Monday, 13 February 2012

Need a wife? Go to Kano

If you need a divorcee as a wife, go to Kano. This huge city – the most populous in the north – has over one million divorcees today. And that is official. Last week, the state ‘religious police,’ the Hisba Board, revealed that the state government plans to marry off about 1,000 of such women very soon. The commander-general of the board, Malam Aminu Daurawa, said in a special programme on the BBC Hausa radio that even though there are no fixed statistics on the matter, his board is certain that there are no less than one million divorcees in the state and that 1,000 of them would be married off in the first phase of the programme, which will kick off soon.

That’s why I began by saying if you need one, then, go to Kano and apply. You could be one of the winners of this unique raffle draw for the 1,000 ready-for-marriage been-tos. All you need to do is fill some forms at the Hisba Board, stating the type of woman you want, as well as your own resume.
If you don’t win in the first round, you could be lucky in the next one; it seems that if each phase takes care of a thousand women, there would be at least 100 phases in the programme. There is no way you would miss out on the “over one million.” In fact, a friend I spoke to said there could be up to two million divorcees in Kano state and that if the Hisba really means business, some more millions would pour in from Bauchi, Katsina and the Sokoto axis, among others.

You may be chuckling, but this is a very serious matter. Collapse of marriages, that is. And mind you, it is not just a Kano phenomenon; it is a universal cankerworm afflicting the whole Hausa society. For decades, marriages in Hausa land have been collapsing like a pack of cards or puncturing like a blaze of balloons in a room full of nails. Some years ago, a commissioner for women affairs in Kano state remarked at a seminar that Kano had the largest army of divorcees in the whole north. One’s keen observation of the situation at the time was that the north, or the Hausa part of it, was the nation’s gold medal winner in divorce cases.

The situation has since reached a crisis point. Battalions of unmarried women are roaming the streets, and most of them are jobless. This huge ‘army’ consists of not only divorcees but also those that have not seen their first wedding. The latter class is made up of mostly women that have been educated up till the tertiary level. In fact, the latter category are in as much dire straits as the divorced ones.

There must be millions of such young women who have been staying for years – sometimes up till five years – without having a husband. They either have paid jobs in offices or are simply living on the favours of their families. Even though many sport a veneer of self-satisfaction, they invariably exist in abject situations, wondering what tomorrow will bring, hoping against hope. Some have had relationships that ended in heart breaks. If they continue to live with their parents or relations, they would begin to be regarded as having ‘overstayed’ their welcome, and the families could begin to get tired of seeing them around.

Their situation tends to confirm the belief of many observers that there is a serious shortage of eligible husbands in the region, no thanks to the ‘boko’ trend which corrodes old values such as polygamy. Meanwhile, an old adage, “Darajar mace dakin mijin ta” (i.e. A woman’s worth is in her husband’s home), drives the desire that every woman of marriageable age should get married. No excuses are condoned.

It is against this background that the programme of marrying off 1,000 divorcees is being organised. The programme is already being misconstrued by many in the Muslim north largely because it is a novel spectacle here. Some are even questioning its basis in Islam, citing various authorities or painting lurid scenarios.

But it seems the Hisba Board has done its homework very well before embarking on the grand project. In last week’s BBC programme, Malam Daurawa did address some of the questions, such as the health status of the would-be suitor and his occupation, as well as his background. He made it very clear that the programme is not about ‘donating’ brides but an event that has been well thought out and carefully planned.

An interesting aspect of the project is that the leader of a well known NGO in the city, the Voice of Widows, Divorcees and Orphans Association of Nigeria (VOWAN), an umbrella body of Kano’s army of divorcees, Hajiya Altine Abdullahi, is among the 1,000 women to be married off in the first phase. Altine has been in the forefront of a struggle on the rights of divorcees in Hausa land, specifically in Kano.

She formed the association in 2003, with an office in Tarauni quarters in the metropolis. Two years ago, she planned to hold a ‘one million divorcees march’ through Kano with the sole aim of highlighting the plight of this category of women. Even though the march was stopped by the Hisba Board at that time on fears that the event might be seized by hoodlums, it brought to the fore an issue that had been largely ignored by the powers that be.

Now, beyond the upcoming jamboree of the mass wedding, has anyone bothered to investigate the root cause of the problem, i.e. why the divorce rate has been rising? This is a question that should bother parents, the clergy and the authorities. Why does our part of the country have the worst record of divorce cases? Blames can be easily traded between the sexes, but my take is that it all has to do with the structure of family life among the Hausa people. It is not an issue that can be summarised in one sentence, but I’ll try. Hausa men ‘take wives’ the way they buy inanimate objects at the market place, without consideration for the fact that women are also humans with feelings.

This objectification of women has tended to reduce the fair sex to mere vassals that are to be used and dumped at will. Some men do not even discharge the primary responsibilities for which they consummated the marriage contract. And on the part of the women, the expectations of most about the institution of marriage is romanticised to the extent that by the time they find themselves in marital homes, their noses are high in the clouds. If you combine these with mutual disrespect, then, animosity would set in, with all the attendant infightings. And polygamy, which is widely practised, has been made into a fire on petrol because the basic rules and responsibilities for consummating it are usually trampled upon.

There are those who believe that the divorce rate in the land is a cultural problem. Hausa women, they say, are disrespectful and argumentative even though their motive has nothing to do with assertiveness on account of their marital rights. Many years ago, a friend in Kano told me that he was so fed with his marriage. “Next time I am taking a wife, I would never marry a Hausa woman,” he fumed. And that was exactly what he did. He married a young woman from Auchi, and he has been living happpily ever after.

But I have a different view about Hausa women. Our problem is that we scarcely know why we go into a marriage, as such getting out of it has become so simple that one opens the gateway by simply saying, “Je ki, na sake ki” (Go, I’ve freed you). We should find a way to make getting out of that gateway not that simple.


Above photo sows Hajiya Altine Abdullahi in the middle

Monday, 6 February 2012

Why Al-Mustapha must not die

There was a compelling reason why the Al-Mustapha trial shocked many Nigerians for the way it ended. The reason is that after discharging and acquitting all the other accused in the trial over the attempt to assassinate The Guardian publisher, Alex Ibru (of blessed memory), and a former Delta state Director of Sports, Mr. Isaac Porbeni, as well as those implicated in the murder of Mrs Kudirat Abiola, many had reasoned that Hamza Al-Mustapha would also go home a free man. Some of those released from detention included former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi; former Lagos state Commissioner of Police, Mr. James Danbaba; former head of the Police Unit in the Presidential Villa during the Abacha regime, Chief Superintendent of Police Mohammed Rabo Lawal, and former Military Administrator of Zamfara state, Col. Jibrin Bala Yakubu. Even the man that admitted to having pulled the trigger in Kudirat’s assassination, Sgt. Barnabas Jabila (‘Sgt Rogers’), is walking free.

So, why was Al-Mustapha – and of course Lagos political jobber Lateef Shofolahan – held till the very end and given the supreme penalty? The learned judge who handed down the death penalty last week ruled that, based on the force of the prosecution’s presentation, she was persuaded that Kudirat was killed based on instructions from Al-Mustapha. Shofolahan, she said, played a part in a conspiracy by showing the deceased’s photograph to the killers – as if Kudirat was an unknown figure who had to be identified only through a picture. The judge quoted from the Bible in order to justify why the duo must die by hanging.

Even though Justice Mojisola Dada had dismissed the political undertones of the case, it is not easy not to see a clear connection between the incarceration and eventual sentencing of Al-Mustapha to the ethnic and regional politics in Nigeria. To begin with, the struggle to actualise Chief MKO Abiola’s June 12 mandate had become ethnicised by the time Kudirat was murdered. Abiola, who had won more votes than a dyed-in-the-wool indigene in Kano, got a universal mandate to rule Nigeria, but his victory was overturned by a military cabal headed by Gen. Babangida. Abacha, who sustained the denial of Abiola’s right to rule, became very hated in the South-west. NADECO, which had a large following in the North – an indication that the struggle was for democracy rather than for the right of a section of the country – was eventually seized by sectional jingoists who, apparently, decided that they wanted to go it alone in actualising the mandate. I recall how, in the wake of attacks on “Hausa-Fulani” by OPC elements, a big exodus by Northerners began.

Kudirat, who spearheaded the June 12 struggle, was shot dead in the streets of Lagos by unknown gunmen during the melee of those unfortunate times. It was years later, during the short-lived regime of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, that many former officials of the Abacha regime were arrested and charged with various offences, culminating in the assassination charge. It was easy and truly populist for any regime to do that and win support from the South-west even if Mrs Abiola had been killed by armed robbers.

We shouldn’t forget, also, that there was an attempt by the Abdulsalami regime to kowtow to all and sundry, especially the South-west, where Abiola came from and where most the nation’s influential mass media are sited. The region had been agitating for presidential power based on Abiola’s success at the polls. Its intelligentsia had been baying for blood, with many of them even threatening war and or secession. The biggest move to appease the region was, indeed, the freeing of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo from prison and handing over the presidency to him on a platter of gold. Could the sudden arrest of Al-Mustapha and co at that material time have been part of that move?

For the 14 years that Al-Mustapha was awaiting/undergoing trial, there have been insinuations across the North that he was targeted for elimination through the judicial process (because it could not be done otherwise), and those behind the plot were prominent Northerners. Al-Mustapha himself had, on more than one occasion, blamed former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, for his ordeal. On June 3, 2010, in an interview on the VOA Hausa service, Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo, the deposed Emir of Gwandu, accused the then National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd), of being responsible for Al-Mustapha’s continued detention, alleging that he it was that advised the then President Obasanjo against releasing him, citing security concerns. It was very possible that Jokolo’s may have been a case of sour grapes following his removal as emir, but his story did, nonetheless, highlight the political dimension of the case.

As I wrote one and a half years ago, “Clearly, we cannot divorce politics from this pitiful saga. The accused persons have argued, ever since we began to get their side of the story during the Oputa panel hearings, that they were being persecuted because of their work as security men during the Abacha regime. They said certain highly connected Nigerians of, ironically, northern origin had decided to ‘teach them a lesson’ because of some misdemeanours, such as denying them easy access to the head of state or some forms of disrespect. The big men were said to have sworn to extract their pound of flesh from the security goons and were glad to have found an opportunity in the Ibru case. The detainees also argued that the lurid tales we heard from prosecution witnesses were all cooked up in order to nail them.

“Another story was that Obasanjo sat on the case because he was jailed by Abacha and that Yar’Adua was disinterested in it because of his brother Shehu’s death in prison during the Abacha era...

“The political dimension of this saga presupposes that many people, especially in the North, view the matter as one in which the region as an entity has failed. There is a widespread belief that northern laxity and hypocrisy are fertilising the issue. The North must recognise the fact that if Al-Mustapha and co were Southerners, the region’s elites would have used their political clout to ensure that their brethren were removed from the clutches of detention.

“They did it many times. Ralph Uwazuruike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), a secessionist organisation listed by the federal government as a terrorist organisation, did not recognise the Nigerian state. He fought it with arms. But he was released after a heated campaign by his Igbo and other fellow Southerners led to the quick dispensation of the case in court. Ganiyu Adams, factional leader of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), a militant Yoruba nationalist organisation, launched a violent campaign against ‘Hausa-Fulani’ in the South-west, leading to the massacre of scores of ‘Hausa-looking’ Northerners. But he was released from detention after his court case was exhausted. Today, he is one of the ‘respected statesmen’ of that region. So revered he is that the governor of Kano State, more of whose citizens were killed in the OPC’s bloody campaign, invited him to Kano to commission some projects.”

Many Nigerians had believed that Al-Mustapha would not get a fair trial in Justice Dada’s court, citing ethnic and regional politics. In fact, many believe that he will get a better deal in the appeal that he has filed. They wonder why Sgt Rogers, who admitted to the crime, should be left off the hook while Al-Mustapha, who has vehemently and with concrete facts denied having a hand in the deed, should be the one to suffer for it.

Politics should be taken out of the judiciary. If justice must be done on Kudirat’s assassination, and yes it must, no one should be made to die because of his background or the job he once held in government. Al-Mustapha has suffered enough. He must not be allowed to die just like that.