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Niger mass wedding: Minister, Speaker roast media, promise post-wedding care

The Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, has blamed the media for allegedly escalating the initial controversy surrounding the mass wedding of 100 orphaned girls in Niger State, saying, “I did not intend to stop the marriage but to be sure that the girls are of marriageable age and were not being forced into it.”

Continuing, she noted that “Every parent will want to marry out her wards if they attain the right age for marriage. The initial opposition to the planned marriage was misunderstood, hence the media war between my office and the Speaker’s.”

While thanking the Speaker for the way the issue was resolved, the minister promised that the girls would be closely monitored in their various husbands’ houses so that the objectives of the empowerment scheme would not be defeated.

In his remarks, the Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, said it was regrettable that his intention to support the marriage of the 100 girls was politicised.

He said, “It was pure politics from my constituency. They misinformed the minister that I am playing politics with the lives of the children by forcing them into marriage.

“And the minister, because of her passion for women and the girl child, quickly waded into the matter even though she could not find out the true position of things and the media began to amplify the whole matter.

“But thank God, today, I have been vindicated. The minister and the whole world have seen that these girls are of marriageable age and nobody is forcing them into it. It is being done with their consent.

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“I decided to support the marriage out of genuine concern for these girls, the majority of whom are orphans as a result of the insecurity in my constituency. It was with a pure heart.”

This is even as the minister, on Thursday, announced scholarships and gave various gift items to the 100 orphaned girls, ahead of their mass wedding today (Friday).

The mass wedding is being sponsored by Sarkindaji.

The minister had kicked against the mass wedding of the young girls, saying it was a violation of the Child Rights Act.

At the initial stage, Kennedy-Ohanenye, who addressed a Press conference in Abuja, disclosed that she had petitioned the Inspector General of Police to stop the wedding, adding that she had also filed a lawsuit, seeking an injunction to restrain the Speaker from going ahead with the mass wedding.

In response, the Speaker lambasted the minister for “dabbling into a religious and cultural issue” she did not understand.

He said the minister acted without first making any effort to understand the circumstances that confronted the girls, which made it necessary for their weddings to be sponsored.

The Speaker also received the backing of the Niger State Council of Imams and the Muslim Rights Concern, which both warned the minister to steer clear of the mass wedding, which they insisted must proceed as scheduled.

After resolving their differences, the minister, represented by her Special Assistant on Private Sector, Adaji Usman, announced scholarships for the girls and also promised them other items, such as clothes and foodstuffs.

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The items were given out to the 100 young girls at the palace of the Emir of Kontagora, Mohammed Muazu.

The minister, through Usman, presented 10 PoS machines, 100 wrappers and 350 bags of 10kg bags of rice.

She announced a scholarship to university level for any of the girls who wish to go to school.

Also, the Emir of Kontagora announced the donation of a sewing machine to each of the girls.

Kennedy-Ohanenye also directed that bank accounts be opened for all the 100 intending brides where a stipend will be sent to them for the next six months to enable them to settle down in their husbands’ houses.

Bridget Benson
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