Ese, abductors and the girl-child
With many more reports of little girls abducted and forced into marriage, the Ese Oruru story is being told, retold and interpreted ad nauseam. Yet the abduction, sexual violation, forced marriage, and eventual conversion to another religion of teenagers, as well as the initial silence of persons and agencies that ought to help in all cases, together form a grisly metaphor of the plight of the girl-child and women in Nigeria. It is not only a national embarrassment, but also a bitter reminder, given the progressive spate of violation of the girl-child, of how far behind Nigeria is in prosecuting criminal cases against women, and the great task ahead in promoting human dignity.
Kidnapped by a 25 year-old neighbour named Yunusa Dahiru in August 2015, in Yenogoa, Ese was taken to Kano. Her parents reported to the police, which vacillated and parried the matter for seven months. However, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, upon getting briefing about the case during this period, had to defer to the traditional and religious office of the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, to make any headway. And as bureaucratic procedures lasted, and media reports spread, a chain reaction that elicited positive response within 72 hours took place.
Although the Ese has been released and re-united with her family, whilst the culprit Yunusa is being prosecuted, the event would be a life lesson for parents and children, whose purported ignorance is symbolic of the state of the nation. It has also exposed the sloppiness of the police in discharging its duties as a security agency established to safeguard lives and property. Moreover, the incident has cast in bold relief the intricate power-play witnessed in the tense dichotomies by which modern Nigeria may be understood: North and South, Christian and Muslim, influential and commonplace. In the conflict between civic responsibility of the Nigerian Police and traditional cum religious authority of the Emirate over Ese’s release from her captors, the incident presents Nigeria as a show of shame, a discomforting episode laden with portentous social-political consequences if not properly put in perspective.
Against the background of the missing 219 Chibok girls, who are yet-to-be freed, the Ese event and other forced marriages of minors tell a story of institutional neglect, deliberate incapacitation of the agents of the state, and Nigerians’ personal indifference to the plight of the unfamiliar. A few days ago, a televised report carried the pathetic story of how a human trafficking cartel in Ogun State transports innocent and unsuspecting teenagers, through a gruesome and deadly voyage in the desert, to Libya, where they are exported as sex slaves. Where are the authorities whose duty it is to attend to situations as this? What is the police doing to apprehend the kingpin of the cartel? Whilst commendation should be given to the press and the civil society groups, whose ‘Free Ese’ Campaign set the tone for a deluge of public outcry, it is sad that the National Agency for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was virtually out of the picture. This is unacceptable.
However, most guilty of professional negligence are the police, whose disgraceful reactionary stance has been brought to light. For any criminal activity to get the attention of the police force, it must have a trail for reaction. Something, usually a costly consequence, must transpire for attention to occur, and often times, concerned citizens have decried these tardy operative strategies of crime control and law enforcement in the country. The Ese and other cases present in living graphics the pretensions and impotence of the nation’s law enforcement agencies, especially the police, when they decide to wait for something to happen before acting. How the law could be so incapacitated and deficient, and the police authorities so subservient to the Sharia Commission and the Kano Emirate council that the Nigerian Police would need a mandate for it to carry out its lawful duties, is a shocking development that the authorities must begin to address.
Whilst Nigerians recognise the parlous state of the police both in terms of manpower and equipment, this situation is inexcusable. If the excuse of lean, overstretched personnel and poor equipment is adduced as a valid reason for inefficiency, then it also provides grounds for decentralisation of the police force for better management and positive results.
Already the community police is in force in certain parts of the country as could be observed in Ese’s case in Kano. If in Kano, the Hisbah (the Sharia police) could be accorded legitimacy and equal ranking as the Nigerian Police Force, what stops an appropriate and desirable adoption of state police in a truly federal Nigeria?
The event also interrogates the proper dispensation of justice for the girl-child and womenfolk. Women and the girl-child are wantonly abused and dehumanised by a system and decision-making process managed by patriarchal institutions.
It is for this reason women should reject the treacherous role of serving negative patriarchal values, and frontally attack the cultural and religious devices of subjugation. Nigerians must see the Ese case as a situation beyond Ese. They must begin to fight the obnoxious tenets that give rise to child marriages and abductions. Non-government organisations should rise and fiercely speak out against atrocious customs and institutionalised practices that dishonour and exploit the girl-child.
Like the typically exploited girl-child, Ese’s travails and other testimonies leave Nigerians with valuable lessons about family economic structure and associated values. At 13 or 14, a girl is just a child, barely able to grapple with hormonal rampage in her system, let alone old enough to give her consent in marriage. How was the girl so vulnerable to the extent of eloping or kidnap? Is it a case of break-down in family values as some think? Or as a result of poverty? In some agrarian and non-industrial societies, such as Africa’s, family economy permits non-abusive child labour, a practice that still persists in homes where all must join hands to make ends meet. So what wrong could the parents have done by allowing her to manage the mother’s food shop?
Ordinarily, children, especially girl children, must not be left to associate with adults unsupervised, let alone unfamiliar adults. Parents must be observant of subtle sexual advances and harassment that come from customers’ or visitors’ seeming innocuous teasing of their daughters. They should discourage familiarity and unnecessary close contact with customers and suspected familiar persons. Parents should also be wary of gifts to their daughters.
Now that many little girls so abducted are being found, now that Ese has been freed and the culprit identified, it is now time for proper education on social ethics and the supremacy of the law of the land. Irrespective of religious traditions and tribal customs, it should be sounded loud and clear to citizens whose only understanding of common law is impaired by sectarian values that it is not only unconscionable, but also illegal for a man, however high his social status, to just whisk away a girl, convert her and marry her without her parent’s consent. Such a medieval act and obvious criminality is, in truth, never permissible by any religious doctrine.
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