The Islamic sharia police, known as the Hisbah, in the predominantly Muslim northern Nigerian city of Kano is running a program to match widows and divorcees with available men.
According to AFP, the program is being run with the hope that it will help to curb violence and unrest in northern Nigeria by providing stable homes, social and financial security for women and children without husbands and fathers, respectively. The city of Kano has seen deadly violence in recent times orchestrated by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram.
AFP reports that Altine Abdullahi, head of Voice of Widows, Divorcees and Orphans of Nigeria (VOWAN) in Kano, said the divorce rate among Muslim men is unacceptably high. She said men who marry through the program will not be allowed to divorce their wives without permission from the Hisbah. She said: "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 the high rate of divorce "leaves (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."
But officials in the city of Kano say that the program is strictly voluntary and that people are not being forced to participate.
On Islam reports that Nabahani Usman, deputy head of the Hisbah in Kano, said: "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. It is very important they are saved from these destructive elements through this program, where they can have stable family life with their mothers and step-fathers looking after them."
Regardless of the view one takes on the cause of the violence in northern Nigeria and the effectiveness of Hisbah-arranged marriages in controlling it, there has been a very enthusiastic response to the initiative.
A long line of women was seen outside the Hisbah office in Kano awaiting their turn to be interviewed by Hisbah officials for a spouse. Romantic love, as it is idealized in some more affluent climes, takes the backseat in harsh economic times and the primary goal in marriage, at least for women, is social and financial security. Arranged marriage is not uncommon in the northern parts of the country, thus the initiative of the Hisbah is not seen as strange.
There have been announcements on radio since mid-February calling on men wishing to marry widows and divorcees to come forward. According to AFP, the widows and divorcees are located through an NGO called the Voice of Widows, Divorcees and Orphans of Nigeria (VOWAN).
AFP describes the process at the Hisbah office:
The women are made to wait their turn outside for the screening interview. The interviewers include four bearded men and two veiled women. They call out the names of the applicants who walk into the interview room and along a long table to the seated interviewer.
The men similarly wait to be called for the screening interview, most being bachelors, widowed men and others looking for additional wives. The concept of bigamy is largely alien to Islamic law which allows a man to marry up to four wives. Some of the bachelors choose the services of the Hisbah for financial reasons. According to AFP, Ismail Ibrahim, a 25-year-old bachelor and school teacher, said he has been unable to get married because he cannot afford the bride price. The Hisbah program is convenient because the dowry is paid on behalf of the groom and a small grant is provided to help the couple set up a home.
Abdullahi said: "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."
The interview questions seek basic information, such as occupation, income, number of children. The men are asked why they want to marry, among several other questions which aim at determining their ability to fulfill their responsibilities. The successful applicants, both male and female, are then allowed to meet each other and make their choice. The new couples are married in a group wedding.
According to AFP, Adamu, a female applicant, said: "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."
Not all the participants are young. AFP reports that Muhammad Tukur, 75, was looking for a third wife. He said: "I have not yet made my choice. I'm still waiting for the woman my mind is at peace with."