Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Oracle Uncovers Hidden Aspects of The Nigerian Constitution: The Child Marriage Imbroglio

In the Nigerian Constitution, Chapter 3 is about citizenship. This chapter contains Sections 25 through 32 but the Oracle is interested in section 29 and particularly sub-section  4(b). To ensure that I drive my point home, here is the entire Section 29 of the Nigerian 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.

In a nut-shell, this Section is mainly about the renunciation of citizenship and the modalities involved. It stipulates that only Nigerians who are of full age (i.e. 18 and above) can renounce their citizenship. As long as the renunciation does not come at a time when Nigeria is physically involved in a war and as long as the renunciation was not made contrary to public policy, it shall be valid. Sub-section 4(b) however states that "any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age"...and this is the very essence of this divination.

The Nigerian House of Senate or a reasonable part of it noticed the connotation of Section 29, subsection 4(b) of the Nigerian constitution as it concerns child marriage and its flagrant contravention of Sections 21, 22 and 23 of the Children's Rights Act of 2003 which can be found here. Therefore, in July, they sought take it down and a vote was cast. Although a majority of the House (60) voted for the removal, 35 voted that is should be retained...and because a minimum of 73 votes are required to amend the constitution, the controversial clause still remains part of our constitution. I do not want to bother myself wondering about the manner of men and women who were amongst these rather pervasive 35 persons. Now to the matter at hand:

The Nigerian Constitution as it concerns Child marriage

Section 29, subsection 4(b) of the Nigerian constitution; contrary to popular belief, does not endorse child marriage...it is rather a show of stupidity as you shall see later. However, the Nigerian constitution still implicitly endorses child marriage and the rogue clause can be found on Section 11, Subsection 1(b) of the Code of Conduct for public officers which states that "...at the end of his [a public officer] term of office, [he should] submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets, and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of eighteen years".
Note “...his unmarried children under the age of eighteen years". 

What this means is that though it is legal to have married kids under the age of eighteen; a public office holder has to declare the assets of his kids who are under 18 years and are unmarried at the end of his term in office. The clause did not say “...his children under the age of eighteen" which would have been appropriate if it were only legal for Nigerians to get married from the age 18 and above.

This clause also creates certain rooms for siphoning public funds as Public Office holders can 'legally'  embezzle public funds as long as these funds are not in their names or in the names of their unmarried children. I can visualise a Public Office holder with a 13 year old daughter; he embezzles Public funds and stashes them away in his daughter's name; gets her married off at that tender age and when his term in office is over; he only gets to declare properties in his name and not his daughter's because she is now married. Nice!

The stupidity of Section 29, subsection 4(b) explained

As I said initially, the very essence of my divination today is about Section 29, subsection 4(b) of the Nigerian constitution which states "any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age". I also said that this clause does not endorse Child marriage although whoever proposed it had intended it to. That clause is fraught with tautology, stupidity, a mixture of both or a sinister motive to confuse.

First, who is a woman? Since the Nigerian Constitution does not contain its own definition of the term “woman”, it is fair to say that our constitution refers to “woman” as generically defined.

The Oxford dictionary defines a woman as an adult human female. The same dictionary defines an adult as:
  • Biologically: a human who is fully developed or matured physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • Legally: a person who has reached the age of majority.
Biologically - on the average- female humans hit full (physical, mental and emotional) maturity at the age of 18 and this is when they usually become women. Wikipedia calls this state of maturity "womanhood" and defines it as a period in a female human's life after she had outgrown childhood and adolescence; and this generally occurs at the age of 18. For some, hitting all three might even take a longer while and into their early 20s.

Legally, female humans - just like their male counterparts - assume responsibility over their persons and for their actions and decisions at the age of majority or at a full age which is 18 years in Nigeria; in some countries it could be as early as 16 or as late as 21. Age of majority or full age bestows the status of adulthood on people notwithstanding their level of physical, mental or emotional maturity.

Therefore, a woman could be micro-defined as a female human:
  1. who is in her early 20s for the avoidance of doubts or 
  2. who has reached full maturity at the age of 18 or 
  3. who has reached the age of majority/full age, which in the Nigerian context is 18 years. 
In all three micro-definitions; a woman reaches age of majority/full age without marriage playing a part. So saying "any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age" is logically the same thing as saying "any female who has reached full age and is married shall be deemed to be of full age"...which doesn't make sense. Why deem a woman to be of full age if she already is of full age?

Whoever proposed that clause should just have stated that "any female who is married shall be deemed to be of full age" or "any girl who is married shall be deemed to be of full age". And since the terms "female" and "girl" could be used to refer to even a day old baby, it would then have become obvious that section 29, subsection 4(b) endorses child marriage. But since this is not the case and since the Nigerian Constitution doesn't have its own definition of the term “woman”, the truth then is that the clause is useless and lacks meaning.

The Barriers To the controversial Clause 

Again, in the actual sense, that clause refers only to Section 29 and does not stand valid outside it. Subsection 4 states that:

For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section [Section 29]:

        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.

And subsection 1 states that:

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.

T   Therefore, as long as the issue has nothing to do with the renunciation of citizenship, "Any woman who is married shall NOT NECESSARILY be deemed to be of full age". This presents again some sort of ambiguity as the Nigerian Constitution within a single Section appears to legalise Child Marriage,while outside that section it doesn't. 
So in essence, any man who marries a child in Nigeria and claims he has the backing of Section 29, subsection 4(b) is either delusory or has a blatant intention to distort this particular clause to his own advantage and...if I were a lawyer, I would tear him up in court and sue him for all he is worth. 

The advice
  • Section 29, subsection 4(b) should be removed from the Nigerian constitution, not because it promotes child marriage...it was intended to but it doesn't. It should be removed because it is meaningless.
  • The ChildNotBride campaign should draw its attention to Section 11, Subsection 1(b) of the Code of Conduct for public officers which is really the only clause in the Nigerian constitution that endorses child marriage, albeit cunningly.
  • There should be a change in the way votes are decided in the senate as it concerns amending the constitution. There are 109 Senators and 73 votes are needed before a part of the constitution is amended.
    In July when there was a vote to remove section 29, subsection 4(b) from the constitution, 60 voted for it to be removed; 35 voted that it should be retained which means that 14 senators were either absent or sat on the fence. This should not be encouraged; with all the money they squander in that House they should either have a say in important issues or have no impact on the outcome at all.
    As it is now, a single Senator not casting a vote affects the ability of the House to reach a decision. I, therefore, suggest a system which arrives at conclusions based strictly on the number of votes cast; this would force Senators to pick a side and jump down from the fence.  For example, if there were 60 ayes and 35 nays...the total vote count would be 95. The ayes have approximately 63% of the vote while the nays have 37%. If there was a rule which says that "60% of cast votes is required to amend the constitution" by now that clause would have been history...but it sits there still even though majority want it removed.
  • Even as we try to get the Constitution changed and the Nigerian child accorded her full rights, parents should be sensitised to the dangers and detriments of child marriage. That the constitution wrongly implies that children can be given out in marriage does not mean that parents a compelled to do so. We will fight to get the extra protection of the Nigerian Constitution, but before that happens, every parent must have his/her Family Constitution which states that "No member of this family shall get married until s/he is 18 years old, a bit more or has reached a certain level in her academic or career life"...once this is done, no Yerima can force your daughter from you even if he has the backing of a 100 explicit clauses in the Nigerian constitution.


The Oracle Has Spoken!!

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