THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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Fifty-year old former Governor of Zamfara State, Senator Sani Yerima, announced in 2010 he was marrying a young Egyptian girl, Marian -who the Media, without confirming from the future groom or his bride-to-be’s family, had claimed she was 13 years old. Yerima himself was still in far away Egypt making nuptial arrangements while this secularly ‘minor’ age was being bandied around back at home –and so he probably hadn’t the opportunity to immediately confirm or deny it. And when he returned to Nigeria, Yerima was also –probably- bitter he had already been judged and convicted by the Media without the benefit of a fair hearing, he therefore damned the consequences by refusing to dignify with any explanation, what he perceived as the cynicism, especially of the ‘Christian public’ in detraction of his Islamic marriage. Yerima was kind of saying: ‘Yes I am marrying a 13-year old! And so what!? The entire non-Muslim community in Nigeria was outraged at the very idea that a 13-year old should not only be subjected to such early marriage, but to a man 37 years older than her. And before you could say Jack Robinson, some of these aggrieved non-Muslim groups, bodies and organizations including Nigeria’s Human Rights Commission then under a Christian, Chidi Odinkalu, had already rushed to our municipal courts; and in fact other attention seekers too, it was rumored, may have approached the ECOWAS Court –whether or not it had jurisdiction-to challenge both the legality and morality of that marriage.
Almost all of these aggrieved non-Muslims claimed that their sense of decency, dignity and morality as Nigerians sharing the same country with Yerima was about to be violated by such despicable conjugal abuse of a minor. Others in fact were musing the idea of going to the United Nations, to lodge a connubial petition of rights (in defense of the Muslim girl-child), alleging also that the U.N’s very own Declaration on the Rights of the child, was about to be desecrated. Here at home, the National Assembly was agog with petitions predictably by non-Muslim Human and Child Rights groups, Non-Governmental Organizations, NGOs, Civil Society Organizations, and other, mostly Christian bodies, not least the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN. And in no time the anger of these bodies -ventilated largely then through the sympathy of print and broadcast Media, soon forced the Legislature, headed then also by a Christian, David Mark, to launch an investigation with a view to finding out whether Yerima’s marriage had violated the law of the land. What kept this campaign was especially the persistent lurid headlines and the sustained TV and Radio discussions on a daily basis, deploring and condemning what the Media had repeatedly said was an ‘abominable’ pedophilic marriage. A rage of Christian saints, in the shortest possible time was unleashed on the entire Muslim community and innocent Muslims even as they were pleading for inter-faith understanding, had already been adjudged vicariously liable and were to answer, instead, for the alleged infraction of just one of them.
If memory serves right, it was Yerima’s righteous indignation over this issue that motivated a three-part series which I wrote titled: ‘What The Hell Is Wrong With 13?’ and in which –from the perspective of a fundamentalist, non-moderate Muslim, I tried to reconcile the provisions of Nigeria’s secular and Shari’ah laws on the subject, side by side with the English Common law and of the United Nations universal Declaration on the Rights of the child –which gave birth to the municipal ‘Child Rights’ laws of many countries. And what I said was that although the Federal Government had domesticated the instrument, most predominantly-Muslim states in the North, including Zamfara –for cultural and or religious reasons- had not adopted it. And I said that except for one or two states that had adopted the law, Islamic law marriages in the North are categorized under ‘customary law marriages’ with the minimum marriageable ages for girls fixed (by the various declarations of ‘Native Customary Orders’) at 13 in most, and 12 in a few others,. I also explained that none of the two major legislation regulating marriage in Nigeria (namely the ‘Matrimonial Causes Act’ and the ‘Marriage Act’) had pegged what should be ‘marriageable age’, and that recourse had always been had to the English ‘Common Law’ which puts it at the age of puberty -12 for girls and 14 for boys.
The number of angry SMS I got, from very bitter, diatribe-spewing non-Muslim readers of my column was so much, I had to do another three-part series which I titled: ‘Distilling The Yarima SMS’. And in fact it was such a potpourri of the ‘rage of Christian saints’, laced in some of the most superlative insults, it had to take thick-skinned journalistic courage to publish. And maybe I should reproduce just two samples, one from +2348066097565 who wrote: “I swear to God you are such a fool! How can you say there is nothing wrong with a 13 year old getting married to a 50 year old man?….. It is your types that are causing the crises in Jos. Please give your 13 year old daughter to a 50 year old so we know it is right. Mumu!” And the other, from +2348020600293, said: “Never read anything so stupid in my life. A psychopath justifying pedophilia. Your arguments are way so stupid!”
So now how can a Muslim –no matter how deeply offended by such insults, from non-Muslims who arrogate the right to worry about the Muslim girl-child- suggest that such people, simply because they are Christians, are not truly concerned about what they sincerely believed was an unfair conjugal deal for any underage girl? Even though any Muslim also would be right to assume it was inconceivable that a non-Muslim should care for the ‘Egyptian 13’ more than her fellow Muslim brothers and sisters would, or more than her biological parents or members of her extended family –most all of whom, by the way, obviously had no objection to the marriage, because contrary to the largely secular opinions of our belligerently ‘concerned’ non-Muslim brothers who believed that early marriage was not good for her, the Muslim Umma on the whole, did not share in that secular opinion. Nonetheless, even when the non-Muslims express their disgust in such questionably bitter tone of voice, we should still appreciate where they are coming from and should simply be courageous to say: ‘God forgive them, for they do not understand our Islamic way of life’; just like the Christians too, in moments of textual schisms with us, do simply say: ‘Lord forgive them, for they know not what they are saying’. And I have always hoped that this should be a fitting interfaith junction at which we should always gently release each others’ hands and say nicely, one to the other: ‘till we meet at the next junction’. But will we?
Because if a Christian will arrogate to himself the moral and legal right to be this belligerently –even if bitterly- concerned about the fate of our Muslim ‘girl-child’, who he believes is ‘forced’ into early marriage, you would expect that such a one should even be more outraged for example, at the now pervasive, often kid-glovedly ignored phenomenon of so called ‘fertility centers’ where we see ‘girl-children’ –if I may- at the puny, little ages of 10, 11 and 12 defiled, sometimes by ‘anointed men of God’, and put in the family way in order to bear children for sale. And then you wonder, ‘what happens if Muslim Rights groups also arrogate to themselves the right to be as belligerently outraged by such pedophilic abuse of minors, and such Muslim Rights groups also grow the appetite equally for such meddlesome interloping as going to our Municipal or ECOWAS court, or petitioning the United Nations, alleging, like our Christian brothers do concerning our own private religious lives, that our sense of decency too, our dignity and our sense of morality, as Nigerians sharing the same country with people who perpetrate such despicable abuse of minors, is being violated?
Will it not then be said that Muslims are pocking their noses where they have no business?
To be continued