Before The Kano Divorcees’ Street Protest

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In 1995, I made a package for the BBC’s NETWORK AFRICA program on the problem of divorce in Kano. As part of my research, I spoke with intellectuals at Bayero University and had the epiphany that many women in Kano actually visited with Malams who also double as marriage consultants of a sort. I interviewed one somewhere off Zoo Road in the Haussawa Quarters of the city and was surprised that one of his clients was the wife of a leading political figure in Kano at the time. I knew the lady in question as a post graduate student at BUK. It was obvious to me, that there was a serious problem with matrimony in Kano, with its very high divorce rate!

The 1995 episode came to my mind, when I read the report in SUNDAY TRUST of January 11, 2009, that Kano’s divorcees were planning a mass street protest by the end of this month. The plan was attributed to Hajiya Attine Abdullahi, who was described as the Executive Director of the little known National Association of Divorcees, Widows and the Orphans of Nigeria, to highlight the growing divorce rate and “insufficient husbands in Kano (that is a very serious matter!)”. Hajiya Attine promised a “one million divorcee” march and promises that it will be “the biggest in the history of Nigeria”! And what a sight that would be on the Sharia-compliant streets of Kano!

Hajiya Attine’s Association had addressed the press at the end of an emergency meeting, prompted among other reasons, by the incidences of divorce that have become “a growing social problem bedeviling the communities of Kano State”; and the fact that the Kano State House of Assembly has been unable to redeem a three year old pledge to initiate laws against the menace. The divorcees’ association wants the one million person street manifestation “to protest against the outrageous number of divorcees currently sent out of their matrimonial homes and of which no one is doing anything”. And if they have forgotten, Hajiya Attine reminded the responsible officials of state, that society faces “a serious social problem that has the capacity to impact negatively on the social fabric of any society that has chosen to neglect it”.

Furthermore, Hajiya Attine underlined the raison for the anger of members of the National Association of Divorcees, Widows and the Orphans of Nigeria: neglect. “It is this seemingly neglect (SIC) that we will come out to protest and we hope the rally will equally create awareness on the plight of these mothers as well as draw the attention of the community to this serious social problem that is not viewed with the seriousness it deserves”. The divorcees are unhappy that their developmental roles in society are not adequately recognized and the rally will raise such awareness amongst the leadership of the state. But they also have a message for their offending husbands too. “We hope (to)… also draw the attention of our husbands who should know one million divorcees that will be on the street on that day are their failure for keeping theirhome fronts”! This is a novel “naming and shaming”exercise!

But if any reader thinks that this is a freak issueon the margins of a deformed democracy, you better think again, because our reporter said that last year, a committee of the state government in Kano, comprising of NGOs (was the National Association of Divorcees included?), the Ministry of Women Affairs and evenAdaidaitaSahu (the morality enforcer in Kano) came out with a report which said that over 80% of Kano marriages were “unstable”! Again, that is very worrisome. The committee attributed the problem to the absence of sincerity during courtship; ignorance about the religious status of the marriage institution; economic down turn; working women phenomenon (whatever that meant!) and materialism in marriage! The truth is that marriages are endangered in Kano and it threatens the fabric of the family. I know a leading son of Northern Nigeria, who will not to allow his daughters to marry men from Kano, because he said they mistreat their wives and rush to divorce them!

It is clear that we must think through this problem of divorce and find ways to help stem them. We cannot build a stable community on the very slippery foundation of divorce; children must have the stable ambience to grow in order to reproduce the future of our culture. In this construction of societal continuity, men have to assume responsibilities which help the survival of matrimony with its stresses and strains. We must also fight the culture of patriarchy and chauvinism which refuses to acceptthe role of women in a changing world.  Similarly, education and liberation for women must mean an added sense of responsibility in matrimony and society, to help strengthen the community and our nation.

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