#FreeEse: Still About Sani Yerima’s Original Sin -By Abimbola Adelakun

Filed under: National Issues |

Senator Sani Yerima and little pregant children

 

The case of Ese Oruru, the 13-year-old girl from Bayelsa who was taken to Kano State by her supposed lover exposes the weaknesses (and I must add, impotence) of Nigerian judicial institutions. If the laws carry their weight, why did we have to mount a media campaign to practically shame our policemen before they are stimulated to do the job they are paid to do?

One would think that retrieving a minor from the clutches of her abductors is so basic that the police could have done that without a fuss. Why, in the name of all that is good, would the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, defer to an Emir when he has a mandate to protect the law and he is backed by the apparatus of democracy? Why did we need politicians of various ideological hues campaigning on social media and elsewhere for this girl’s release if the law is accorded its due regard?

At what point did Nigeria relinquish authority to the Sharia Commission and the Kano Emirate that they can abrogate the powers of the police to determine the girl’s fate while in their custody? Are these people acting as independent authorities and to what legal extent do they exercise their power? Who superintends their activities to ensure that they do not overestimate themselves? The Emir, Muhammadu Sanusi, said in an interview that he gave his “subject” an order to return the girl to her parents.

That expression is rather shocking. How much power the Emir arrogates to himself – or the culture ascribes to him – such that he runs an independent kingdom complete with its own “subjects”.

Sanusi is an educated man and I cannot believe that he merely used a wrong word in this context. It had to be what he believed: that his religious authority grants him subjects. So are his subjects still Nigerian citizens or they consider Sanusi’s authority as overriding any other one?

Sanusi was quoted to have said that he ordered the District Head of Kura, The Sharia Commission and Hisbah to investigate allegations that Ese was abused at home as she claimed. He went on further to say that they reported back to him that Ese’s allegations about her mother were indeed true.

Pray, at what point did the Hisbah acquire the legitimacy to usurp the investigative powers of the police? How did they carry out their investigations such that they proved Ese’s allegations about her mother and with what forensic resources?

Even with the threat hanging over the girl’s life, all Sanusi did was ask her to be returned home to the same mother?!

Ese’s case has helped us to raise many questions about the Nigerian democratic structure and how certain embodied authorities routinely exploit its structural deficiencies. We had better seize this opportunity to confront it, rather than let the steam to merely come down only to arise again when an intrepid element from the North strays into the southern territory and reaches for somebody else’s daughter. People are rightfully incensed now over the abduction and violation of Ese’s personhood and the rhetoric being exchanged shows that this battle is not just about Ese. There are other underlying geopolitical tensions that are being revived and executed through her case. The conversation need not merely degenerate into bigotry and puerile name calling as we vociferously defend our tribal turf, in the process abjuring collective courtesy. What is crucial is an interrogation of our social structures; just how deficient is the system that the police had to wait for the Emir’s word before they could act?

This is important because if Nigeria wants to survive as a country, the laws that mind our ethics should be continuously interrogated rather than its integrity being presumed. Whether we are resisting child marriage or fighting corruption, the supremacy of the law should be instructive to all Nigerians, especially those who think it can be subjected to their private interpretation.

Take the case of Sani Yerima, a Senator from Zamfara State, who once took a child as his bride, a flagrant disregard of the laws regulating our national activities and which he was supposed to be safeguarding. Yerima’s original sin was his giving the Nigerian constitution a middle finger, an act that should have cost him his lawmaker job if Nigeria took democracy seriously enough. That did not happen because he knew how to win the argument against law and morality: by yelling that his religious rights were being infringed and the country would capitulate.

Yerima has openly declared that he has less regard for the Nigerian Constitution than he does for Islamic injunctions and this ideological two-timing has enabled him to simultaneously reap the benefits of both democracy and Islamic laws even when the ideals of both antagonize.

Nigeria’s continued refusal to atone the sin of Yerima makes him a living monument to a mindset that rates personal religious convictions over democratic rectitude. A man like Yerima should have been hounded out of the hallow chambers after such a proclamation. He should have been escorted to rural Zamfara where he can run a religious group with like-minded folks whose hypocrisy openly contradicts itself.

Instead he chose to remain a lawmaker, one that contributes little to democracy except manipulating the law with his demagoguery. In 2013, he was at the forefront of leading the majority of Senators to retain a problematic clause in the constitution regarding women, marriage age and adulthood.

Unfortunately, one is too aware that insisting on the supremacy of the law over religious and cultural precepts can lead to religious fanatics razing the society to the ground. An unspoken threat, definitely, yet one with which the Nigerian society has been browbeaten frequently enough for everyone to recede into their ethnic shells.

Definitely, there are many times that Nigerians have spoken up about the ills of early marriage but they gave up when their voices become hoarse and the government still remains deaf and blind.

But, by shrugging off a legislative aberration like Yerima, his disciples have become emboldened and confident that they will always get away with poking the law in the eye. Unfortunately, the custodians of our judiciary like the IGP do not have enough fire in their breast to pursue for the integrity of the same law that legitimates their existence so they resort to negotiating with Emirs.

If he understood what he stood for – an administrator of the law – the IG would not have denigrated his office by stating that he needed to consult with the Emir before doing his job. What it means is that if the public had not developed so much interest in the case and Sanusi himself embarrassed by the intense public gaze on how he instructs his “subjects”, the girl would have remained in Kano.

Yerima’s disciples continue to get away with disregarding the law by claiming that their actions are sanctioned by their religion and culture; non-initiates and cultural outsiders, they warn, cannot understand this practice and should therefore mind their business. These men, eaters of juvenile female flesh, pass off their impious desires as some kind of masculine benevolence: to preserve women’s morals, they have to do them the favour of marrying them.

While the intervention of politicians in Ese’s case is commendable enough, the underlying geopolitical battle they have engaged through the subtext of their rhetoric tells me that when this blows over, the only teenage girl who would have been freed from marital captivity would be Ese. The battle against the circumstances that made Ese’s case possible will still not be waged by any of the factions. Child marriage and its issues rear its head every now and then, but they are never quite resolved. In October last year, Mrs. Aisha Buhari swore to campaign against it. Perhaps Ese’s case will provide her the much-needed momentum to finally launch the campaign.

 

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