Since the discovery of oil in Nigeria, the State has gained itself the status of the prime example of the ‘Resource Curse’ coupled with an inter-play between ethnic and religious woes. Aggravated by the formation of the Boko Haram, over the past six years millions of Nigerians have lost their lives in wars and genocide, especially women and children.Moreso, since the World is commemorating Women’s month in August; ironically more women are being persecuted in Nigeria. Many women have become refugees due to the escalation of forced marriages, rape: both statutory and sexual, abductions among other evils which brings me to “The hidden truths in the case of 14 year-old Wasilat Tasi’u and 35 year-old Umari Sani” a tragic scenario in which a child unintentionally poisoned her ‘husband’ in late 2014, was charged for murder and is at the brink of being sentenced to death. In this paper, I allude to the argument that women remain the prime victims in a violent conflict using Nigeria as my prime example because I am of the belief that law itself is bent and exceptions are made in the Hobbesian state of nature wherein life is short, nasty and brutish.
Violent conflicts in Nigeria place tremendous burdens on women who suffer displacement, loss of families and livelihoods, various forms of intense gender-based violence and the responsibility of sustaining entire communities. At the same time, ethno-religious alliances are sought when violence reigns supreme and I maintain that women become the sole medium of exchange so as to safeguard religious and ethnic allegiances. Bearing in mind the case of Wasilat Tasi’u and Umari Sani, it is my assumption that this is the case since there are a lot of emerging perspectives and uncertainties in the matter. The court hangs an impending death sentence over a child who is undoubtedly a victim of circumstances such as ethno-religious alliances and most probably poverty.
Many African countries (at least 45), have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the girl child,88% have set a minimum age of 18 or older but only 49% of these countries protect girls from early marriage when exceptions coupled with parental consent are included (Heymann,2014).Under International law, the Nigerian State is in direct contravention of its obligation to protect Wasilat,a 14 year old child who was forced to marry a man almost thrice her age. Since there are several Regional and International agreements guaranteeing the human rights, equality and integrity of women and girls throughout their life cycle which Nigeria is a signatory to and ratifier of these statutes, I vehemently argue that the court must protects its own citizens and exonerate the death sentence on an innocent child because it will be obstructing justice. Maybe she will be charged with culpable homicide, detained for some few months for rehabilitation and acquitted of all charges that is if the State adheres to its agreements to be bound by International law. My fear is that if she is not thoroughly rehabilitated, Wasilat might end up committing suicide due to her emotional and psychological state, thus the death sentence catching up with her anyway.
From another angle of analysis, I envisage that the Nigerian State is not enforcing law because it is preoccupied with fighting Boko Haram which explains why it is incapacitated to recover a haud of kidnapped girls and most importantly enforce quotas which forbid child marriages. It is difficult to exercise law in a State rocked by violence, DR Congo, the CAR among others are astounding case studies. In actual fact, the State is at default here. African women still face discrimination in all spheres of life, in public and private. Violence against women is still a major problem, religious and cultural fundamentalisms are on the increase, discriminatory laws still serve to control women’s lives and bodies, and harmful traditional practices still persist.
In essence, it is the parents and Umari-even though he is dead in Shona we have a saying which goes Mhosva hairovi (Crime does not disappear) – who should be indicted of murder because I equate statutory rape and early childhood marriage with murder because of the profound psychological damage which they inflicted on the child. It will take years for Wasilat to recover from this traumatic experience which puts it at par with ‘death walking’ because she was not either psychologically or physically prepared for this experience.
Accusing Wasilat of cooking poisonous herbs is the same scenario as accusing a child whom an adult gives a car to drive and gets involved in an accident and the same adult accuses the child of negligence and carelessness. In this case, the question which must be asked is who should be accused of negligence or carelessness? Clearly Wasilat’s parents and Umari are, there is no doubt about that. It is unfair to accuse Wasilat of taking the law in her own hands because ironically she does not even know the law and worse still cannot be in a position to machinate premeditated murder. She is too young for many things.
Kevin Watkins (2014) laments the fact that Conventions on Child protection are being widely and systematically violated in near total impunity. He further notes that around 150 million girls, mostly in Africa, still marry (forced) before the age of 15 which is exactly the case of Wasilat. To me, this figure is alarming and illuminate that as we are commemorating 16 days of activism, we must bear in mind the fact the plight of girls and women is also escalating at unprecedented levels and the conflict is evolving with the times. The time to act pragmatically is now. The issue of child marriages is not a Nigerian issue alone but an international crisis especially in the developing world hence it calls for cooperation and collaboration to tackle this crisis in the world. Women and girls in many parts of the continent are suffering from a backlash and a rollback of gains already made. If Nigeria proceeds with charging Wasilat with a death sentence; it will be a disgrace to the gains made in gender mainstreaming and the protection of women and girls. I recommend that The Nigerian government must scrutinize its decision before passing the verdict because this might as well ignite a fresh wave of massive protests especially women activists adding more wait to its problems of national violence, bearing in mind that women are more than 50% in Nigeria.
The ensuing election scheduled for 28 March, 2015 is also a conducive environment for men to perpetuate gender-based violence. According to McEvoy (2014) election time is where politics and violence meet…a sub-set of violence is the pervasive sexual based violence. She continues to say that attackers include members of the police, gangs, neighbours, relatives and friends.Comong form the background that women are still being raped in peaceful times, the Nigerian government must brace itself for a wave of gender based violence and must equip itself during election time to protect its citizens, especially women and girls from aggravated sexual and direct violence. In most violent conflicts it is a fact that women are victims attributed to widespread tolerance of sexual violence, the absence of a strong legal framework, a criminal justice system that is largely inaccessible, lack of political will to prosecute offenders and a security force that treats victims with contempt (ibid).More women, girls and children will continue being victims if the State does not introduce tougher measures to protect them and it is high time the State assumes its responsibilities or the outcome will be unpleasant.
The world is closely watching and women are scrutinising every statement released by the State. A death sentence might as well be a recipe for disaster and the State is compelled to compromise in this matter, no matter the dictates of ‘law. ‘The matter is aggravated by recurrent incidences of abduction, sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation of women by Boko Haram in Nigeria. It seems as if the law is taken very seriously when a woman commits a ‘crime,’ marking a new low in relations between the State and women affairs. The State cannot blame the victim. If the State fails to exonerate the victim particularly in this contentious case, then victimisation of victims will continue unabated in Nigeria, drawing a lot of international attention which the largest economy in Africa does not like.
”People should not sit idly and not be concerned about what happens elsewhere because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” …Martin Luther King,Jr (1963).
Heyman,J (2014),Implementing Specific International Child Rights Instruments, World Policy Analysis Center,USA.
King Jr, M.L (1963) ‘, Letter From a Birmingham Jail,’ Center for African Studies, University of Pennsylvania.
McEvoy, C (2014) ‘, Challenging Impunity: The Struggle to End Gender-Based Violence in Kenya,’ Insight on Conflict online.
Watkins,K (2014),We Need a Global Civil rights Movement for Children, Overseas Development Institute,USA.
T.Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in Human rights, the Environment, Peace and Governance issues. However, these are his personal views, no Authors, NGOs, University or any other Institution must be held accountable for the arguments in this article.