Mass Wedding Controversy in Nigeria

Amb Rasheed Akikuolie

Rasheed Akinkuolie

The planned mass wedding of 100 orphans in Niger State of Nigeria has resulted in an unfolding mild drama, between the Nigerian Minister of Women Affairs, Madam Uju Kennedy Ohaneye and the Speaker of Niger State House of Assembly. The Minister has threatened to take court action to stop the marriage ceremony, if it is proved that the girls are minors and forced into the marriage without their consent.

Marriage of early teenage girl child, could pose an extremely serious medical condition for the child bride during child delivery. The most common effect is the development of  Vesico-vaginal Fistula (VVF) disorder, especially, if the reproductive system is not fully developed to carry a baby.

This would lead to permanent incontinence or lack of ability to control urine flow from the body. This serious condition could be life threatening and result in ostracization from the society.

Secondly, marriage at a very early age could take the bride out of school and with it, a lifelong handicap associated with illiteracy, ignorance and poverty.

In Nigeria, cultural and religious differences influence marriage practices. In Northern Nigeria, where the majority of the people are Muslims;   mass or combined weddings are often organized for matured daughters,   even at the family level, if there are many of them. It convenient, time saving and will minimize the cost of organizing multiple marriages at different times.

There are compelling reasons for mass weddings in Northern Nigeria today. The Boko Haram insurgency has claimed the lives of thousands of young men, displaced millions of people from towns and villages and dislodged farmers from farm lands. This has disorganized the society, making the normal process of organizing marriages between two consenting mature man and woman difficult. This system may return at a more auspicious time.

Meanwhile, mass wedding of this kind will enable the young women involved to have shelter, protection, food and a home to raise children, even if the arrangement is not perfect.

The  Honorable Minister, who is a Christian from the South East of Nigeria, where marriage is a big lavish personal event for the family and bride, may be shocked at the idea of wedding 100 couples at the same event. Her responsibility now is to ensure that the girls are not too young for marriage and those,  who are still in school must be allowed to continue with their education. Those who are not, should be enrolled in schools or sponsored to learn a trade in a vocational school.

Nigeria is facing a major problem of out of school children, which has  affected the  girl child more in Northern Nigeria, due to early marriages.

This existential problem must be solved holistically and expanded to cover the entire country, so that the 15 million out of school children are compulsorily enrolled in schools, as their constitutional rights  And it is cheap, compared to the cost of fighting crimes and poverty induced by lack of education.

Teenage girls from Nigeria, have made the country and Africa proud,  by their outstanding performances in international educational competitions. The best performers in the regional West African Examination Council Examinations ( WAEC) and the National JAMB examinations have consistently been girls. These bright children otherwise, would have been lost to the nation in early marriages .

The Honorable Minister of Women Affairs in collaboration with federal and state governments should collectively fight the scourge of out of school children in Nigeria, to avoid aggravating the country’s already precarious social, security and economic situation.

Mass weddings are not exclusive to Nigeria. It is also practiced on a much grander scale in other countries, but in different circumstances. The mass wedding of 11,600 couples in a church in South Korea is one of the highest of its kind in the world.  The couples, actually had a few days to meet and know each other.  And they have  lived happily thereafter , with less than 0.5 % divorce cases.


*Ambassador Rasheed Akinkuolie was Nigeria’s Consul in Cameroon and former Director of Trade and Investments, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abuja-Nigeria