Senate President, David Mark, has accused Senator Ahmed Yerima, who is at the centre of the child marriage controversy, of blackmailing the Senate to reverse a move to delete a section of the constitution that appears to support child marriage.
Mr. Mark made this known on Wednesday while receiving a high-level team including the Minister of women affairs, Zainab Maina, and chairman of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, who protested the Senate’s failure to delete the section.
“Let me also talk to my own brothers and sisters who are Senators, who were probably blackmailed. That is the fact, because it is in the open that I cannot also hide it and nobody can hide it,” the Senate President said as he affirmed his stance.
“They were simply blackmailed, and on that day, if they didn’t do what they did, nobody knows the outcome or how the consequences will be today, because the people outside can say this man, you are Muslim and didn’t vote for something that is of Islamic interest, because if we don’t hit the nail squarely on the head, we may never get it right” he further explained.
He stated that the Senate was poised to remove the section from the law in the first place until members were blackmailed by Mr. Yerima by his claim that an alternative decision would be un-Islamic.
Mr. Yerima’s call on Islamic law on age of a girl child in marriage compelled the Senate to repeat the vote which had already passed the required mark.
The second vote was defeated, leaving the section intact. The section says a woman married shall be deemed to be of age for the purpose of renouncing citizenship. But many Nigerians fear the section sanctions girl marriage and have asked that it be removed.
Mr. Mark said Senators were not ’paedophiles’ and would reconsider the contentious section.
“We wanted to remove it but it failed, we were a total of 101 Senators, 85 voted and I think about six or so abstained. There were hardly any dissenting votes but once it got mixed up with so many other issues, it didn’t get the required 73 votes anymore.”
“So, first of all, I think the castigation outside is done out of misunderstanding but because a religious connotation was brought into it, which is a very sensitive issue and you must agree with me that in this country, we try as must as possible not to bring issues that involves faith to the floor of the Senate and indeed the chamber, we keep religion completely out of it because what is good for a Christian is also good for a Muslim.”
“The good of the country is for everybody and not for a particular religious sect. I think the bottom line is, when people get more educated, then we can do a re-think and probably, if the Senate agrees, go back and see whether we can get the required number once more, because that is the solution” he added.
Other members of the team that met the Senate President on Wednesday included wife of former Chief Justice of the federation, Maryam Uwais; former Vice President of the World Bank for Africa and former Education Minister, Obiageli Ezekwesili; former women minister, Josephine Anenih; and other top gender activists.
The group asked the Senate to revisit the section and delete it.
“The Senate must remain impervious to emotional, religious reasoning, and focus on the aggregate social good which will protect and enrich the lives of half of the nation’s population,” Minister of women affairs demanded.
“We enjoin the Senate leadership to use every avenue within its rules of procedure to cause a revisit of the vote on Section 29(4) (b). The overwhelming reaction of Nigerians against the outcome of the vote on 16 July, 2013 is a clear and unequivocal indication that women, and indeed diverse and significant constituencies of Nigerians, have concerns for the specific and general implications of the decision of the Senate to retain Section 29(4) (b).”