To begin, I must state that hurting a child in any way – physically, emotionally, psychologically – is one of the worst things a man can do.
Hence, it is understandable how the entire country seems to have got their panties up in a bunch about the #childnotbride affair. Everyone has something to say and wants to be heard. There are the angry protesters who want to string certain individuals in society up by the balls. There’s the stubborn minority who insist on sticking it up with reckless abandon. I’m talking abut their necks, of course. There are the disillusioned cynics who are all jokes and waiting for the storm to end.
However, it does not take much to see that a lot of the noise is just that: noise. And if we are not careful, this matter will get so muddled and confused that nothing good will be achieved at the end of this.
Allow me then, to un-bunch the collective panties of the entire affair, and cut to the pith of the matter. If we, are in any way, going to gain something positive out of this, here’s what we have to do:
1. Get the facts right.
There’s a lot of misinformation, misplaced passion and petitions that are – frankly- going nowhere. Yes. the issue is a serious one. But ask a random person to explain what it is about and you are presented with a confusing set of contradictions and assumptions. Here’s what’s really going on:
The Section of the Constitution under review dealt with the circumstances around which a person could renounce Nigerian citizenship. It stipulates that any person of full age will be able to do so. It then clarifies “full age” as
1) Being 18 years and above and
2) States that any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.
That number 2 is what hit the fan, if you will allow me to use that expression. See, it says that the constitution considers all married women to be of age, irrespective of how old they are.
It doesn’t matter if she’s 17, or 9. If she wants to stop being a Nigerian, as long as she’s married, she will have the right to.
Feeling that this somewhat implicitly approved of under age marriage, the Senate voted to take that part out. Upon which, Mr Sani Yerima, former governor of Zamfara state, and who 2 years ago married a 13 year old, stood to his feet and objected.
This cannot be, he said. You cannot delete that “full age” provision without being prejudiced against muslims and Islamic law. That would be unthinkable.
As usual, as soon as someone mentions religion- whether Christian or Muslim- we collectively accept it as an invitation to stop thinking, and that’s what the Senate did.
But the problem with the Yerima situation is not that the clause there is wrong, it’s that instead of reasoning like any sane educated individual should, he used Religion as a convincing argument.
To get this right, then, there are two issues that must be agreed upon:
First, religion has no place coming into place in the lawmaking process at any time.
And second, the girl child is still massively unprotected by Nigerian law. And laws must be put in place to do that.
2. Know the law
For many Nigerians, the law seems to be strictly other people’s business.
Most people figure: “I’m probably not going to get arrested or sued, so why bother? Furthermore, has not the Government done their utmost best to ensure that the law is inaccessible to us simple folk? Why, the constitution itself is unavailable to the common man!” I shake my head at you Sir. By being part of this society, the law is a contract between yourself, your fellow citizens and the Government. And it is in your best interest to know the terms of that contract. And as to your argument about the constitution being unavailable, here is the last known copy of the constitution smuggled out by the resistance. You can also pick it up in almost any bookshop, download it as an App on your phone and read it online on a number of websites.
The resistance is doing quite a good job, it would seem.
3. Know the lawmakers
It may come as a surprise to you, but the actual jobs of people in government positions is not to loot public funds, or donate money at public functions, or get in the news for getting in fights.
We have no idea what Aso Rock looks like, and we have no idea what the people in Government look like, and we have no idea -and this is most important- what they ought to be doing.
We don’t know who our lawmakers are. Of this, I too, am guilty. It seems to me, that if we are serious about holding them accountable, the least we could do is make deliberate efforts to know the Senators and Reps representing our states and regions.
What’s more, not only should we know those who represent us, they should know that they represent us.Some of them are not that bright, and will need the gentle reminder now and then.
I see nothing wrong in them having offices (or a phone number at least) where we can make complaints and suggestions. This is a democracy afterall, isn’t it?
In the good olde days, things were easy. If we didn’t like the king, we’d take torches and spears and storm the palace. And then give him a stern lecture, maybe a public flogging, and if he’d been particularly nasty, lock him up and force him to listen to Tonto Dikeh’s ‘Hi’ nonstop.
4. Know that you are a part of it.
2015 isn’t that far off. The promised Fresh Air of 2011 is already thick with the foggy schemes and plots of different parties who have their eyes on public seats. You have to vote. Now is a good time to begin to know the sort of person you’ll vote for. And this is just a suggestion, fellow citizens, but how about this time we vote on the basis of what a person has achieved, as opposed to what he promises to do? how about that?
Being a part of it goes beyond voting; it includes taking an active part in the process that selects these candidates. We all have to ensure there are a few good apples in the rotten barrels we’ll have to choose from.
Get involved in the process as much as possible. Find a worthy candidate and support them. Hell, run for elections if that is what it’ll take.
If we’re going to start at the beginning, let’s kick the root of the problem out. Let’s insist that religious and societal sentiments out of the lawmaking process. Trust me on this. Those English spent much of the Medieval storming keeps, and crossing moats and generally learning that the two don’t mix.
And if you’re a man there, who for some twisted reason can’t see that children are children and must be protected from both themselves and adults, well then, I should warn you. There’s a large group of Nigerians perfectly willing to storm your castles (via twitter), tie you up, string you up, shut you up, and force you to listen to Tonto Dikeh’s ‘Hi’ a number of times.
And frankly… I think I’m going to let them.
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