I voted with Yerima but I am against child marriage – Sen. Odion Ugbesia

by Dare Lawal

One of the only two Southern senators who voted against amending Section 22 of the constitution when the voting was done in the senate two weeks ago, was Sen. Odion Ugbesia, who represents Edo Central senatorial district of Edo State in the Senate, was a member of the Constitutional Review Committee in the National Assembly. It was that committee which recommended the removal of Section 22 but surprisingly when the votes was called in the House, Ugbesia voted against the recommendation of the committee.

Here’s the response which Ugbesia gave when recently asked about his “voting in favour of underage marriage.”

I want us to face the facts squarely, nothing like child marriage was brought to the Senate. What was brought to us was Section 29, 4A and B. Section 29 specifically deals with the citizenship of this country. Let me read it: “Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for renouncing citizenship.

It went further to say “ for the purpose of sub section 1 of this section, full age means the age of 18 years and above.” B, “Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”. This is the report of the Constitutional Review Commission of which I am a member.

Now, the drafters of our constitution, in their wisdom, chose the word ‘woman’, and woman by dictionary definition means “an adult female”. They could have chosen the word “girl”, they could have chosen the word “teenager”, but they chose the word “woman”.

Be that as it may, there was nowhere in that section where child marriage was mentioned. I am a trained political scientist, so I have seen and studied many constitutions. Constitutions don’t deal with marriages; those are mundane issues left for legislators to deal with. Even in Nigeria today, you don’t have a uniform marriage age. I, Elder Odion Ugbesia, am against child marriage. Yesterday I was against it, today I am against it, tomorrow I will still be against it. They should not vilify me based on falsehood.

Two, this issue has been in the Nigerian Constitution. What was brought before us is should we delete it or not? To me, 4A or 4B is not injurious to anybody. It has been there and if you remove it, it does not add value to our morality. If you don’t remove it, it does not subtract value from our morality.

Those interested in marrying a 13-year-old will still marry a 13-year-old  whether it is there or not because it has been there since 1976.  4A means “the age of 18 years and above”. B, “any woman” not any child or any teenager. “Any woman” because there is a deliberate effort here to show that the person who must stand to renounce the citizenship of this country must be an adult. So where is this thing over child marriage coming from?

What you are implying is that since Yerima spoke on the issue, I probably should not have voted this way or that way. But you did not send me to the Senate to promote religious intolerance, you did not send me to the Senate to promote ethnic or cultural intolerance. If anything, I was sent to the Senate to promote good governance, to promote harmony among the ethnic groups or religious groups in this country. You did not ask me to go and vote for minor marriages because it is not even there.

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