Opinion

Ese: The shame of a nation

OF all the stories that have hit national headlines this year, few are as touching and unnerving as that of the willful abduction of Ese Oruru from her mother’s food canteen in Bayelsa State, to Kano, in northern Nigeria by a Hausa man identified as Inuwa Daluru Bala, popularly known as Yinusa Yellow. The real life fairy tale is an example of the fate of the girl-child in a country that appears to care less about how  its young and most vulnerable citizens are treated.

To begin the tale from the beginning, Ese, then 13 years old, was a beautiful starry-eyed young girl with a bright future ahead of her as a JSS 3 student, even as she frequently helped out at her mother’s food canteen.  Although this practice is culturally acceptable in Nigeria   where the demands of meeting life’s exigencies sometimes require children to help their parents in their business activities, it is an option that is quite fraught with danger as they are exposed, as happened in Ese’s case, to interactions with adults who may not always have the best of intentions, as happened with Yinusa.

And so, it happened that the tricycle rider had other plans for Ese, who often served him food in her mother’s canteen. He determined to permanently take her with him to Kano and he did just that on August 12, 2015.  His action naturally threw her family into confusion and all efforts to rescue her since that time failed. The police in Kano, the Kano Emirate Council and the Sharia Commission in the state all failed to ensure her return to her parents until her story moved from the inside pages of national newspapers onto the front pages. Only then, pronto, was she set free, with claims and counterclaims from her abductors and those who ought to have ensured her return to her parents over six months ago.

If anyone is in doubt of the evil that was done to Ese, which certain interests in the country are trying to rewrite as a modern day ‚ÄúRomeo and Juliet‚ÄĚ story of lovers who absconded to marry, a simple comparison of Ese‚Äôs bubbly picture as a happy-go-lucky girl in her native Bayelsa State and¬† that of the scary, hard-faced girl in hijab released to the police early last week, should confirm it.

The story of Ese’s transformation from a promising child with great possibilities and  an ambition to be a nurse,  to an Islamic bride with a vacant look, is pathetic, to say the least. In her parents home, she could have aspired to any position she wanted in life and actualize any of her dreams. But, as a child bride, her dreams had ended in the bosom of a commercial tricycle operator, and there was little hope that she would amount to anything beyond being a cook and a bearer of children for Yinusa. That is about the best she could have become in Yinusa’s hamlet. At the worst, she might end up with the dreaded Vesico-Vaginal Fistula that is the fate of many child brides, or even a worse fate that is better not mentioned here.

But thank God, her story has a happy ending. All hands must be on deck to sustain this happy ending. It has become imperative for the police and the Bayelsa state government to do all that is necessary to keep her safe as nothing can be taken past those who would rather not have her in a position to testify against her abductor. She must remain alive and well to fulfill her dreams and to help ensure that her abductors are brought to justice. If this is not done, we can expect the wave of abductions of children for marriage to continue unabated.

The lesson needs to be taught those who see nothing wrong in forcefully marrying children against the will of their parents that such acts are not allowed and will be severely punished in the country, as in all decent societies. Now that Ese is back in Bayelsa with Yinusa’s pregnancy, the society that failed to protect her from abduction must ensure that she is properly cared for and safely delivered of her baby. Thereafter, it must be ensured that she is able to return to school as soon as her baby is weaned to ensure that her dream of becoming a nurse is fulfilled.

The Nigeria Police is the greatest disappointment in this abduction saga. The officers of the security agency involved in this case preferred to look on askance and do nothing even with the knowledge that a child had been abducted and transported to another part of the country. Not even the efforts of Ese‚Äôs two parents who, at different times, travelled to Kano to try to secure her release moved them. They apparently preferred to dance to the ‚Äúbody language‚ÄĚ of the Islamic authorities in Kano, instead of upholding the laws of the nation which they swore to uphold by returning the girl to her parents.

The most worrisome aspect of the Ese saga is that it appears not to be an isolated case. Since the story broke, there have been reports of other girls similarly abducted for marriage to men in the northern part of the country. Even in Lagos, where a fight broke out between Hausa and Yoruba traders and Okada riders at the Mile 12 last week, there are reports of young Yoruba girls who were lured with financial inducements into relationships with Hausa men in the area and travelled up north ostensibly for muslim festivals with the men only not to be seen again by their parents.

The parents of these girls should step out and seek them out. They should not be left to a dreary fate in places that they do not know.Back to Ese, I do not see this girl safely living in her parent’s old home. The Bayelsa State governor should do this traumatized girl a favour and make appropriate arrangements for her accommodation and security. In this saga, the voice of the First Lady of the state appears to have been somewhat muted. If she has not already done so, she should stand up and be counted in the quest to properly rehabilitate Ese. The trauma she has undergone should not be allowed to blight her life. As soon as she delivers and weans her baby, she must be encouraged to continue her education and fulfill her life ambition.

Educating the men who thrive on child marriages, rescuing other girls who have been abducted and forced into ‚Äúmarriages‚ÄĚ against Nigeria‚Äôs laws, and ensuring that Ese gets another chance to have the type of life she desires for herself are the only ways to erase this shame of child abductions for marriage in Nigeria.

 

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