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Yerima: Lawbreaker or Lawmaker?

By Arnold Alalibo, Port-Harcourt, Nigeria – Jan. 3, 2011 – Maverick Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, the crusader of Sharia law in the country, is in the news again. He is in the headlines not for propagating Sharia legal system as the authentic system for the nation. Neither does it have anything to do with his sponsorship of controversial bills in the Senate. He has instead enmeshed himself in a controversy of getting married to an under-aged Egyptian girl.

Senator Yerima was the governor of Zamfara State from 1999 to 2007. While serving as governor, he introduced the implementation of Sharia or Islamic law and thus Zamfara became the first state in the country to do so. His action drew both the ire and commendations of Nigerians. He was praised, derided and debated and has remained a recurring decimal in the discourse of religion and politics in Nigeria.

The distinguished Senator was recently accused of marrying a 13-year-old girl from Egypt. According to reports, he spent over a $100,000 on the marriage. This amount is enough to take care of the budget of an entire state or even a sector in the country. This development has sparked an outrage. Women and human rights groups are protesting why a lawmaker who should obey the law is contravening it. The question is, why did Senator Yerima develop interest in a minor and not on adult female? Why did he do that and plunged himself in paedophilia?

His action is already drawing unrelenting protests across the country. The Minister of Women Affairs, Josephine Aneni, has expressed her determination to bring the Senator to book. Other Nigerians have called for outright criminal prosecution for affairs with a minor. In the midst of all the protests, what is surprising is that the Senate has not really initiated drastic measures against the erring Senator. Ahmed might have least expected the reactions to his marriage. What was perhaps planned as a quiet honey-moon has attracted huge attention and controversy.

The Senator, on the other hand, has risen up to defend himself. He accepts that he has married a new wife but denies she is 13 years of age. He has, however, refused to disclose her and accused those who want to know of invading his privacy. But as a serving Senator, should Yerima know that the dividing line between privacy and public domain is thin.

I think the Senator knows this and that is why he has resorted to religion as defence in order to silence his traducers. He reaffirms his faith in Islam and the fact that as a devout Muslim, he is always guided by the Quran and exemplary life of Prophet Mohammed. He went dangerously far to assert that anyone who attempts to judge him by any other standards and rules “other than those prescribed by Allah and the holy Prophet, then he is wasting his time because those are not my guiding principles”.

His defence, however, flies in the face of objectivity. First, he did not cite the relevant sections of the Quran which permit him to marry minors. Secondly, the issue is about violation of secular laws which deal with the protection of minors. Now by appealing to religious principles, does Yerima seek to escape being subjected to secular laws? As one who previously courted religious controversy, is his attempting to instigate another storm?

Only time will tell how this case will end. But I am glad that the Senator was quizzed by NAPTIP and interrogated for few hours and then released on bail upon self-recognition. In order to instill confidence in the masses and to demonstrate the fact that government can prosecute the high and mighty in keeping with its rule of mantra, Senator Ahmed Yerima should be tried.

The issue of marriage to a 13-year old girl presents several challenges to all spheres of development. Now at 13, how much education does Yerima’s new bride have? How equipped is she for the challenges of 21st century? Secondly, is this marriage not an incentive to the worsening maternal mortality in Nigeria? At 13, what are the chances that this girl will not be exposed to the danger associated with teenage pregnancy if she gets pregnant?

Yerima’s misconduct is unbecoming of him as a senator. His action violates the Child Rights Act which was legislated into law by the National Assembly which he belongs. By this conduct, the distinguished Senator is simply saying one thing: “Do as I say and not as I do”. He is a law breaker not a lawmaker

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