legal loophole

Nigeria: Presidential candidate’s marriage to a 13-year-old girl resurfaces

By Damien Glez

Posted on May 17, 2022 08:17

Interviewed last week on Channels TV, Nigerian politician Sani Yerima justified his union with an “underage girl” in 2009. The former governor of Zamfara has just revealed his presidential ambitions.

In the run-up to the 2023 elections, all are jockeying for position. Ambitions are unveiled – or denied, as with Goodluck Jonathan – ahead of the election campaign.

Before the political parties and then the authorities decide on the validity of each candidate, the professional and private lives of the ‘candidates’ are put through the mill by the media and public opinion. At the beginning of May, Sani Yerima informed incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of his presidential ambitions. The pair had been in the the “All Nigeria Peoples Party” (ANPP) in 2007.

Now 61 years old, after twelve years in the Senate, and having crossed over to the ruling APC, the former governor of the northern state of Zamfara is back in the running. Famous for having been the first to promote the Sharia system in the area he governed between 1999 and 2007, he is regularly questioned about his experience in applying Muslim law.

In a programme on Channels TV broadcast last week, the candidate was confronted about his choice to marry a 13-year-old Egyptian woman in 2009.

The politician was not fazed by this and remained steadfast. He said in 2013 on the same television channel, that “maturity for marriage is determined by the girl’s parents”. This time he stuck to legal considerations: “There is no law in Nigeria that determines when and how you get married. Muslims have Sharia law, Christians, I don’t know what their doctrines say.” He added: “If I had done something wrong, I would have been brought to justice.”

Children’s rights activists protested at the time of the wedding.

In 2013, the Senate Constitutional Review Committee suggested that a section stating that “every married woman shall be deemed to be of full age” should be deleted, as “full age means eighteen years of age and over”. But the recommendation did not obtain the number of votes required by the Constitution to be validated…

While the offending article concerns renunciation of citizenship and not formally defining the minimum age of marriage, feminists consider that unions with children are implicitly legitimised in Nigeria.

The hashtag #ChildNotBride was launched, as well as an online petition to the UN, which gathered over 20,000 signatures. Without major success: only 23 of Nigeria’s 36 states have passed the 2003 Child Rights Act, which sets the age of marriage at 18.

Sani Yerima was able to slip through this legal loophole to marry a 13-year-old girl. It remains to be seen whether his reputation will not prevent him from obtaining his party’s nomination for the presidential elections…

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