Senator Akin Odunsi (ACN-Ogun) said on Monday in Abuja that the the Nigerian Senate did not at any time vote in favour of underage marriage.
Odunsi said this at an interactive session with members of the senate press corps.
The Senate had been criticised by various groups following its vote to retain clause 4b in Section 29 of the 1999 Constitution after the Constitution Review Committee recommended that it be deleted.
Clause 4b states that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
Odunsi said: “a lot of Nigerians are not getting the story correctly; the present constitution we are amending has that clause in it.
“Constitution review committee brought their report to the senate chamber; the recommendation was that it should be deleted.
“When we took the first vote, it was passed that underage marriage should be expunged.
“What I believe is that most Nigerians do not appreciate that it has already been existing in the constitution,’’ Odunsi said.
According to him, 60 out of 95 voted for the removal of underage marriage from our constitution while 35 voted for it to be retained and by the rules we need 73 votes.
The lawmaker said that in a democracy, especially with regards to constitution amendment, a certain number of votes were required and the senate did not meet that requirement.
But in another reaction, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, representing Ondo Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, on Monday in Akure wept publicly, saying he voted in error for under age marriage.
Akinyelure, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Petitions, was one of the senators who reportedly voted for the removal of Section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution.
The section states that a girl must be 18 years of age before marriage.
The lawmaker, however, told members of the Labour Party in the state that he failed to understand the issue and that his vote was a misrepresentation on his part.
According to the senator, there is no way he could have voted in support of child marriage because “it is against our culture and customs”.
“What the Senate considered for determination under the review of Nigerian Constitution was renunciation of citizenship under the Nigerian Constitution contained under Section 29 (4b).
He said this section provides that, “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.
“It is worthy of note that full age has been defined under Section 29 (4a) to mean the age of 18 years and above.
“Section 29 (1) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that: “Any Citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for renunciation.
“The question for which I voted in favour was that whether a married woman is deemed to be of full age to renounce her Nigerian citizenship and not whether a woman can marry before attaining the age of 18 years?
“This is quite different from voting in favour of Under Age Marriage as widely reported in the media to blackmail senators that believed in the peaceful co-existence of Nigeria as a Nation.
“I submit this clarification to the whole Nigeria and the World at large that I, my people in Ondo Central and government of Ondo State did not support under age marriage in all ramifications.
“Therefore, my voting ‘NO’ was in clear error of misinterpretation and I had no opportunity to correct what is deemed to be my error now because voting was done electronically.
“If voting were to be done by show of hands, I would have been able to correct my error before the voting was concluded by the Senate,” he said.
The senator, who was the only lawmaker from the Southwest who voted in favour of child marriage, was summoned by leaders of his party in the state over his role in the matter.
Akinyelure promised that since the proposal will still pass through the 36 State Houses of Assembly and the House of Representatives, he would make sure it does not become part of the amendments.
Women leaders across the six Local government Areas in the Ondo Central senatorial district had disowned the lawmaker and asked him to renounce his position.
The women leaders, Ade Ajiboye from Akure North, Iyabo Ojo from Ifedore, Fadoju Bunmi from Ondo East, Bimbo Bakare from Ondo West, Kikelomo Adeniyi from Idanre, unanimously described the amendment on child marriage as inhuman.
On why the senate voted against local government autonomy, Senator Odunsi said that giving local government’s autonomy would create another federating unit.
“The Nigerian federation has the states as a federating unit; it is argued that to give local governments autonomy will mean that we have created another federating unit in the federation.
“So, that will be in conflict with what we already have and I believe that is the main reason most senators voted against local government autonomy.’’
He said that the states assemblies needed to be strengthened in order to properly oversee the local governments.
He also spoke on the comment made by the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okogie, on the need to increase tuition fees in universities.
He said that increasing tuition was not the solution to the country’s education needs but strengthening the education system.
“I don’t believe that it is by increasing the cost of tuition that the standard will improve.
“Standards are falling for so many reasons; I don’t think that our education policy is on the right track.
“There was an education policy drafted years ago called 6-3-3-4. We are still operating it, but not in the spirit it was drafted.
“If it was in the true spirit, we will not have the millions of unemployed graduates in the country,’’ Odunsi said.
He said that the cost of education in the country was already on the high side, and there was no need for an increase.