KANO, Nigeria, May 3, 2012 (AFP) - A line of women wait their turn at a
building in northern Nigeria, ready to participate in a programme local
officials hope will bring two results: marriage and peace.
Love might have to come later.
The programme run by the Islamic sharia police in Kano, the largest city in
Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, aims to match widows and divorcees with
Officials hope it will in part help curb unrest in the north, which has
been hit by deadly violence blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram, as well as
reduce other social problems by providing a stable home for children.
Such a programme has the potential to raise obvious red flags, but local
officials say the women participate strictly on a voluntary basis.
"With the current security situation in Kano, children with no proper
parental guide and care are more likely to be influenced and fed with these
extremist tendencies," said Nabahani Usman, deputy head of the Hisbah, as the
sharia police are known.
"It is very important they are saved from these destructive elements
through this programme, where they can have stable family life with their
mothers and step-fathers looking after them."
Analysts say unemployment and frustration among young people has helped
feed the violence blamed on Islamists which has rocked Nigeria's north,
leaving more than 1,000 dead since mid-2009.
Whether marriage will have a positive effect remains to be seen, but for
now women and men seem eager to participate. Arranged marriages are common
across northern Nigeria, an impoverished region near the Sahara desert.
Health NGOs offer free HIV screening to the spouse-seekers, which the
Hisbah has made mandatory to the applicants.
Radio announcements were aired in mid-February calling on men open to
marrying selected widows and divorcees to come forward.
The women were located through an NGO called the Voice of Widows, Divorcees
and Orphans of Nigeria (VOWAN).
On a recent day in Kano, 38-year old Amina Adamu clutched her handbag under
her arm and walked toward a long table at the end of the hall to a bearded man
for her screening interview.
She was among the first set of 100 women brought to the Hisbah headquarters
in Kano for the programme.
Three other bearded men and two veiled women at the table called out names
of dozens of applicants who sat on rows of plastic chairs.
Questions include basic information, such as occupation, income and number
of children. Men are asked why they want to get married again, among other
Those who qualify are then allowed to meet each other at the Hisbah office,
choosing on their own among the participants who they might wish to marry.
A group wedding will be held later for participants, but those who prefer
not to wait can also go ahead with their marriages.
"I need a mature, sincere and caring husband, which is why I want the
Hisbah to be involved in my choice because I need security in my marriage,"
Adamu told AFP shortly after being screened by the panel.
Outside in the courtyard, men in clusters waited to be called into the hall
for the screening.
They included those who have been divorced or widowed, as well as bachelors
and those looking for additional wives, as Islam allows a man to marry up to
For the men, another important factor also plays a role: money.
Ismail Ibrahim, a 25-year-old bachelor and a school teacher, said he could
not afford to get married since the dowry would be too expensive. The Hisbah
programme takes care of that, paying the dowry and also providing a small
grant to help them set up a home.
Officials have declined to say so far how much will be paid, though dowries
in Kano typically range from 10,000 naira ($63) to 20,000 naira ($126).
"It is quite expensive to marry a young woman, which is why I want to be
part of this initiative to enable me to marry the woman of my choice at low
cost," Ibrahim said.
Altine Abdullahi, head of VOWAN in Kano, also said divorce had become a
problem in the city. Men who marry through the programme cannot divorce their
wives without permission from the Hisbah.
"People change wives the way they change their wardrobes and we feel the
best way to stop this and give security to our members is arrange marriages
through the Hisbah," she said.
She said the high number of divorces in Kano "leave (women) to fend for
themselves and the children without any support from the fathers."
"The children end up as menaces to society, which is why most teenage
criminals here are from broken homes," she said.
Hajara Adamu, a 48-year old widow, vowed to make the best of the programme.
"I will not make a hasty choice. I want a responsible, respectable and
mature man and I'm confident I'll get him here," said Adamu.
The men involved in the programme ranged from the young to the
not-so-young. Muhammad Tukur, 75, was looking for a third wife.
"I have not yet made my choice. I'm still waiting for the woman my mind is
at peace with," he said.