A Right Wrong

“Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s [spiritually] appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims”
1 Corinthians 6:12 (MSG)

Today, my scratchy fingers are scribbling about an issue that is quite emotional for many members of two opposing camps. I’ve been warned that it doesn’t concern me—an issue that can stir a hornet’s nest against me. Let me contribute my own kobo—I can only die once.

Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II (His Highness Sanusi Lamido Sanusi), Emir of Kano, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, just took a new wife. The lucky fourth bride, Sa’adatu Barkindo-Musdafa is the daughter of the Lamido of Adamawa, Muhammadu Barkindo-Musdafa. In a low-key wedding held at Yola, the 54-year-old techno-aristocrat joyfully received the hands of the 18-year-old royal beauty.

As expected in a country where a sizable number indulge in emotion-laden arguments, sometimes bordering on innuendos, this joyful matrimony has provided fodder for the cannons of controversy. A fence has been hastily erected, with some fence sitters, while opposing forces have amassed their weaponry on both sides of the fence.

The pro-side base their argument on Sanusi’s Islamic-issued right to marry up to four wives. To them, the bride being at the legal age of consent, Sanusi cannot be grouped with Senator Ahmed Yerima, the former Zamfara State governor, who gained notoriety for two marriages involving under-18 brides. The pro-side further argue that early marriages help prevent premarital sex and the attendant effects. They also point to Sanusi’s wealth and position as evidence that this bride would be well maintained.

Across the fence, some have called the gentle Emir a paedophile. They argue about the morality of having a bride whose age is one-third of yours. Since the bride just finished secondary school, they claim that this marriage would limit her chances of educational advancement. This side has gone as far as attributing greed to Sanusi for wanting a fourth wife. Some on this side have dared to doubt the bride’s freewill in this marriage, arguing that it is a political marriage arranged by forces above her.

Whilst sitting on the fence, my bodyweight is leaning towards a side that can be inferred from this article’s title. Although I agree with some of that side’s arguments, I have reservations. For one, I don’t believe that the respected Emir is a paedophile. The bride is eighteen—legally, she can consent. If this marriage occurred in the US, it would have been ignored the way the billionaire owner of Play Boy is left alone to enjoy his fantasies. However, some of the age-related outrage is linkable to a much-maligned culture common among some Muslims in Nigeria’s north, where some girls are married off at ridiculously low ages. This practice has helped that region to top the charts for vascular fistula infections, and other problems linkable to early marriage. Secondly, doubting the bride’s freewill acquiescence is a waste of time, as it would be extremely difficult to prove otherwise. In addition, as a colleague pointed out, in that cultural setting, she may have been tuned for this all her life.

However, this is my grouse with Emir Sanusi, a man I respect so much for his boldness while serving as the central bank governor. The issue for me, is the message he just passed across by exercising his right. Sanusi is surely a role model for many persons in Nigeria, especially, in Nigeria’s north, a region battling with very low literacy levels, and an antipathy for education prevalent in some areas. A considerable number of northerners see no value in educating their male children—talk less of females. Sanusi, as an intellectual, may likely encourage his fourth bride to further her education. However, such encouragement would not gain the amount of media attention that the wedding has received, thus limiting its influence to those closest to him.

For not-a-few northern Muslims, seeking fresh blood as their second, third, fourth, or nth wife (divorce one to create space), Emir Sanusi’s action provides an excuse for them, a carte blanche somewhat. These ones would not bother to note the age of his bride. As far as they are concerned, the astute Sanusi married a new (read: tender) bride. When next they go shopping, anything young and innocuous would fit the bill.

Emir Sanusi has missed a chance to make a change, to chart a new course. Although as an Emir, he pledged to uphold his traditions, some traditions need to be exorcised. Just as the verse at this article’s beginning, something being legal does not mean that one must do it. It’s a right kind of wrong, or maybe a wrong kind of right, or whatever. The oxymoron is confusing me. As a colleague said, “It’s not your business! You’re a Christian from the South”.

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