#FreeEse: When The Constitution Is Not Supreme

Over the years, some incidents in Nigeria have tried to portray it as a theatre of the absurd. Periodically, news reports spring up, bewildering many Nigerians who wonder if the main characters lack commonsense, and the decency to save Nigerians the shame of watching foolish dramas. The #FreeEse incident is a quintessential example of a lot that is wrong in Nigeria.

In the interest of the yet-to-be-informed group, here is a recap of this story. A thirteen-year old girl was kidnapped (transported) from her parents’ care in August 2015 in Bayelsa State, and taken to Kano State. In Kano, her captor (lover) had her converted to Islam, and married her. Her parents, knowing the captor, tried to use the police route to retrieve their daughter. Their attempts were rebuffed by the powers in Kano, including the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi. Yesterday (Sunday), The Punch published the story, helping it gain traction with #FreeEse. Finally, the Emir has now “ordered” the Sharia Commission to begin a repatriation process for the young Ese.

The paragraph above is a simplistic summary of the circumstances surrounding #FreeEse. The main characters have had a field day acting this atrocious drama. Here are a few takeaways from my viewpoint.

I’ll start with the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase. This top law enforcer said the case was in the Emir’s hand. Permit me to be disrespectful here. I never knew that the Emir was above the IG in the law’s ranking. It is one thing to respect traditional and religious authorities. However, respect is dissimilar to exhibiting crass incompetence. How can the IG ask Nigerians to wait for the Emir to return from Mecca before a kidnapped minor can be reunited with her parents? Does this mean that a criminal can run into a traditional ruler’s abode to evade the police’s arm? If this is so, it should be gazetted so that all Nigerians can take advantage of this “legal lacuna”.

Next is the Emir of Kano. I respect him a lot—an intellectual who has served as the central bank governor. I understand that his duties include defending the customs of his people. However, as an educated leader, there should be some limits. How can he allow the girl to be “imprisoned” in his palace when the laws are clear on kidnapping and the legal consent age? Why did he wait for public outcry before “ordering” the Sharia Commission to undo what should never have been done? It is obvious he was pushed by public excoriation because he was the one who advised the girl’s parents to “seek justice at the Sharia Court”.

Now I come to the main antagonist and his support crew. His paedophilic proclivities inspired him to execute this horrendous heist. A thirteen-year old girl! For Christ’s sake, there are willing girls who are above eighteen years. Is he a patient of low self-esteem? He should have tried his natural charms on consent-able females. I don’t buy the bullshit claim that Ese followed him voluntarily. That’s a story for the gods, similar to statutory rape. Yinusa and his cheering gang had the effrontery to dispute the girl’s age with her parents. How can you argue a child’s age with her mother, when the mother is not suffering from Alzheimer’s disease? If this paedophile were not charged to a normal court, it would send the message that culture and religion supersede Nigeria’s constitution.

Next is the constitution itself. Is the constitution so powerless that it could not speak out? Some persons conspired to abuse the constitution’s tenets flagrantly. They set paedophilic customs and religious excesses above the constitution. They kidnapped a minor and almost lynched her parents for asking for her return. They laughed in the face of the police, demonstrating their superiority over one of the constitution’s defenders. The constitution has now shown itself as a respecter of persons, or should I say a fearer of persons. On second thought, I’ll exonerate the “poor” constitution, and instead, blame those whose job it is to defend and enforce the constitution. This refers to more than the police!

Finally, my viewpoint sees The Punch, other media organisations and Nigeria’s cyber citizens. The outpourings of concern, anger and disgust helped to expedite this case. If everyone had kept quiet, this shameful drama would have continued. Even though the elite class is experienced in ignoring Nigerians, the media and the public have should that ordinary Nigerians can mass to effect pressure for changes.

Miss Ese is not the only minor in this situation. She is just “lucky” that her predicament got media attention. Nigerians need to sit and discuss the clime that allowed Ese to be taken from her parents’ in defiance of the law. Nigeria has to address the factors that allow some persons to defend criminality using religio-cultural dogmas. Nigeria has to demonstrate that its constitution is supreme, not a wannabe document that bows to some vested interests. For a start, Yinusa and his collaborators should face the law’s weight. This case should not be swept under the carpet. As for young Ese, I hope she has not contracted any STD and is not pregnant. I hope that she “actually” regains her freedom. #FreeEse should not end with a widely publicized “order”. #FreeEse ends when Ese is finally at home—in Bayelsa.

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