Just when you think that you've heard or seen the worst of government's bizarre pronouncements, you are suddenly faced with the rude awakening that this government is eager to break its own worst record. Have you heard that the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Matters has proposed that INEC should allow underage girls forced or lured into early marriage to vote in elections?
The Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya, was quoted to have said: "The joint committee has proposed that if a lady who is not up to 18 years is married, she should be considered to be mature enough and be eligible to vote." They have proposed a review of the provision in the Electoral Act that pegs the eligibility of voters at 18 years. The proposal is nefarious and the motive behind it is clearly the next election. The promoters of this silly legislation want to swell the voters' register with married juvenile girls to give the Northern part of the country where the practice is rampant greater numerical voting advantage over the rest of the country.
The Northern political elite is forever scheming for political advantage in order to maintain political power for their group/ethnic interest. The poor ordinary peasants are mere pawns in a vicious lust for power by a corrupt elite that has maintained a crushing chokehold on them.
The question that immediately jumps out is why is this so important to its proponents when other matters such as ensuring the credibility and integrity of the electoral process are yet to be given attention?
The joint committee is not interested in the transmission of results real time to reduce the incidence of rigging and the attendant endless litigations which have gulped a lot of taxpayers' money as attested by INEC before and after elections. Who are the likely beneficiaries of the bizarre and atrocious proposal? Certainly not the married underage girls, and certainly not the system or the democratic process or its evolution, but the Northern political elite who are not looking at educating and developing the next generation but have their eyes firmly primed on winning the next election.
Who originated this latest despicable brainwave? And why was it unanimous? Are you telling me there was no good member of conscience, courageous enough to oppose this crazy and retrogressive idea? Do you mean to tell me none of the members of the National Assembly Joint Committee on INEC Matters saw the implications of this recommendation? I am genuinely disturbed by the cavalier manner of the recommendation and the quality of thought that goes into the legislative process by the lawmakers.
That every single senator and House member of the joint committee supported the recommendation to lower the voting age for married juveniles is a telling clue to the tomfoolery going on in the National Assembly and the quality of representation we the people are getting. These are lawmakers from hell.
Did Kabiru Gaya and his co-travellers on this foolish path not know that the very "phrase underage marriage" connotes a negative tradition the world is eagerly moving away from? How do they now think it is right to confer benefits on the practitioners? I am really scandalised by this senseless recommendation.
Sometimes, I feel like just giving up on this country. How can a country ever progress when almost every policy idea is driven by the desire of one part to scam the rest of the country in order to hold onto power? But how can I give up? You just can't give up the fight against clowns who make laws for us or the officials who formulate crazy policies and give us two weeks to comply or block our phone lines in clear defiance of government's own Covid-19 safety protocols.
It's a shame that such a perfidious recommendation was a "unanimous decision" of members of the committee. The political motivation behind it is not so hidden. Beyond the politics, however, is the very clear discriminatory nature of the recommendation. It is an evil political proposal to legitimise and milk the child-marriage scourge for political advantage in one part of the country against the other. It is an affront to the constitution which pegs the eligible voting age at 18 and the Child Rights Act of 2003 which has been domesticated by 25 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. This Act prohibits child marriage and places the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 years.
Clearly, the proposal of our lawmakers is a direct encouragement of the same practice that the Child Rights Act was enacted to discourage. It encourages juvenile girls who are not yet physically, mentally or psychologically ready to deal with the complexities of marital life and childbirth to embrace marriage. Of course this practice is common in poor rural or remote communities with limited access to sexual and reproductive health education, where modern health practices are still seen as a taboo.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), "Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death in girls aged 15-19 globally, and 90% of adolescent pregnancies in the developing world are girls in that age bracket already married. Also, girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than girls in their 20s. Child brides are also more vulnerable to other pregnancy-related injuries such as obstetric fistula, which can have devastating long-term consequences, especially if left untreated. In fact, 65% of all obstetric fistula cases occur in girls under 18."
Nigeria has 14 million out-of-school children, the majority of whom are in the North; an even more disproportionate percentage of that figure is the girl-child. These grim statistics should bother any right-thinking, well-meaning lawmaker or official of any responsible government. But instead of seeking measures to discourage this age-old practice of child-marriage, our lawmakers are seeking political advantage from it by incentivizing a practice that is clearly detrimental to the health of the girl-child and the society at large.
In their warped thinking, "If a lady, who is not up to 18 years, is married, she should be considered to be mature enough and be eligible to vote." While those who are still in school of similar age or even older than the married ones cannot vote because they are not married! So for following what is supposedly the right path, they can't vote. More graphically, an unmarried 17-year-old girl that is pursuing an education can't vote, while an 11-year-old that is married and uneducated can vote. Is this not discriminatory against other girls and even the boy-child?
In the first place, members of the joint committee which made that useless recommendation forgot that underage girls were not considered mature in taking the life-altering decision to marry in the first place, and in most cases to complete strangers. Such decisions were taken and imposed on them by their parents or guardians. Anyway, how does marriage confer maturity - even maturity to discern the political environment on the girl-child? The joint committee should tell us how it arrived at the insane proposal.
You see, the National Assembly is clearly hamstrung by the background of its members. It is largely populated by certificate forgers and people with a criminal past. Their oversight functions are means of coercion, extortion and bribe-taking. Many of them lack the basic understanding of their duties. They are more concerned with preserving the benefits they derive from the corruption that makes Nigeria a big-for-nothing country.
I completely agree with the women bodies that have condemned this proposal from a totally corrupt and incompetent legislature. The Nigerian Feminist Forum had strong words for them on the issue, accusing the lawmakers of taking part in a deliberate act of misconduct by legitimising the sufferings of underage girls forced into marriage rather than be in school. Speaking on behalf of the forum, Ihuoma Obibi reminded the lawmakers (or lawbreakers) that the Child Rights Act recognises children as those below 18 years and therefore called on the legislature not to use the bodies of Nigerian women to play the politics of who would rule Nigeria.
Addressing the issue too, President, Women Arise, Dr. Joe Okei Odumakin said the amendment, if pushed through, would encourage child marriage. She consequently called on members of the National Assembly to throw "this horrible proposal into the trash can, as it does not in any way present us as a serious nation, committed to the advancement of the future of the girl child."
According to her, it was worrisome that at a time the world was improving upon every known framework and advocacies towards advancing girl-child education and of course an end to underage marriage, some politicians were making moves to further worsen the menace of child marriage by advancing such a terrible practice, as a basis for selfish political gains. "The implication of allowing such an amendment in our electoral law simply means that more of our underage girls will be pushed into early marriages by politicians capitalising on pervasive poverty, particularly in the Northern part of the country, just for selfish political advantages," she noted.
The recommendation that married underage girls be allowed to vote is really not of any benefit to the victims. It will neither put food on the table, nor change their life of servitude. It will not make them more enlightened, knowledgeable or get an education. Rather, it will increase the number of ignorant but vulnerable people that politicians use to rig elections and this affects everyone.
John F Kennedy, the late President of the United States, aptly captured the dangers of one ignorant person to the security of all. According to him, knowledge is power more so today than ever before. An educated person knows that only educated and informed people will be a free people. "The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all."