Ripples over girls’ abductions, forced marriages

•Practice has no basis in Islam – Muslim scholar

•Perpetrators playing with long jail terms, says lawyer

By Cosmas Omegoh

At the moment, the average girl-child is no longer safe. Young girls are being abducted at will and forced into marriage with their names and religion changed without any their parents’ consent.

When in February, 2013, 25-year-old Charity Uzoechina allegedly converted to Islam in Suleja, Niger State, and her parents were denied access to her, many laughed off the story. The lady, who was then a student of Federal Polytechnic, Bida, was the daughter of Pastor Raymond Uzoechina of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Kwankwashe, Suleja. Aisha, as she was later named, was allegedly taken to the palace of the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubukar, allegedly to prevent her re-conversion and subsequent return to her parents. There was a high-level scheming, including the intervention of the Sharia Court, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other agencies to resolve her case. But even now, not many can tell how it all ended.

Over time, some parents have been given a taste of hell, following the abduction of their daughters, who were later forced into marriage. Some young adult women too are said to be kept in some religious houses where they cannot free themselves. Efforts by their parents to retrieve them readily come to naught and there are no powerful voices to speak for them.

But the case of the recent abduction of Ese Oruru, 14, in Bayelsa State, and her subsequent marriage and conversion to Islam in Kano by a certain Yunusa, aka Yellow, is different. The ripples so far generated by the Ese-Yinusa case subsist.

Now, the Ese Oruru case is forcing more parents, who had their daughters taken away from them to come out to tell their stories. One of them is Ndubuisi Nicodemus. Recently, this distraught father alleged that her daughter Ifeoma, 16, was forcefully taken away from him in 2014. He claimed that 21 months after, he and his wife were yet to see their daughter.

Mr. Ndubuisi, who lives in Zaria, Kaduna State, alleged that a neighbour, identified as Abdullahi, lured and took his daughter to a certain Mallam Khalil. Both parents claimed that they were reliably informed that their daughter had since been married off and converted to Islam and now bears Aisha. And so far, the patriarch of the family has been weaving in and out of police establishments and other relevant agencies fruitlessly fighting to get his daughter back.

Reports say he has so far petitioned the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Zaria and the Commissioner of Police, Kaduna State and the Department of State Se-rvice (DSS), asking for the much needed help, which has yet to come.

At the same time, it emerged that another 14-year-old girl, Lucy Ejeh, had been allegedly abducted and possibly forcefully married in Zamfara State. Reports suggest that she might have been converted to Islam against her parents’ wish.

In the same vein, one Mr. Paul Adaji recently came out to reveal how his daughter, Patience, was abducted in Sokoto State and allegedly converted to Islam. He claimed that the girl went missing on August 12, 2015, but now she was found. He thanked the police, the Sultanate and even the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, for their assistance.

But not so lucky is the family of 15-year-old Rita Chinedu Ukeje, who was said to have also been abducted and forcefully married in Kaduna State. Rita was said to have been abducted by some Islamic fundamentalists and subsequently given in marriage to one of their colleagues, thus immersing her 77-year-old grandmother, Madam Jessy Ukeje, in a lake of pain and agony. The incident happened in Damagaji area of Zaria. And now, the whereabouts of Rita, an SS 3 student of a school in Zaria, remains unknown. And because of her abduction, she could not sit for her school certificate examination.

The family said they reliably gathered that the teenager was given out in marriage to a certain Usman without their consent. They further alleged that a top official of the Zaria Local Government Area played a key role in the drama. And so far, efforts made to bring Rita back had been consistently thwarted.

Meanwhile, the nation is still sulking, following the brutal abduction of 276 girls from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State on April 14, 2014, by the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram.

Nearly two years down the road, both present and past federal administrations have failed to rescue the girls. The initial bring-back-our-girls campaign mounted by some individuals and civil society groups has long died down with some prominent Nigerians coming out to say that the girls could no longer be rescued.

Earlier, the Boko Haram leader, Ibrahim Shekau, had told a bewildered world that the girls had all been converted to Islam and married off and there was nothing anyone could do about it. And to confirm everyone’s fears, tens of girls abducted by the militants that have been freed by the Nigeria military had none of the Chibok girls in the number.

Sadly, it is also being rumoured that some Christian religious leaders are keeping a harem of women against their wishes and those of their immediate families. The convicted General Overseer of Christian Praying Assembly (CPA), Chukwue-meka Ezeugo, aka Rev. King, was one of them. The cleric is to die by hanging for the murder of Ann Uzor, one of the ladies in his service, whom he set ablaze. Others who survived the ordeal had long fled the church.

Similarly, a popular and controversial cleric also in Lagos is often being fingered by parents for abducting and keeping their daughters for no reason whatsoever. They say efforts to retrieve such women are at every occasion rebuffed by the cleric’s army of bodyguards.

Against the backdrop of the growing incidents of kidnapping and abduction of young girls nowadays, some Nigerians have been speaking. And the key questions are, is this trend Islamic or Christian? What is the position of the law of the land on all of this?

Earlier, Professor Wole Soyinka and Femi Falana had addressed a press conference, condemning the dastardly incident and calling the trend a criminality that should be tackled and not be linked to any religion.

Professor Ishaq Akintola, Director, Muslim Right Concern, has also warned that incidences of kidnapping and forceful marriage have no place in Islam, insisting that such practices are ungodly.

“When teenagers come across themselves, they should not do anything ungodly,” he warned. “Taking a girl away from her parents is simply elopement, often driven by infatuation. Sometimes, unfortunately, this can be taken too far. However, if the truth must be told, Islam has no tolerance for pregnancy outside marriage.

“Islamic scholars are unhappy when some of these criminal acts are tied to Islam just to demonise the religion. But we often forget that there are also rampant incidences of kidnapping and abduction going on in the Niger Delta and the South East regions. In some countries like Central African Republic (CAR) and Uganda, Christian terrorist groups are wreaking havoc.”

He said crime must be addressed by its rightful name: Evil. He maintained that there was no justification for such evils while outlining four conditions in Isalm, which he said must be fulfilled before a marriage could be considered valid:

“For a marriage to be considered valid, there has to be Ijab (approach) and Qubul (consent). These mean that the man has to approach the lady for her consent. Secondly, their parents must accept the marriage proposal; then a dowry must be paid. That depends on what the lady asks for. Some might simply ask the man to pray for them. Lastly, there must be at least two male witnesses to the marriage.

“If you are a man and your girlfriend comes to you and you keep her, you have simply abducted her,” he warned.

In his remarks, a cleric, Rev. Fr. Ben Ogu, noted that abduction and forceful marriage of a young girl is no marriage at all. “That is no marriage at all. A marriage is said to be validly contracted when two adults come together and consensually and voluntarily agree to go into a marriage relationship. This has to be agreed to by their parents.

“Any marriage that does not follow this process is no marriage at all. There might be a different agenda right behind it. It beats the imagination of everyone when a Muslim man abducts a Christian girl and forcefully marries her and the federal government and even the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) doesn’t come out to condemn it. Is there any agenda of Islamisation behind that?  We need to know.

“To my mind, this growing trend of young girls being brutally taken away from their parents is sheer intimidation and nothing less. And Nigerians need to rise to condemn it.”

He also flayed allegations that some Christian clerics keep young women against their wish. “It is only part of the Nigerian and religious corruption of power and position with impunity and not marriage.”  He maintained that anyone who indulges in abduction and forceful marriage of any teenager should be duly prosecuted.

But what is the position of the law on all of this? Here, Barrister Pat Anydubalu comes handy. He notes that the case of Ese Oruru and Yunusa and other cases of abduction and forceful marriages were very unfortunate and involved civil rights breaches and crime against the state.

“Now, let us consider the age of Ese Oruru, for instance, as that will help us in determining the applicable law.
“Ese Oruru is not up to 18 years; therefore, she is a child under the Child Rights Act. The law that shall regulate the actions and omissions shall be Child Rights Act or Child Rights Law, assuming it has been localised in Bayelsa State. The issues arising from the whole situation involve civil rights breaches and crime against the state.
“Firstly, from the media account of Ese Oruru, she did not know how she got to Kano State, that she just found herself in the midst of strangers, Yunusa being the only person she knew. Secondly, that she was forced to embrace Islam.
“The first account comes under the realm of breach of her fundamental right to freedom of movement and association, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, Child Rights Act, and African Charter on Peoples Right.
However, as a child, her right is subject to necessary guidance and directions of her parents or guardians. It is obvious that the parents never approved her journey to Kano.
“Also, Ese’s right to freedom of religion subject to necessary guidance and direction from the parents was breached as according to her, she was forced to embrace a religion against her wish and not approved by the parents.
“Thirdly, Ese was denied the right to parental care. Child Right Act abhors separation of a child from the parents against the wish of the child except for education and welfare of the child, which is not applicable.
“Every child is entitled to respect for the dignity of his/her person, and accordingly, no child shall, for instance, be subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, including sexual abuse.

“The Child Rights Act prohibits any person under the age of 18 years from contracting any marriage, and accordingly a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever. Therefore, the purported marriage to Ese is void ab initio.
“The Child Rights Act provides that any person who marries a person under the age of 18 years has committed an offence and is liable to a fine of N500,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of five years.
“The Child Right Act provides imprisonment for 10 years for any person who abducts a child or takes a child out of the protection or custody of the parents from one state to another. Having taken the child outside the Bayelsa State, Yunusa, if found guilty, is liable to 10 years imprisonment.
“The Child Rights Act Prohibits sexual intercourse with a child and any person who contravenes it commits an offence of rape and liable to imprisonment for life. And it is immaterial that the offender believed the person to be of or above the age of 18 years or that the sexual intercourse was with the consent of the child.
“Therefore, whoever impregnated Ese Oruru is guilty of having sexual intercourse with her and, therefore, liable to imprisonment as provided above.”

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