Nigerian news organs were filled with news of paedophilic content last week. In fact, one other website went the extra mile in reporting about the activities of some of the paedophiles in our midst.

Two interesting stories came out on the Elombah website. One was the story of one Harrison Eze who was reported to have forcefully had carnal knowledge of a minor and faced trial at an Abuja Magistrate court. Because he contravened Section 136 of the penal code, Harrison was remanded in a prison by the court. The other story had to do with a very free man who is presumably enjoying the carnal warmth and caresses of a minor. The story was about one Sani Yerima, a former governor of Zamfara State in Northern Nigeria and currently a serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The story had it that Senator Sani Yerima was married to a 13-year old Egyptian girl at the Abuja National Mosque three weeks ago. Apparently, the laws of Egypt forbade such bizarre union; hence the atrocity had to be performed in Nigeria.

Senator Yerima was reported to have divorced another wife, of about the same age, in order to marry the Egyptian pre-pubertal virgin. He paid the sum of $100,000 (about 15 million Naira) in order to have the object of his lust. It was also reported that Sani Yerima had been married and divorced many times in order to marry younger women. This development has apparently irked some members of the National Assembly who vowed to look into the issue as it violated the provisions of the Child Rights Act of Nigeria.

These are two ostensibly different scenarios. That both occurred in Northern Nigeria is irrelevant as child abuses abound in various parts of Nigeria. On the surface, the cases look dissimilar. Further introspection, however, would reveal an alarming pattern of similarities. Harrison Eze, from all indications, was an average Nigerian and hence could not afford the luxury of satisfying his morbid sexual interest, that of lust for young, innocent girls. Therefore, he attempted to achieve his goal the only way he knew best – rape. Sani Yerima on the other hand, coming from a more priviledged background and with uncontrolled access to state funds during his tenure as the chief executive of a state, had an unlimited war chest with which he could prosecute his deranged desire. Apparently, he has succeeded beautifully in doing this, so far.

However, let us consider a Harrison Eze with loads of money like Sani Yerima. It is very unlikely that he would have committed rape. He would have undoubtedly flaunted his sick wealth to achieve his abominable carnal desires, just like Sani Yerima. On the other hand, a Sani Yerima without the ill-gotten money at his disposal would most probably have acted like Harrison Eze did, that is, commit rape. Thus, it becomes obvious that Sani Yerima and Harrison Eze are birds of the same feather. They are both sick men, prototypes of the so many sick men, roaming the streets of Nigeria and preying on innocent young girls. Unfortunately, because of the inherent confusion and the tepid nature of the Nigerian nation as regards most issues, rights of children inclusive, Sani Yerima is a free man while Harrison Eze is languishing in prison.

Paedophilia is no doubt a mental illness and one whose perpetrators are sick men in need of urgent psychiatric assessment and help. Wikipedia defined paedophilia as “a psychological disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a sexual preference for prepubescent children.” In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), defined pedophilia as “a form of paraphilia in which a person either has intense sexual urges towards children, and experiences recurrent sexual urges towards and fantasies about children that they have either acted on, or cause distress or interpersonal difficulty.” It is widely accepted and known that the illness called paedophilia is common among people who commit child sexual abuse.

Psychoanalysis of paedophilia in the Nigerian context

No doubt, our very acquiescent culture and religions have amply aided the growth of peadophilia in our midst while poverty has created a strong enabling environment. So much has been documented about the strong influence of the Islamic religion with its open tolerance and what is tantamount to its encouragement of the abuse of females and children.

For example, the late Iranian cleric, Khomeini, in his book, “Tahrirolvasyleh”, 4th volume (Darol Elm, Gom, Iran 1990) stated thus: “A man can have sexual pleasure from a child as young as a baby. However he should not penetrate, sodomising the child is OK. If the man penetrates and damages the child then he should be responsible for her subsistence throughout her life. This girl, however does not count as one of his four permanent wives. The man will not be eligible to marry the girls sister.”

The absurd teaching further states that “It is better for a girl to marry in such a time when she would begin menstruation at her husband’s house rather than her father’s home. Any father marrying his daughter so young will have a permanent place in heaven.”

The obviously sick pre-occupation of spiritual leaders with sensual matters raises cause for concern. Again, evidences point to the practice of what amounts to paedophilia even in Arabia of old. Many Islamic sources (Bukhari, Ibn Hisham, Tabari, Ibn al-Athir, Ibn Sa’d, Ibn Hanbal, etc.) point to the fact that a favourite wife of the prophet Mohammed (Aisha) was betrothed to the him whilst aged 6 years. The relationship was said to have been consummated three years later.

The Catholic Church is still reeling from the damaging reports of atrocities committed by supposedly celibate priests all over the world. The current Pope faces strong accusation of shielding implicated priests from prosecution when he was the head of a certain mission. Apostle Paul of the Christian religion took his time and applied his extensive knowledge to refashion the practices of the Nazarenes into a modern and more acceptable religious practice, in the process incorporating pagan beliefs of the time to widen the acceptability of the new religion. He came out with the rather curious conclusion that celibacy remained the best option for gaining the kingdom of God. Realizing the extremeness of his view, he added a proviso – for those who could not, marriage to only one wife is acceptable. Never would Paul, in his wildest dream, have envisaged the atrocities being committed in the name of the mass opium he entrusted on the world. The Catholic priests are ravaging innocent children with the unending fire that seems to burn in their groins. Harrison Eze must have taken inspiration from these insane men of the robe.

While there is a complacency to view Sani Yerima’s outrageous act as just one demonstration of child marriage, it becomes more worrisome considering the enormous damages associated with such practices. Child marriage is a sore topic that still highlights the perennial state of under-development of the African continent. Nigeria probably trails behind such countries with strong Islamic/Arab influence like Niger (76.6%), Chad (71.5%), Mali (65.4%) with our unacceptable ratio of 43.3%. The strong influence of religion with this intrinsic paedophilic practice cannot be denied. The health consequences of such practices has been listed as including premature pregnancy, high maternal/infant mortality, severe health problems for the child bride including development of vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF) which in turns leads to other health problems, social rejection and abandonment and poverty. The socio-economic implications of the past time of the likes of Sani Yerima is really too great to count.

Pervading hunger in Nigeria has initiated a culture of tolerance to impunities directed against children. In particular, female children have been made objects of abuses, desecration and subjugation. Abiding poverty has forced hitherto upright parents into willing acquaintances in various forms of abuses to children, rape inclusive. The society has been brutalised either through acts like that committed by Harrison Eze or such as committed by Sani Yerima. It is perhaps a sad reflection of our level of moral growth and seriousness as a nation that someone like Sani Yerima could have been the chief executive of a state in Nigeria before and is still presently seating as an honourable Senator of the republic. And to the parents of the unfortunate Egyptian girl, the lure of lucre remains the only basis for their willingness to sell their daughter to slavehood, coupled with the legendary Arabic disdain for women ably entrenched inn their Sharia code.

Paedophilia or violent acts bothering on paedophilia in the form of rape again thrive in the Nigerian environment because of the permissiveness of our laws. Mention was made of the influence of Sharia law as an excuse for those reasonably suffering from mental illnesses in carrying out their nefarious activities. The Nigerian Penal Code has to contend with the influence of this rather powerful but unhealthy Sharia law. Thus, a state of confusion reigns in the land, wherein one judge is frowning at acts along this line and another is singing a different tune.

So, what is the way forward?

The way forward is to make a bold attempt to sort out the contradictions inherent in our laws. This is uppermost. I fully realize our entrenched hypocrisy when it comes to the issue of religion and the bigotry of those who profess to be our leaders. However, for Nigeria to move forward as a nation, certain structural anomalies would have to be shaken. For too long, religion has served as the basis for discord, division and death in Nigeria. It becomes extremely important for us to devise a system of governance that would be intolerant of religious bigotry. Religion should be a personal issue; it should not be an affair of the state. Commitment to qualitative and mass education of Nigerians could serve as the springboard for changing the current pervasive religious orientation in the country. Both from the Christian and Islamic point of view, our people have been too gullible for too long.

The other important aspect of our national life that calls for attention is the political process. Our political process has entrenched corruption as the king and has bred worms and vermin in the corridor of power. A system that could allow the emergence of ones like Sani Yerima as political leader manifests an alarming imperfection. A system that tolerates an ex-governor to spend $100,000 to purchase a slave from a foreign land leaves much to be desired. It would be sad if this anomaly is allowed to hold. It is rapidly becoming imperative for our political process to incorporate mental health assessments for our would-be leaders. The calibre of leadership that Nigeria has produced would happily snug in a well fortified mental sanatorium.

Our health care system also calls for a complete overhaul where Nigerians would have access to those basic facilities that are essential to sustain a healthy living. The provision of drugs and manpower alongside efforts to prevent communicable and non-communicable diseases are very important. Revamping our archaic mental health facilities would also do the country a world of good. This would allow the likes of Harrison Eze to partake of available facilities to cope with his illness. It would also help someone like Sani Yerima to be more useful to Nigeria.

Above all, eradication of poverty in the land seems to be the chief solution. This has to be combined with the creation of jobs for the citizens. Creation of job, meanwhile, can only be achieved where there is economic prosperity. The role of poverty in aiding and sustaining the intransigencies listed above cannot be over-emphasized. Poverty can only be eradicated in an environment where corruption has been tamed and leadership is focused and dedicated. In short, tackling the menaces of the likes of Sani Yerima and Harrison Eze is simply tackling the inherent problems and contradictions present in the Nigerian state. The antics of these two culprits remain a call to other Nigerians that the battle ahead is still ever formidable.