PENULTIMATE week, a bizarre incident happened in Albarkawa area of Gusau Local Government, Zamfara State. Disturbed by her inability to get married to her fiancee, Umar Faruku, 17-year-old Aisha Bello took a daring step to end it all: she doused herself in petrol and set herself ablaze! Faruku had been unable to pay the dowry, reportedly put at N17,000.
According to a neighbour, the young woman decided to commit suicide after she learnt that her fiancee whom she had dated for quite a long time had no money to pay her dowry. According to the neighbour, “She brought a gallon of petrol and a matchbox. She got her self drenched in petrol, struck a match stick and, within a second, she got engulfed in flames. Before she set herself ablaze, her younger sister had tried hard to stop her from taking the dangerous decision by flinging the matchbox from her hand.” Moments later, neighbours saw the gory spectacle of Aisha running out of the house and screaming for help. They put out the flames. Her distraught father reportedly indicated that he could not take her to hospital as he could only boast of N750 at the time the incident happened.
Narrating her ordeal to newsmen, Aisha stated that she decided to kill herself because she was tired of living without a husband. Hear her: “I decided to kill myself because the boy I am in love with refused to marry me. I love him dearly and he loves me too, but the problem with him is that he could not afford my dowry and other traditional requirements.” She explained that even though she was aware of the fact that anyone who committed suicide would be punished by God, she felt that it was better to die and be punished than to become a prostitute.
Speaking on the incident, Alhaji Aminu Moham- med, the ward head, maintained that as a leader and close associate of Aisha’s parents, he did all he could to arrange the marriage between Aisha and her suitor considering the gravity of their love. Ac- cording to him, Aminu was jobless and his parents would not pay for his marriage because he had two elder brothers who must get married before him. Mohammed added: “When the girl insisted that she was tired of staying alone, they invited Aminu to come and explain to her when he would be ready to arrange for the wedding, but Aminu instantly told Aisha that he was not prepared, asking her to look for someone else.”
To say that the Aisha Bello story is sad and unfortunate would indeed be an understatement. It is galling that a young woman who ought to be in the process of getting an education is instead burdened with the issue of marriage at such a young age. In evidence here is the pervasive poverty and increasing lack of opportunities, particularly in the northern part of the country. Just how can the country develop when young women are thrown into marriage in their teens instead of being provided with the facilities for education and empowerment? Were education truly free in Zamfara and parents fully cognizant of the value of formal education, particularly in a rapidly globalising world in which survival is largely dependent on multimedia literacy, how would young women like Aisha Bello continue to rely on outmoded notions of marriage as a means of self-actualisation in a climate of per- vasive poverty?
Pray, how could a young man who could not af- ford a N17,000 dowry as proposed by Aisha’s par- ents actually take care of a wife? Indeed, while no one can apparently ask jobless young men not to fall in love, it is still clear that whoever wants to start a family necessarily has to have a job. It would certainly be most unwise for parents to solely sponsor their children’s wedding ceremonies even if they could afford to do so. If you pay your daugh- ter-in-law’s dowry or bride price, would you also pay the bills associated with marriage: maternity, children’s care, home maintenance, among others?
Needless to say, every effort must be made to ensure that Aisha gets the needed treatment. In addition, we urge the Zamfara State government to use her case as a springboard for massive pov- erty eradication programmes and educational re- vival in the state. Nothing illustrates the appalling conditions in which many of the state’s citizens live than the fact that a lady who suffered such horrific burns could not be taken to hospital because of her father’s economic limitations. Poverty must be fought to a standstill in Zamfara and beyond and, in addition, parents must be made to realise that they have nothing to lose if they allow their daughters to be educated up to university level. A situation whereby young women are married off or allowed to marry at a young age without having acquired education cannot augur well for the country.