Every other day an item of news or two will make its way out of Northern Nigeria and shock the rest of the country. Whether it is the incarceration of and subsequent sentencing to death of a singer, for singing lyrics the Sharia Commission considers blasphemy or the continued incarceration without trial of the former president of Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala, in a prison in Kano. There is also the frequent celebratory spectacle of breaking hundreds of crates of beer confiscated by the ‘Sharia Police.’
The most recent is a copy of a letter shared widely on Twitter, from the Kano State Hisbah Board to Cool FM Kano office, admonishing the broadcaster for using “Black Friday” in a broadcast ahead of the annual Black Friday sales that is a global practice on the last Friday of November each year.
The grouse of the Board is that because Friday is a holy day for the Muslim majority population of Kano, the Board wishes to express its concern, “on the tagging of the Friday as Black Friday.” The letter went on to request that CoolFM, “stop calling the Friday as Black Friday with immediate effect,” and in a Gestapo-styled intimidation tactic notified the broadcaster that, “Hisbah corps will be around for surveillance purposes with a view to avoiding [the] occurrence of any immoral activities as well as maintaining peace, harmony and stability in the state.”
The move is in direct violation of freedom of expression as protected by section 39 (1) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria constitution (as amended).
The Kano State Hisbah Corps is a ‘religious police force’ in Nigeria’s Kano state with the principal function of enforcing Islamic sharia by “enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong on every Muslim.”
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) had put forward an extensive argument on the illegality of the force. The crux of which is the widely known fact that policing and security in Nigeria is the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government.
Section 214(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides thus:
“There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions to this section no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.”
For its constant insistence on the indivisibility of the country, Nigeria, as it is built at the moment, continues to do everything counter to fostering unity.
Since its founding in 2003, the Hisbah corps have enjoyed the tacit approval of the Federal Government. By stark contrast, when South-west governors converged in January 2020 to launch an interstate security outfit called Operation Amotekun – a unit whose sole purpose will be as a regional intervention to the many security challenges facing the West, the immediate reaction of the federal government was to brand it illegal and order the police arrest of its operatives.
Long before the #EndSARS protests brought the conversation on state police for a more effective community-based policing back to the discussion table, countless arguments have been raised on the need for a state-government controlled police force. Taraba Governor, Darius Ishaku, had lamented at the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests which devolved into looting by hoodlums that, “it is wrong not to allow state governments to have control over security agencies in their states, especially the police.”
Counter arguments have equally been raised on the worry that in the true Nigerian style of high-handedness, state governments are likely to abuse their power and unleash terror on state residents using the force.
The conversation is an age-old one for the need for self-determination by all states of the federation, in the style of true federalism at best.
The country’s allowance of the repressive antics of Sharia in many Northern states, through our legal framework no less, will remain a danger to all Nigerians until it is addressed. The Hisbah has been known to commit extensive human rights violations that often target non-Muslims, and especially Muslims who do not wish to abide by the rules of the Shariah. They invade the privacy of homes, persons, and business and in several recorded incidences confiscated goods worth millions of Naira which the Shariah Police deem haraam, like alcohol.
The direct impact of this to the country’s economy is an affront to the rest of the country specifically because, in the end, budgetary allocations do not exclude internally generated revenue from Haraam goods. If the North is allowed to play by its own rules, it is only fair to allow it to benefit only from the fruits of its own labour.
This historical unfairness that has mostly gone unchecked is arguably responsible for the culture of high-handedness by a mostly Northern ruling class. The slow progress that Nigeria continues to see in stemming human rights violations stems from a culture the nation has validated for decades which puts the value of human life beneath the sensibilities of the deity of one religion. To the extent that its injuries visit even those who are not adherents of said faith.
It is pertinent that Nigeria as a country sits up and address the unique differences its inhabitants have in culture, faith, and principles in order to better allow for an inter-regional interaction that is in the interest of all parties. We can’t continue to live as ‘one Nigeria’ while playing by different rules and yet wanting to all develop at equal pace.