LAGOS, Nigeria – Christians in the U.S. should support Nigerian believers with prayer and financial gifts to counter the Nigerian government’s refusal to outlaw child marriage in the African country, a Southern Baptist expert on Nigerian relations said.
The Nigerian government’s refusal to set the legal marriage age at 18 will allow preteen Christian girls to be bought as the brides of Muslim men, automatically forcing them to convert to Islam, Adeniyi Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist working from Raleigh, N.C., to evangelize and serve Nigerians in his homeland, told Baptist Press.
“We need the church to raise an altar on our [behalf], to go to God in prayer for our country Nigeria, to bring about a quick review of this law because [with] this law in place, the future is bleak for our daughters of 12 years, not to mention the one that is just 5 years old,” said Ojutiku, who organized the grassroots group Lift Up Now, with an estimated 2,000 supporters in Nigeria.
“The church can also raise support financially, because this kind of war can be easily fought when you can organize more protest [rallies], workshops and talks to create more awareness, for the people to rise and speak out for their lives,” Ojutiku said.
The Nigerian Senate in July failed to pass an amendment to Nigeria’s constitution that would have removed a clause that confers adulthood or “full age” upon “any woman who is married.” The longstanding clause came to light when the legislative body voted on an amendment setting guidelines for Nigerians who wish to renounce their citizenship.
Senators’ refusal to change the clause created an outcry among many, including Christians, non-governmental organizations, women leaders, academia, the media, entertainers and Western-educated Muslims who oppose the law for varying reasons, according to news reports from many outlets. Some editorialists termed Nigeria a “nation of pedophiles.”
Christians oppose the law because it will serve as a form of Sharia law and will lead to medical complications and even early deaths of girls forced prematurely into sex and childbirth, Ojutiku said. Child brides also will acquire the right to vote, most likely for the Muslim candidates their husbands support, Ojutiku told Baptist Press.
“It will further give a boost to Sharia law and negatively affect Christians,” Ojutiku said, “especially women in the far North where Muslims are in the majority because adoption of women (Christian) and their forceful conversion to Islam is presently going on.”
Ironically, senators were strongly discouraged from changing the clause by Sen. Ahmed Yerima, who in 2010 divorced one of his four wives, a 17-year-old he married when she was 15, to replace her with a 14-year-old for whom he paid $100,000, the Institute on Religion and Democracy reported. Yerima described opposition to the law as against Islam, which allows men to have four wives concurrently.
The outcry comes at the same time Islamic extremists are intensifying violence against Christians.
Islamist extremist group Boko Haram is the main suspect in the July 29 bombing of two churches and nearby Christian businesses in Kano city, killing at least 45 people in the heavily Christian area, Morning Star News reported. Four bombs were detonated within a 30 minute period around 9 p.m., Morning Star wrote.
After one explosion during a service at Christ Salvation Pentecostal Church, 39 bodies were recovered in the area, Morning Star News reported. Another bomb exploded at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church as Christians were meeting there. A third bomb apparently targeting Peniel Baptist Church did not affect the structure, Morning Star said.
Nigerian pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, briefed a U.S. Congressional group and the National Press Club in Washington in July regarding the child bride law, speculating it could affect girls as young as 3, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) reported.
“Where are the heroes who marched for little girls killed in Selma, Ala.,” and “the new Dr. Kings?” Oritsejafor asked legislators, according to the IRD. “We must rise as one and say no, never again.”
Ojutiku said child marriage will hinder efforts to spread the gospel and will further enslave women.
“This law is having a religious inclination, all of which is against the Christendom and to strengthen the Islamization of our country,” Ojutiku said. “They used to say that this country is Muslim country but [it] is not.
“This law it will take us back more than 300 years,” Ojutiku said. “That is big trouble for the church today.”
Child marriage is already prevalent in Nigeria, studies show. In northern Nigeria, 45 percent of girls are married by age 15 and 75 percent by age 18, according to a 2005 Population Council Child Marriage Briefing on Nigeria. U.N. figures show that in northern Nigeria’s Kebbi state, the average marriage age for girls is 11, the IRD reported.
A change.org petition to have the law reversed gained 100,000 signatures and, according to the petition’s author, was being delivered to the United Nations.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)