Marriage of 4-year-old child to 54-year-old man in Bayelsa conducted to save toddler’s life — parents

The Dec. 26, 2023 marriage between a four-year-old ‘bride’ and a 54-year-old man in a Bayelsa community is a traditional rite to save the child’s life, according to her parents.

They claimed that the marriage, conducted in Akeddei community in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa, was a spiritual rite to ‘untie’ the duo who were betrothed in their “previous lives”. 

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) learnt that the girl’s parents, the 54-year-old man, traditional ruler and others, who participated in the marriage, were summoned by Bayelsa Government following a public outcry.

Parents of the ‘bride’ and three others on Thursday appeared before the state government’s Gender Response Initiative Team (GRIT) to explain their roles in the child marriage.

The government team comprised the Chairman of GRiT, Dr Dise Ogbise-Goddy and the Bayelsa State Coordinator of the Child Protection Network, Kizito Andah.

Others are the Chairman of Bayelsa Non Governmental Forum, Mr Taritei Boco and representatives of DO Foundation,  National Human Rights Commission and Civil Society Groups.

The team heard submissions from the father of the toddler, Mr Morris Aboma, the “groom”, Mr Akpos Napoleon and the Paramount ruler, Chief Moneyman Binabo.

In their separate submissions before the government team, they all insisted that the purported child marriage was a traditional practice termed “Koripamo” aimed to save the little girl’s life.

They explained that it was a cultural practice in Akeddei community, Oyakiri clan, that if a girl child always fell sick, a man would be required to drop a symbolic amount as token to save the little girl from dying.

The community representatives said that what transpired  between the little girl and Napoleon was not a marriage but an Ijaw cultural practice called ” Koripamo”. 

They further explained that whenever the traditional rite of “Koripamo” was conducted, the man who paid the token was not required to take the girl as a wife.

“The traditional rite  will also not stop the girl from marrying any man of her choice when she grows up to the age of marriage. 

According to the Ijaw tradition, this rite can be done on a boy child or girl child.

Father of the child, Aboma, who spoke in Ijaw language, said his daughter was always sick to the point of death.

He said that according to Akeddei tradition, the only way to save her life is for a man to pay a symbolic price and save the child’s life and that it had nothing to do with a real marriage. 

According to the “groom”, the outcry that trailed the rite is regrettable as all he did was just to save the child’s life as she is no longer sick again.

 He said that such tradition had been going on but it had not been elaborately celebrated with fanfare like the Dec. 26, 2023 event which drew widespread reactions and outrage.

“But since she says if I don’t do what she says she will die, I had to look for money and do it since it involves life; as it is, I am frustrated by this whole issue,” Napoleon lamented.

The paramount ruler of Akeddei community, Binabo said he heard of a marriage in the community during the festivities.

The traditional ruler said that he did not, however have full details, not until the DPO of Sagbama Police Station asked him to produce those that got married in the community.

Binabo further said he had to invite the parents of the little girl to get detailed information of what happened on the marriage day.

He said the parents told him that the little girl had been sick and that one Napoleon had to drop a symbolic amount.

He emphasised that what happened in Akeddei community was not a formal marriage but a fulfilment of a cultural practice.

He, however, said that what surprised him was the demand of the little girl for an elaborate ceremony involving foods, canopy and a sound system be hired to celebrate the marriage.

The paramount ruler noted further that the man  who paid the token on the girl was not expected to take her home to live as husband and wife, nor stop the girl from marrying any other person of her choice when she got old enough to marry.

On their parts, Andah and Boco said from the submission of the parents of the little girl, the ‘husband’ and the paramount ruler of Akeddei community, what happened was not a formal marriage but a cultural practice known as “Koripamo”.

The duo noted that from the information gathered, the little girl had not been sexually abused as confirmed by Dr James Omietimi  at  GRIT office and that the child was living a normal life with no  relationship with the 54-year-old.

Immediately after the meeting, Chairman of GRIT ,  Ogbise-Goddy stated that the  deliberation was frank and fruitful and promised to give further update on the matter.

She said that the Bayelsa Ministry of Women Affairs, Children and  Social Development and all stakeholders would review the situation and take a decision.

“Like I had stated earlier, the Bayelsa State Government is child-friendly and will do anything to  protect all the children of the state from any form of perceived abuse,” Ogbise-Goddy said