Sharia Ripples:the Sharia law provokes tension and controversy in Kano

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In 2003, Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano State made history when he became the only politician in Nigeria to unseat a serving People's Democratic Party (PDP) governor. From a relatively obscure position, with several odds against him, Shekarau had defeated the then incumbent governor, Alhaji Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the PDP, in the 2003 election to emerge as the Kano State governor on the platform of the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP).

His surprise electoral victory, although premised on a number of factors, was heavily assisted by his campaign promise of implementing a Sharia regime in the predominantly Moslem state. Although his predecessor in office, Kwankwaso, had in 2000 attempted the implementation of the Islamic legal system, his efforts were however perceived by many, especially the state's powerful Council of Ulamas, as too cosmetic. With his campaign centred on the wholesale adoption of the Sharia legal system, Governor Shekarau was therefore strongly backed by a greater part of the state populace.

In fulfillment of his electoral promise, Shekarau, immediately on assumption of office in 2003, set out clearly to adopt the Sharia regime as the bedrock of his administration. He not only officially declared Kano a sharia state, he also proceeded to establish the needed structures and institutions necessary for the smooth operation of the sharia regime. Among the institutions established were the Sharia Commission, Zakat Commission, and the Hisbah Board, which is to serve as the agency responsible for the enforcement of the sharia legal code.

But as popular as the sharia regime appears in the state, especially to the ordinary people, its implementation has been generating a lot of controversy both within and outside the state since 2003. In fact, the activities of the Hisbah Board, otherwise known as the sharia police, in the process of implementing the sharia regime have generated dust, leading in most cases to open confrontation between the state authorities and the federal authorities on the one hand, and the Hisbah Board and the Nigerian police on the other hand.

Between 2003 and 2005, Kano State and the federal authorities under former President Olusegun Obasanjo were locked in a protracted battle of wits over the legality of the implementation of the shariah regime in Kano state. While disputations between Kano State and federal authorities over the shariah are currently before the courts awaiting legal resolution, the disagreement between the shariah police and the Nigerian Police remains a daily occurrence.

Since 2003, the Nigerian police has been at loggerheads with the Hisbah Board over what the former perceive as the usurpation of its constitutional role of maintaining law and order in the country. In its attempts to ensure compliance with the tenets of the sharia regime, the Hisbah Board oftentimes embark on the arrest and detention of people who are perceived to have gone against the tenets of the sharia regime. The Board has been accused of raiding social spots and seizing alcoholic drinks, a role which the Nigerian police believed is clearly theirs. This development has resulted in open confrontation between the police and men of the Hisbah Board. Until recently, when the two agencies appear to have struck a synergy in their operations, such open confrontations between the two were recurrent.

However, while the Hisbah Board seems to have struck an understanding between it and the police in particular and the other relevant security agencies operating in the state in the discharge of its duties, not so with non-indigenes resident in the state, especially adherents of other faith other than Islam. To the non-indigenes, the activities of the sharia police remain a serious threat to their economic and social lives in the state. The Source learnt that non-indigenes resident in Kano for sometimes now have come to see the activities of the Hisbah Board as targeted at ruining both their social lives and business concerns. This has resulted in a no-love-lost situation between the Hisbah and most of the non-indigene population of the state.

Recently, on June 18, 2009 the frosty relationship between the state's non-indigenes and the Hisbah Board climaxed with the non-indigenes formally petitioning the presidency to protest what they described as incessant intimidation and harassment by the sharia police. Operating under the aegis of Ethnic Communities Resident in Kano, the non-indigenes in a formal petition letter entitled “Save our Souls: Stop Hisbah Now” and jointly signed by Chief Tobias Michael Idika and Prince Femi Adegoroye, president and secretary- general respectively, said as much they are clearly not in any way against the implementation of sharia as the backbone of government policies in Kano State, they are however worried about the prospect of Hisbah putting at risk the peaceful co-existence of Nigerians resident in the state through its constant harassment of non-indigenes as well as the obstruction of their business activities.

According to the petitioners, Kano is today known and acknowledged as the most populous state in Nigeria and commercial nerve centre of the North, owing to the fact that businessmen from all corners of the world found it a conducive environment for business and commercial activities. They however fear that the activities of Hisbah are threatening to rubbish and reduce this great status of Kano.

In the petition letter, which was also copied to the National Assembly and all relevant security agencies, the non-indigenes noted that between March 2008 and the present, the Hisbah Board in its quest to implement the shariah regime in the state has impounded and destroyed over 30 truck loads of drinks moving from the southern part of the country to the North.

Quoting statistics from the Hisbah Command, the petitioners stated that so far drinks worth over N250 million have been destroyed by the Hisbah, noting that the Hisbah in carrying out its activities often-times disregard due process and the law. “Very fresh in our memory was the incident of March 30, 2009, when the Hisbah intercepted a truck conveying drinks to Maiduguri. After a thorough investigation by the Nigerian Police, they charged the truck to a magistrate court which later released it upon findings that it was on transit plying a federal road. But to the consternation of law-abiding citizens, Hisbah after the court verdict, re-arrested the truck at the court premises, confiscated and destroyed the drinks, thereby throwing the rule of law to the winds,” the petitioners stated.

According to the petitioners, Hisbah has become so brazen in its activities that it has now usurped the functions of the conventional security agencies by way of mounting check-points on major highways where it stops and searches buses travelling from the South to the North. In many cases, Hisbah officials allegedly arrest and detain these buses in a manner that is believed to put fear into the occupants of the buses, most of whom coming to the North for business and other legitimate purposes. The petitioners added that, in most cases, the occupants of the buses are molested and manhandled all in the name of trailing alcoholic drinks.

“There would have been the mother of all riots in Kano on May 28, 2009, when Hisbah under the pretence of pursuing a truck made an attempt to unleash terror on Sabon Gari residents. It would have been bloody, but for the timely intervention of the police,” the petitioners stated. According to them, the shariah police on that day pursued a truck up to the heart of the area mostly inhabited by non-indigenes and in the process severely manhandled the driver of the said truck , whom they inflicted several machete cuts on. They alleged that the Hisbah would have killed the driver, Chukwudi Okoye, if not for the timely intervention of the police and some residents of the area.

According to the non-indigenes, it is no longer strange to behold Hisbah men attacking truck drivers on major highways, especially the Kano-Kaduna road, sometimes with various dangerous objects like clubs and cutlasses. “In most cases, when they (Hisbah) chase a truck of drink and it falls on the road, they would indiscriminately arrest non-native passers-by, detain them and charge them to court for a crime they did not commit. Then we ask, is Hisbah fighting an ethnic war? When has it become a crime for Nigerians from the southern part to reside and do business in Kano? Are we not still bound together by the spirit of one Nigeria? When have we become second class citizens in our own country just because of our social life or religious belief? Do we no longer have freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the freedom to live our life the way we want it? Must we be coerced to live in a way that is not customary to our life just for the fact that we are settlers in Kano ?,” the petitioners queried.

The petitioners further noted that after a careful study of the Nigerian constitution, they are convinced that there is nowhere the consumption of alcohol is prohibited by the constitution, adding that they are aware that alcohol manufacturers and consumers pay large amount in taxes into the coffers of the federal government, of which Kano State is a beneficiary. “We are also aware that up till now, agents of Kano State government tax and in most cases over-tax hotel operators and alcohol sellers in Kano, the same people they want to push out of business,” the petitioners stated. Drawing from the above, the non-indigenes argue that even if the Kano State government has enacted a law prohibiting alcohol consumption and sales, the federal law which did not do so should supersede that that of the state.

The petitioners are worried that the police and other security agencies, which are supposed to call the Hisbah men to order, have continued to look the other way while innocent citizens are harassed. According to them, the police and other security agencies have failed to live up to their responsibility of protecting lives and property, while at the same time allowing the men of the Hisbah to unleash terror on non-indigenes.

Thy accused the police of collaborating with the Hisbah in the molestation of non-indigenes in that, in most cases after arresting their victims, the Hisbah would normally hand them over to the police for prosecution. So far it is estimated that the police have successfully prosecuted about 13 cases referred to them by the Hisbah. “The question is: In the circumstances that the Kano State law on alcohol consumption runs counter to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which of them is the Police Force bound to protect?,” the petitioners queried.

Concluding, the petitioners said they are being forced to draw the attention of the relevant authorities to the alleged excesses of Hisbah men owing to the need to avoid any development that is capable of rocking the fragile peace of both Kano and Nigeria.

In a swift reaction to the position of the non-indigenes,the Kano State Hisbah Board last week described the petition as lacking in substance as well as not reflecting the situation on the ground. In an interview with The Source in Kano, the Director-General of the Board, Dr. Saidu Ahmed Dukawa, said the petition was at best meant to provoke unnecessary ethnic and religious sentiments. According to Dukawa, what is happening is that some people who reside in a state, where alcohol is prohibited, have refused to obey the laws.
“This law has been made and people should understand that everywhere in the world, liquor and things associated with it are under licence. And this licence for the sale of liquor has been withdrawn throughout Kano State by virtue of the provisions of the Kano State Penal Code (Amendment Law) of 2004 and therefore any business in liquor has become illegal. If anybody is not interested or has a problem with the law, that person should go to court,” Dukawa stated. According to him, it is wrong for some people – in the face of the law prohibiting alcohol consumption and sales in the state – to resort to petition writing.

The Director General also argued that by putting in place a law prohibiting alcohol in the state, the state authorities have not in any way infringed on the rights of anybody, adding that it is the court that can determine whether someone's right has been injured or not. “So what I am saying is that we should leave all the issues to the court to determine. I advise them to go to the court and let the court establish which of their freedom is being violated. Then when the court rules on it, we are ready to comply. All these petitions outside the court processes are not helping matters,” the Hisbah boss noted.

Debunking the allegation that Hisbah in carrying out its activities does not respect due process, Dukawa noted that his board has at no time gone against court orders in the discharge of its duties. According to him, there is nothing that can make them to go against court orders. In his opinion, the question of whether the state laws should apply on federal highways or not should be left to the court to determine. He contended that by prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol, the Kano State government is not doing anything extraordinary. “The same people we are copying, the United States of America, do the same. Go and conduct your research. In the state of Texas, for example, many counties have withdrawn licences for the sale of alcohol and if you are in any of these counties, you have to go out to take your alcohol. Then what is wrong in Nigeria where we are operating federalism for a state to say no to alcohol?,” Dukawa stated.
The Hisbah boss, while denying the allegation that his men often- times resort to manhandling truck drivers and alcohol dealers, said the board has pictures of its men seriously injured by the alcohol dealers. According to him, it is not on the pages of newspapers that the petitioners would determine whether or not Hisbah men inflicted injury on their people or not. Rather, he believes that it is the court that is in a better position to do that. “I have seen the so-called petition. Another allegation is that Hisbah is amputating people's arms. Then I ask: I am amputating people's arms and you didn't go to court and what you rather did was to go to the pages of newspapers because you want to provoke people and bring in sentiment into a case that would have been settled legally?,” Dukawa queried.

Dr. Dukawa vehemently denied the allegation that his men of recent took their fight against alcohol consumption to Sabon Gari, the non-indigenes enclave. According to him, even though the penal code did not exempt any part of the state, Hisbah has never taken its operations to the Sabon Gari area of the state. He however added that if the court rules that they can exempt federal roads and or the Sabon Gari area of the state, the Board would be ever willing to obey.

The Source's findings last week revealed that the petition of the non-indigenes was prompted by an upsurge in the activities of the men of Hisbah in recent times, in tracking down vehicles conveying alcoholic drinks to the commercial city.

This upsurge has resulted in the prices of all alcoholic drinks skyrocketing far above the reach of the ordinary consumer. It has also led to the los of millions of naira by the dealers whose products are mostly destroyed when seized.

In fact, the upsurge in the activities of Hisbah in recent times has tended to pitch them against the police which are being bombarded with complaints by those whose businesses are negatively affected in the process. The businessmen, who are mostly non-indigenes, are worried that the police have allowed the Hisbah a free reign, thereby aiding and abetting the ruination of their businesses.

As part of the efforts to protect their business concerns, which has come under heavy threat, the alcohol dealers alongside hotel operators in the state, recently filed a suit at a Kano High Court challenging what they described as an attempt by the Hisbah to ruin their businesses as well as alleged multiple taxation by Kano State authorities. The dealers are being represented in the suit by a Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo. The Source gathered that the legal tussle was mainly informed by a high tax regime imposed on hoteliers and dealers on alcohol recently by some local government authorities in the state, apparently to discourage the sales and consumption of alcoholic drinks and prostitution in the state.

By Suleiman Anyalewechi, Kano