Friday, July 19, 2013

Yerima and The Nigerian Senate Did Not Change The Age of Marriage

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Yesterday, several people in my social media networks sent me links to a couple of petitions which urged the UN and other Human Rights Organisations to stop the Senate, the House of Representative and the Nigerian government, from altering the constitution in a way that would allow for child marriage. By then, I had seen the headlines on some blogs, and was fulminating inside, thinking of writing a scathing post, or something.

I went over to sign one of the petitions, and there was a link to a Premium Times article that initially reported the constitutional amendments currently being voted on by the Senate. These parts of the report below caught my attention immediately.

Section 29, allows citizens who are of age to renounce Nigerian citizenship if they wish. For that purpose, the constitution says, 18-year-olds and above shall be considered to be “of age”.
In addition, a woman or girl who is married, shall also be considered to be of age-a section that could be interpreted to imply that even a day old child, once married, shall be considered to be of age.
The Senate’s amendment committee had proposed that definition be deleted.

So it turns out we're talking about a woman's right to renounce her citizenship of Nigeria, and at what age and marital status. This is very far from the viral stories of the Nigerian Senate sneakily passing a law that made pedophilia legal by deleting a clause that clearly stated the age of majority for marriage.

Even the Nigerian Feminists Forum was hoodwinked by untutored journalists. They recently released a statement about how "greatly concerned" they were "about the resolution by the Senate to alter section 29(a) of the Constitution which stipulates that a woman shall not be qualified for marriage until she attains 18 years of age."

But this is not what section 29 of the constitution is about at all. Section 29 relates to the renunciation of citizenship, and this is the section in full.

29. (1) Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for the renunciation.
(2) The President shall cause the declaration made under subsection (1) of this section to be registered and upon such registration, the person who made the declaration shall cease to be a citizen of Nigeria.
(3) The President may withhold the registration of any declaration made under subsection (1) of this section if-
(a) the declaration is made during any war in which Nigeria is physically involved; or
(b) in his opinion, it is otherwise contrary to public policy.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section.
(a) "full age" means the age of eighteen years and above;
(b) any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.
The part under contention is actually section 29(4)(b) which the senators had wanted to remove because it seemed to be a repetition of 29(4)(a) since Section 21 of the Child’s Rights Act of Nigeria already nullifies the marriage of persons below 18 years. There is a punishment of N500,000 or a 5 year jail term, or both for offenders, so I wonder why Senator Yerima still walks free and a senator.

But in as much as I might disdain his personal life, Senator Yerima, former governor of Zamfara state, champion of Sharia, and husband of a 15years old girl, was actually calling the other senators to proper order. The constitution does not allow the legislature to rule on issues of Islamic marriage.

Item 61 of the Second Schedule, Part I in the Exclusive Legislative List says the Legislative Powers include "The formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages other than marriages under Islamic law and Customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto.

I took time to read more of the Nigerian constitution - which you can download free from GooglePlay or read online here - and it does not stipulate in any section the full age as regards marriage.

So contrary to reports that some clauses were removed which defined the legal age of marriage for women, a clause was left in for women, or in this case girls, who are married before the age of 18 to be deemed of "full age" not for any other reason - not voting, not alcohol, not driving, not age of liberty (majority) - but for the sole purpose of renouncing their Nigerian citizenship.

For sure, there are gender and child discrimination in the Nigerian constitution, with only 2 mentions of the noun 'woman' and 7 uses of 'child/ren' compared to 235 appearances of the pronoun "he". However, after my study, I support that the senate left in the clause allowing the under-age girl who is married the right  to renounce her Nigerian citizenship. I see some sweet scenarios where this right may be used;

Senator Yerima's Egyptian child-bride who is probably now a Nigerian citizen by registration using section 26(2)(a) can right now decide she's no more a Nigerian. Instead of waiting till she's 18, she can renounce her citizenship, and head back to Egypt. She, and other under-aged Nigerian women married under duress or coercion by Islamic law, can also seek Asylum and citizenship with other countries without being burdened by their Nigerian citizenship. For a lot of countries, you can only have primary or dual citizenship, and most times not more than 3 countries you're a citizen of.

But there is a second scenario where 29(4)(b) can be abused. The husband of an under-aged wife may be able to force her to renounce her Nigerian citizenship either to deny her rights under the Child's Right Act or citizenship, liberty and other rights under the constitution.

In conclusion, it is said that a large number of Nigerians don't really know the law or their rights, and I think the lawmakers fall into this category. Those who pushed to delete section 29(4)(b) did it on the grounds that it contradicts 29(4)(a) and infringes the right of a child by allowing early marriage. I think otherwise. I believe section 29(4)(b) of the constitution deals with the age of a woman after the fact of marriage, and what rights she has at that time.

Section 21 of the Child’s Rights Act already stipulates legal age of marriage, and pedophiles who flout this law should be penalised [I don't know if the CRA trumps the Islamic marriage laws though]. 29(4)(b) therefore supports the foregoing article, and grants additional rights to Nigerian children married [legally or illegally] under Islamic or Customary laws either within or outside the country.

The petition we should be signing is one asking the entire legislature to find ways to make the constitution more woman and child friendly. They need to stipulate age of marriage in the constitution and remove the inability of the national house of assembly to make laws covering Muslim women and children, especially where under-age marriage is concerned. Also, they should change all the appearances of 'he' to 'they' to cover all genders.

PS - While it means there's one less occurrence of woman in the constitution, I like that section 26(2)(a) has been amended and now allows women married to non-Nigerians the right to grant their spouses citizenship by registration - a simpler means of becoming a Nigerian than by through naturalization. If you know of the Niger Wives Club made up of foreign women married to Nigerian men, we may be having a Naija Husbands Club soon.


  1. Hmmm I came to the same conclusion yesterday after investigating what the reported amendment entailed.
    However, Yerima was NOT calling the other senators to proper order. The constitution does not preclude the legislature from setting national laws. It just means that in terms of marriage, there is an exception to the national law for customary and Islamic law. The Child Rights Act stipulates a minimum age for marriage but if a sharia court approves a marriage of an undera.
    Yerima was still wrong. We cannot use Islamic law to set NATIONAL laws but Islamic law can be an exception to the national law. Very different.

    1. The Child Rights Act stipulates a minimum age for marriage but if a sharia court approves a marriage of an underage girl, then it is allowed.

    2. That is true, but clause 29/4/b is not about the age of marriage, it is about the rights of already married women. Removing it will deny these rights to women married under sharia law which is where the second schedule applies viz-a-viz Yerima's objection.

    3. I see what you mean. However, at the end of the day, that's really not what matters. What is fact is that even though Nigeria has a child's right act, Islamic and customary allow an exception to the 18 years set by the child rights act and child marriage is still prevalent in some quarters.
      It breaks my heart to imagine a 10 year old giving birth.

    4. Exactly. And that is the call we should make to the senators without muddying the waters over this amendment. The constitution should state the age of marriage, not the CR Act, and it should rule over any Islamic or customary marriage law.

    5. My primary objection to this whole matter is that Senator objected based on religion. What stops him from crying foul over the CRA in the future? Right, they are exempt from the CRA but in the twisted mind of a pedophile, the national CRA is anti-islam and he could call for it to be nullified.
      You are extremely right - [The constitution should state the age of marriage, not the CR Act, and it should rule over any Islamic or customary marriage law.]

  2. I agree totally. I was unable to access the online constitution to see what the furor was all about till now. I support that a child who is ALREADY married should have rights of citizenship, etc. But it is unfair to have a constitution that allows underage marriage, wether by sharia law or otherwise. THAT is my main concern. Whatever laws that allow for that should be removed. Thanks for this piece.

  3. Thanks for this post Myne. I've also been thinking lots about the #ChildNotBride reports I've been hearing, and decided to do some research before blogging about it, and found your piece. So confusing. However its done, the national laws need to become clear about protecting the rights or girls and women. Thanks for this post

  4. whether backed by religion or not is immaterial here, infact to hell with religious bigotriness. section 10 of the Nigerian constitution forbids any state religion. before you tell me that this is not a religious matter, i would like to remind you all that the illiterate of a governor turned senator augmented his argument form the point of view of religion, `a violation of his religious practices he uttered`.Ii think the time for a complete change of government is now, if this is the best we can offer in terms of our legislators, we are indeed a disgrace to ourselves, ditto to parents who have given out their daughters in such manners

  5. After all the bickering and legal jargons it boills down to simple common sense under age girls shouldn't be married what ever politcal and legal steps needed to be taken should be taken ASAP. Its a crack in d wall dat needs to be tended to

  6. The nigerian constition is the highest law that superscedes all laws in nigeria.(Grand norm) amemded second 26 (4b) affects the unmarried girl, not just the already married. It says any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age. So if a girl of 12 marrys today or next year, she is deemed of full age. Don't not be decived those senators know exctaly what there doing. It will not only affect citizenship, it would affect everything. If that amendment is accepted then it will superscede the child right act.

  7. Thanks for the enlightenment but I think Subsection 4b is a subtle way of encouraging child marriage

  8. I think the question we should ask ourselves is "is Nigeria a religious country (be it christainity or islam)? I believe the answer is no so why is an Islamic law taking precedence over the constitution. And of what use is the CRA if it can't protect a child from the claws of paedophiles

  9. Thank you very much!

  10. Please what is the marriageable age for girls in advance countries? Even some states in the US allow 15years with either parental or court consent. So what is our problem in this country? We are too full of hypocrisies. For a teenager to be married to one man or she enters sexual relations with different boys until she turns 30 with all the associated STIs, Abortion etc, which is better?

  11. One major problem is that we're trying too hard to be like advanced countries instead of trying to developp in ourselves...if US was jumping into fire, would we follow? The point is that young girls shouldn't be forced into marriage. Whatever they decide to make of their lives, be it STIs or whatever, is their business. But it should remain their decision. No one should be stripped of his/her right to decide the course of their life.

  12. Very well articulated and well broken down. I have also taken time out to study these documents. I am not a lawyer but like you mentioned, there are loopholes and these old men in the senate are trying to bend things in their favor. Senator Yerima and his cohorts have a plan to make certain key parts of Nigeria Sharia ones. They are hell bent on Making the North the power house and the superior zone in Nigeria and this is the first stem out of a million.
    They are here to pull the wool over our eyes.
    Nigeria isd NOT a Sharia country and they should not let these laws Govern a Nation. YOu cannot bend the law that covers a country because of a certain state.


  13. I partly agree with you Myne, a lot of us do not understand the full implication of section 29/4/b.

    However, my grouse is, while this section clearly speaks about the rights of women to denounce their citizenship, its reference to a married female being deemed as full age creates a gap in the law. I believe this can subsequebtly be used as the description of "what constitutes a full aged woman" and can also be mis-interpreted to conveniently excuse the marrying off of under aged girls.

    "The petition we should be signing is one asking the entire legislature to find ways to make the constitution more woman and child friendly. They need to stipulate age of marriage in the constitution".....Now this statement, I agree with 100%

  14. For ma itz too bad... I call it woman oppression.. D rate of brutality will increase... Marriage is meant for matured mind nt for 11 yr girl who should be in school ...

  15. I read this peace and so far it made more sensethan the ones i read previously concerning this matter,welldone!having said that,i will like to ignore the constitutional sections under review and mention that,"underage" clearly means different thing to different people on premises of religion,ethnicity,traditions and cultures.people in the north marry off their children at all ages,from 9-10yrs & above,some feels Bad about it but its religiuosly(islamically)allowed.if christianity doenst Allow it,then it shuld xclusively be disallowed for believers of christianity.the constitution is 4 us all,muslims & christians alike.islam has sharia law inseparable in its practice,while christianity is conveniently separated from any form of laws in its practice.this debate is rightly & purely a religious matter & it should be treated as such,anything else is hypocritical.

  16. Where in principle, customary or sharia law contravenes the CRA, the CRA should prevail... This is only logical!

  17. irrespective of religion which is created by man, interpreted by man, and come to serve man's own ends...i don't think that no one should be sold off to another for marriage, slavery, sex or whatever reason of the buyer who has the money. islam for the most part is feminine oppression, and domineering. it is as if the woman is not an individual with a soul, or spirit, just a body to be used as deemed necessary by the men. all things made equal, if a woman is raped or has sex before marriage she is honorly killed. what about the male. personally i don't think that god gave anybody a book to tell others how to live. it's already in your heart, how to live that is. man has printing press and uses it to his own advantage. i didn't even see god negotiate a real estate deal transferring land from one man to another. so this god principle implied by men to control and manipulate other's is a farce to keep your soul in a confused and forced state of mind. if there's only one god why so many religions....the thing is this, those with money would love to purchase as many women as they can for their own sexual gratification...pedophiles will run to nigeria should this bcome law. and given the economic conditions in nigeria, there will be some female children that are sold to them for the benefit of the rest of the family eating and staying alive. we're back to rape state of mind here. america is a rape state 31 states if a man rapes a woman and she conceives, and can't prove that it was rape, he has the right to visit her and the child at her!!!...male domineerence out of control. this is what the constitution has made way for in section 29(4) b. how can one with conscience do such a thing to a life that is not competent to make such a decision.


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