Very soon the ‘celebration’ or ‘jamboree’ of protests or the battles with the senate over the issue of Child Marriage will be ended. We have seen the ‘celebration’ of media campaign, signature gathering, print and electronic media advocacy, press conferences, curses on the senators, unprintable name calling and all.
Going by the character of this kind of ‘interventions’ which I’m very conversant with, the ‘celebration’ of protests will soon be ended. When it is ended, I am afraid that the girl child in Nigeria may not have too much dividends to show for the noble efforts of the ‘interventionists,’ whose interests I am very sure are diverse in nature. Among the ‘interventionists,’ some guys would have become more popular, some would have earned more credits to their social visibility accounts, which may ultimately have direct impact on their personal economy and some would have made a very good effort at renewing their faded socio-economic and political relevance. You see one intervention, diverse kinds of interests.
In 2010, the news broke that Senator Yerima married a 13-year-old girl, who was said to be the daughter of his driver. The senator conducted the wedding in Abuja, where the Child’s Rights Act, 2003 should be in force. This kind of ‘celebration’ greeted the news. It we would break world record as a people and cause the heavens to fall flat in the Senator. In the midst of the celebration, the senator had series of invitations and meetings with NAPTIP, considering the child he allegedly married was an Egyptian. All said and done, NAPTIP gave the Senator a clean bill of health. He was told there were no ingredients of trafficking in his dealing with the 13 year old girl. Now, if there were not ingredients of trafficking, what about the fact that the wedding was conducted in Abuja and the Child’s Rights Act, 2003 in its Sections 21 and 22 criminalize Child Marriage? I thought that should be a good ground to ensure that the Senator was brought face to face with the full wrath of the law. No, it was not so! The ‘celebration’ simply quieted into thin air.
Despite the ‘celebration’ of protests and in the midst of same, he proceeded to conjugal bliss with his bride of 13 years old. That was the end of that scene in the drama called #ChildNotBride. In protest, as I said in my previous piece, ‘since the Yerima saga in 2010, I have kept as the background of my twitter page the picture of Yerima and his 13 year-old Egyptian bride, with this inscription, ‘It should not hurt to be a child.’ As far as I am concerned, justice has not been served in the matter. Keeping the picture on my twitter page is my little way of keeping the issue alive in my mind and others, who are still interested in seeing that justice is done in the matter.’
The ‘celebration’ of protests did not have the character to resurrect itself again after the Senator had gone home with his child bride unhurt, until same Senator Yerima decided to come by way of social incantation to revive the spirit of the ‘celebration’ again. Take it or leave it, Senator Yerima has carved a niche for himself in history. He will be remembered as that Senator, who has succeeded in calling and hosting two ‘celebrations’ of protests against a social vice like Child Marriage. He will be remembered as the centre figure and stirring rod of the ‘celebrations’ of protest against child marriage in Nigeria. My only fear is that I suspect that he might have learnt one or two lessons from the first ‘celebration’ that he can predict with oracular precision that ‘though times never last but tough people like the Senator, who understands the psyche of the ‘interventionists’ do last.’
He must have also learnt that as long as the focus is on his person and not the philosophy he represents, he is nothing but a sacrificial lamb for the philosophy. As far as he is concerned that is good for the philosophy as he has successfully shielded the philosophy by his person and for whatever cause a man is ready to put himself on the line such will go very far. The true challenge is that whether among the interventionist, there is a man or woman, who has a ‘different spirit’ like the Senator, ready to put their lives on the line.
As I said in my previous piece on this issue, ‘as far as I am concerned, one incontrovertible gain of the recent constitutional amendment as it relates to Section 29(4)(b) is that it gives stakeholders another golden opportunity to reopen the issue of child protection in Nigeria as it relates particularly to child marriage and the northern parts of Nigeria…’ I further submitted that ‘this golden opportunity, I am here to warn is not an end in itself. It is only a means to an end and it can only be a means to an end if we put the issues in the right perspective. What is the end? For me, the end is creating a nation fit for children, built through enlightenment and sustained through child protection social policing.’ I concluded that ‘It is not a one-off agenda. It is a lifetime agenda and that is the commitment some of us have made close to two decades ago.’
To help take full advantage of this golden opportunity, as I postulated above, there are eight issues, I believe the interventionists must be looking at now:
1. If they get the Senate to remove the controversial and ‘cantankerous’ Section 26(4)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, does that mean the Constitution has been so amended?
2. Have they considered that the final power on constitutional amendment does not end with the senate and the ‘celebrations’ of protests may need to extend to the House of Representatives and the Houses of Assembly of the 36 States?
3. If finally the constitution is amended and we see to the death and burial of Section 26(4)(b) of the constitution, does that mean we have seen the end of Child Marriage in Nigeria?
4. If the answer to the last question is no, what system have they put in place for continuity, which identifies the goal or set of goals, interdependence of forces and balance of execution. It has been found through research by experts that basing intervention on child protection issues has failed our children all over the world. Thus every meaningful individual and organization, who are interested in Child Protection think in terms of a Child Protection Systems(CPS), which recognizes every stakeholder, including the children, enlighten them, empower them and organize them towards a sustainable intervention towards respect for the rights of children, as provided by legal instruments, policies, customs and traditions. System Approach to Child Protection will look at the root causes of the problem, in this case Child Marriage and find the solutions, which are peculiar to the people.
5. Is there any plan to proceed to the Northern part of the country to deal a lethal but sure and gradual blow on Senator Yerima’s philosophy, with a view to making it unpopular among the people? Or do we not know that such deliverance from the bondage of deadly social indoctrinations like Child Marriage does not answer to urban agitation like we have seen in the last 2 weeks.
6. If they are thinking in the direction of paragraph 5 above, what are the exiting legal tools available to protect the child in Nigeria today, upon which enlightenment can be built? Would it not make a lot of sense to agitate for the domestication of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003 in the northern states, where it is not yet promulgated, considering the fact that such promises the girl child more protection and that there a large chunk of green light that the agitation may fruits, considering the fact that some northern states have domesticated the Act?
7. Noting that ending child marriage is not an intervention, which began in Nigeria with the debate on Section 26(4)(b) of the Constitution, considering the fact the first ever Day of the Girl Child, celebrated on October 11, 2012 was marked with the theme: ‘ending child marriage,’ what efforts are the interventionists making to learn from other jurisdictions, where the battle against Child Marriage is being fought with tangible progress being recorded?
8. By way of vital addendum, since we are interested in matters that has to do with our children, shouldn’t we be interested in the fact the public school system is not safe for our children, particularly those in the Northern part of Nigeria? According to UNICEF between June 16, 2013 and today, 46 pupils and seven teachers have been killed in Northern schools in Nigeria. Should this unsafe state of Northern school generate national debates for two reasons: i. the right of the child to life, boy and girl is fundamental to any other rights he/she will ever enjoy; ii. the unsafe state of northern schools has deplorable impact on school attendance in region where school attendance has been a serious matter of concern? Should we not be interested in holding government accountable on the steps being taken to ensure safety in the northern schools and measure put in place to help the families of victims(pupils and teachers alike) the of past dastardly killings in northern schools in dealing with the impact of same?
I think until we are ready to address the foregoing issues, we may be in for another ‘celebration’ or ‘jamboree’ of protests, which generate much heat, yet no movement and hold sure promises for the ‘interventionists’ and none tangible for the object of the ‘celebration,’ the Nigerian Child.