Need a wife? Go to Kano

Hajiya Altine Abdullahi is in the middle

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.

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