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‘Treating Inter-tribal marriages with disdain has long-term repercussions’

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Martins

The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria says since inter-tribal marriages, among other things, help to integrate citizens, build bridges and blend strengths against weaknesses, subjecting women that are in it to any form of discrimination is unfortunate. FIDA’s National Public Relations Officer, Eliana Martins, in this interview with ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, implores the Federal Government and her agencies to ensure that the country is rid of vagaries of discrimination, especially as it concerns inter-tribal marriages.

The House of Representatives in May last year endorsed double indigeneship for married women following the adoption of the report of a Bill for an Act to amend the Federal Character Commission (Establishment) Act, 2010. Despite that adoption, affected women are still being discriminated against in many ways. What are the available short and long-term reliefs?
The constitution is the highest law of the land and we must all be guided by it. As aforesaid, it clearly provides against discrimination on the basis of gender, place of birth, etc. Nigeria in 1985, also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination Against Women in 1985. Furthermore, the African Charter on People and Human Rights also prohibits all forms of discrimination. We can rely on all relevant laws to seek relief and enforce our fundamental rights.

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Though we sometimes have situations where laws seem to contradict each other, the constitution is supreme and any provision inconsistent with it becomes null and void. The legislature can also in their function synchronise all laws to harmonise them so the right spirit is not defeated. Where a lacuna exists, they cover such areas.

For instance, the Federal Character Commission (Establishment) Act, 2010, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria CAP F7, which gives Nigerian married women an option of indigeneship. The legislature amended Section 2 Part 11 of the Principal Act to state: “A married woman shall have the option to lay claim to her state or local government of origin for the purpose of implementation of the Federal Character formulae at the national level, or state as the case may be.”

Recourse, therefore, lies to the courts to enforce a breach of anyone’s fundamental rights.

The short-term reliefs are continuous engagements; dialogue and sensitisation of all stakeholders, and the encouragement of more of such appointments, while the long-term reliefs are public interest/class litigations. Women groups should go to court on issues of discriminations and let the court pronounce on it. Individual women affected can also go to court in their personal capacity such as in the case involving Justice Akon Ikpeme of the Cross River State Judiciary.

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The constitution provides that no one should be discriminated against by the reason of several factors including circumstances of birth, place of origin, state of origin, religion, gender, and so on. What is the best way for the Federal Government to end this abhorrent behaviour?
Discrimination no matter the basis is never a good thing; it is wrong and not progressive because it encourages divisiveness and disunity. Yet we find that our culture and traditional beliefs, including sometimes religion, have greatly helped to institutionalise different types and levels of discrimination, which negatively impact us.

Parity is fair as it brings with it an opportunity, peace and harmony, which are essential for growth and development. As a nation, we must desire this. The best ways to tackle and end this negativity is through the following ways for which everyone has a part to play.

One, the government must have the political will to address this matter clearly in a wholesome, focused and targeted manner, by deploying all its agencies and parastatals for all to be on the same page with it, and reviewing and checking imbalances to correct and ensure parity.

Second, there is need for advocacy and sensitisation across the board, aggressively pushing for a reorientation and change in values and attitude, and engaging all persons of influence and key stakeholders to support and help bring about a turnaround.

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Third, the media can also assist especially with investigative journalism, shedding light on areas of concern and default to force a change. Persons in authority such as parents, educational institutions can help change the narrative, re-orientate, educate to stop discrimination. Likewise, faith-based institutions and traditional leaders changing repugnant customs, rules and cultures.

The Chairman, Ondo Youth Coalition, Ademario Emmanuel, said it was “insulting” for a Rivers woman married to an Ondo man to be handed a non-ambassadorial appointment when prominent sons and daughters that could take up the appointment are abounding. What is your take on this?
This scenario pushes us very far back. But unfortunately, a lot of people feel like that hence the need for concern and concerted effort for change.

As a people, a statement like this goes to show our mindset and thinking. Particularly when expressed by a leader, and even sadder when representing and speaking for the youth, our future generation that must be progressive for the betterment of our great nation.

They should be propagating inclusiveness, unity and oneness, their keywords should be competence and capacity; merit, character and experience, rather than sentiments bordering on tribalism, state of origin and indigeneship.

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We do not want as a nation to regress therefore we must keep speaking out against any form of divisiveness, and this negative mindset. Let us educate and enlighten our people. Our laws mean well for us as a people, let us implement them objectively.

The world has greatly advanced and most people are building capacity using all available energy to advance and develop their nations. It is for this reason that Nigerians who have relocated abroad have worked hard and based on merit become heads and leaders of major corporations, mayors and councillors in foreign lands. If this is the norm, then why not so in Nigeria? All over the world now, racism is being fought. We must also fight all types and levels of discrimination in the country.

Society must embrace change; we desire development and progress, and so must acknowledge the full potential of our citizens by building capacity and allowing self-expression and actualisation. That we practice federalism and allow states to determine what should be applicable should not be used for mischief by states. Equity and justice must remain paramount in our actions.

What steps is FIDA taking to ensure that Governor Ben Ayade confirms Justice Akon Ikpeme as the state’s chief judge, in compliance with what the National Judicial Commission (NJC) ordered?
The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria had issued a statement condemning the action and calling on the Cross River State Governor, Sir Ben Ayade, to swear in Hon. Justice Ikpeme, as the Chief Judge of the State on the basis of seniority and merit.

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However, the matter is in court now and has become sub judice.

Beyond Cross River State, FIDA Nigeria has been in the forefront, using the instrumentality of the law to ensure that women in Nigeria are accorded their rightful place.

In addition, FIDA has embarked on sensitisation, advocacies to key stakeholders on the promotion and the protection of women’s rights in Nigeria, including carrying out capacity building, mediation and litigation etc.

Our message here is simple – the state of indigene cannot now be used against a judge, and we must not allow the issue of ethnicity and politics to be the deciding factor in the appointment of a chief judge. Once a judge is qualified and is recommended, he/she merits such an office having served diligently. Section 271(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) confirms this position and is further supported by our legal professional rules of practice.

The NJC must not, therefore, be intimidated by anybody, but must be allowed to do its work independently without political, ethnic colouration or undertones

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FIDA has addressed this issue nationally is that this challenge has been faced in several other states in Nigeria, to the point of calling on the Chief Judge of the Federation to intervene.

Considering the manner, which incidents like that involving Justice Ikpeme cut short the career of married women, would it be out of place for parents to caution their daughters to be wary of where they search for love?
Bearing in mind these dynamics, it may not be out of place for a parent to entertain such fears and to caution their daughters against inter-tribal marriages, explaining the dangers of discrimination as unfortunate as it sounds.

However, I advise against this, rather let us all join hands and stand up against any injustice; while instilling equity and social justice in all matters. Marriage should certainly not be based on tribe, but on mutual love, trust, respect and understanding.

As highlighted above, women as a matter of course, constantly experience all forms of discrimination. What is therefore important, is for us to understand that every human being deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and be accorded all rights recognised by law. As such, discouraging inter-tribal marriage is not the solution, but rather, eradicating all forms of discriminations against women in its entirety. We must practice this.

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Parents being key influencers have a role to play information and changing the mindset of children. This means if there is a concerted effort by parents to stop discrimination against women, it will be successful. This must include encouraging a change in attitude, change in mindset and orientation, an improvement on moral teachings that encourage parity. With this in place, we would be making tremendous progress in the right direction.

Many are of the view that sub-ethnic undertones that impact negatively on inter-tribal marriages also contribute to the absence of national harmony. Is it not the time for a national introspection?
Of course, the earlier the better for our beautiful country; because ‘though tongue or tribe may differ in brotherhood we stand.’ That is the vision we should cherish and hold dear.

Consequently, government and her agencies must be constantly monitoring and strategising to ensure that we move away from any form of individualism and self-preservation to patriotism and unity.

There is a need to change the mindset and reorientation and this must be consistent, targeted and focused. We should dwell more on what binds us together as a people. The government must check itself and correct itself so as to set the right example.

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Despite opposition from Ondo youths, the Senate last Wednesday confirmed Mrs. Nimi Akinkugbe as a non-career ambassadors-designate from Ondo State. How strong is this message from the National Assembly, and what lessons are there for Ondo State youths?
The lessons include the following: The Nigerian Constitution forbids discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnicity and so forth against any Nigerian citizen. So, we must move away from tribal sentiments and set good precedents in order to secure our unity as a nation, build bridges across states, which would eventually bind us together and help to grow our democracy.

Rather than being objects of discrimination, women who have found love outside their places of origin, having married and settled in other states and contributing immensely to the growth and development of the people, should be supported, welcomed, encouraged to succeed, accepted wholeheartedly and protected.

Women are industrious, hardworking and they often sacrifice for the benefit of their family and loved ones. When supported and encouraged, they positively project and contribute immensely to the development of the community. Furthermore, they act as mentors to others under their care, so, we must not discourage or frustrate them and their mentees in order for them to always give their best while contributing their own quota to the advancement of the states.

Beyond personal and tribal sentiments, let’s promote peace, equity, good conscience and justice. Uphold true democracy and meritocracy.

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