#FreeEse: Child marriage and the outcomes of cultural disrespect

Yesterday, the Punch published a report about the abduction and forced marriage of 14-year-old Ese Oruru. According to The Punch, “In August 2015, Ese, then 13, was abducted by one Yinusa and taken to Kano, where he converted her to Islam and married her.” The Punch also reports that Ese’s mother, Mrs. Rose Oruru, journeyed to Kano in an effort to get her daughter back, but returned to Bayelsa empty handed.

According to an unnamed source in the Punch report, the primary reason for not releasing the girl is because she voluntarily converted to Islam and had been married to her alleged abductor. I found this marriage excuse for abetting an act of criminality rather repugnant. It stinks! Every member of the community involved in the process should be made to face the law.

Let’s speak about how marriages are contracted across most of the South South of Nigeria.

Marriage is a multi-step process, including first a “knocking of door”, where the groom’s family officially visit the bride’s to indicate their interest in a young lady. This is where the bride’s family gives a yes or no answer to the proposal.

Once a yes vote is received, the family of the bride will have a list of gifts issued to the groom’s family. A second (smaller) meeting is then held, where the bride-price and list is accepted. A gift giving ceremony may be held along with the traditional marriage, or held as a separate ceremony.

These many steps ensure a marriage is contracted between two families, and not between two young people. Most churches would not even conduct a Christian marriage without the couple having first fulfilled the traditional rites.

In the case of Ese Oruru, this established marriage process was grossly ignored. The acceptance of a marriage between Mr Yinusa “Yellow” and Ese, a minor, without due consultation with her family, by the Sharia Council in Kano doesn’t just show a miscarriage of law and justice, but deeper disrespect and possibly disdain for the culture of Ese’s people.

This abduction for marriage case speaks to deeper issues of disregard for other cultures, something the Emir of Kano has recently accused “Southerners” of. I expect there should be respect for the fact that where Ese comes from, they do not consider a girl ready for marriage until much later in life?

In what world is it permissible for a young man to show up with a young woman and marry her without questions asked? Who are the parents of the man, and how could they accept a child brought as a wife from distant lands, without seeking to meet her parents? How is this different from the abduction and forced marriage of the Chibok girls and other unfortunate young women by Boko Haram? It has also been reported by the police that the case may possibly be that of elopement. In which case, the child is a minor, and according to the constitution, her marriage should be null and void, and she should have been immediately returned to her parents. The adult man should also have been arrested and charged for trafficking.

That the guards at the emir’s palce reportedly refused Ese’s mother the right to meet with her daughter also shows a deep disdain. Even where a culture exists, intermarriage is known as the ultimate catalyst for cultural compromise, no?

So far, the Inspector General of Police, Sunday Arase, has said only the Emir has the power to release the girl. The Emir on the other hand has stated he’d already ordered the release of the girl, with a letter to prove it. Is the culture of Kano superior to the Ijaw culture from Bayelsa, so much that a child is taken from the parents without permission – with attempts to get said child back being refused for cultural reasons?

This development leaves deep, complicated questions unanswered. For example, what is the role (and possible complicity) of the police in this matter? Is the culture of Kano superior to the constitution. I say culture because in my understanding of Islam, a woman cannot be married without parental consent, hence even by Islamic interpretations, there was no marriage between Ese and Yinusa.

It’s also important to note that the abduction preceded the alleged conversion. It is also imperative to ask if proselytizing to a minor, with a view to conversion, without parental consent is allowed. (I have deliberately decided to not discuss the suspicion that the girl was taken under the influence of marabout’s charms.)

I’m glad that Ese’s parents are keeping their head up, and seeking a legal resolution, while clearly expressing they don’t want this case to degenerate into a tribal issue. But it probably would be, if the authorities do not act decisively. We cannot build a united Nigeria, if we don’t all respect our diverse cultures and customs.

Unfortunately, even if Ese is released, the emotional trauma may never leave her. Should the marriage be successfully annulled, but her abductor had, God forbid, consummated the marriage, the statutory rape remains. Will justice be done, having seen how the entire community collaborated to protect the abductor and the unholy union? A child would have been defiled on the altar of cultural superiority.

On oil theft, NOI and GEJ should stop being naive

In 1992, a Glencore oil trader got off the plane in Lagos with a briefcase filled with millions of dollars. His mission: meeting with a Niger Delta strongman who had promised a secure delivery of an endless flow of stolen sweet crude.

Late that evening, the strongman appeared at the hotel, and the drinks flowed around over the business discussion. The terms were great – the strongman will divert oil from an NNPC pipeline to a moored barge, modified to carry oil, and transfer same to Glencore tankers. The NNPC and Shell security had all been bribed, so everything is in place for a smooth deal.

For financials, the oil will be delivered to Glencore at 1/3 of market prices, making for an all round beautiful deal, cash and carry.

The oil trader paid a little over $2m in cash and the oil bunkerer left with a promise to call the next morning. He never did. The money disappeared with the strongman, and the oil trader simply became a private man who lost cash to a Nigerian 419er; at least that is the story that the authorities heard.

Following that ‘unfortunate’ incident, oil traders buying stolen crude from Nigeria have become more careful, and tried to make the transactions less risky. Startibg from 80,000 barrels a day in 1992, billions of dollars worth of stolen crude have left Nigeria in the last decade at ridiculously sub-market prices.

To fix the aberration, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan (aka GEJ) went on CNN to appeal to the international community to help break the trade in stolen crude oil. He has recently been followed on that route by Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

I see GEJ’s point. As long as people are willing to buy stolen goods, then people are going to be willing to steal and sell. But what has the Nigerian government done to fix problem of oil theft internally before trying to fix the behemoth that is the international oil black market?

Has our government for example, tried to masquerade as oil theives to sell crude in the black market? That would have allowed them to find out who the buyers are, at least at a very basic level.

A market exists for stolen crude because the product exists at cheap prices. Stolen oil is sold at about 1/3 or 1/4 the market price. Because there’s no regulatory encumbrances, taxes or loading fees, no union obstructions or levies, the product becomes even more profitable.

Once out of ‘port’, the oil traders only need to fix up the papers to regularize the product, and they could either put the product in the long market to be sold and resold hundreds of times before delivery, or just head to Ghana to refine the oil. Yes, a huge amount of Nigeria’s stolen crude heads to Ghana to be refined.

To find stolen crude, outside of the sale point, is rather difficult. But forensics could help. For one, crude is not just crude – over 200 types of oil exist, depending on where the oil was drilled, each with distinct signatures.

In order to refine a particular kind of oil, the refinery must be calibrated to match that type of oil. So a refinery setup to refine Bonny Light, one of Nigeria’s sweet crudes, cannot refine Saudi heavy oils without some heavy industrial surgery – an expensive, time consuming operation which is in no way profitable.

Hence, one could easily identify refineries where Nigerian crude is refined. Theoretically, by comparing delivered cargoes to NNPC documents, one could separate legal cargo from any extras, but the oil industry has never been straight forward, so I doubt that would work.

So we are left with one more option: police action. The price of oil, as with most commodities is set by the availability of supply, stability of the source and risk. If oil theft thrives on the availability of cheap premium crude oil, then in theory, if the risk of obtaining the oil increases, and availability is uncertain, then prices will rise.

How do you cause prices to rise? Security forces. If our navy can’t handle it, we could get help or hire private forces – Israel, US or South Africa would do, shoot down a few illegal bunkering operations, sink a ship (oh wait, that’s environmental disaster) – shoot down the ship’s crew as soon as the oil changes hands. Once it becomes too risky to supply or receive stolen crude, the market will disappear. We have seen this work with Somali pirates.

But we can now come to reality. The illegal oil trade is not controlled by rogue militants out to line their pockets and theirs alone. They pay ‘taxes’ to corrupt security agents in the army, navy and police. They bribe NNPC staff and sometimes are bankrolled by politicians. Whole ships have been known to disappear from the custody of our navy, and captured oil shippers have become subject of international diplomatic arm twisting, in which Nigerian officials always give in.

So there we are. The illegal oil market exists because supply is there. Supply exists because our government lets it exist. Our government lets it because officials are benefitting from the trade, and even when they don’t, they are too inept to understand the trade, let alone stop it.

So I have no time for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or Goodluck Jonathan’s tears on CNN. You can’t go asking the international community to stop the trade of illegal crude oil, when you have done nothing locally to break that market. If the international community could not stop the trade of conflict diamonds through the Kimberly Process, who says it can fix oil theft? Again, those countries have problems of their own, and shouldn’t be bothered by Nigeria’s latest troubles. Most importantly, the countries the Nigerian government is appealing to have energy needs to meet, so if illegal oil helps them solve energy problems, what is the incentive to stop the trade?

Not too long ago, Nigeria’s Federal Government signed a deal with a former militant commander to take over the security of oil installations in order to reduce oil theft. So far that has not worked out. The theft has increased. One simply cannot keep complaining about the missing cheese, while the rat stands guard over the locker.

So dear NOI and GEJ, the leak is your problem to solve. Stop whining and do your bloody jobs.

The farmer and the burning farm

A millet farmer, living on the edge of the dry Sahel decided to burn his field after a harvest. He had had a particularly large harvest, and the dry millet stalks piled sky high, towering over his home, which was at the edge of the farm.

Late in the day, as the sunset cast dark shadows around his home, he lighted a dry branch, stuck it into the smaller piles of chaff, striding around the harvested field as he did so. One after the other, each heap of dry millet stalks was set afire. Then the man, with great ceremony, set fire to the largest heap of them all. There was a great roar, as the giant heap went up in flames, lighting up the early night sky, as the sun was in its final descent beyond the end of the sky.

There was a great fire. The fire was so bright, it looked like daylight. The man then thought, the fire is so bright; why don’t I save some of my oil, and use this light to eat dinner? So he went into his home, which was now very warm, a welcome change from the harmattan cold. His wife and son were already making the evening meal by the light of the roaring fire, which looked very bright indeed. It was better than his bush lantern, and the family was happy that they were saving their oil. They made a great meal and ate with no small amount of joy.

Heavy with the evening meal, the man and his family lay down on the grass mat in the middle of their home and fell into a deep, warm sleep, contented in the warmth of their home.

Deep into the night, a great wind blew. It was a terrible wind, because it blew the glowing embers of smoldering branches back into a burning fire. Some of the grass and chaff, which had not caught fire in the evening were blown into the air, and caught fire too. Some of the flying grass, burning red in the windy night, landed on the grassy roof of the farmer’s home. In no time, the farmer’s home had been burned to the ground, and no one had come running out of it.

The morning after the fire, the farmer woke up in the afterlife. He was very angry. He was angry because he had lost his home, his wife and his son. He was angry that he had made a fortune in the harvest, but because of the fire, he was not going to enjoy that fortune. Angered as he was, he went before the Creator, demanding justice for the fire.

After much thought, the Creator asked that the fire be brought before him to answer for itself. The great fire, which had burned the night before, was brought before the Creator, and before the great throne, was accused of burning the farmer’s home, and in doing so, murdering the farmer, his wife and his son.

The fire, afraid for its fate, thought for a long moment, it’s raging tongues now nearly still. Deep from its thoughtful belly, the fire murmured, saying it was the wind that lifted it to the farmer’s roof. The fire said it had no will of its own, and only burned where it is placed.

The Creator was impressed by the wisdom of the fire’s defense. The fire may as well have been innocent, the Creator thought. So he ordered that the wind be brought before Him. It took a long time to catch the wind, which indeed could not be caught, but out of respect for the Creator, the wind agreed to appear to defend itself.

Like the fire before it, the wind protested its innocence, saying that it blows where it pleases, and was not to blame for what he carries. In the case of the fire, the wind said it cannot be blamed for the fire, because it did not start it. The wind told the Creator and his assembly that it met the embers already glowing when it passed through the field. The wind also said that the Creator can only find the guilty if he found who started the fire.

The all wise Creator nodded in contentment. He was glad that the wind he had created was able to reason with such wisdom. Rising from his throne, he asked with a solemn voice: who started the fire?

The farmer, staring at his feet, did not say anything.

The Creator, to show the farmer who was guilty, said to all “a man who starts a fire must take care, lest it burns his own home”.

I grew up reading Achebe, whom I greatly respect, admire and regard as Africa’s greatest story teller. I have read his latest story, and I’m still gathering my thoughts on the subject. Respect must be paid though, for him bringing us back to where we are discussing history, whatever our conclusions from that discourse may be.

On the subject of the core of Achebe’s Story, specifically on the origins of the war, I have thought it over, and I thought to deal with it the way Achebe would – tell a story.

These are my thoughts on Achebe, Biafra and ’66