Friday, 2 October 2015


By Jafaar Jafaar
Premium Times September 28, 2015

Available online at

I think we deserve some respect from our brothers from different religious and cultural backgrounds in order to live in harmony.

I made this argument about a year ago when the rumour of Emir Muhammadu Sanusi’s marriage to a “minor” raised some dusts. The age of consent varies according to culture and religion, I had argued.

I don’t know why one would combust energy criticising cultural practices that are contrary to his religion, culture or warped intuition. Nigeria has two major religions which don’t prohibit marriage at the age of 18. The Constitution doesn’t also prohibit it.

Writing about the age of consent, Professors Richard Wortley and Stephen Smallbone said girls married very young in European society prior to the 19th century.

“In Medieval and early modern European societies, the age of marriage remained low, with documented cases of brides as young as seven years, although marriages were typically not consummated until the girl reached puberty (Bullough 2004). Shakespeare’s Juliet was just 13, and there is no hint in the play that this was considered to be exceptional. The situation was similar on the other side of the Atlantic; Bullough reports the case in 1689 of a nine-year-old bride in Virginia. At the start of the nineteenth century in England, it was legal to have sex with a 10 year-old girl.”

That was the Western society, which guides our sense of reasoning. If you think you are copying the Western society by criticising the marriage of an 18-year-old, then you are wrong.

One might say what I quoted above is an old practice. Yet, currently, in England and Wales, the minimum legal age for marriage is 16, and that is with the consent of parents. At 18, both the male and female are free to marry even WITHOUT parental consent.

Ever wondered why the Westerners still celebrate ‘Sweet 16′ parties? In the Western society that is characterised by debauchery and all manners of secular practices, the 16th birthday party is marked because it is considered a bridge between youth and adulthood.

In view of Islamic religious practices and tradition, I know Muslims won’t whine over someone’s marriage to an 18-year-old. In our village, hardly can you spot a 18-year-old that is not married. In a typical Hausa household, you can’t claim not to have a grandma, a mother, an aunt or a sister who was married off before 18.

As I noted last year, in Christianity, canon law previously provided that the minimum age for marriage was 12; yes, 12 years. The law was later repealed in 1917 and the age for marriage from 12 to 14 for girls and 16 for boys. But why would a true Christian condemn a practice allowed by his religion?

Even if you are an adherent of Buddhism, the founder of the religion, Gautama Buddha, married his wife at the age of 16.

Of course there are certain cultural practices that are universally condemned like the caste system, slavery and incest. But despite the near-universality of incest taboo, among the Polahi nomadic tribe of the Gorontalo province of Indonesia, incest is not a taboo. It is permitted for father to marry daughter or mother to marry son, and so on. In the Polynasian societies/languages, there is nothing called “incest” because it just a normal practice. You have to respect their culture since they perhaps see the exogamy we might consider a morally right practice as a bad practice.

What I still do not know is the basis on which the argument is specifically hinged. Is it on religion or culture? The sense of cultural relativism is poor in Nigeria.

I see criticisms to Emir Sanusi as an affront and insult against my religion and culture. When the 72-year-old publisher of the Champion newspaper, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu impregnated and later married a 26-year-old, I didn’t talk because I have respect for people’s choices. I was also mum when 82-year-old Chief Tony Anenih married a damsel in her early 20s. When Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu married Bianca, I didn’t raise alarm over their wide age difference. We see it as a triumph of love. When the 76-year-old Alaafin of Oyo married a 16-year-old, I didn’t whimper. When 74-year-old Italian fashion designer, Roberto Cavalli, frolics on the beach with a girl in her early 20s, hell doesn’t break loose. When King Mswati of Swaziland picked a 18-year-old as his 14th wife, the Swazis saw nothing wrong with it because it is part of their culture.

A Hausa proverb observes that if you are hated, you will be criticised for raising dust when you fall into water.

I think we deserve some respect from our brothers from different religious and cultural backgrounds in order to live in harmony