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How Senators were Blackmailed to Alter Child Marriage Votes



Information emanating about the Child Marriage voting pattern that took place recently in the Senate is not palatable.
According to the Senate President David Mark, who on Wednesday opened up on the controversy surrounding the alleged endorsement of child marriage by the Senate, those who voted for the retention of Section 29 4(b) in the 1999 Constitution were blackmailed to change their mind under the guise of religion.
Mark, who made the disclosure while receiving a coalition of women groups that visited the National Assembly to protest the retention of Section 29 4(b) by the Senate, regretted that the Senate was arm twisted to alter its first vote on the clause during which 85 senators, which exceeded the required number to get it deleted from the constitution, had already voted against the clause.
He spoke a day after his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, laboured to explain the decision of the Senate on the matter, saying the public misconstrued the intention of the Senate on section 29 of the constitution.
Ekweremadu, who addressed journalists on Tuesday in Abuja on the matter, added that the section does not spell out any marital age for women as the public now believes.
But giving his narration of the event, Mark, while playing host to a coalition of women groups that visited him in Abuja, said the Senate should be commended instead of being condemned for daring to take the first lead to delete the section, which he said was gender insensitive.
He explained that the parliament had successfully taken the right step before the introduction of religious connotation that he said forced Muslim senators to reverse themselves.
During voting on the report of the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution last week, Senator Ahmad Sani (Zamfara West) had protested the earlier voting, which deleted the section of the constitution. The section states that “any woman that is married shall be deemed to be of full age” while Section 29 (a) states that “full age is 18 years.”
Sani, while seeking the retention of the clause, said it was against Islamic law to delete it, thus creating the impression that once the clause is retained, a woman is free to get married any time irrespective of her age.
This generated uproar as Nigerians lambasted the Senate for endorsing child marriage.
However Mark, who promised that the Senate would attempt to revisit the matter, said the good intention of the Senate failed when it could no longer secure the required two-third majority to carry its intention through.
He also narrated how the entire mood of the chamber changed the moment religion was introduced into the voting, making many senators to reverse themselves.
He said the situation forced some senators who had earlier taken the right decision to withdraw and voted against their will, adding that that was why only 60 senators voted for the deletion of section 29 of the constitution after the second voting as against the 85 that did so earlier.
Mark said: “Why we voted public was that everybody will know the stand of every senator on every issue. I think the problem is not whether we can delete this section 29(4) (b) or not. That is not the issue; it is whether we can get the number to be able to delete it. With all due respect, the entire Senate is being castigated because there was and there is still a complete misunderstanding of what the Senate had tried to do. We are on the side of the people. That was why we put it that we should delete it. That was what the people wanted.
“We, in fact, are the first people that took the step in the right direction to delete it. It didn’t go through because of other tangential issues that were brought in on the floor of the Senate which were totally inconsequential issues, unconnected issues that were brought in.
“We wanted to remove it but it failed. We were a total of 101 that voted, 85 voted for the deletion. I think about six or so abstained. There was hardly any dissenting vote but once it was mixed up with so many other issues, it didn’t get the required 73 votes anymore.
“So first of all, I think the castigation out there is done out of misunderstanding but because a religious connotation was brought into it, which is a very sensitive issue. And you must agree with me that in this country, we try as much as possible not to bring issues that involve religion to the floor of the Senate and indeed the chamber. We keep religion completely out of it because what is good for a Christian is also good for a Muslim.
“The good of the country is for everybody and not for a particular religious sect. I think the bottom line is, when people get more educated, then we can have a rethink and probably, if the Senate agrees to go back, we will see whether we can get the required number once more because that is the solution.  Let me also talk to my own brothers and sisters who are senators, who were probably blackmailed to do it. That is the fact, because it was in the open. I cannot also hide it and nobody can hide it. They were simply blackmailed and on that day, if they didn’t do what they did, nobody knows the outcome or how the consequences will be today because the people outside can say this man, you are a Muslim and you didn’t vote for something that is of Islamic interest because if we don’t hit the nail squarely on the head, we may never get it right.”
While presenting an address on behalf of the women group under the aegis of Gender and Constitution Reform Network (GECORN), Mrs. Saadatu Mahdi said: “From the moment of birth, the first gift every Nigerian receives from the state is citizenship. To protect this sacred gift of citizenship, we advocate the deletion of section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is the desire of all Nigerian girls, who are not old enough to vote or obtain a driver’s licence, somehow old enough to renounce their citizenship.
“Nigerians deserve to be protected by their constitution and so we call for the deletion of Section 29 4(b). The Senate must remain impervious to emotional, religious reasoning and focus on aggregate social good which will protect and enrich the lives of half of the nation’s population.”
Also speaking, former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, commended the Senate Constitution Review Committee for recommending the deletion of the clause, pledging to join the campaign to correct the misconception against the Senate in the polity.
Members of the group who were present at the meeting included Minister of Women Affairs, Zainab Maina; former Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Josephine Anenih; and wife of former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mrs. Maryam Uwais.


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