Mark said this when he received different women groups under the aegis of Gender and Constitution Reform Network (GECORN), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) who visited him.
Some of the women groups consist of former Ministers of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili, Josephine Anenih and Justice Mariam Uwais.
“They were simply blackmailed and on that day, if they didn’t do what they did, nobody knows the outcome or what the consequences will be today,” he said. “The people outside can say this man, you are a Muslim and you didn’t vote for something that is of Islamic interest.”
Mark said that it was the desire of the Senate to remove the clause since out of the 101 senators who voted the first time, 85 voted that it should be removed.
“There was hardly any dissenting vote the first time but once it got mixed up with so many other issues, it didn’t get the required 73 votes anymore,” he said.
He said that the castigation of the Senate by Nigerians was largely due to misunderstanding.
Mark reiterated that the Senate was on the side of the people and that was why the Constitution Review Committee had recommended the deletion of that clause since it was discriminatory against women.
We, in fact, were the first people that took the step in the right direction of deleting it,” he said. “It didn’t go through because of other tangential, total inconsequential and unconnected issues that were brought in on the floor of the senate.”
He promised that the Senate would try to re-visit the issue with the aim of deleting the clause from the constitution and stressed the need for Nigerians to get more education on the issue.
Presenting the position of the women, Saadatu Mahadi, the Secretary-General, Women Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), said that citizenship must remain gender neutral.
“To protect this sacred gift of citizenship, we advocate for the deletion of Section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution,” she said. “It is the desire of all Nigerians who treasure our citizenship to remove this provision that provides that young Nigerian girls who are not old enough to vote can renounce their citizenship.”
Mahadi said that contrary to the argument given for retaining that clause, that once a girl was married, she automatically assumed full mental capacity and there was no unanimity among Islamic jurist under Sharia.
“Consequently, we posit that there should be no basis to compel a girl to deal with matters of such gravity as renunciation of citizenship merely because she is married,” she said.
The Minister of Women Affairs, expressed optimism that the Senate would revisit the issue in the interest of Nigerians.
The Senate, on July 16, failed to secure the needed majority votes to amend section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution which states that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”
This was greeted by wide criticisms from several individuals and groups across the country, accusing the federal lawmakers oZainab Mainaf approving underage marriage.