Nigeria’s Muslim north risks growing sense of alienation
Standing on the dancefloor among shards of glass and splintered wood, Tony Baisie rues the day he agreed to help set up a nightclub in one of West Africa’s oldest Islamic cities. For more than 15 years this converted office on an industrial back street in Kano, northern Nigeria, was a thriving business. Customers — Christian and Muslim — would dance among its mirrored walls or shoot pool in the courtyard outside.
But three weeks ago, members of Hisbah — a uniformed Islamic squad set up by Kano’s state governor in 2003 to enforce sharia (Islamic law) — raided the club, smashing tables and chairs, and seizing its drinks stocks and sound systems. “They took me away and detained me overnight,” Baisie said. “Before they released me they made me sign an undertaking I would not sell alcohol or play music ever again in Kano.”
Africa’s most populous nation — roughly divided into a Muslim north and Christian south, but with sizeable minorities living in both regions — is full of paradox. It is home to more Muslims than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa but is also the world’s second biggest consumer of Guinness beer.
A secular government sits in Abuja in the centre of a fervently religious nation. Megachurches in Lagos to the south attract weekly congregations numbering tens of thousands of Christians, while the north traces its Islamic heritage back centuries to the trans-Saharan trading routes linking it to north Africa.
Around a dozen northern states have introduced sharia over the past decade, but it is practised to varying degrees and only four of them have enforcement squads like Kano’s Hisbah, a force of around 9,000 men in green and black uniforms.
Sa’idu Ahmad Dukawa, their director-general, makes no apologies for what he says is a mission to purify the city.