Nigeria: Yerima Quizzed Over Child Marriage & Granted Bail

All Africa

Senator Sani Ahmed, commonly known as Yerima, was on Tuesday quizzed by the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP) over his marriage to an Egyptian girl aged 13. The lawful age of marriage in both Nigeria and Egypt is 18. He faces a fine of N500,000 or five years in jail if convicted.

Ahmed, former Governor of Zamfara State, was drilled for three hours at the Wuse Zone 5 office of the NAPTIP in Abuja, after he arrived at 9:45 a.m. He was granted bail after writing a statement with a promise to report back to the NAPTIP on June 17. Sources said he told his interrogators that Islam does not discriminate against the age when a girl could get married.

But when told that he contracted the marriage in Abuja where the Child Right Act operates, he said the Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and that his religion permits him to do so.

Ahmed reportedly insisted that he will not disclose the age of the girl and that he did not see her passport before he married her.

On why he did not contract the marriage in Egypt, he said it was for the convenience of his family members and friends that he did the marriage in Nigeria, not because he was trying to beat the Egyptian law which frowns against marriage to a minor.

It was at that point he was asked to write a statement and granted bail on personal recognition. After his release, Ahmed reiterated to reporters that, "The Child Right Act they are talking about was brought to me in Zamfara as Governor, my people rejected it so also other states in the North because it is against their religion."

He blamed the controversy on his political enemies and those who "dislike my religion."

Ahmed, who agreed that the wedding took place at the National Mosque in Abuja, argued that since the clerics who officiated did not complain about the age of his bride, "then there is absolutely nothing wrong".

He said his baby wife has returned to "high school in Egypt" where "others have been doing what I did." 

NAPTIP Executive Secretary, Simon Egede, said his agency invited him following petitions from several bodies and concerned citizens against his marriage to a girl child.

Egede clarified that the investigation "is purely within our mandate having received petitions from so many interest groups.

"We are in touch with Egyptian authorities, we know it is illegal in Egypt and we do not need to get to Egypt before we get the age of the girl. In the federal capital there is a law against marriage to a minor and the law is no respecter of any person."

He said the NAPTIP will soon conclude the investigation and would let the whole world know what the issues are.

Ahmed was not detained because he "willingly turned himself in" Egede added.

In 2003, Nigeria signed the Child Right Act (CRA) into law, and Section 21 of it forbids the marriage or betrothal of a person under the age of 18, an offence which attracts a fine of N500,000 or five years in jail. Egyptian law also pegs the minimum age of marriage at 18.

Senate President of the Children Parliament, Esther Folarin, called for the persecution of any adult who flouts the Child Right Act.

Adetutu Folasade-Koyi And Kemi Yesufu

18 May 2010