Kano Mass Wedding: Addressing Social Problems Through Policy

Kano State of Nigeria is known by many as the commercial hub of northern Nigeria. Home to more than 15 million people, according to the majority of estimates. The birthplace of the world’s richest black manKano has no shortage of interesting talking points as their unofficial motto goes: Kano ta Dabo tumbin giwa, Yaro ko da me kazo an fika. Translated as (Kano the city of Dabo, the Elephant’s belly, young man whatever you are up to, you will more than meet your match here). And as expected, the state is in the news yet again. This time around as a result of a policy decision that guarantees to raise divergent opinions. the Kano mass wedding.

The state government had just announced its intention to carry out a mass wedding ceremony for widows and unmarried ladies of the state. Who ordinarily can not conveniently afford the typical wedding rites and traditions of Hausaland. Yes, in case you are not aware, marriages are expensive in this part of Nigeria. The families of the girls spend a fortune to provide their daughters with what they will take to their matrimonial home. These requirements include –but are not limited to– complete interior decorations for the bride’s matrimonial home; complete kitchen equipment and utensils and foodstuff that can last a substantial period of time after the wedding. 

Kano mass wedding

1,800 prospective couples are expected to benefit from the scheme. In a video shared on Twitter, the head of Hisbah, the state’s agency responsible for regulating the religious, social, and cultural image of the state, is seen listing the items to be provided by the state government to the prospective brides. These include: A 6×6 feet bed locally made with medium-density fiber Wood, a mattress, a wardrobe, a dressing mirror, 50kg bag of rice, a carton of macaroni, and 10 liters of cooking oil.

A bride price of N50,000 will be paid to the bride by the state government on behalf of the groom and another N20,000 will be given to the bride as capital to start a nano business. The package is so generous that even the attire to be worn by the groom and bride on the wedding day will be provided for by the state government. 

A total sum of N854 million has been approved by the state government for this elaborate ceremony. At a time when fuel subsidies have been removed and there is general hardship experienced throughout the country, some pessimists are questioning the viability and rationality of this socialist intervention. Arguments are also being presented that in a state that still has a reasonable number of out-of-school children, is this a judicious allocation of public money?

The agency charged with administering this wedding scheme responded by highlighting some benefits to be derived. These benefits include: Easing the burden of marriage on the parents of the bride; curbing the menace of sexual debauchery and ultimately reforming the institution of marriage through the introduction of bureaucracy and guidelines. 

The state’s agency has since started sharing forms that itemize the guidelines for prospective couples. The form requires information on: 

  1. Complete biodata
  2. Source of income/employment status
  3. Evidence of good character and conduct
  4. Comprehensive medical report
  5. Two guarantors/sureties
  6. Evidence of place of residence 

Additionally, prospective couples are to be enrolled in counseling classes under the administration of Hisbah.

Having established a reasonable preamble on the wedding initiative, let us look at some of the possible implications of it from social, economic, legal, and psychological perspectives.

The Social Context of  Subsidized Mass Weddings

As earlier highlighted, the need for marriage subsidy by the state government is borne out of some traditional and cultural practices that guide the marriage practice in northern Nigeria. It is important to ask, why are these requirements important in the first place to the point of needing government intervention?

Marriage in Hausaland is seen predominantly as a form of worship. It is a means through which intending couples can seek the pleasure of their Lord through a religiously codified institution. It is worth noting that religion did not stipulate the bride to furnish her matrimonial home. It is the responsibility of the groom to provide for his bride a suitable accommodation according to his means. The Hausa people thought it wise to provide a woman with these items to take to her matrimonial home as a form of a buffer against possible tension and criticisms. 

The Hausa people are very modest people and guard their honor and dignity with such fervent candor. Anything that will cause discomfort or shrink the self-esteem of their daughters is avoided. That is why they go out of their way to arm their daughters with lavish provisions to take to their matrimonial home. The foodstuff she takes with her serves as a reminder to her husband that she was not married out because her parents are tired of feeding her or because they can not afford to do so.

It also serves as a buffer for the husband to recuperate from the lavish expenses he went through in the course of the wedding. Hausa people desire for their sons and daughters to begin their marital journey on a very good and comfortable footing. 

Unfortunately, a well-intentioned social norm turned out to become a sacrosanct part of the wedding requirement in the region. Weddings are considered by many to be incomplete without the fulfillment of these rites. Households that are on the lower stratum of the income scale toil very hard to meet the social standards. In many cases, the daughters have to hawk or engage in menial jobs before they can contribute to her wedding funds.

Many of the roadside food vendors in northern communities solely engage in the business in order to raise funds for this purpose. As a result of this, the marriage of such girls is closely tied to the success or failure of this side hustle. This is a situation that has a direct connection to the clamor for girl-child education. These girls should ideally be focusing on their studies and not contributing to fund the expenses of their own weddings. 

It is against this social context that the state government considers it pertinent to subsidize the wedding expenses of Kano citizens in order to lift the burden off the shoulders of parents and prospective brides. 

That is one side of the coin. The other is occupied by the social problem of divorce in society. Due to the high population of Kano, the population of divorcees in the state is high. There is some level of stigma attached to this status of women. Many times, women are wrongly judged and prejudiced by society when they are divorced. This prejudice has a strong impact on their prospects to remarry.

This is why the government considers it pertinent to intervene in their situation. By lifting the burden of bride price for prospective grooms, and providing the divorcee woman with the necessary traditional requirements and business capital, the government aids in boosting her coefficient to gain suitors. 

As a result of this, it is common to see even unmarried young men expressing their interest in marrying divorcees. A circumstance that is a rarity in northern communities. It can therefore be seen how this mass wedding provides a leveler for divorcée women and veils them against the ugly prejudice of society. 

What is the Cost-Benefit Ratio of the Kano Mass Wedding?

The total budget for this Wedding is less than a Billion Naira. In a state that is the commercial hub of northern Nigeria and home to many billionaires. It is important to state that the state government has left the window open for interventions from well-meaning Kano citizens to contribute to the success of the wedding scheme. 

One billion naira will be spent to bring 3,600 Kano people together in matrimony. Another 7,200 Kano parents will be happy to have been subsidized from the struggle of Wedding expenses. A total of 10,800 Kano citizens will benefit from the N820 million Naira. This means N75,000 naira will be spent to curb the tension and worry of 10,800 Kano citizens. Tension and fears can not be measured in monetary terms but this amount is a bargain to pay for the mental and social health and well-being of any citizen. 

Research has shown a direct relation between marriage and improvement in productivity of especially the husbands. Who are, in our part of the world, expected to be the breadwinners of the family. It has also shown that married people are least likely to be involved in violent crimes or reckless societal activities such as political thuggery and hooliganism. 

Moreover, widows whose previous marriages have ended due to natural causes can now enter another marriage and continue to benefit from the stability of matrimonial homes thanks to this government subsidy. Children of such widows will also have a stable life and grow with the much-needed presence of a two-parent family setting.

Some level of political capital and social credibility will be won by the government as champions of the masses. Beneficiaries will bear witness to the ability of the government to live up to its responsibility as the custodians of the overall social life of the populace. The more trust and confidence the public has in its government, the more ability it will have to pursue other public objectives with greater understanding and support from the public.

Members of the extended family who are better off than others and are mostly saddled with the responsibility of funding the marriages of their nieces and extended cousins can heave a sigh of relief with this mass wedding. Funds that they will ordinarily invest in sponsoring such weddings can be spread across the larger extended family to give succor to those in most desperate need or use it for other profit-accruing businesses. As it so happens, the people of Kano are very enterprising and hard-working business people. 

The Legal Implications of Mass Weddings

The issue of consent in marriage in northern Nigeria is guided by Islamic law which stipulates that a woman who has reached the age of puberty must consent to marriage before it can become legal. Contrary to popular misconception, an adolescent girl can not be imposed and forced to marry. The knowledge and approval of the girl’s parents or guardians is also an important requirement for legal purposes. This is what will guide the Hisbah in officiating the marriages. 

For the widows and divorcees, the state, under the able representation of the governor and Emir will serve as their representatives. While unmarried ladies will have to be represented by their parents, unless the parents choose to waive this prerogative in favor of the state. 

Unless the Hisbah states otherwise, girls under the age of 18 can participate in the mass wedding as it does not violate the penal code and traditional practice available in northern Nigeria. The Child Rights Act 2003 that caps the marriage age for Nigerians at 18 has not been adopted in Kano state and many other states of the federation. The Act can not serve as a basis to render such marriages invalid. 

While many marriages in northern Nigeria are tied without any written documents in the form of marriage certificates, this mass wedding will involve the issuance of marriage certificates according to Hisbah. And for that, any dispute or issues pertaining to the marriage have to be addressed through Hisbah.

In order to protect the sanctity of the mass wedding scheme and ensure husbands do not run away after enjoying the fruits of honeymoon, the Hisbah has a clause that says any man who divorces the wife or absconds from the marriage without due diligence will be mandated to repay the state the amount they expended to conduct such marriage. 

As earlier stated in this essay, necessary information will be collected from prospective couples which will form a dedicated register and database for the wedding. This record-keeping is essential, given how notorious Nigerians are at maintaining data. A robust database should be created by Hisbah to monitor and evaluate the progress and success or failures of each marriage they officiated. 

In 2013 and 2019, such mass weddings were conducted but data on the outcomes after ten years are not available in the public domain. For the purpose of transparency and justifying the taxpayer’s money that is expended to sponsor this mass wedding, routine updates should be provided to the public. Doing so may open doors for other states to learn and adopt the policy based on their own peculiarities. 

Psychology vs. Sociology of Mass Weddings

Marriage is a personal choice and not a compulsion. A union between two persons who seek to come together on their own terms to become life partners. The psychology of it is necessary for the ability of all prospective couples to be fully ready for marriage. The Kano Mass wedding may induce a shift in the psychology of persons who may simply jump into it because they are guaranteed it will be subsidized. This is why the role of Hisbah in ensuring the readiness, capability, and mental stability of all persons seeking to get married through this initiative has to be comprehensively ascertained. 

On the sociological part, the self-esteem and dignity of participants of the mass wedding may be affected. The subsidization of their wedding by the government will serve as a perpetual reminder of their penury and poverty. It will open doors for community members to remind them of their inability to marry off their daughters without the help of the government. The pride and ego of girls and parents may significantly be altered. 

This raises the concern for the need on the government’s part to respect the privacy of participants. The mass publicity of the event will put the couples in an undeserved limelight. If possible, the interventions should be channeled through local government councils and ward councilors and be done in as discreetly and privately a manner as transparency and accountability demands. As it is, 50 couples in each of the 8 Local Government Areas that form the Kano metropolis and 36 other LGAs in the state are expected to benefit. Let the interventions be decentralized through these levels of government.

Concluding Remarks

The Kano State Government has taken an interesting leap towards subsidizing wedding expenses for their citizens in an uncommon show of socialist inclinations. The success or failure of the scheme will largely depend on the ability of the institution charged with its administration to implement it with tact, wisdom, and transparency. 

The larger implications of this socialist policy remain to be seen in how it will shape the extravagant practices of weddings in Hausaland. The rich do not deserve to be subsidized and the poor who are being subsidized may have to live with the reminder of their incapability.

There is hardly any policy capable of wiping poverty completely off the face of any city in the world. Those who are advocating for the empowerment of the prospective couples rather than subsidizing the wedding should realize that the government is not doing this marriage for the unemployed but for those who are eligible for marriage and have the means to cater for a family but fall short in their finances to satisfy the social obligations of a wedding in Hausaland.

Instead of scrapping this social practice that is well-intentioned, the government opted to uphold such traditions as its social responsibility as the custodian of the sociocultural fabric of Kano state.

The Kano Mass wedding serves as a reminder that a government is that through which people can project their aspirations and yearnings and have them protected through the instruments of power and authority. Democracy does not have to be what the West considers it to be. The government of Kano has shown how flexible democracy can be and can bend to serve the peculiarities of its localities. You do not have to agree with what the government of Kano chooses to spend its public money on, provided the people it represents are satisfied with such decisions.

Abdulrahman Baba-Ahmed

Abdulrahman is a student of piolicy and development studies who has passion for and interest in writing on sociocultural and political happenings within Nigeria. He can be reached via email: babaahmedabdul16@gmail.com