•The Ese Rita Oruru story reflects a deeper malaise and impunity in our society
In this season of the rule of law, the story of Ese Rita Oruru, a 14-year-old girl, of Urhobo extraction from Delta State, has gained traction. She was whisked away from Bayelsa State when she was still 13 years old, without her parents’ consent, allegedly to the Emir’s Palace in Kano.
The story which was, at press time still developing, has all the evil trappings of molestation, child abuse, sexual deviance, abduction, religious coercion, constitutional violation, a network of shadowy big men manipulating the law.
While we are still bellyaching over the abduction of the Chibok Girls by a group of militant daredevils in the name of religion, the story of Ese Oruru gives us a cause not only for national rage and condemnation, but for all those in authority to rise up and save not only the law, but also decency.
Mentioned in this gory tale are the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi 11; the Kano Emirate Council, the Inspector- General of Police, the Bayelsa State Police Command, the Kwani police, the Kura Police Station, the chief of Tufa village, the Sharia Council and the Director of the Department of State Services. It conveys the story of either the paralysis of our big men and institutions that a 14-year-old can be abducted, and she cannot be released out of her captivity. Or it tells of shameless barbarity of complicity.
The parents have travelled to Kano, at least twice, and have visited the Emir’s palace, and they met brick walls of impunity. When the mother visited, the chief of Tufa village, reportedly queried the man known as Rabiu who accompanied her to the town, and he had the added audacity to tell the mother that her daughter had converted to Islam and was now married.
He was also reported to have warned that if Rose touched or spoke to Ese, either she or her daughter would die.
Top men in the emirate, including the Galadima and the adviser to the Emir, claimed ignorance. But the secretary to the Emir, reportedly said that the chief of Tufa village had secured an approval from the Kura Police Station in the state to take Ese to the Emir’s Palace and confirmed that she was now a Muslim convert.
The reports also say that on August 17, last year, a meeting was held at the palace with the Emir of Kano presiding and it included the inspector from the Kwani Police Station, the chief of Tufa village and Ese Oruru who came in a black Jeep with two police escorts. But her mother was not allowed in. The Emir reportedly told them to go to the Sharia Court.
Now, the news report has it that the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, has instructed the Sharia Commission to act in order “to repatriate and reconcile” the girl with her parents. The Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Seriake Dickson, and his Kano State counterpart, Alhaji Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, have also intervened.
The claim that she was not abducted by some partisans in the story is irresponsible. They claimed she eloped. A minor cannot elope with an adult. A 13-year-old cannot decide to elope because she has not reached the age of majority or consent. Whoever has a hand in this savage saga ought to answer to the law.
So absurd was the story that someone in the palace thought she knew the girl’s age more than the woman who gave birth to her. They claimed she was 18 and that she was now a Muslim. Religion, whether Islam and Christianity, works by consent and conviction, not coercion.
The mother said when she tried to speak with her daughter on phone, a hectoring voice stopped her from speaking in her native Urhobo language.
This matter has been simmering beneath the public eye for about eight months, and civil society organisations like Child Protection Network and CEE-HOPE have been in the vanguard of the search for this girl’s release. But it took the effort of the news media to get this out before any sense of seriousness was attached to it by all the major institutions and persons, including the Emir of Kano. The Nigeria Police, the DSS, the Sharia Commission all acted as though no harm was done, whereas a grave injustice was being perpetrated against one of us.
It is clear that the release of this girl is not only desirable, but it should not take any delay. The use of the word “reconcile” from the Emir implies institutional culpability. If the Emir’s secretary knew about this, how come the Emir did not?
To free Ese Oruru is the first step. But beyond that all those who took part in this sordid tale should be prosecuted, and the full course of the law should be obeyed. Yinusa and Dan Kano are the duo who allegedly organised the abduction.
What is really baffling is that for over a year the nation has mourned the abduction of school girls in the north. Many more have also been abducted by the dreaded Boko Haram. It does not reflect well on the Kano Emirate Council that its name should be sullied with such act of human abuse.
The Child Right Act has been in effect since 2009, and most of the northern states have not signed it. Human rights organisations and civil society groups have constantly harped on the practice of underage marriage and abuse of nubile girls in that part of the country. The occurrences of vestico vaginal fistula in little girls are too rampant.
We condemn roundly this practice; religion should not be used as a cover to abuse fellow human beings.
An Editorial by The Nation Newspaper