunate experience. My daughter will surely regain her senses and return home,” she submitted, resigning her fate to God.
In 2016, 14-year-old Habiba Isiyaku, from Wawar Kaza village, Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina State, was abducted while returning home from school. She was eventually married to one of her abductors, Jamilu Lawal. Her forced marriage was allegedly approved by the Emir, who allegedly collected N50,000 as bride price from Lawal, a member of staff in the Emirs palace.
Habiba’s father, Isiyaku Tanko, said: “My little girl was abducted on her way from school. After my investigations, I discovered that Jamilu Lawal, who lives in our community, was responsible for my daughter’s disappearance.”
Tanko said the matter was reported to the Police Commissioner in Katsina and a meeting between him and the abductor, alongside his daughter, was held in the office of the police chief. Strangely, while the police commissioner condemned the act, he didn’t arrest the culprit, neither was Habiba released to her father, instead, she was taken back to the Emirs palace.
Tanko alleged that when he went to the palace to demand his daughter’s release, the Emir informed him that his daughter had been converted to Islam, and there was no longer any relationship between them.
In his reaction, the chairman of the Katsina State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Nelson Onyekachukwu, said: “We told the emirate council that the girl was 14 years old. She was supposed to be in school and not given out in marriage. We are not pleased and we demand justice. You cannot give a child in marriage without the consent of her parents.
“But, the Emir remained adamant, insisting that the marriage was irreversible, and that the girl willingly converted to Islam and decided to marry without compulsion.”
The national secretary of CAN, Rev. Musa Asake, blamed government and law enforcement agencies for not doing enough to address the problem.
According to him, “it is an unfortunate situation. This has been going on in the North. In fact, our Christian girls are abducted but nothing is done about it. It is so sad that while we are praying to live in peace, the other side is not showing any sign of peace. I don’t know where it is in Islam that they can take someone’s daughter, convert her to Islam and marry her off.”
Rev. Asake continued: “I also want to state very clearly that if it were Christians that were doing this to Muslim girls, Nigerians would have been burnt to ashes. So, to me, it is a total disrespect and a complete disobedience to the laws of the land and Gods law.”
Also, in Bauchi State, there was a case of 16-year-old Jamila Noma, who escaped from her would-be husband. She was arrested by the police and brought before an Islamic court on the orders of her father because she became a Christian and rejected her father’s decision to marry her to a Muslim man.
She said to her father: “If you are forcing me to marry a man who is a Muslim simply because of my decision to become a Christian, then I will rather have you kill me than accept to marry this man.”
Then, in 2016, there was the celebrated case of a Bayelsa State-born Christian girl, 13-year-old Ese Rita Oruru, who was abducted by Yunusa Dahiru and taken to the northern city of Kano as his wife.
Ese was eventually released on March 29, 2016, following public outcry and pressure from Christians and human rights groups. She was, however, pregnant when she was released.
Dahiru was later arrested and charged to court to face judgement. Nothing has come from the case.
In a related development, in September 2015, 15-year-old Patience Paul was abducted by the Hisbah in Sokoto State, forcibly converted to Islam and married off.
The ordeals of Christian women and girls in northern Nigeria since 1999 was the subject of a detailed report by ODI, titled, “Our Bodies, their Battleground.”
The report showed that the abduction of Christian girls has been a common practice long before the advent of the Boko Haram Islamist sect, and has continued unabated till date. ODI lamented that many of such incidents were not reported in the media.
In Plateau State, which is predominantly Christian, with Jos as its capital, there are cases where parents agree to give their daughters’ hand in marriage to Muslims with there daughters’ consent. Some of the girls are forced to comply, while the exposed and mature ones run away from home. Those who run away usually seek refuge in the southern part of the country or outside the country, with their parents and “supposed” husbands not knowing their whereabouts.
Position of law on forced marriage
Contributing to the discourse, the national president, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, believes that once there is an element of kidnap in the marriage arrangement, there is a mentality of criminality, which is corporately abhorred and reprehensible, not just against morality but also against the law.
“Kidnapping, abduction, forceful marriage or violent assault against women all constitute infractions of our criminal law. Beyond that is the question of our respective rights and freedoms to religion, which is a fundamental right. So, the perpetrators of these crimes are not just causing infractions of known criminal legislations, they are also breaching the fundamental rights of their victims,” he argued.
He insisted that the state must rise to the occasion; even as he agreed that it was not possible to completely eliminate crime in any society, particularly a state like Nigeria with a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots.
“But our country must find a way of arresting some of these situations and showing serious deterrent by prosecuting the persons involved. At least, it is not all of them that will escape,” he said.
He said that for the media to take interest in what is happening simply shows that the trend is becoming rampant and needs to be arrested by the state.
“Let the state arrest some culprits and bring them into custody, critically investigate them, prosecute and convict them. That, I believe, will discourage other people who may be tempted to travel that route,” he said.
Commenting on the tacit support of the trend by some Emirs and Sharia courts, Ugwummadu said such persons were conspirators and should be treated so. He stated that any marriage forcefully obtained ran against the law, whether it was the Sharia or conventional law.
He said: “Such marriages that were procured by fraud, serious indoctrination or through hypnotisation could not have occurred with the consent of the girls involved. This is because marriage, by definition, is a voluntary union of two consenting adults to form a matrimonial home. So, if you now procure such union through force, fraud or deceit or by indoctrination, it is no longer marriage. So, such Emirs that resist the peaceful return of such girls are equally guilty of conspiracy.
“In other words, they can be cited for conspiracy in respect to what is going on. So, if a parent, in such harrowing experience, has managed to locate the child and the Emir that is supposed to be a religious leader and sufficiently responsible to report such infraction to the police or law enforcement agency, begins to make a case for the abductors, then he clearly qualifies as a conspirator to the crime.”
What Islam says
Looking at the subject matter from the prism of the Islamic religion, an Islamic scholar and lecturer at the Yusuf Bala Usman College, Daura, Katsina State, Dr. Surajo Dalhatu Abubakar, said any action under duress, including marriage, was not acceptable in Islam.
According to the academic, there is no place for compulsive marriage in Sharia: “Ladies that are virgin and have not been married before can only be given out in marriage only by their fathers and with their consent. That is the position of Islam and Sharia.”
However, he added that such a would-be husband should be religious, upright and morally sound. He must also be able to provide accommodation, as well as all other necessary facilities that will make a home such as food and clothing among others.
In a nutshell, any marriage contracted without the consent of the girl in question and that of her father is not acceptable in Islam as well as in Sharia law, he said.
There are instances where some Emirs have insisted on the irreversibility of marriages contracted between underage Christian girls who were kidnapped, converted to Islam, and eventually forced into marriage with Muslims, saying the girls’ conversion was voluntary even when their fathers protested against such arrangement.
Reacting to the above scenario, Dr. Abubakar said: “Like I said earlier, there is no place for compulsion in marriage as far as Islam is concerned. Again, kidnapping is illegal and criminal even in conventional law. So, such marriage arrangement is illegal. How can you kidnap a girl and forcefully marry he? Are you her father or guardian? So, everything about such marriage that is contracted in this manner is illegal and void.”
He also stated clearly that the only way prescribed by the Sharia for a non-Muslim to get converted is to invite and preach to such an individual to accept the religion; and not by abduction or compulsion.
On the appropriate age for a young girl to get married, according to Islam, he said as far as Islam is concerned, there is no specific age of marriage for a girl. He stated that it is only when a girl reaches the age of puberty that she is deemed to be mature for marriage. And there is always a sign to show that a girl is mature for marriage. Such signs include menstruation and breasts development, as well as appearance of other secondary sexual characteristics. So, if a lady starts to menstruate and her breasts begin to show, it means she has reached the age of puberty, therefore, she is ripe for marriage, he submitted.
He added that: “There are variations in these developments. Some girls who have small physique could be up to 15 or 16 years before such signs of maturity are noticed, but some will develop such signs as early as 13 or 14. So, there is actually no specific age, but as far as Islam is concerned, the age of maturity is the age of marriage for the girls and that is when they begin to develop breasts and also menstruate.”
Lending his voice to the discourse, Pastor Akachi Ahamzie of the Bible Overflow Ministry, Lagos, described the development as aligning with what the Bible calls the traditions of men because, for centuries, men have always found ways of creating traditions that appeal to their base interest.
Pastor Ahamzie said: “And religion, oftentimes, is used to enforce that because religion engages you in such a way that you don’t have any power to say no, since it is a set of beliefs. I don’t want to start saying things about the religion of Islam because we all know what the adherents stand for. They can make up all kinds of things and use them to create a system and then create their courts and standard, which eventually becomes a norm for them.
“It is only unfortunate that we will have to come around understanding what is going on with the entity called Nigeria as to begin to think in line of nationhood. And these people, because of their religious strength, find identity in that religion and the religion gives them all kinds of laws that really appeal to the baseness of man. They have the money, they have the cunningness, the cruelty to push it.”
On what the Christian community should do, considering the fact that most of the girls involved are underage, the cleric said: “First and foremost, Christians in Nigeria are not one, they don’t have one voice. There are some religious Christians that are into adultery, polygamy, occultism and all of that.
“So, the only people that can help are real born-again Christians and they are so distracted and so few that they will only urge you to continue to pray. If we say that Nigeria is a secular country and we have rule of law, our lawmakers should be able to create laws upon which our legal system will enable the church and other people of goodwill to come together and fight against these things.
“But, Christians are distracted; they need to come together as a body in Nigeria. The Muslims are together; they are bonded by their religion and their mindsets. They have an agenda and they are carrying it out.
“We are beginning to see that unless we take the law into our hands, rise up and begin to agitate, we are going nowhere. All over the world, people are fighting over something. You saw what happened between the Chinese authorities and the people in Hong Kong, simply because those people want to decide what happens in Hong Kong, and they are saying no to the idea of one nation, two states. They said it was not working, you can’t control us from Beijing. and they are out there showing it. That identity is what we don’t have as Christians in Nigeria.
“We don’t even know who to stand with; the church and the people are fragmented. It is just back to the basics of prayers. Who were those people that started holding demonstrations against Goodluck Jonathan when he was President of Nigeria; where are they now? So, there are conspiracies going on, but it is also spiritual. And, I think that people who are aware of it supernaturally understand that it is prayer; you just have to keep praying.”