Nigeria lawmaker’s plan for mass wedding of orphans sparks uproar

A Nigerian state lawmaker’s plan to sponsor the marriage of 100 brides orphaned by violence has sparked a row over religious and cultural norms and calls for the courts to intervene.

Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, the speaker of the local assembly in northwest Niger State, planned to support the marriage of the orphans, who have all lost relatives to attacks on villages by heavily armed gangs.

Sarkindaji said he was simply helping his constituents, but the minister of women affairs and other officials have denounced the proposal.

They have expressed concern that some of the orphans might be underage or being forced to comply for financial gain.

Mass weddings are not uncommon in Nigeria, especially in the mostly Muslim north, where they are seen as a way to help impoverished families manage their expenses.

But underage marriage also happens in rural areas where communities struggle with poverty, insecurity and little access to education.

– ‘Totally unacceptable’ –

Sarkindaji, a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress party, pledged last week to help families in the mass wedding later this month.

But on Tuesday, federal Women Affairs Minister Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye called for an investigation into their ages, their consent to marriage and the identity of their potential partners.

“This is totally unacceptable,” she told journalists.

“I have written a petition to the police… and I have filed a case for an injunction to stop him from whatever he is planning to do.”

A senior special assistant to the presidency on community engagement has also objected.

Abiodun Essiet called on state officials to bring the women into empowerment programmes — especially as it was believed some of them may be children.

“I am not against conducting marriage for orphans above 18 years of age if they give their consent to the marriage,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“But I am against underaged marriage. Let children be children.”

No details were immediately available on the ages of the orphans.

– ‘Good faith’ –

Soon after the minister’s remarks, the Niger assembly speaker told reporters he was withdrawing his support for the mass wedding and would let the families decide.

“The marriage for those orphans is withdrawn,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I did it in good faith.”

But he was critical of the minister, saying she was “not from the north” of Nigeria.

He did not feel threatened by her action as he was just a “good samaritan”, he added. “The minister should please find out who I am,… and how I have been supportive to my people.”

His position drew support from the state’s imams organisation and other Muslim groups. Accusing the minister of overstepping her position, they called for her suspension.

“We believe she made these pronouncements based on her position as a non-Muslim,” Mahmud Lawal Murshid, Niger state President of Muslim Student Society, said in a statement.

“If she were a Muslim she wouldn’t have said what she said.”

– Tough economic conditions –

In January a Muktar Aliyu Betara, a Nigerian lawmaker from Borno state, sponsored a mass wedding for 180 girls from his constituency.

Aged between 17 and 18, they had lost their parents to jihadist violence.

Betara paid for all the wedding expenses as the families of the brides could not afford the expenses.

Last year, Nigeria’s northwest Kano State financed and staged a mass wedding for 1,800 couples as part of efforts to help the poorest residents get married.

The initiatives came as Nigeria faces tough economic conditions.

High fuel prices and rising food inflation are driving some Nigerians, many who live on less than $2 a day, further into poverty in Africa’s most populous country.


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