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Tinubu's aide condemns planned mass wedding of orphaned girls in Niger

President Tinubu’s Senior Special Assistant on Community Development, Abiodun Essiet, has expressed serious concerns about the planned mass wedding of 100 orphaned girls in Niger State.

The Speaker of the Niger House of Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkin-Daji, recently announced his intention to marry off orphaned girls who lost their parents due to banditry attacks in the Mariga Local Government Area as part of his constituency project on May 24.

Sarkin-Daji said it was part of his support to his constituents following an appeal for wedding funding by local traditional and religious leaders.

This comes just days after President Tinubu launched the #WeAreEqual campaign to promote inclusive education, skill development, and gender equity.

The campaign, launched in 15 African countries in different iterations, focusing on health, education, economic empowerment, and gender-based violence, contradicts the proposed mass wedding.

Essiet, in a statement on Thursday, said Sarkin-Daji, through his media interviews, has successfully instigated traditional and religious leaders against the federal government’s position on underage marriage under the Child Rights Act 2003.

She noted that “Let children be children” and “I stand against child marriage.”

The presidential aide also raised concerns about potential hypocrisy: “The speaker in his interview stated that his children are in the best private schools in Minna while he wants to marry underaged orphans of the poor people. My advice to the speaker is to marry off his underaged girls before conducting the mass marriage of underaged orphans,

“I am not against conducting marriage for orphans above 18 years of age if they give their consent to the marriage but I am against underage marriage.

“When senior state officials hide under the cloak of religion or culture to embark on policies and programs that exploit the economically handicapped, increase poverty, and deepen ignorance, they are only fueling the prevailing inequality and weaponizing poverty in our country.”

She disclosed that she has been in touch with the speaker, the local government chairman, some of the girls, the Governor of the state, and other traditional and religious stakeholders on this issue.

Essiet added that she has offered to empower these girls and also capture them in federal government programs which were communicated to the speaker and the local government chairman.

The Niger State Imam Forum, according to her, has vowed to go ahead with the marriage plan on grounds that it- does not contravene any sections of the Nigerian constitution or teachings of Islam.

She also noted that her team have been to Bobi, Shadadi and Banji communities in Mariga local government, Niger state, where the orphans live and we discovered that some of the orphans are underage and dropped out of school at JSS 3 and SS 1

However, It is important to note that Sarkin-Daji has recently denied forcing 100 orphaned girls into marriage as part of his constituency project.

Sarkin-Daji, speaking at a press conference in Minna on Tuesday, said the marriage story was untrue and mere speculation.

Sarkin-Daji said he was approached by religious and traditional leaders in his constituency to support less privileged parents, whose children were due for marriage.

“They appealed for my support on behalf of the less privileged parents whose children are of maturity age with suitors of their choice but cannot afford marriage expenses.

“They wanted my support and I felt that instead of allowing the girls to fall into fornication because of the marriage expenses, I decided to respect the appeal and support them,” he said.

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