Constitution Amendment: Senate didn’t pass any bill on child-marriage
By Enyinnaya Appolos
A lot of Nigerians believe that the 1999 Constitution is part of the nation’s many problems. Those who subscribe to this school of thought believe that; as a product of the military, the constitution as it is, will always have an uphill task to sit-in with tenets of democracy. This and other reasons are why the National Assembly has taken it upon itself, as an arm of government that represents the people; which is also saddled with the responsibility of making laws for the nation, to review the constitution so as to accommodate the democratic yearnings and aspirations of the people, and disperse the people’s opposition to the constitution.
The 7th National Assembly at its inception in June 2011, didn’t leave anyone in doubt that it was going to continue where the 6th national assembly stopped in reviewing and amending the constitution. To ensure that this exercise was carried out, both chambers of the National Assembly set up separate Constitution Review Committees, headed by Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu for the Senate and Hon. Emeka Ihedioha for the House of Representatives.
After rigorous efforts of the committees to review the constitution, the Senate committee submitted its report and it was debated along various lines of interests by the senators. On Tuesday June 16, 2013, the senate voted on the alterations of the constitution that was brought before it by its committee. Clause by clause, senators electronically voted ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ on 31 clauses.
A copy of the report of the Senate committee in my possession does not have any clause on marriage. The fact that there was no clause on marriage, puts a lie on the report that Senate passed an age-limit marriage.
It is surprising however to note that, shortly after the Senate concluded its voting on the report of its committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution, reports in some sections of the media alleged that the senate has made a law for under-aged marriage.
The matter became worst on the social media, where bloggers who probably may not have read the constitution, and may not have also read the alterations contained in the report of the senate committee, were bent on misinforming the people.
The height of this misleading report is a purported petition to the United Nations by one Eme Awa, calling on the UN to ‘Stop The Nigerian Senate From Making Under-Age Marriage The Law’. A lot of people are ignorantly ‘signing’ the so-called petition on the social media.
It is important at this juncture to call our attention to the fact that Nigeria is a sovereign nation.
Here is a copy of Eme Awa’s purported petition to the UN.
“Petitioning The United Nations
United Nations: Stop The Nigerian Senate From Making Under-Age Marriage The Law!
hyattsville, United States
July 17, 2013.
The Nigerian Senate just approved language that would remove the protection for young women and girls from repeatedly being rape in the guise of early marriage.
New York-based Guttmacher Institute’s study reports that the Nigerian authorities have been failing to implement sexual health education for decades and now, the Nigerian Senate has made it part of the Nigerian Constitution to give adult men the right to take any young girl as a wife, even as young as ten years old. Here is the senate’s new rule: “”The Nigerian Senate also resolved to alter Section 29 (a) of the constitution that stipulates that a woman shall not be qualified for marriage until she attains the 18 years as they deleted age specification for women being married from the draft constitution and left the marriage age for women open. The Senate claimed that a woman is deemed to be “full of age” once she is married irrespective of the age she did so.”
We need your help to get ACTION from the United Nations to stop the government of Nigeria from this grave injustice!
Help our young girls grow up to reach their God-given potential.
Sign This Petition Now!”
A careful reading of Eme Awa’s supposed petition, shows clearly that the petitioner does not have a copy of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, if he does, he has failed to read it to know what it provided in section 29. Another reason I strongly believe that this supposed petition is dustbin bound, is that fact that the petitioner, has not read the report of the Senate Committee on the review of the constitution, instead, like a busybody, he made false claims and horridly quoted the report out of contest to achieve a misleading goal, a goal that is dead on arrival.
The senate didn’t pass any bill on age limit for marriage. What the senate was trying to do was to alter Section 29, and delete its subsection 4(b) of the constitution which really has to with renunciation of one’s citizenship.
Section 29 of the constitution as it is, provides that until a Nigerian is of “full age” he or she can’t apply for citizenship elsewhere as a Nigeria.
In defining what full age means, the constitution in subjection (4) of section 29 provides that: “(a) “full age” means the age of eighteen years and above; (b) any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
The alteration of this section, which actually didn’t scale through in the Senate, has nothing to do with marriage.
Here is the full provision of section 29 of the 1999 constitution.
“29. (1) Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for the renunciation.
“(2) The President shall cause the declaration made under subsection (1) of this section to be registered and upon such registration, the person who made the declaration shall cease to be a citizen of Nigeria.
“(3) The President may withhold the registration of any declaration made under subsection (1) of this section if-
“(a) the declaration is made during any war in which Nigeria is physically involved; or
“(b) in his opinion, it is otherwise contrary to public policy.
“(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section.
“(a) “full age” means the age of eighteen years and above;
“(b) any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
Mind you that this section of the constitution is not a new amendment, rather it has been there, what the Senate wanted to delete subsection 4(b).
What actually happened that day, which am sure is the reason religious connotation has been brought into the debate, was the comment made by former governor of Zamfara State, Senator Sani Yerima, who not too long ago, took a 12 or 13 years old Egyptian teenager as wife, drew the attention of the senate to the fact that the constitution forbids any amendment to any provision of the sharia and customary laws.
It was upon this that the senate rescinded on its decision to delete subsection 4(b) of section 29.
Rather an engaging on unnecessary busybody, I wish to suggest that we read the constitution and other laws of the land, before inciting people with our unguided comments.
Section 29 of the Constitution which deals on a citizen’s right to renounce his or her citizenship has nothing to do with marriage and it was not altered by the senate.