In December 2013 Kano State governor, Mr. Rabiu Kwankwaso announced the state had spent ₦250k per couple on mass marriages for 1,111 divorced women. This is an attempt by the state government to intervene in the ever-increasing population of divorced women in the state. The matchmaking process included screening for HIV/AIDS and interviewing potentials suitors for individuals.
Just over a week ago, the new Emir of Kano Mallam Muhammad Sanusi II stated at a meeting that he would like to see divorce rates in Kano brought under control. His proposal was to have stiffer penalties for men that will prohibit them from seeking divorce based on minor excuses and complaints that could have been easily sorted among couples.
In his interview with BBC editor Mansur Liman, the Emir highlights child bride issue, lack of education for girls, lack of respect for women’s consent in their choice of whom to marry and the choice of culture over individual happiness as the key areas he sees to be contributing factors to the high rate of divorce in Kano.
Mallam Sanusi also made points regarding education and child brides, which is very common amongst Muslims especially in Northern Nigeria. He noted that child marriage is more of a
Cultural practice than Islamic, that Islam preaches education for all and Western education as a key to liberate minds of his people.
Mallam Sansui’s strong stance on finding lasting solutions to curb high divorce rates in Kano is long awaited news to forward thinking Nigerians. It was met with resistance by a handful of critics however, those that see change as an attack on their culture and religion
There is an organization set up for divorce women to voice their concerns and plight. Under the current system men are allowed to marry up to four wives. They are also allowed to send any of their wives packing for something as trivial as ‘She didn’t let me sleep with her two days in a row.’ or ‘She cooked the kind of fish I didn’t like for super.’ Seriously, I read a case just a little while ago about the fish example and their customary court granted divorce based on just that.
If education is to do any good to the present situation, I believe everyone needs to be carried along. Parents and children need re orientation about what is good for them versus holding on to harmful traditions.
As it stands today, parents believe their daughters must be married off when she reaches puberty, which means 13years old for many girls or a little earlier for some. In this case, whether or not the little girl understands or wants it, she will be married off.
Wasilu Umar’s story earlier this year is an example of this. Wasilu a 14year old girl was forced to marry a 35year old man. She was not attracted to the Mr. Umar and did not want to marry him. The only way she believed she could get out of the unwanted and loveless union was to do something drastic.
She killed Umar with rat poison. Kano courts operate under Sharia law and Wasilu was sentenced to death. There was an outcry from Nigerians that Wasilu is a child, and she has the rights to be tried in a Juvenile court. There is a legitimate defense she acted in self-defense.
Mass weddings seems like a temporary solution with good intentions however, millions of naira wasted on these marriages could be better invested in community education where families can get the needed education to help them make informed decisions about how important it is that children and couples are not forced into unions.
The Emir’s stiffer penalties for men getting divorced on frivolous reasons will not offer the permanent solution he yawns for because people will always find their way around this law. As he rightly stated in the interview, education is the key.
According to UNICEF, 26 % of girls in Kano do not go beyond primary school and more than 50% gets married off by 15. Maybe keeping the girls in school is the priority for now as they are less likely to be married off when in school.
Kano is one of the poorest states in Nigeria therefore many parents marry off their little girls in hopes of better living. Here I believe the state could have spent the ₦278million it spent on quick fix marriages on job creation, education and family planning. | Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms