If it quacks like a duck

Apart from being the biggest black nation in the world and the self-proclaimed giant of Africa, another distinguishing quality about Nigeria is that it is home to a people who have this rather disturbing ability of viewing issues, no matter how serious or mundane, from tribal and religious prisms. I recall during the Alamieyeseigha London arrest saga in 2005, a respondent in a radio news programme, offered as his views on the saga; “Ijaw man steal Ijaw man money, wetin concern Tony Blair?”

The theatre of the absurd that played out between November 23, 2009 and May 6, 2010 is largely attributable to the reluctance of one section of the country to cede the political power it had only recently reclaimed for the sole reason that the principal beneficiary is from another section of the country. Who can forget the remarks about how only Ex-Governors from a section of the country appear to be the only ones attracting the attention of the EFCC while equally culpable Ex-Governors from the other end of the spectrum remain untouched. Then there is the recent concerns regarding the nomination of Namadi Sambo as Vice President premised on fears of the inevitable ascension of his Christian Deputy to the office of Governor of Kaduna State.

This peculiar Nigerian proclivity has predictably played itself out in the on-going controversy over the Senator Yerima child-bride saga. I have read with a mixture of sadness and disbelief the views in support of the controversial nuptial premised solely on asinine grounds. But I was never more disgusted by any of them as I was by the views of one Ashafa Murnai Barkiya expressed in his rejoinder to Louis Odion’s “Paedophilia in the time of Pericarditis” published in the back page of the National Life newspaper of May 23, 2010 – May 29, 2010.

Mr. Barkiya proclaims himself (judging form the chauvinistic leanings of his rejoinder, I assume he is a man) the Editor of the Abuja-based Leadership Hausa newspaper. His rejoinder started out by identifying a conspiracy theory in the form of a “cabal (how Nigerians love that word when spinning conspiracy theories) hell-bent in using the Yarima issue to settle political scores and demonize Islam”. Ostensibly, journalists like Mr. Odion and the entire Lagos-Ibadan Press and not to forget the “so-called women rights activists in Nigeria” are all in on this conspiracy.

According to him, their complicity in the conspiracy is evident in how they have conveniently remained silent in the wake of the exposure of the sexual molestation scandal involving Catholic Priests by the Western Media (the usual suspect in Islamic conspiracy theories but which Mr. Barkiya surprisingly praised for their efforts) but suddenly found their voice in the wake of Yerimagate.

I do not know which Nigerian newspapers Mr. Barkiya reads but he will do well to know that the molestation scandal in the Catholic Church has not escaped coverage by the press here in Nigeria. Admittedly, it has not enjoyed the primacy of the coverage of Yerimagate but that is explainable by the fact that the latter rings closer home coupled with the personality of the principal actor as a serving Senator. By the same token, it would also be understandable why the scandal in the Catholic Church would enjoy more coverage in the western media than Senator Yerima’s peculiar marital proclivity.

Barkiya disingenuously proffers justification for Yerima’s controversial nuptial by declaring that Islamic injunctions and the Nigerian Constitution do not criminalize his action. He argues that the Yerima nuptial is “well accommodated in his religion of Islam” and “even the Constitution they are citing gives every citizen full rights to practice his religion”. Therefore, by his warped logic, if P then Q.

He further argued that “the religion has foreseen situations where girls at very young age could be abused by some men (as in the Yerima case I presume) that explains why it provides for girls at very young age to get married to forestall their getting promiscuous and wayard” Does anyone observe the apparent contradictions in Barkiya’s contention here? Young girls are susceptible to abuse by men; therefore they should be married off young to prevent them from becoming promiscuous or wayward. When precisely did they proceed from becoming potential victims to potential villains?

I am no scholar in Islamic injunctions. However, I am highly persuaded by the opinions of Mrs. Maryam Uwais on this issue as published in her article“Child Marriage:Yerima’s on his own” in the This Day Lawyer pull-out of May 4, 2010. There, she had stated “contrary to what is perceived by many, even amongst Muslims, I am not aware and so do not agree that there is an Islamic injunction that Muslim men should marry young girls, as the Senator (and those who seek to defend his action) asserts so categorically. The Senator relies on the tradition that our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) married a girl of tender years, whose precise age is a matter of contention among some historians…A specific age has not been defined in Islam … in the development of Shari’a, the focus of our learned scholars and jurists has always been to look at the larger picture, the intent and objective (maqasid) always being to make regulations in favour of what is considered to be most in the public interest… where Islam does not give a specific injunction in respect of an issue …and the state proceeds to decree that driving on the right is the law in that society, the Muslim is bound to obey the regulation…”

In the above regard, the Child Rights Act passed by the very same Senate in which Senator Yerima serves prohibits marriage to a minor as does the laws of Egypt, the home country of his child-bride. Interestingly, the Child Rights Act applies in the Federal Capital Territory where the marriage was contracted. There is no moral, religious or legal justification for Senator Yerima’s action and the only thing that is equally or even more despicable than it is the hare-brained logic proffered by Barkiya to justify it in his rejoinder.

Barkiya, in his rejoinder, extols as a virtue and an accomplishment, the marrying of a virgin, condemns what he perceives as the attack on Islamic religion and culture by critics of Yerima’s marriage and pontificates on what he calls the double standards of the Lagos-Ibadan Press in downplaying grave infractions by Christians and over hyping mere peccadilloes by Muslims.

This elevation of virginity as a virtue and an accomplishment underscores another peculiar Nigerian penchant (evidenced recently by the reported activity of an NGO run by some woman on a quest to locate and celebrate virgin girls) and betrays his chauvinistic inclinations.

He objects to what he perceives as an attack on Islamic culture but is quick to cast aspersions on other cultures which he alleges promote promiscuity among their womenfolk. By his warped sense of right and wrong, it is better to marry off a 13 year old than have her sleep with men she is not married to. But he considers it morally reprehensible that “a former NTA newscaster” (presumably a consenting adult) cohabited with a man whom she eventually got married to only after their son turned 30 years old. He condemns the Lagos-Ibadan Press for not adhering to the tenets of journalism and for “entertaining us with dishes of falsehood and needless propaganda” but with absolutely no scintilla of proof, he conjectures a conspiracy to mock Islam and accuses women rights activists of being on the pay roll of foreign organizations who are intent on ridiculing Islam and its adherents.

These suspicions of conspiracy against Islam in the condemnation of Yerima’s action only serve to divert attention away from the condemnable act itself. The Senator swore an oath to protect and preserve the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. One of these laws prohibits marriage to a minor. The Senator broke that law and has been rightly criticized for it. What should follow next is that the full measure of the law should be brought against him. To attribute some sort of conspiracy theory to mock Islam to the criticism of Yerima’s inordinate action is silly and diversionary.

Interestingly, Barkiya, who provided the dictionary meaning of the word “paedophilia” as someone who is sexually attracted to children, takes umbrage at Louis Odion’s use of the word in entitling his piece on Senator Yerima. It should be noted that Senator Yerima is alleged to have similarly married a minor in the past whom he divorced in order to marry his current child-bride. Therefore Mr. Barkiya, if looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it usually is a duck.


Esosa Omo-Usoh

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Solola & Akpana (Barristers & Solicitors)

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