Sunday 24th September, 2017
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Quiet please, National Assembly is speaking!

Quiet please, National Assembly is speaking!

It is referred to as hallowed chambers which means it should be held in awe and those who are privileged to sit there should conduct themselves in the highest of standards to pre­serve its hollowness. But it appears its sanctity is being breached and people no longer accord it that reverence as the highest law mak­ing body in the land; not when its leader has been herded into the accused box like a common crim­inal, docked before a law court on charges bordering on corruption. In this part of the world though, graft charges are viewed more or less as political crimes rather than serious theft. That is why I sup­pose, Mr. Senate President is yet to step aside as happens in oth­er western democracies where a mere allegation instantly leads to the accused voluntarily resign­ing. Here in Nigeria, the accused is not only presumed to be inno­cent but still held in high esteem and even ‘worshipped’ until pro­nounced guilty by the court.
Nevertheless, any foreigner, indeed anybody for that matter, watching a debate on the floor of the National Assembly for the first time last week would proba­bly think the country is still in the Stone Age.
So if our senators are very much aware of this, why are they wasting time, energy and re­sources enacting a legislation on a rather tribal and trivial is­sue like” tribal facial marks” that is dying a natural death? I mean, there are loads of national, more important matters pressing for their attention.
Titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to pro­vide for the Prohibition of Facial Mutilation, Offences, Prosecu­tion and Punishment of Offend­ers’ , it was sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye, representing Kogi West who himself does not have facial marks. None of the senators that spoke on the matter has any facial marks except senator Olu­sola Adeyeye who showed off the marks on his hands which I be­lieve is not what this bill is refer­ring to, it not being a facial mark.
Our senators hinged reasons for the proposed bill on three planks .First, they delved into why people of olden times in­dulged children with facial marks which was chiefly for identifica­tion – an issue that is now over­taken with evolution of various more modern means of identifi­cation. It was also said that facial marks were to lay credence to pa­ternity. Again this is also outdated with emergence of DNA testing.
Thirdly, they talked of the psy­chological and medical effects associated with it. Said Melaye, “Some of them have developed low self-esteem and most imes treated with scorn and ridicule including rejection by the female folks.
Many of the grown adults have confessed that the most terrific debacle of their lives is their trib­al marks. Some have become ‘eu­nuchs’ because of this sigma”.
The psychological effect is true especially in childhood and teen­age years when they poke fun at you but not in adult years as adults behave more maturely towards you. I can cite myself as an exam­ple with my squint eyes (half past four eye).
It is not altogether true that persons with facial marks are ‘rejected by the female folks’ or vice versa. After all, physically challenged persons of both sex­es do have robust relationships and marry, how much more an able-bodied person? According to the sponsor of this bill which has now passed its second read­ing, “sharp instruments used by locals were not sterilised leading to risk of AIDS, including Hepati­tis B and C”. It is food for thought that in bygone years when lacerat­ing children for tribal marks was quite common, AIDS was literally unknown then. I am not support­ing this practice. I totally agree
that it is harmful and a denial of rights of a child. But there are other similarly harmful tradi­tional practices still being under­taken in parts of the country to-date, why are our distinguished senators not focussing on them too? Why single out only tribal marks? For example, there is fe­male circumcision a.k.a. female genital mutilation which basi­cally denies the girl enjoyment of love making or are we saying she has no right to enjoy the act? What about dehumanising prac­tices that are foisted on widows in some parts of the country, such as sleeping with their husbands’ corpses for days, drinking water used in bathing the corpses and shaving their hairs? All of these apart from demeaning and low­ering self-esteem like tribal marks are also similarly fraught with health hazards.
And talking about legislating against tribal facial marks in or­der to protect the rights of the child as the senators say, there are a plethora of other rights of the child that are being trampled on everyday with our lawmak­ers looking the other way, so to speak. Among those that readi­ly come to mind are the Alma­jiri syndrome, child begging and hawking, withdrawal of girl chil­dren from school for marriage. Also, the nation still has not achieved a 100 per cent school enrolment rate which means there are children of school age that are still not in school.
Ikeano writes via: vikeano@yahoo.co.uk

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