‘Underage’ Journalism ,By Ali M Ali



saniThere was, recently, a lot hoopla. The media reported that the Nigerian Senate had voted in favour Child Marriage and there was uproar. The cacophony still rages on. To pander to critics the vote against child marriage, the Senate President, David Mark had spoken like a politician- speaking through both sides of the mouth in explaining the true position of section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution.
was the accursed portion, which has become a bone stuck in the throats impassioned citizens. The truly benighted find it too tough to swallow. They a well-misinformed view that someone somewhere was trying to ‘Islamize’ a ‘secular’ state.
The Nigerian people didn’t find that amusing. An assortment commentators mostly the bamboozled hue had taken to the social media to express ‘rightful’ indignation. Scornful cartoons, mocking articles and uncouth language have been hurled in the direction Islam and Muslims for a purely temporal matter.
A sea of tweets, a valley of face book posts and an ocean of online comments have sought to demonize the Senators that voted against an amendment to that section. In one particularly uncharitable pictorial post on face book, the lawmakers’ mug shot were lined up and presented like convicts before a police identification parade. Eerily, most of them spot stolid unsmiling pates as if to confirm that they were of the charge of pedophilia!
One incensed Nollywood star went a step further. She posted about three minutes of video tirade against the parliamentarians. Her star power must have rubbed off on the campaign because other wannabes followed suit. Before her, Ayo Oritsejafo, President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) spat fire and brimstone. He threatened to mobilize Nigerians whom he will lead to demonstrate against the Senators at the National Assembly for accepting the law of marriage to minors.
Even the traditional media had played host to the fury of the ‘combatants’ in the self-assigned task of saving the girl-child from the whacky disposition of lewd Legislators.
Fingered as the arrowhead in railroading his colleagues into buying unpopular piece of legislation is the jaundiced media ultimate bad boy, Senator Ahmed Sani Yarima. The bearded politician hardly needs an introduction to the cynical press. Depending on the persuasion, Yarima has a ‘dual’ personality: he is both saint and sinner.
His admirers see him as a reformer, performer and revivalist. His critics see him as an ‘opportunist, a confusionist and a pedophiliac. Stellar Damasus, the Nollywood actress that went ‘ballistic’ on social media in her diatribe against the lawmakers alluded to that.
She is not alone. Many commentators have turned Yarima into a punching bag on account of his marriage to an ‘underage’ girl and spirited guard against the amendment of that piece of legislation
Three short years ago, a newspaper broke the news of Yarima’s marriage to a 13-year-old Egyptian. Unless my memory fails me, I can’t remember the Senator ‘joining’ ‘issues’ with his critics or with the media. I imagine him chuckling at their perplexity. He is not a stranger to controversy. Controversy has become to Zamfara Prince what spots are to a leopard. Without it, he is unrecognizable; he would probably not be a politician. He is in good company. President Jonathan, his wife, Patience, El-rufai, even Al-Mustapha, Omatseye, Adamu, Nzeribe are fellow travellers! Saints and sinners
Not too long ago, Yarima admitted leading a coterie of Islamic clerics to the President. Few elements knew of the visit. Fewer still knew what was the purpose. The media wasn’t aware. And that made it a ‘secret’ because it was shrouded in mystery. The visit, harmless as it were, became controversial. Again, the social media feasted. It was insinuated that the Senator is angling to dislodge the current Vice President in the build up to the 2015 polls.
A very controversial President figured that Yarima would be more of an electoral asset than the quiet but colorful Namadi Sambo in the impending decisive polls. Before then, mainstream media had reported that Yarima would be ‘empowered’ with the very lucrative FCT ministerial portfolio.With the largesse accruable,he is to ‘rein’ in the ‘Muslim’ north.
Yarima is famously notorious for being the first of governors to introduce and so far the only to implement the punitive aspect of Shari’a. He presided over the government that chopped off the hand of Jengebe, a convicted thief in Zamfara state.
The introduction made him monstrously popular. Other politicians in the category of governors desirous of a short cut to electoral followed suit.
Yarima’s latest crime, it would appear, was that he singly prevailed on other Senators to kick against amendment of Section 29 (4) (b). At this juncture, it is proper to ask what is the section all about?
It talks about the right of a Nigerian citizen of “full age” to renounce his/her Nigerian citizenship. “Full age,” for the purpose of this section, is defined as “18 years and above”. But Sub-section 4 (b) made an exception for married women. According to the contentious clause in Section 29 (4) (b), “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
This is self-explanatory. I don’t see where ‘child marriage’ comes into the mix. I am therefore, mystified by the generous invectives poured on Islam and Muslims. Is it because Yarima objected to the deletion of the section? Or it is because some find it spiritually fulfilling to denigrate other people way of life?
What is truly ‘underage?’ What is the right age for marriage? In most cultures, marriages are contracted at the onset of puberty. In the so-called western world, which I must confess, is slowly descending into the fathomless abyss of darkness. A society that sanctions bizarre unions like same sex marriage can’t be anything but benighted. Let me copiously quote PROFESSOR IS-HAQ AKINTOLA, professor of Islamic Studies, Muslim and Human Rights activist. According to him, in countries like America, marriages are contracted for 13 year olds.
“In New Hampshire, legal marriage age is 13 for girls and 14 for boys! in Michigan, it is 15 but girls can be married below 15 with parental consent. In Indiana, a girl can be married at 14 if she becomes pregnant. in Hawaii and Georgia, it is 15 with parental consent. in Britain it is 16.In most European countries it is 15. In Venezuela it is 14 with parental consent, 14 in Paraguay, 14 in Mexico, Bolivia 14. In africa, the legal marriage age is 14 in Mozambique and 15 in Gabon. In Angola it is 15, Niger 15, Cameroon 15, Congo dr 15, Benin 15, Kenya 16 and Madagascar 14. in Equatorial Guinea it is 12!”
So why the hullabaloo? A qualified guess may help explain this uniquely Nigerian tendency. Most Nigerians senators and men of God are ill informed, misinformed and out rightly ignorant. They are passionate not reasonable. They confuse their passion for reason.
Those who were railroaded into taking Yarima’s position were as unenlightened as those who confused the provision of the constitution as supporting child marriage. Both sides are prisoners of certain sentiments far detached from pandering to religiosity. The media too, is caught in the vortex of underage journalism
I just shudder to think we are in the age of the reign of the ignoramuses. Unless all Nigerians in the informed circle collectively raise and reclaim their country from politicians in cassock or beards; it is indeed, a long walk to a new dawn.

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