SLS: What Will Not Stick, What Will Stick By Pius Adesanmi
President Buhari must send a bouquet of flowers to His Royal Highness Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Emir of Kano. When you miss a side meeting on Boko Haram at the UN General Assembly, which was not on your schedule and to which you were not invited, and your media team characteristically makes a spectacular mess of explaining something as simple as you were not even invited to the said meeting, and there is national outcry and a feeding frenzy by wailers who would have complained about the colour of your Kaftan had you attended the said meeting anyway, nothing works like the gift of a 54-year-old modern, urbane, cosmopolitan Emir – with an ever-present hint of a British accent – yielding to his libidinal urges and marrying an 18-year-old lady.
Sanusi’s marriage is an auspicious gift of national distraction for the President’s team in New York. Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, and Kayode Fayemi must be thanking their stars and secretly hoping that Sanusi would add a fifth 17-year-old wife to the tally next week when President Buhari releases or does not release his ministerial list. If he releases the list, there will be outrage because it is doubtful that there will be a single person on the said list who has not eaten yams. Like I said on Twitter yesterday, the Nigerian who has not eaten yams does not exist. It is either you have eaten yam or its derivatives: yam porridge, yam flour, etc. Or you are related to and benefiting from a Nigerian who has eaten yam or its derivatives; or you are waiting and anticipating your access to yam or its derivatives. On the other hand, if he does not release that list, there will be hell to pay on account of yet another promise not fulfilled. Release the list and be damned, don’t release the list and be damned. That is President Buhari’s tricky position for which he is singularly responsible. I am not sorry for the President but SLS can help with marriage number five next week.
I had initially decided not to dabble into the raging controversy over SLS’s marriage to an eighteen-year-old lady until I encountered some of the arguments being pushed by his outraged detractors. One argument particularly stands out for me. It is said that he would not have been able to get away with this in the civilized world. My understanding of this submission is that those making it have Euro-America in mind when they refer to the civilized world. And this is why we must hasten to educate them that Europe and America – the West – should not always be their default reference for ways of seeing and ways of being. Africa has zilch to learn from Europe in this specific instance.
I am raising a daughter in the Western culture that is being presented as superior to Sanusi’s Fulani culture by some of his detractors. That means that I am prepared for a great deal of Western ways of being and seeing that I do not necessarily like or approve of but how man for do? Already, in kindergarten, she comes home every day waving newly-acquired territories of Western individuality in our faces. We shall be lucky to have any real authority over her beyond age ten. By the time she hits her teenage years, we become effectively parents honoris causa. That is when she gets to start screaming at us: “Mom, Dad, it’s my life!” If she decides to move out of the house at 18 – they are always in a hurry to move out in this culture anyway – and get married, we’d be extremely lucky parents by Western standards if she allows us to be involved and play our roles as parents and give her out. She could fly to Las Vegas with her fiance on her 18th birthday, get married, and phone us from there to announce gleefully that she is married to some boyfriend we have never met and that would be absolutely normal in this culture.
Of course we pray and hope that none of this will happen and we are prepared to play our roles of Nigerian cultural parentage within limits allowable by the law here in Canada. We cannot discipline beyond giving her time out for now. When she hits the rebellious teenage years, Canada’s idea of discipline when she misbehaves is that we should ground her, put her on curfew, and take away her telephone, computer, and car privileges for a while. And there is even a limit to this idea of discipline o.
However, we still hope to do our best and see her off to Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins or McGill, all the way to a Ph.D in whichever field she chooses. I was even hoping that she might want to become a brain surgeon until I encountered Dr Ben Carson and that idea became very unpalatable. But if, God forbid, she decides to marry at 18, ain’t jack we can do about it but support her. At 18, she is a legal adult here, everywhere in the West, and in Nigeria. So, stop hoisting the West as reference in this Sanusi higi haga. It is a silly argument that won’t stick.
The other argument that won’t stick is the constant referencing of Sanusi as a pedophile and the coupling of his action with that of the Sharianist of Zamfara, Senator Ahmed Yerima. The way I see it, those dragging legalese into this argument are talking nonsense. Personally, I believe that Sani Ahmed Yerima is a pedophile for marrying 13-year-olds twice and should be in jail and not in the Nigerian Senate (APC take note: there’s a pedophile in your ranks!) No amount of “our culture in the north and our religion permit it” coming from Yerima’s apologists will cleanse him of disgusting pedophilia. But Sanusi isn’t one. His marriage is legit. The lady is 18. She is an adult. Stop calling SLS a pedophile. Stop it at once. He isn’t one.
The only argument that will stick against Sanusi – and that is the argument I am making, that is my position – has already been made by my younger brother, Dr AnoDavinci Ebirim. Fifty-four year-old Sanusi’s marriage to an 18-year-old is a symbolic disaster. In fact, it is a tragedy. I am so disappointed in this man that I admire so much that I am seething with rage. Not everything that is legal is ok. Not everything that is sanctioned by your culture or religion is ok if you are in a postion to wield moral, political, and even secular authority over society by the power of your personal example. If I need to break down the symbolic disaster of Sanusi’s action to you, then you are not a worthy addressee of this treatise. Grow a brain.
Let us return to the West. Their adult daughters commonly marry at 18. Many obtain permission to marry even younger. But it must be said that many of such ladies marry men closer to their own age. Of course, in Hollywood and other celebrity spaces, it is common for 70 year-old libidinous Western men to marry 18-year-old trophy wives. Don’t be surprised if Hugh Hefner of Playboy Magazine shows up with an 18 year-old playmate next year. But the West as a society has attained a level of advancement in so many spheres – especially education and human capital development – that they can afford certain luxuries, indulgences, and stupidity that should not even be in the contemplation of desperately poor, desperately backward, and desperately underdeveloped societies.
Generation after generation of northern leadership has continued to ensure that the said region is one of the worst basket cases of underdevelopment in Africa. The other day, another younger brother of mine, Chxta Bee, was referencing a 1991 lecture by the famous Dr. Bala Usman in which he holds northern leadership exclusively responsible for the north’s condition. I am even tempted to borrow a leaf from Walter Rodney and write a book: How Northern Leaders Underdeveloped the North. In this desperate 21st century, the only symbolic message that should be coming out of the mouths and actions of northern leaders is: development, development, development, catch up, catch up, catch up.
The said development and catch up should be envisioned with the north’s immense agricultural resources which should be massively industrialized and not with a parasitical dependence on oil money and the national cake in Abuja. That envisioning should include the massive education of women. They should be encouraged and given the means to stay in STEM all the way to the doctoral level. The body language of the northern establishment should be: we want to flood Nigeria with female engineers, medical doctors, architects, nuclear scientists, agricultural scientists, etc. Not marry them at 18 just because we can!
I repeat: no matter the urgency of your libido, you should not give the impression that you want to be marrying them off at 18 just because it is legal and your culture and religion sanction it.
If you come to the issues I have raised here screaming that 18-year-old girls can always do all these things in their husbands’ houses, I will take a coconut and crack it on your unteachable head. I have no time for nonsense today.
Pius Adesanmi, PhD (UBC, Vancouver)
African Literatures and Cultures
Department of English Language & Literature
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada.
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