Tag Archives: shari’a

Kano Hisbah to Prosecute Gossips

Blueprint yesterday carried a story that the Kano Hisbah Board will “prosecute idle people and those trading in the business of gossiping.” If this is true, this will be the harshest and most disturbing action of the Kano hisbah I’ve yet seen. The Hisbah are shari’a “vigilante” groups (as they have a formal function recognized by the state “vigilante” always seems like the wrong word to me–though it seems to be the word most often used by scholars to describe them).

According to Rasheed Oyewole Olaniyi in his 2011 Africa Today article “Hisbah and Sharia Law Enforcement in Metropolitan Kano:”

Hisbah had its origin in the initiative of Islamic groups with the aim of supporting Sharia implementation. Following the reintroduction of Sharia, there was a spontaneous proliferation of Hisbah groups by Islamic civil society. Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso formally launched Hisbah in 2000 as a form of institutional support to control crime and maintain social order enjoined by Islam. The establishment of Hisbah religious vigilantism was part of the Kano State government’s effort to implement Sharia and a response to curb the insecurity and rapidly growing social anomie among youths. (84)

However, Olaniyi notes that initially under the Kwankwaso government, there were inconsistencies in the way the hisbah operated and  two factions developed. In 2003, newly elected governor Ibrahim Shekarau created the Hisbah board:

According to him, section 28, subsection 1, of the 1999 federal constitution empowers Kano State to promulgate a law establishing the Hisbah Board, responsible for general policymaking and coordinating activities between state, zonal and local government Hisbah committees. [...] Hisbah personnel do not have the power to arrest or prosecute culprits; rather they are expected to hand over people found to have violated Sharia law to the police.

The board is meant to engage in activities useful to society such as encouraging sanitation, helping with traffic, controlling crowds during religious services, mediating local conflicts, acting as a sort of neighborhood watch, and so on. I have heard stories of how helpful they have been in providing community security and have seen them directing traffic around mosque time. In keeping with shari’a regulations banning alcohol, the hisbah also regularly destroy alcoholic beverages.

Hisbah with trucks full of confiscated beer (c) Kano Hisbah Board facebook page

However, the board has been involved in quite a few controversies since its establishment. In 2005, a controversy developed when they began to arrest commercial motorcyclists who were carrying women. (See two articles from that time period by Fatima Adamu and Jaafar Jaafar). During my research on Kannywood in 2008-2011, the hisbah also seemed to act as an arm of the censorship board (the director general of which, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, had been the former deputy head of the hisbah), confiscating equipment on film sets they deemed to be operating without permission and arresting filmmakers. As I recounted in an earlier post, “Director of Photography Felix Ebony of King Zuby International recounted how hisbah had come to a location he was working on and impounded four speakers and one camera, telling them they had not sought permission to shoot.” The hisbah also shut down music and fashion shows in the state, and I heard complaints that poor people could no longer have singing and dancing at their weddings as the hisbah would shut them down. (Wealthy people, on the other hand, they told me would just hire police to stand guard at their doors and the hisbah would not be able to enter.) In March 2010, one of my Muslim musician friends called me very upset that his Christian friends in the “Police Band” had been beaten up and arrested by security forces for playing at a Muslim wedding. When Shekarau was running for president in 2011, he denied during an NN24 debate that the hisbah had any problem with the film industry, but these claims seemed rather disengenuous.

When Rabi’u Kwankwaso was voted back in, however, there seemed to be the feeling that such high-handedness was a thing of the past. And since Kwankwaso resumed office, there have been some popular moves by the hisbah. Among what some see as the achievements of the hisbah during the Kwankwaso tenure have been several state coordinated mass marriages  of divorcees and widows.

Brides in the Kano Mass Wedding (c) AFP, Aminu Abubakar

(The Hisbah even have a facebook page created 30 December 2011, though by the time I posted this, it only had 105 “likes.”) This year, however, there have been more reports of extreme pronouncements from the Kano State hisbah.

On July 17, the Hisbah board banned night-time courtship, an old tradition in Hausa culture where a young man will visit a young woman outside her house at night. Such practices are described in some of the early soyayya novels such as Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino’s  In da So da Kauna and Kaico!. In fact this clip of the 1994 film adaptation of the bestselling novel In Da So da Kauna (It sold over 100,000 copies) shows the heroine Sumayya receiving two such visits from suitors at night. (Her second suitor, Muhammad, played by author Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, is more successful than the first one!)

According to Blueprint, 

Director General of the board, Alhaji Abba Said Sufi, who stated this in a terse statement, said the measure was meant to curb open immorality among youths, which the board noted was on the increase.

[...]

Sufi vowed to rid the state of all corrupt vices, stressing, “It is better for government to infringe on its citizens’ right than allow corrupt and un-Islamic behaviour to continue in the state.”

Shortly thereafter, during Ramadan, newspapers began to report that the hisbah was arresting Muslims who were not fasting. (See these articles from Daily Trust, Daily Times, and Blueprint.) While some people saw this as within their jurisdiction as enforcers of shari’a law, others were alarmed by what they saw as an abuse of power. Regarding the ban on night-time courtship, Blueprint reports:

Some respondents who spoke to our correspondent faulted the measure, saying it was against right to privacy as advocated by Islam.

Ahmed Mohammed, a student of Bayero University, Kano, said social visits among the opposite sex had been going on for ages, saying the government had no reason to ban them in a democracy.

He said even if such decision is to be taken, there should be a legislative backing.

According to a later Blueprint article, similar protests were heard against the arrests of non-fasting Muslims:

Some of those who spoke with Blueprint are of he opinion that religion is an issue between a person and his Creator.  Hisbah, therefore, has no power to harass them or force them to fast.

Yesterday, a friend on twitter who had read that day’s Blueprint alerted me to the latest communications of the Hisbah. Although the article has not yet been put online by Blueprint, I share a photo of it here. To be taken to a readable version, just click on the photo and then click on the magnifying glass icon:

Here are a few highlights of the article: According to The Deputy Director General legal matters of the Kano State Hisbah Board, Barrister Nahabani Mohammed, the board had organized “a one-day workshop to educate its personnel and their informants on the way and manner of identifying people whose main business is to sit in a certain corner and gossip.”

Now, read carefully the sorts of things that were seen to be prime evidences of gossip worthy of prosecution:

He said, “You will hear them alleging things like, ‘Do you know the governor had done this and that? Do you know Comissioner A has just bought three new houses?’ Or ‘Do you know that the commander general of Hisbah has just taken a new wife?’ Things like these are what we intend to stop.

Mohammed, who told our correspondent jokingly to rush and pick a form in the Zawarawa mass marriage scheme before widows, divorcees and even young girls became scarce in Kano, askiked, “Of professional gossips and idlers are allowed to sit around and talk about life style of their neighbours, their families, political officeholders and other things they cannot prove or verify, before you know what is happening it will spread fast and create hatred in the society.”

The implications of this are extremely worrisome. While I can understand concern over rumour-mongering in times of crisis, this sort of vigilantism against “gossip” could create a climate of terror of the kind found in a totalitarian-state. Is this about religion or politics?

Look at the examples he gave of “idle gossip.” The hisbah would arrest people for gossiping that a Commissioner “has just bought three new houses” or that “the commander general of Hisbah has just taken a new wife.” Such measures seem designed to stop public protest against abuse of power and corruption among the political class. And in my experience, this is the kind of talk that does preoccupy many ordinary people. It reminds me of what hiphop artist Nazir Hausawa (Ziriums)  told me in February 2009 when then Governor Shekarau authorized destruction of “illegal structures” during a bid to host the next FIFA world youth soccer tournament.

There is a hadith that if you see something haram, you’re supposed to fight it. If you can’t fight it, then you talk about it; if you can’t talk about it, then you feel it in your mind. The way that Shekarau is destroying people’s property right now.[…] People can’t do anything but feel bad in their minds. We, [filmmakers and musicians], are in the middle. We can’t fight, but we can talk about it […] through film.

It seems that even talking about it is now forbidden…

For more information about the history of the hisbah in Kano and implementation of shari’a in Northern Nigeria, see these resources.

Kano Hisbah Facebook page

“Hisbah and Sharia Law Enforcement in Metropolitan Kano:”  by Rasheed Oyewole Olaniyi. Africa Today. 57:4 (Summer 2011), pp. 70-96. (Note that this version is behind a pay-wall, but you can access a free version of an earlier draft of the paper on the IFRA website here.)

Gender, Hisbah and Enforcement of Morality in Shariah Implementing States of Zamafara and Kano in Northern Nigeria” by Dr. Fatima Adamu, at The African Gender Institute

Sharia Implementation in Northern Nigeria 1999-2006: A Sourcebook, edited by Philip Ostien

Recent News on Hisbah

“Kano Hisbah Board to prosecute idlers, gossips.” Blueprint. 24 August 2012

“Kano Hisbah Detains non-fasting Muslims.” Daily Trust, 8 August 2012

“Kano Hisbah Board Nabs 20 for refusing to Fast.” Daily Times. 8 August 2012

“Kano Government Arrests Non-fasting Muslims.” Blueprint, 7 August 2012 (the most detailed of the reports)

“Kano govt bans night courtship” Blueprint. 18 July 2012

“Hisbah Board Plans Mass Wedding for 250 Divorcees” Leadership. 11 June 2012.

“Hisbah officials, others, take wives in Kano Mass Wedding” Daily Trust. 15 May 2012.

“100 women, men get Kano Hisbah mass wedding today” Daily Triumph. 15 May 2012

“Kwankwaso’s security outfit keeps tongues wagging in Kano.” Sunday Trust. 19 June 2011.

“Governor Ibrahim Shekarau on Hisbah, Censorship and Kannywood in the Presidential Debates” by me on A Tunanina, posted 19 March 2011

“Hisbah: In Defense of the Information Minister” by Jaafar Jaafar, Dawodu.com,  2 March 2006

DG of Kano Censor’s Board taken before shari’a court

In a fascinating turn of events, Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, the Director-General of the Kano State Censorship Board, has been arrested by the police and taken before the shari’a court by the Kano State Filmmaker’s association.

Here is the article “Police Arrest DG Kano Censors Board” by Nasir Gwangwazo published yesterday, 4 August, in Leadership. Ibrahim Sheme has also republished the article on his blog.

Director-General of the Kano State Censorship Board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem, was yesterday arrested by the police over a complaint filed against him by the Kano State Filmmakers Association.

A reliable source told LEADERSHIP last night that Rabo had been dragged to a Sharia Court in Sabon Gari, Kano, by members of the association over an allegation credited to him, in which he was said to have described movie makers as a bunch of homosexuals and lesbians during an interview he granted Radio Kano recently.In the interview, a copy of which was made available to LEADERSHIP, Rabo stated that he had proof that many of the filmmakers were gay, saying his intervention in the industry had helped sanitise the situation.

The statement incensed the filmmakers, and they wrote him a letter demanding a retraction and an apology within 48 hours.But at a follow-up press conference recently in Kano, the director-general repeated his claim, warning that he would publish more damning reports about the alleged immorality in the industry if pressed further.The association went ahead with its threat, suing him before the Sharia court, which was said to have advised the association to report the matter to the police first. >p>According to a member of the association and the immediate former chairman of the state chapter of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Malam Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, Rabo was picked up yesterday by two plain-clothes policemen at about 4pm and taken to the Metro police station located on Bank Road in the city, following a complaint by the filmmakers.At the police station, three leaders of the moviemaking association – Nura Hussain, Ahmad Alkanawy and Isma’ila Afakalla – endorsed the association’s formal complaint, which Rabo reportedly denied. According to Gidan Dabino, the case is due for hearing at the Sharia Court, Fagge, today. When our correspondent contacted Rabo on phone last night, however, he denied knowledge of the issue, saying he was in a meeting and promptly switched off.

Following the arrest, there has been much discussion, on the Finafinan Hausa yahoo group. Ibrahim Sheme has posted one of his responses on the internet group on his blog, saying that Rabo’s intention has never had the interests of the filmmaking in Kano at heart.

According to people who have written me about this (this is unverified rumour), Rabo was given bail, but apparently left his car and driver and went away on an acaba.  He is being charged in a shari’a court for “kazafi (invented lies to assinate character).” If convicted, the punishment is 80 lashes with a whip.

Readers will remember that this latest event was precipitated by accusations Rabo made on the radio, saying that filmmakers were homosexuals and lesbians. The filmmaker’s association responded with a letter asking him to withdraw and apologize for the remarks in the next 48 hours or face legal action in a shari’a court.  Rabo responded several days later with a press release, threatening to release more evidence saying, among other things:

This address is a by product of the pressing need of the media to balance their stories and the board to have a fair right to reply on the ‘empty threat’ of those practitioners who’s future is endangered or eroded due to our sustainable sanitization exercises. These miscreants are enemies to the present peaceful atmosphere and the cotemporary achievements of the Board because they are the beneficiaries of the old age. The age of un coordinated and un-professionalized Kannywood industry.

Hitherto, this nasty development will not in any way deter the Board on its commitment to safeguard the Kano State ideals in addition to societal values because our statutory legal undertakings are not only the promulgation of state legislation but also constitutional above all holy and sacred.

[...]

Moreso, additional doziers at our disposal will not in any way help the film stakeholders when released to public especially in this period where some further negative developments are continuously unveiling and circulating.

[...]

Furthermore, let me use this opportunities to re-iterate one of the fundamentals of this administration which is the rule of law where equality before law is necessary. Therefore, the Board is happy that constituted measures like threat to sue organisation or person(s) is welcome by our style of leadership. Even though the Board will not hesitate to table publically at the right time and at the right place all at its possession out of social responsibilities and trust but with no meaning to join issues or make filmmakers vulnerable. Let me at this juncture warn that: “Kada Dan Akuya yaje Barbara ya dawo da ciki”. [MY TRANSLATION—CM: A male goat should not go to a female goat and return pregnant…]

For the post on this blog that includes a transcript of Rabo’s statements on the radio, the  letter and press release from MOPPAN and the subsequent entire press release from Rabo, see this link.

Mobile Court bans listening to 11 Hausa songs

A notice about the 11 banned songs in a shop . Photo courtesy of documentary filmmaker Alex Johnson.

Last week Mukhtar Ahmed, the magistrate of the mobile court attached to the censorship board, banned 11 Hausa songs. According the the article by Abdulaziz Ahmad Abdulaziz (originally published in Leadership newspaper, but also published on his blog, here,) the justice has “banned listening, sale and circulation of 11 Hausa songs, describing the songs as obscene, confrontational and amoral.” Included in the ban, apparently is

“selling the songs, playing them, and downloading them by any means. He said the order was issued by the court in accordance with section 97 of the state Censorship Board Law 2001 Cinematography and Licensing Regulation of the same year. Ahmed explained that by the provision of the said sections of the law, any person who for the purpose of or by way of trade, makes produces or has in his possession blasphemous, pornographic or obscene writing or object that will corrupt public morale can be charged under the law, among others.

I was also just forwarded an email from a listserve, that apparently re-posted from a Daily Triumph article (which I have not been able to find via google yet–my internet is very slow), from 4 June 2009, the following:

kano State Film censorship mobile court has banned the sales of some 11
hausa songs it describe as obscene in the state.

Announcing the ban order, the presiding judge at the court, chief magistrate
mukhtar ahmad, said the songs include:

1 Walle-Walle
2 Martani(bilio)
3Auta
4 Sauka a babur(ibro)
5Girgiza kai master9ibro)
6Oyoyo
7Ibro Sankarau
8kowa yaci Ubansa/uwarsa
9gari yayi zafi
10 Wayyo
11Hasbunallahu

According to him, the court is going to prosecute anyone found selling the
songs, playing it, downloading it by anymeans in accordance with section 97
of the state censorship board law 2001 cinematography and licensing
regulation of the same year.

he added that the law in the section states that any person who for the
purpose of or by way of trade, make products or has in his possession
blasphemous,pornographic,or obscene writing, or object that will corrupt
public morale, can be charged under the law,among others.

the triumph
jumadal thani 9/1430AH
thursday,june4, 2009

It is interesting to me that most of these songs (most of which I have heard) are subtly or directly critiquing the censorship board and/or Kano State government, many of them based on the experiences of the musicians. For example Adam Zango’s “Oyoyo” critiques the government of Kano State for imprisoning him.  See, for example, Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz’s analysis (published several months before this ban) of said “confrontational” song here.  d’an Ibro’s “Sankarau” similarly uses metaphoric language to skewer the Kano State government for imprisoning him. In a conversation I had with Nazir Hausawa about his song “Girgiza Kai” back in February, he explained to me that his purpose in the song was to point out the hypocrisy of critics by juxtaposing the “work” musicians are doing with “real social ills.” Particularly interesting is his use of the proverb at the very beginning of his song: Mai dokar bacci, ya bige da gyangyed’i. The one who says sleep is against the law is the one nodding off…….

I might add to this that it is fascinating that Justice Mukhtar Ahmed is responsible for proclaiming bans on these political songs in Kano State, when he was only a few months ago found by Kano State Attorney General Barrister Aliyu Umar to have not followed “due process” in the trial of filmmaker and former gubernatorial candidate Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama. I quote again from Adbulaziz A. Abdulaziz’s 12 March 2009 article in Leadership:

The Kano State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Barrister Aliyu Umar, has cast aspersions on a Senior Magistrate, Muhtari Ahmad, for convicting a renowned filmmaker, Alhaji Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama, saying due process was not followed in the trial that led to the sentence of the movie practitioner.

The AG told a Kano State high court presided over by Justice Tani Umar and Justice Soron Dinki yesterday that the magistrate rushed to deliver the judgement before completing hearing on the case brought before him in which Iyan-Tama was accused of violating Kano State censorship laws.

The senior state counsel, who led a delegation consisting of the Director of Public Prosecution, Barrister Shu’aibu Sule, and the Assistant Director, Binta Ahmed, literally stripped the judge naked in the marketplace. He said the trial was “improper”, “incomplete”, a “mistake” and requires retrial before a more “competent magistrate”.

“I am not in support of the conviction in this trial”, said the attorney-general, “It is obvious that the trial was not completed before judgement was delivered but there and then the presiding magistrate went ahead and delivered a judgement”, he added.

The fact that musicians see their music as a form of “self-defence” is also interesting to me because I also just read in an article “Islamization of the Mass Media” published by Dr. Bala Abdullahi Muhammad, the Director General of A Daidaita Sahu (The Societal Reorientation Board) in the Bayero Beacon (May 2009, p. 28), that the Quran says “God does not like any evil to be mentioned openly, unless it be by him who has been wronged thereby” (S4:158).  Another article in this issue of the Bayero Beacon ,”Journalism in Islam” by Idris Zakariya (p. 19), quotes another verse: “God does not love the public utterance of hurtful speech, unless one has been wronged and God is hearing, knowing… (S 44:148-149).” Now I am certainly no Islamic scholar and I would welcome readers who are to enlighten me on the contextual meaning of these short verses, but it would seem to me that these songs (and indeed others by musicians talking about censorship laws which directly affect them) are speaking publically about events which they have been “wronged by.” [If I am taking these verses out of context, please correct me.] In this way, the statement by the mobile court judge is right on at least one thing. The songs are “confrontational.” But is confrontation wrong in every situation? And if the problem is obscenity, why is not the “Zagin A. Zango” by K-Boys included (perhaps it is and the name is different?)? In this song, the K-boys attack Adam Zango (whose song “Oyoyo” was on the list), calling him a bastard, d’an daudu, and other names. It is certainly one of the most “obscene” and slanderous Hausa songs I’ve heard. And it is not as if it has not recieved publicity either, as it was featured in Fim Magazine in November or December of last year.

Also, I’m certainly no legal scholar, but could anyone who knows the answer to this question let me know in the “comments section”: Is it actually legal to ban listening to something in the privacy of one’s own home, as long as one does not distribute or sell it? Constitutionally or under shari’a law?

The question arises, because I was just this weekend reading an article on the developments of the hisba in Kano state “The Search for Security in Muslim Northern Nigeria” by Murray Last and published in Africa 78 (1) 2008 (p.41-62). A few paragraphs from the article [all bold emphasis is mine]:

Only three  domains are seriously affected [by hisba sharia enforcers]: women in public (their dress, their proximity to unrelated men–in conversation, for example, or in public transport); alcohol and non-military music and singing. This last affects praise singing at weddings for example (where dancing may also occur), or at sports  such as boxing or wrestling, as well as songs used for spirit possession whether done in ‘play’ or in divination and diagnosis.  Technically no shari’a enforcer can enter a private house, nor can he act upon suspicion or rumour. (p. 51)

[...]

The Hausa text which is widely distributed in the shari’a states to explain the rules governing hisba goes back to 1788 AD, well before there was public transport to worry about. The text is a short book written originally in Arabic by ‘Abdullahi dan Fodio, the younger brother of Shaikh ‘Uthman dan Fodio, before their great jihad was successful. He wrote it, it seems, in Zamfara where the Shaikh was successfully preaching and teaching; as a result, new Muslim communities were setting up properly Islamic administrations there. Once the Caliphate was established, some twenty years later, so too was the institution of hisba: we know the name of the first muhtasib, the judge responsible for enforcing proper observance of shari’a in public spaces, but nothing of his actual work is recorded. It was clearly different from the ‘police’ (shurta) and from the role of gaoler (yari). But eyewitness accounts from visitors to Kano and Sokoto in the 1820s suggest that the muhtasib overlooked much improper behaviour taking place in areas of town where transport workers and off-duty servants or slaves found their relaxation. There is no suggestion there was a public hisba force out on the streets day or night looking for miscreants. Instead it was, I suspect, retainers from the major political houses who acted as peacekeepers in town as, when and where required.

I am posing these observations as questions because I actually would like feedback from Islamic and legal scholars who are better versed in the interpretation of Islam and of Nigerian constitutional law than I am. I think a conversation in the comments section of this post could prove quite fruitful.

Sharia Implementation in Northern Nigeria 1999-2006: A Sourcebook

This weekend I met up with law scholar, Philip Ostien, who walked me through the 5 volume set (a 6th coming soon) he has edited, and which is published by Spectrum Books: Sharia Implementation in Northern Nigeria: 1999-2006: A Sourcebook. This is an amazing resource that has been made available on the  internet free of charge (in the form of pdfs) by Bayreuth University. The set includes a history of sharia implementation and reproduces important primary documents such as the Sharia Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes and other committee reports and white papers. Volume 6 focuses specifically on the legal cases of Safiyatu Hussaini and Amina Lawal, giving the details of the case that are often lost in the media hype. 

What is specifically useful for me is Volume III, which reproduces much of the censorship law, and Volume IV which reproduces the “Harmonised Sharia Criminal Procedure Code Based on the Harmonised Sharia Penal Code” put together by the Centre for Islamic Legal Studies, at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria in October 2005. There are extensive footnotes which note wherever sharia law has been modified from the Penal Code of 1960, which was the magistrate law code put into place after independence in Northern Nigeria. So, although most useful for scholars of shari’a, it is also a handy reference for anyone who wants to know what a magistrate law is. Deviations from sharia should be noted in the footnotes and can be followed up by research on Kano State magistrate law.

The Volumes are as follows:

Volume 1: Historical Background

Volume II: Sharia Implementation Committee Reports and Related White Papers

Volume III: Sanitizing Society (This is the volume in which the Kano State censorship laws can be found.)

Volume IV: The Sharia Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes

Volume V: Two Famous Cases (namely those of Safiyatu Hussaini and Amina Lawal)