A 54-year-old Nigerian man is said to have married a four-year-old girl on December 26, 2023
The marriage between a four-year-old ‘bride’ and a 54-year-old man in Nigeria’s oil-rich Bayelsa community is a traditional rite to save the child’s life, the girl’s parents have said.
After hearing from the child’s parents, the traditional ruler of the community and other rights groups, we have ceased fire and let sleeping dogs lie,” Dr Abayomi Alabi, Director of Child Rights International, told NMG in Abuja on Sunday.
We were ready to free the poor girl from the perceived abuse, but the explanation came at a good time to defuse the tension the incident had generated,” he said.
The marriage, which took place in the Akeddei community in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa on December 26, 2023, was explained as a spiritual rite to ‘untie’ the duo, who were betrothed in their ‘previous lives’.
The girl’s parents, the 54-year-old man, the traditional ruler and others, who participated in the marriage, were summoned by the Bayelsa Government following a public outcry.
The parents of the ‘bride’ and three others appeared before the state government’s Gender Response Initiative Team (GRiT) to explain their role in child marriage.
The government team comprised the Chairperson of GRiT, Dr Dise Ogbise-Goddy, and the Bayelsa State Coordinator of the Child Protection Network, Kizito Andah.
Others were the Chairman of Bayelsa Non-Governmental Forum, Mr Taritei Boco and representatives of the DO Foundation, National Human Rights Commission and Civil Society Groups.
The team heard submissions from the father of the child, Mr Morris Aboma, the “groom”, Mr Akpos Napoleon and the Paramount ruler, Chief Moneyman Binabo.
In their separate submissions, they all insisted that the purported child marriage was a traditional practice termed “Koripamo” aimed to save the little girl’s life.
They explained that it was a cultural practice in Akeddei community, Oyakiri clan, that if a girl child always fell sick, a man would be required to drop a symbolic amount as a token to save the little girl from dying.
The community representatives said that what happened between the little girl and Mr Napoleon was not a marriage but a cultural practice called ‘Koripamo’ in their tribe, Ijaw.
They further explained that whenever the traditional rite of ‘Koripamo’ was conducted, the man who paid the token was not required to take the girl as a wife and the traditional rite would also not stop the girl from marrying any man of her choice when she is of marriage age.
According to the Ijaw tradition, this rite can also be done on a boy child.
The Father of the child, Aboma, who spoke in Ijaw language, said his daughter was always sick to the point of death and explained that according to Akeddei tradition, the only way to save her life is for a man to pay a symbolic price and save the child’s life and that it had nothing to do with a real marriage.
According to the “groom”, the outcry that trailed the rite is regrettable as all he did was just to save the child’s life as she is no longer sick again.
He said that such tradition had been going on but it had not been elaborately celebrated with fanfare like the December 26, 2023 event which drew widespread outrage.
“But since she says if I don’t do what she says she will die, I had to look for money and do it since it involves life; as it is, I am frustrated by this whole issue,” Napoleon lamented.
The paramount ruler of Akeddei community, Binabo said he heard of a marriage in the community during the festivities.
The traditional ruler said that he did not, however, have full details, not until the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Sagbama Police Station asked him to produce those who got married in the community.
Binabo further said he had to invite the parents of the little girl to get detailed information about what happened.
He said the parents told him that the little girl had been sick and that one Napoleon had to drop a symbolic amount of money.
He emphasised that what happened in the Akeddei community was not a formal marriage but a fulfilment of cultural practice.
He, however, said that what surprised him was the demand of the little girl for an elaborate ceremony involving food, a canopy and a music system to be hired to celebrate the marriage.
He noted further that the man who paid the token to the girl was neither expected to take her home to live as husband and wife, nor stop the girl from marrying any other person of her choice when she got old enough to marry.
Dr James Omietimi at the GRIT office and that the child was living a normal life with no relationship with the 54-year-old.
Immediately after the meeting, the Chairman of GRIT, Ogbise Goddy stated that the deliberation was frank and fruitful and promised to give further updates on the matter.
She said that the Bayelsa Ministry of Women Affairs, Children and Social Development and all stakeholders would review the situation and take a decision.
Child rights advocacy groups in Bayelsa and some concerned Nigerians kicked against the traditional marriage and described the marriage as illegal, criminal and a child marriage, which is against the constitution and the Child Rights Act.
Mr Elvis Mannie, Bayelsa Chairperson of DO Foundation, in a statement condemned child marriage as horrendous, despicable, and a criminal activity.
He said the act was capable of retarding the giant strides made by the government and people of Bayelsa in the area of protection of child rights.
”This law criminalises child marriages and child betrothals, prescribing various terms of imprisonment and heavy fines,” the foundation noted.