ABUJA: Egypt’s embassy in Nigeria said Thursday a 13-year-old girl at the center of claims that a Nigerian senator had taken the minor as his fourth wife is still at school in Egypt.
The senator, Ahmed Sani Yerima, 49, meanwhile denied in an interview with the BBC that the girl was 13 and said that as a Muslim he had not broken any law by marrying the teenager.
"The girl is still in school in Egypt and nobody has complained to the embassy in respect of the girl," Egyptian embassy spokesman Mohamed Saber told AFP.
He said however that the embassy "will follow the issue" because it is illegal in Egypt to marry an underage girl.
A report by the Associated Press, however, claimed that 30 members of the girl’s family attended the ceremony at the National Mosque in Nigeria, the human rights commission said. It’s unclear who else attended the wedding. Ustaz Musa Mohammed, the chief imam of the National Mosque, could not be reached for comment.
Under child protection laws enforceable in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, a woman must be 18 before being able to consent to marriage. However, those laws aren’t enacted in all of Nigeria’s 36 states and activists say child brides have been married off in Muslim communities after their first period.
The Nigerian senate on Wednesday ordered an inquiry after claims by rights groups that Yerima had paid a dowry of $100,000 to marry the girl.
Women’s groups protested outside parliament on Tuesday to urge the senate to investigate the claims.
In a telephone interview from Egypt with the BBC’s Hausa service on Thursday, Yerima defended himself.
"I don’t care about the issue of age since I have not violated any rule as far as Islam is concerned," he said, describing those complaining as "detractors".
"History tells us that Prophet Mohamed did marry a young girl as well. Therefore I have not contravened any law. Even if she is 13, as it is being falsely peddled around."
A petition delivered to the senate by the rights groups said the marriage violated Nigeria’s Child Rights Act of 2003 forbidding marriage with anyone under 18. Violators face up to five years in jail.
It said Yerima "is in the habit of marrying minors and has gained notoriety in enticing girls to marry him, having contracted (a marriage) in 2006 with a 15-year-old girl called Hauwa’u, who the senator allegedly caused to drop out of school, as his fourth wife".
It claimed the senator divorced Hauwa’u, when she was 17 and nursing his child, so that he could marry the Egyptian.
The petition urged the senate to investigate the allegations and to establish the name of the child-bride, her age and the circumstances of her entry into Nigeria.
Yerima was governor of Nigeria’s northwestern state of Zamfara when it became the first of 12 Muslim-dominated northern states to introduce Sharia law in 2000.
The National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons on Wednesday ordered the senator to appear before it to answer the allegations.