On Friday, May 10, 2024, the Niger State Speaker of the House of Assembly announced that he planned to “assist” young victims of banditry attacks in his constituency by marrying them off. 

What is the genesis of this issue? 

The Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, said that he only came up with these plans because he had been approached by religious leaders in Mariga LGA regarding how the orphans were helpless after the banditry attacks that took their parents. 

Sarkindaji stated he would pay the dowries for the bridegrooms during a mass wedding ceremony scheduled for May 24. He described the initiative as an empowerment project to alleviate the suffering of the orphans.

Although local religious leaders supported this idea, it didn’t sit well with the Minister of Women Affairs and members of the public who took to social media to air their grievances.

What did the Minister of Women Affairs do about this?

The Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, expressed reservations about the legality of the wedding, questioning whether the girls had reached the age of consent and marriage as defined by Nigerian laws, including the Child Rights Act. Subsequently, Kennedy-Ohanenye filed a complaint to the police and sought a court order to halt the plan for further investigations on the girls’ consent, ages, and marriage arrangements.

She said, “I have filed for an injunction to prevent him from doing whatever he intends to do on May 24th, until a thorough investigation is conducted on those girls, to determine whether they gave their consent, their ages, and who is marrying them”.

What was the speaker’s reaction?

On Wednesday, May 15 2024, Honourable Sarkindaji announced his withdrawal from the planned mass wedding of orphans after the intervention of the Minister of Women Affairs.

However, Sarkindaji later defended the initiative, insisting that the minister had misunderstood it. He said his intention was humanitarian and the planned marriages would not violate the Child Rights Act, contrary to the minister’s concerns.

Sarkindaji emphasized that the girls, despite “being ripe for marriage”, don’t have the means to wed because they are orphans or from impoverished families. He urged the minister to visit his constituency to better understand the situation of the girls and see how she could assist them directly.

The Speaker also stated that the preparations he made for the wedding, including paying bride prices on behalf of the grooms, remained in place, but the decision on whether to proceed with the wedding or not would be taken by traditional and religious leaders in the area.

How is the public reacting to this event?

The public’s reactions were divided, with support rising from the Imams and residents within Niger state. In contrast, members of the public in other areas of the country continue to raise concerns about the mass marriage. 

A petition circulating online has garnered thousands of signatures, with citizens expressing shock and dismay over what they perceive as a misuse of public funds, a violation of the rights and dignity of vulnerable children.

The Niger Imams council, represented by Umar Abudullahi states that the girls were not being forced into marriages. 

The council maintained that the Minister had overstepped her bounds and would have the whole Imams in the country to battle with, if the weddings do not hold as planned.  

They also asked that the Minister of Women Affairs tender an apology for her actions and words which have misrepresented their intentions and to retract her petition otherwise a lawsuit would ensue. The council also petitioned that her appointment be retracted and declared her unfit for the position of Minister. 

“The planned weddings have the blessing of all the religious and traditional leaders from the area. The sponsor of the wedding consulted widely before accepting to take the responsibility and we are strongly behind him.

“The girls are not underage and they are not being forced into marriage as the minister has made the public believe. This is what the minister failed to investigate,” the council added.

Before this, the Take It Back Movement called on the Speaker to rescind his decision to marry off the 100 female orphans. 

What happens next? 

It’s unclear if the girls will be married off or not. The Imams council awaits a response from President Tinubu.

This is a developing story. 



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