A macabre crime story is unfolding before a bewildered country. But for the palpable pain and anguish of a mother, Rose Oruru, and her family, it looks more like a Nollywood horror film. Yet, it is real. The abduction and ferrying of Ese, then 13, from Opolo, in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, to Kano by a pervert, ostensibly for marriage and religious conversion, is a heinous crime that should be severely punished.
The Ese Oruru abduction saga reminds Nigerians that the culture of impunity, dereliction of duty by officials and oppression of the weak is still rampant in our society. The facts of the case reveal unacceptable conduct by the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, the Department of State Service, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, the Kano Emirate Council and Governor Seriake Dickson, who failed to react swiftly to rescue a teen forcibly separated from her parents.
A chilling report in Sunday PUNCH detailed how on August 12, 2015, one Yinusa, a commercial tricycle operator, allegedly took Ese away from her mother’s food store and transported her to Kano. This simple crime of kidnapping and abduction of a minor should have attracted swift pursuit, recovery, arrest and prosecution of the culprit and his accomplices. Instead, impunity in high and low places ensued. According to the distraught parents, Charles and Rose Oruru, corroborated by NGOs, police and other sources, Ese was found to have been taken by Yinusa to Kano, where the district head, the Kano Emirate Council and the Sharia Council not only appeared to endorse the abduction, but apparently also frustrated efforts by the parents to reclaim their daughter these past seven months. Her release on Monday does not mitigate the crime.
There is an ominous similarity here with the abductions, forced conversions and coerced marriages of Boko Haram, the Islamic State and sundry terrorist groups. It is a form of behaviour like this by state actors that non-state actors copy and pose lethal terrorist threats to the society.
Like Nigerian officialdom and a complacent population failed the Chibok girls, 219 of whom remain in captivity almost two years after their abduction, the police have failed to move decisively to rescue Ese and prosecute her abductors. The timely efforts of the Bayelsa police command have been stymied by the apparent deference to Sanusi by the Kano command and the IG, whose behaviour suggests that Yinusa and his backers are above the law. This impunity, as two NGOs, KHAN Initiative and the Child Protection Network, observed, suggests Nigeria is a banana republic, a failing state where some persons and institutions are not bound by the supreme law and the strictures of globally accepted civilised conduct. Though Sanusi described the kidnap as embarrassing on Monday, his failure to act promptly to secure her release much earlier is unbecoming.
A big chunk of Ese’s life has been taken away. She is not of legal age to convert her faith outside the ambit of her parents, who are her legal guardians, nor is she in a position to consent to marriage. How would Yinusa’s backers feel if any of their daughters was treated in a similar fashion? This provocation should not stand. A society that does not protect its most vulnerable is doomed. We have always insisted that protecting the rights of the Nigerian child is a sacred responsibility. Such a burden is placed not only on the parents, but also heavily on government and the larger society. This charter of rights includes protection against abduction or kidnapping, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Ese’s abduction, a crime on it own, could not have been motivated by any other reason than forced marriage, another offence, which the Constitution in Section 29 (4) forbids. Any person under the age of 18 is considered by our law and United Nations convention, which Nigeria is a signatory to, as a child or minor. The Child’s Rights Act also prohibits the marriage of a child. It states in Section 21, “No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage and accordingly a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”
This is an offence that attracts imprisonment, according to the Criminal Code Act, The Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. Section 362 categorically states, “Any person who unlawfully takes an unmarried girl under the age of sixteen years out of the custody or protection of her mother or person having the lawful care or charge of her, and against the will of such father or mother or other person is guilty of misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.”
But Ese’s childhood violation and her parents’ travails are by no means new. Aided by the inaction of the society, lawless men regularly abduct girls to satisfy their depravity. Recall a statement credited to a serving senator, Ahmed Sani, who allegedly married a 15-year-old Egyptian in 2010: “I don’t care about the issue of age since I’ve not violated any rule as far as Islam is concerned. I will not respect any law that contradicts that…” Are there two sets of constitution in Nigeria?
When abductions occur in other parts of the world, the critical factor is that those societies punish the offenders severely. The crucial question is how so many people and organisations could have looked the other away. There is sufficient evidence of wilful professional neglect or misconduct by the police. The Inspector-General of Police, the country’s foremost law enforcement officer, has shown seeming helplessness in this matter by insisting that the release of the minor was dependent on the intervention of the Emir of Kano. He said, “Well, that is dependent on the intervention of the Emir. We have agreed to resolve the matter; I cannot give you a timeline.” When did it become that the IG, who is constitutionally answerable only to the President, should now be waiting on another authority unknown to the constitution in law enforcement before he can do his job? This is strange.
We are shocked and outraged that Sanusi lent his royal office to this glaring perfidy. It must be mentioned that his role in the matter has been anything but dignifying. Given his antecedents – a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and a respected Nigerian whose view on any issue has always been fearless and progressive – he cannot claim ignorance of the law. It is really infuriating that some people are bent on mocking the legitimacy of the Nigerian law. This naturally leads to the question, would the case have been handled the same way if it had been the daughter of a governor, senator or minister that was involved? What has been the role of the governors, both of Kano and Bayelsa, in this matter?
This is simply a case of kidnapping, possible rape and forced marriage. President Muhammadu Buhari should order a thorough probe of this criminal conspiracy. Given this development, we think the IG’s response is irresponsible and provides enough grounds for the President to fire him. A police chief that needs to take orders from a traditional ruler in a clear criminal offence is not worth the badge of his office and the trust of the people. Justice should not be sacrificed for political correctness. We must equally state that whatever the cultural practice, whatever the religious belief, it cannot be above the Nigerian law. We must use all legal means to stop this practice that robs a girl of her childhood or innocence and takes her out of school. It is the responsibility of the state to protect female minors from abuse and violence.
All others who conspired to make Girl Ese cheaply available for unlawful sexual assault are absolutely culpable and the full force of the law must be brought to bear on them. This will be a step forward in the fight against the culture of impunity that is dragging our society back.Souurc: PUNCH