AS the crisis over the voting on child marriage by the Senate rages, the Senator representing Ondo Central Senatorial District, Ayo Akinyelure, on Monday betrayed emotions as he wept openly over his vote on the issue.
Akinyelure, a Labour Party (LP) senator, however, said he voted in error during the proceedings on the floor of the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
This is coming just as the people of the senatorial district unanimously opposed the proposal that could allow underaged girls to be given out in marriage.
Addressing people of his constituency drawn from the six local government areas represents at the state cultural centre, Adegbemile, Akure, Akinyelure said he could not have supported the call for underaged marriage in the country.
The senator is said to be one of the 35 lawmakers in support of retention of Section 29 (4b) which legalized underage marriage during a debate on the amendment of the constitution.
The lawmaker, who faced a hall filled to capacity with delegates from the six local government areas who were mainly women, explained that he voted in support of the retention in error.
The senator, who wiped tears from his face intermittently while addressing the audience said, “What the Senate considered for determination under the review of Nigerian constitution was ‘Renounciation of Citizenship Under the Nigerian Constitution contained under Section 29 (4b) which provides that any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.
“The question before the Senate for which I voted in favour was whether a married woman is deemed to be of full age to renounce her Nigerian citizenship and not whether a woman can marry before attaining the age of 18 years.
“This is quite different from voting in favour of ‘underage ‘marriage’as widely reported in the media to blackmail senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that believed in the peaceful co-existence of Nigeria as a nation and to avoid possible religious crisis and security challenges that may likely result from deleting this clause in question from the constitution, hence I voted for it to remain.”
Akinyelure said he would never do anything that would be against the wishes of the people of his constituency , the state and Nigeria at large, saying “I wish to emphatically maintain that I never voted in favour of underage marriage as wrongly reported in the media. What I voted for was that a married woman is deemed to be of full age to renounce her citizenship of Federal Republic of Nigeria as entrenched in the Constitution since 1999.
“My voting “NO” was in clear error of misrepresentation and I had no opportunity to correct what is deemed to be my error now, because voting was done electronically. If voting were to be done by show of hands, I would have been able to correct my error before voting was concluded by the senate.”
However, prior to the commencement of the programme, some women had stormed the venue with various placards to protest the action of the lawmaker.
Some of the placards carried by the women include “Allover Be Warned, Yoruba Culture is not for sale; Allover should make good law to better the lot of people not immorality; Allover should be recalled; We say no to early marriage; It is all over, Allover sold Yoruba,” among others.”
The charged atmosphere, however, led to a minor crisis between supporters of the senator and the protesters which almost degenerated into free for all, but for the timely intervention of the policemen on ground.
What we voted for - Senators
Two senators have said most of their colleagues did not vote in support of girl-child marriage, declaring that what they did was misconstrued and misrepresented to Nigerians.
The upper legislative body has come under intense attacks by various sectors of Nigerians over its failure, last week, to vote against the controversial Section 29 (Sub-section 4b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as recommended by the Senate Committee Report on the Review of the 1999 Constitution.
Specifically, Senators Akin Odunsi (ACN Ogun West) and Atiku Abubakar Bagudu (PDP Kebbi Central), at separate briefings with newsmen, on Monday, said the Senate was misrepresented over the issue by both the media and Nigerians.
Odunsi, in his submission explained that the alleged underage marriage provision is an existing law in the 1999 Constitution that states, ”Any woman that is married in Nigeria is of full age”.
“What the Senate attempted to do that day was to expunge that clause but couldn’t do so due to shortage of 13 votes because 60 senators voted for its removal as against 73 required votes while 35 voted for its retention.
“Therefore, from what happened on the floor of the Senate last Tuesday, the Senate attempted to expunge the somewhat archaic clause and did not in any way created the law as now wrongly portrayed by Nigerians,” he said.
Senator Abubakar Bagudu, in his own reaction to the controversy, said it was unfortunate that the Senate was being drawn into a debate it did not create in the first place.
He said the alleged endorsement of underage marriage by the Senate was a total misrepresentation of what the lawmakers considered or voted for under section 29 (sub-sections 4(a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution, and as presented for consideration by its committee on constitution review.
He said that the issue of renunciation of citizenship was what the Senate considered and voted on as far as the affected section of the constitution was concerned and that it had nothing to do about marriage.
“Clause 4a of Section 29 of the 1999 constitution defines a full age for any Nigerian who wants to renounce his or her citizenship to be 18 years and above while Clause 4b states further that, in the case of women, aside the 18 years prescribed in Clause 4a, any woman that is married can be considered to be of full age,” he said.
He argued that in many places around the world, marriage below the age of 18 years for girls is allowed but with parental consent, adding that though such may not necessarily be right.
Senator Bagudu, however, said there was a need for a better understanding of the marriage law of each community across the country before one can truly understand what constituted girl-child marriage.