BROWBEATEN? Women Affairs Minister makes u-turn, backs Niger mass weddings

After her initial opposition to the planned mass weddings of 100 orphaned girls scheduled for Friday, May 24, sponsored by the Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, has thrown her weight behind the weddings.

The Minister had earlier kicked against the mass wedding of the young girls which she said was a violation of the Child Rights Act.

She had gone ahead to petition the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun as well as filing a lawsuit seeking an injunction to restrain the Speaker from going ahead with the mass weddings.

“The actions proposed by the Speaker are utterly unacceptable to the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and the government at large. We are duty-bound to uphold the Child’s Rights Act and ensure the welfare and future prospects of these girls,” Kennedy-Ohanenye had declared at a press conference in Abuja.

The petition and lawsuit forced Sarkindaji to announce that he would no longer sponsor the weddings and lambasted the Minister for dabbling into a religious and cultural issue she did not understand.

The Speaker further accused the Minister of acting without making efforts to understand the circumstances that confronted the girls after losing their parents to bandits and terrorists, which made it necessary for their weddings to be sponsored and be had taken it upon himself to sponsor the weddings of the 100 girls, because they had attained the marriage age but were either orphans or their parents were too poor to fund their weddings.

Sarkindaji, however, had the support of prominent Islamic groups like the Council of Imams in Niger State and the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), which both warned the Minister to steer clear of the mass wedding, which they insisted must go on as scheduled.

But in a twist, Kennedy-Ohanenye on Thursday, paid a visit to the state where she announce scholarships for the girls and also donated other items such as wrappers and foodstuffs to them in preparation for the ceremony.

The Minister who was represented by her Special Assistant on Private Sector, Adaji Usman, gave out the items to the 100 young brides at the palace of the Emir of Kontagora, Mohammed Muazu.

The Minister presented 10 Point of Sale machines, 100 wrappers and 350 bags of 10kg bags of rice and also announced a scholarship to university level for any of the girls who wished to go to school, while the Emir announced the donation of a sewing machine to each of the girls.

READ ALSO:MURIC joins train of attack on Women Affairs Minister over Niger mass weddings

Kennedy-Ohanenye also directed that bank accounts be opened for all the 100 intending brides where a stipend will be sent to them for the next six months to enable them to settle down in their husband’s houses.

She however, blamed the media for escalating the initial controversy surrounding the marriage of the 100 orphans.

“I did not intend to stop the marriage but to be sure if the girls are of marriageable age and were not being forced into it,” she said while addressing the audience.

“Every parent will want to marry out her wards if they attain the right age for marriage. The initial opposition to the planned marriage was misunderstood, hence the media war between my office and the Speaker’s.”

In his remarks, Sarkindaji said it was regrettable that his intention to support the marriage of the 100 girls was politicised.

“It was pure politics from my constituency. They misinformed the minister that I am playing politics with the lives of the children by forcing them into marriage.

“And the Minister, because of her passion for women and the girl child, quickly waded into the matter even though she could not find out the true position of things and the media began to amplify the whole matter.

“But thank God today I have been vindicated. The Minister and the whole world have seen that these girls are of marriageable age and nobody is forcing them into it. It is being done with their consent.

“I decided to support the marriage out of genuine concern for these girls, the majority of whom are orphans as a result of the insecurity in my constituency. It was with a pure heart.

“I equally commend the Minister for this empowerment scheme for the girls; she has shown that she is a mother and really meant well for the girl child in this country.”

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