Tuesday, 23 July 2013 12:37

Of child brides and terrorists

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Earlier this week, I was asked to sign a petition requesting the United Nations to stop Nigerian Lawmakers from enacting a law permitting underage marriages.  Without hesitation, I signed because I had seen firsthand, the deleterious impact of the practice.  Not long after I shared the petition on my page, a friend posted a different review of the issue which explained that Senator Yerima and his cronies were actually voting to keep in the 1999 Constitution, section 29(4) (b) that states, “any woman who is married shall be deemed of full age.”  While a removal of this clause would have made eighteen the age of accountability across the board, it was rejected.  My take is that neither the 1999 constitution nor the amendment would resolve the religious exceptionism that continues to allow a feudal elite to exercise a stranglehold over the lives of millions of good Nigerians.

I visited Kano during my youth service in 1988 and was struck by the number of kids roaming the streets.  The boys in dusty caps, tee shirts or dashiki and pants, often without shoes were begging.  They crowded the traffic stops and clambered over cars with bowls thrust out each time the lights turned red.  Less visible on the streets, the girls were in ankra top and wrappers with scarves draped over their heads and sporting red dots on their foreheads.  They too carried bowls but sometimes carried bags and appeared to be running errands.  I asked my uncle whom I was visiting about the red dots.  “The dots signify they are married and living with their husbands,” he calmly replied.  Horrified, I questioned how it could be so given I had seen six year olds with similar dots on their foreheads.  He explained that he had been similarly outraged when newly transferred from Lagos to Kano.  Having been told it was religious practice, he turned to his neighbor, a Muslim from the south.

“How can you justify old men marrying six or seven year olds as religious practice?” he inquired.

“It is allowable religious practice.  It is how it is done,” his neighbor replied matter of fact.

“Okay, so it is religious practice; how come you have not given your fifteen year old daughter in marriage?  You even have eighteen year old nieces living with you!  When will they marry?” uncle yelled outraged at his neighbor’s complacent defense of such a barbaric custom.

“Ehm, hmm...” his neighbor edged, “even if one is crying, one can still see.  That’s how they understand it, not how we do.”

While the dichotomy between northern and southern Muslim practice is certainly intriguing, the battle for civil rights for the northern woman has been long and arduous.  For instance, she did not get the right to vote until 1976 while her southern sisters had been enjoying the franchise since independence.  Likewise, high profile cases spotlight the oppression girls and women face in this region of the country such as the case of the girl whose legs were chopped off because she ran away from arranged marriage; the Rabiu progeny who killed his errant 13-year old bride; the Amina Lawal Kurami saga which gained international notoriety via Oprah, and the pedophile Senator’s Egyptian child bride who is yet to receive justice.  Child marriage is part of an entrenched misogynist culture of domination whether or not sanctioned by the constitution.  To buttress, another harrowing memory I have of Kano is seeing a large building dubbed “The House of Piss” which housed women whose bladders had been destroyed as a result of underage pregnancy and the resulting obstetric fistula.  In the building, the girls, divorced by their husbands and disowned by their families, are taught to weave baskets and other crafts for sale. 

On a positive note, pieces of federal legislation supporting universal education gave rise to federal colleges and allowed warriors like Mrs. Esther Sodeinde, former principal of Federal Government Girls College, Bida to prowl the streets forcibly dragging girls back to school to get an education.  Similarly, women’s activist groups gain the platform to decry the excesses of the feudal elite.  Sometimes they win, other times, aluta continua.  It was definitely a major setback when Katsina, Zamfara, et al. opted for Sharia law and female Youth Corpers could no longer ride in taxis with men nor freely walk the streets.

Of child brides and terrorists?  – It is not accidental that Boko Haram terrorists decry western education as this is precisely what their wealthy sponsors, sanction.  Western education throws a wrench in their oppressive machine.  They control the girls through child marriages and the boys through beggary and eventual recruitment into terrorism.  And those who are outliers are forced to into complicity through violence and mayhem while the feudal elite continue their merry looting.  It is the same tactics used by their counterparts in the Middle East and Afghanistan (Taliban era).  For advocates, the struggle must continue because it is not about the abortion of a Constitutional amendment but about a feudal elite who continue to smother the progress of millions in a significant region of the country.  Southerners may cast a snooty glance thinking the continued underdevelopment of the north alludes to the superiority of the south but in actuality, Nigeria is going nowhere as a state if all its regions do not experience tremendous socio-economic development.  

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Abi Adegboye Ph.D

Abi Adegboye began writing as a young girl growing in western Nigeria.  In a culture that reveres boys, she was born the second of three girls.  Certain she had to be her family's 'boy,' she climbed trees to harvest fruit, dressed chickens for dinner, caught mice, and whatever else required male-handling.  She also loved to read, write, and draw.  Her initial efforts yielded publications in local newspapers and newsletters.  However, she was advised to get a day job which turned out to be as a professor of political science.  This opened to her, a different avenue for publication in her areas of research including African women and development, women migrants, and the impact of public policy on women’s political economy.

On her 40th birthday, she rekindled her creative writing with the publication of Butterfly, a picture book and Reflections on Nigerian Christianity, a social commentary.  Since then, she’s co-authored Owanbe! Yoruba Celebrations of Life (2010), a cultural anthology and published Wanna B Prez? 10 Life Strategies from President Barack Obama’s Journey to the White House (2012), a YA motivational YA book, and Renike comes to America (2016), a novella.  

Abi writes multicultural fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults.  She shares her writing through speaking engagements, performances, storytelling, and classroom visits. 

For more information about Ms. Adegboye’s publications, or to connect with her, visit her

Website at www.abiadegboye.com

Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/abiadegboyeauthor

Blog at http://www.abiadegboye.com/blog

And Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/abiadegboye

 

 

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