United Nations declared every 11th of October as International Day of the Girl Child. To mark this year`s event, Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity (CCDI) a Non-profit organization, with Consultative Status at the United Nations organised a roundtable at Eko Hotel, Lagos with the theme, “My Voice, Our Equal Future”,
The occasion was used to commemorate 25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the global agenda for advancing the rights and empowerment of women and girls, everywhere. In 1995 at the World Conference on Women in Beijing, countries unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing the rights of not only women but girls.
The Beijing Declaration is the first to specifically call out girls’ rights. On December 19, 2011, United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11, as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.
The International Day of the Girl Child focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. The occasion was used to focus on challenges women in inter religion marriage face in Nigeria.
On November 15, 2002, a Nigerian Christian girl whose father became a Muslim was raped after being forced to marry a Muslim.
Rakiya, 20, from Bilkawa in Kano State, has been a Christian for ten years, but her father converted to Islam five years ago. Since the introduction of Shari’ah Law in Kano State, he was told that his daughters could not remain Christians. On two occasions Rakiya, along with her sister Dije, 19, fled from their father’s home to the house of a Christian aunt, only to return base on the agreement that they would not be forced to become Muslims.
In September 2001 both girls were summoned to meet Muslim authorities and were given the option of choosing Muslim husbands for themselves or being given in marriage to Muslims. They refused and were moved to Kano, but later fled again to their aunt’s house. Their father accused his Christian nephew and the church catechist of being responsible for his daughters’ disappearance and the two men were arrested and charged with abduction. The parish priest, Rev Isayaku Idi Kano and Canon Musa Haruna were charged with the same offence and all four were held in police custody for four days at the end of March 2002.
Their case is now at the High Court, but the cost to the church could be as high as 1.5 million Naira. The girls were returned to their father, during which time Dije escaped.
However Rakiya was forced to marry a Muslim and four men dragged her to her new husband’s room where she was raped. The President of Center for Convention on Democratic Integrity, Olufemi Aduwo who monitored the case and visited northern Nigeria for fact finding discovered that the plight of the two sisters is not an unusual occurrence in areas that are predominantly Muslim and in some areas as well in the Southern Nigeria. He made reference to the case of Mr Babatunde Abdulahi that happened in 2016 as horrible experience.
The story of Mr and Mrs. Babatunde Abdullahi was pathetic and called for serious concern. Mr. Babatunde was from a Muslim family and the wife, Olubukola Anthonia was from a Christian home.Before they got married, Babatunde has converted to a Christian without the knowledge of his father, Alhaji Saka Abdullahi, who is a devouted Muslim and renowned Islam cleric.The marriage held without the knowledge of husband’s family who practice Islam. After the marriage, Alhaji Saka Abdullahi did not back down,he want both his son and his wife to embrace Islam for many reasons, though he is a polygamist but Babatunde is the only son out of his twelve children.
On the day of their first child naming ceremony Alhaji Saka Abdulahi invaded the venue with some Islam clerics and without the concept of Mr and Mrs Babatunde, he gave their son Mofiyinfoluwa Sultan.
This singular act made Mr.Babatunde not to invite his father when they gave birth to other two girls and they name them lmisioluwa Grace and Oluwatamilore Christana, which Alhaji Abdulahi was not comfortable with when he knew years later that they have two girls.To humiliate and stamp his authority, he told his daughter in law to come along with the children to the village for gender mutilation which the sister in law and his son vehemently opposed.
On two occasions, Alhaji Abdullahi came with others to take away Sultan, their first son and Alhaji Abdullahi first grand son to the village and enrolled him in arabic school to gain islamic knowledge but he could not gain access to his children house.Alhaji Abdullahi told his son, Mr. Babatunde Abdullahi to divorce his wife and at same time return to Islamic religion, otherwise, he would disown him. He believed his daughter in law was responsible for Babatunde being converted to Christianity. Mrs Olubukola Anthonia Abdullahi and her husband went through a lot in the hands of Alhaji Saka Abdullahi and Mr. Babatunde step sisters. Mr Babatunde’s mother divorced Alhaji Abdullahi many years ago and she has also embraced Christianity.
He said at the moment, they cannot locate the current residence of Mr. Babatunde Abdullahi, we were told he sold his property in Lagos and went under with his family to avoid incessant attack of his father. This is one of the sad story of inter-religion marriage in Nigeria.
He want the development partners and United Nations to take a stand against this barbaric behavioural display by these religion fundamentalists. An earlier case a female convert from Niger State was bound hand and foot in a Shari’ah Court, thrown into the boot of a vehicle and driven by her family to their home village where she was bound to a tree and publicly raped by a prospective Muslim suitor.
The lady managed to escape and is now married to a Christian. However, she continues to be in fear for her life years after this event, as some members of her home village still vow to kill her if they see her. The Rights Monitoring Group and Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity team also discovered widespread suppression and violations of religious freedoms in many states in the northern Nigeria. For example, the only Christian burial ground in the state capital, Minna, is full to overflowing, and grave sites are now being doubled up.
However, Christians are denied land for a new burial site. Moreover churches are often denied both land for building new facilities, and permission for improving existing structures. Further research uncovered evidence of orchestrated attacks on Christian settlements around Plateau State. These usually involve gangs of 300 to 600 well armed Islamic extremists, some from Niger and Chad, who embark on a spree of killing, looting and burning.
The attacks appear to be part of a calculated attempt to alter the ethno-religious make up of the predominantly Christian state so as to facilitate Muslim dominance and the institution of Shari’ah Law in this key state in the Middlebelt. Nigeria has seen an increase in interreligious violence since the northern states began to call for full Shari’ah Law in 1999. It is normally the poor and female who are worst affected by Shari’ah Law punishments as demonstrated by the case of Muslim Amina Lawal. She was sentenced to death for adultery in Katsina State and is due to be stoned to death many years ago.
Olufemi Aduwo, Permanent Representative of a Non governmental organisation ,CCDI to United Nations said: “The spread of Shari’ah Law in the northern Nigeria has terrible human consequences for all, but particularly for those who are not Muslim. “The forcible marriage and rape of Rakiya and the fear of her sister in hiding are due to a religious law being implemented on those over whom it should have no legal jurisdiction. Likewise is the story of Babatunde Abdulahi who and his family are living in fear for years. “We call on the Nigerian government to uphold the country’s constitution and to prevent more injustice and inter-religious tension from spreading.”