24 July 2013

Nigeria #Childnotbride Social Media Buzz Fails to Pull Offline Protest Crowd

A protest that started off from social media buzz around the ongoing constitution review in Nigeria failed to draw the mammoth tweeting crowd unto the streets to demand amendments on Tuesday.

The protest, albeit miniature, was a fall out of popular clamour for the removal of what has become a controversial clause in the 1999 constitution.

Section 29 (4b), a clause devoted to renunciation of citizenship, recognizes women less than 18-years-old to be of full age.

At the last Senate hearing on the constitution review, the Senate Committee that worked on the constitutional amendment proposed that the section 29(4b) be removed.

The bulk of the senators had voted to delete the clause, until Ahmed Yerima, former governor of Zamfara State, who married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl in 2009, demanded for a revisit on the clause.

He held that a legislative move against the clause was unIslamic, hence unconstitutional; since the constitution renders the National Assembly powerless to legislate against Islamic laws.

At the second round of voting conceded to by Senate President David Mark, less than two thirds of the senators voted against the law, rendering the clause, which critics and activists say is ambiguous, a continuous fixture in the constitution.

The incident caused a backlash, with a lot of Nigerians debating the clause, its consequence and implication and most, regardless of religious inclinations, seeing no need for the clause.

The social media had been agog with people condemning Mr. Yerima's reason for upholding the clause, hashtags #childnotbride, #girlchildnotbride, trended on microblogging site, twitter.

The discourse went from underage marriage to what many described as the process of the constitutional review and the numerous proposals they senators had either voted against or in favour of.

Online petitions sprung up with the initiators urging for signatures of Nigerians who wanted section 29(4b) out. In addition, across various states in Nigeria, including Lagos and Abuja, petition signing centres were announced so that people could sign sheets which would then be taken to the House of Representative on Tuesday, July 23 in Abuja.

There were calls for people to turn out enmasse to submit the petitions and let the members of the House of Representative know how they felt about Section 29(4b). There were promises from a lot of the signatories that they would turn out.

It was only a scanty but determined crowd, who came to the National Assembly on Tuesday, as the social media buzz did not translate to a great offline crowd.

Only about 40 people showed up with placards. Notwithstanding, the protesters, resolute, raised their placards, before the National Assembly. Their demands include the removal of section 29(4b), clamour for the local government autonomy, and the removal of a proposed life pension for the principal officers of the Senate.

"We are here to just let the senators and members of the House of Reps know as they drive in that Nigerians have many concerns about the constitution," one of few women's right activist at the protest, Aisha Osori, told PREMIUM TIMES.

"It is not just about section 29(4b) it is also about the things that they voted on last week and the things that they will vote on today; Local government autonomy, independent candidacy, life pension for officers of the Senate.

"Nigerian Senators are the highest paid in the entire world... in a country where you cannot afford N15, 000 minimum wage. The same senators will be getting additional pension for the rest of their lives, it is unfair," she said.

A couple of the protesters, who also spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, rebuked the senators for voting against unemployment benefits while they assented to life pension.

Fred Adetiba, complaining about various sections of the constitution, said it does not make any sense that unemployed young graduates cannot get help from their country, but senators, already feeding fat on the national budget get a life pension.

He spoke about the need for local government autonomy and the removal of what he described as a discriminatory Section29 (4b).

"It will be really nice if Nigerians all over Nigeria come out, pay attention to this important thing. Constitution is our ground norm, it needs to be a document that represents all our inspirations," Ms. Osori added.

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