Bashir Ahmad, a personal assistant on new media to President Muhammadu Buhari, controversially promised this week to help overturn a judgment prescribing jail term for Yunusa Dahiru, a man convicted for the abduction and forceful marriage of 14-year old Ese Oruru in 2015.
Backstory: In 2015, Yunusa Dahiru abducted then 14-year old Ese Oruru from her parents in Delta State and took her to his home state of Kano through coercion and deception.
- It was in Kano that Yunusa influenced the change of Ese Oruru’s religion to Islam from Christianity, purportedly married her, raped, and got her pregnant. (READ: Ese Oruru gives birth in Bayelsa)
- Following a national outcry, Dahiru was arrested and arraigned before the Federal High Court on five counts of criminal abduction, illicit intercourse, sexual exploitation, and unlawful carnal knowledge of a minor.
- On Thursday 21st of May, Justice Jane Inyang found him guilty of four of the five charges and sentenced him to a concurrent jail term that would see him spend nine years in prison.
Protest: Dahiru’s conviction, celebrated widely as justice for the girl-child, was denounced in some quarters by those who argued that the 14-year old had consented to the marriage.
- One of the online protesters calling for a repeal of the judgment reached out to Bashir Ahmad to ‘do something’.
- Responding in Hausa, Bashir, while denying his own personal ability to influence the judicial decision, promised to ‘contact’ those whom [he] think[s] ‘are capable’, implying that Yunusa is innocent.
- After a swift backlash, Bashir deleted the tweet and wrote an update claiming that he commented on the “saga without knowing and understanding the details of the case.” He further said, “eloping or rather, kidnapping a minor and forcing her to marry you shouldn’t be taken lightly. A condemnable act!”
Good… but: Bashir’s update is not the entire story.
- It does not address his promise to help overturn Yunusa’s conviction, his revelation of a relationship with persons capable of influencing a judicial decision in an assumed straightforward case. Since President Buhari’s 2015 election, there have been concerns of judicial independence and integrity. Bashir’s tweet resurfaced those concerns: Who are the people with links to Bashir with powers to overturn a verdict?
- His latest tweet also used the term “elope” which raises fresh problems. By including that word, Bashir seems to be implying that the incident was not an abduction but a choice by the 14-year old.
Why it matters: No matter how the story is spun, it looks terrible on Bashir, and raises more concerns about the quality of officials around the presidency. If Bashir believed in what he originally tweeted, it signifies support for abduction, rape and forced marriage. It also appears to confirm that there are people within the government with powers to influence court rulings. If Bashir’s update is to be believed, then the fact that he chose to promise wielding his influence on an issue before “knowing and understanding the details” also says a lot about the quality of officials in the presidency.
Postscript: A Federal Child Rights Act which was drafted to create a clear distinction between a child and an adult, and a defined minimum legal age for marriage is at the mercy of states for enforcement. 11 states, all in northern Nigeria, are yet to domesticate the act. Kano, which is home to both Yunusa Dahiru and Bashir Ahmad, is one of the states without child rights law.