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Marriage of 100 orphans in Niger may hold despite FG’s opposition

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Above: Gov. Bago; below: Speaker Sarkindaji

Buffeted on all sides, and especially now by the Federal Government, the Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, has backed down from attending the planned marriage of 100 young ladies from his constituency.

However, certain behind-the-scene forces, the young brides, their grooms, and relatives appear determined for the event to happen.

It was gathered from Minna, the state capital, that unseen hands are bent on the event as a way of rubbishing the Federal Government for its “undiplomatic meddlesomeness without considering fully the cultural and other dispositions of the stakeholders involved.”

Recall that the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Kayode Egbetokun, seeking his support to stop the planned marriage by the Speaker.

Kennedy-Ohanenye also filed for a court injunction to stop the planned marriage of 100 orphans said to be children by the Speaker.

Last week, the Speaker announced that he would sponsor the wedding of 100 girls, some of whom were orphaned by insurgency, as part of his Mariga constituency project. He said he had procured materials for the event scheduled for May 24 and promised to pay dowries for the bridegrooms.

As the opposition to his plan increased, Sarkindaji issued a statement last Sunday that he was only financing the wedding — not forcing the girls into marriage.

But briefing journalists in Abuja on Monday, the minister said a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the issue will be carried out.

She said the ministry will take responsibility for the girls’ education and vocational training.

“The Ministry has petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and sought a court injunction to put a hold on the sponsored marriage until further investigation is carried out with a view to ensuring that the welfare of the orphans are adequately covered,” a statement by the minister’s spokesman, Ohaeri Osondu Joseph, said.

The full statement reads: “The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs has said that the proposed plan by the Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, to organise a mass marriage for the 100 female orphans in the State on May 24, should be investigated so as to ascertain their ages, consent as well as preparedness for the union.

“The Honourable Minister, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Barrister (Mrs) Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye made the disclosure Monday, during a Press Briefing held in her office in Abuja, in reaction to the recently announced plans by the Speaker, to marry off the orphans girls who lost their parents during the banditry attacks in Mariga Local Government Area of the State, as part of his constituency projects

“While acknowledging the good gesture of the Speaker aimed at alleviating the suffering of the impoverished by pledging to pay the dowries of the bridegroom and in the procurement of the materials for the mass marriage, Barrister Kennedy-Ohanenye observed the need for the Speaker to consider the future of the children by finding out whether they prefer marriage to education and empowerment

“The Minister opined that rather than the step being taken by him to fulfil his constituency projects, the Speaker should rather look towards developing them through education, skills acquisition and other forms of empowerment as this will not only be of immense benefit to them but would also contribute to the overall development of the society.

“These girls like their contemporaries in the country and globe, have great potentials and talents and as such need to be given the opportunity to develop and reach their optimum in life, she said

“According to her, by prioritizing education and empowerment over early marriage, the cycle of poverty and inequality that plaques orphans will be broken from their lives, thus enabling them to marry husbands of their choices and further reducing cases of gender based violence and out-of-school children which are usually the resultant effect of such unions.

“Barr Uju also stated that in line with its mandate under the Child’s Rights Act, the Ministry has petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and sought a court injunction to put a hold on the sponsored marriage until further investigation is carried out with a view to ensuring that the welfare of the orphans are adequately covered.

“The Minister further restated the Ministry’s commitment to the protection of the lives of the women, children and the vulnerable in society, in line with its mandate.”

Speaking with journalists in Minna, the speaker said though he would no longer be present at the event, all expenses and the materials needed had been purchased for the success of the marriage ceremony and would be handed over to the parents of the brides.

“If the parents wish to go ahead with the marriage of their daughters so it be but I have removed my hands”.

He described as unfortunate and embarrassing the actions of the minister for blowing the whole matter out of proportion without first finding out from him (the speaker) the motive behind his kind gesture.

“I am highly disappointed in the minister for women affairs and it is unfortunate that she allowed herself and her office to be misled by social media reports without finding out from me the true situation on ground concerning this marriage.

“She never bothered to get across to me to even find out the motive behind this humanitarian gesture because I didn’t force any girl into marriage. It was the parents of the girls that approached me and solicited for my support and I gladly accepted to assist them.

“Again this was done after due consultations with religious leaders, traditional leaders and other critical stakeholders before the brides were carefully selected. They were 270, but I told them that I can only provide support for 100 of the intending brides for now.

“So for the minister for women affairs to be threatening me with court action on issue that she knows nothing about and never bothered to find out the true situation of things is quite unfortunate. My action has the blessing of the parents, religious and traditional leaders, including key stakeholders from my constituency.

“The minister should know that both my religion and tradition do not allow girls of marriageable girls to roam around in the street. We don’t allow prostitution or promiscuity in the north. This thing is being done with good intentions but some people decided to make issue out it”.

Sarkindaji pointed out that it is disheartening to hear a minister for women affairs who has never visited any Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps as a result of bandits activities in Niger state to see the plight of women and children but only sitting in Abuja and be threatening to stop marriage of orphans whose parents are victims of bandits attacks.

“This is politics taken too far by the minister. She should be properly educated on the culture and tradition of the northern girls of marriageable age are not allowed to roam the streets.

“But I have decided to distance myself from participating in the marriage, and if the parents of the girls allow the minister to stop the marriage of their children, so it be.

“I have provided the material support needed from me, and I will not go beyond that. If the parents like, let them stop the marriage of their children because a minister sitting in Abuja has threatened to go to court.

“I will leave the minister with the parents of these girls. Let the minister go to Mariga and stop the parents from marrying out their girls. People playing dirty politics over what they know nothing about”, he added.

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