Publication | Fatima Adamu

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Gender, Hisbah and Enforcement of Morality in Shariah Implementing States of Zamafara and Kano in Northern Nigeria
by Dr Fatima L Adamu, Dept of Sociology, Usmanu DanFodiyo University, Sokoto, Nigeria,


The interaction between Islamic and Hausa cultures in Northern Nigeria has produced a uniquely Hausa Islamic culture that has implications on the nature and dynamics of gender relations in the region. The Hausa Muslim women, because of environmental and historical circumstances do not conform to the perception of neither Muslim women drawn from Middle or South-Asia world nor African women active in the public domain as market traders and farmers. For instance, despite the restrictions of Purdah, the Hausa women have maintained one of the general characteristics of West African women, that of ‘private purse' that gives women some level of economic independence through engagement of the secluded women in income-generating activities within the home. Similarly, in Hausa society, as in some Muslim societies of Arab and Asia, many activities are segregated by sex. The difference however, is that such segregation in Hausa society has often been restricted to private space. Hausa Muslim women were hardly segregated in public spaces such as in the area of transportation, offices and public functions. Furthermore, the practice of Purdah in Hausa society is hardly linked to the issue of women's morality and family honour as it is often the case in the Middle East ( Papanek, 1973 and Rozario, 1992).

In addition, divorce at the instigation of either the wife or husband is very common in Hausa society and karuwaci (prostitution) carries little social stigma and women do move back and forward, between karuwanci and seclusion (Pittin, 1987, Imam, 1993, Schildkraut, 1983; Callaway and Creevey, 1994). However, the current expansion of Shari'ah legal system to include criminal aspects in the 12 out of the 19 states of Northern Nigeria and the subsequent establishment of structures to enforce the new laws, particularly the Hisbah organ, has changed that. One of the central roles of Hisbah is policing people's behaviour and morality. The existence of Hisbah to monitor and enforce morality beyond the family level has changed the landscape of the public space within which women operate. Morality becomes less of a private and personal matter to a more public issue. This will no doubt impact on women who are generally viewed as the custodian and symbol of morality in almost every society.

The concern of this paper is with the experiences of women in this process of new moral regime and it effect on gender relation in Northern Nigeria. The paper is analytical, focusing on the evolving reconstruction of women's appropriate behaviour in the current expanded Shari'ah legal system. Of particular interest is the role of Hisbah as an institution in such redefinition. How are Hisbah activities redefining morality? How is the redefinition of morality affecting women? We intend to answer these questions and situate our analysis with reference to the issue of transportation and within the context of the current crisis between the Hisbah and commercial motorcycle riders over female customers.

Conceptual and Theoretical Framework

The relationship between religious institutions and women status has been described as ambiguous ( Walker, 1999). On one hand, religion and religious institutions are described as major vehicles for gender ideologies that oppress women. This is because religion is often used to justify the oppression of women and the assertion of male superiority through the logical result of men's success in appropriating religious text (Mama, 1996). On the other hand, religion has been a resource and instrument for women's struggle against inequality and for women's liberation. It is within the frame of this ambiguity that this paper is situated. It is the contention of this paper that the expansion of Shari'ah legal system in Northern Nigeria may have provided Muslim women the opportunities to demand the rights of women in Islam that are being denied such as the right to education using the Shari'ah legal system as an instrument [1] . This is because, the rights of women under Shari'ah, like many other issues is increasingly becoming an issue of public discourse that can be negotiated. Equally the same is that the implementation of the expanded Shari'ah law is biased against gender issues and women's concerns. However, in this paper we are concerned with the later, that is, gender bias in the implementation of Shariah in Northern Nigeria. Of particular interest is the current interest of the Shariah implementers over public morality which is mostly associated with the curtailment of women's activities and visibility.

Saddling women with the burden of morality is not restricted to Muslim communities and societies. It is a general feature of a patriarchal society and of all religious communities, particularly communities and societies experiencing religious revivalism as is the case in Nigeria. Women's central role as wives, mothers and transmitters of cultural and religious beliefs make it necessary for their behaviour to be regulated. Referring to the Muslim societies, Moghissi (1999:19) contends that “Muslim woman, her sexuality and her moral conduct, has remained a central pre-occupation of Muslim men over many centuries. This pre-occupation has been translated into institutions, policies, legal practice and personal status codes which determine women's participation in public life”. The question is why are Muslim states and religious leaders obsessed with regulating and curtailing women's movement and activities in the name of morality? Feminist Scholars have provided explanations apart from the religious one that sees the issue as that of religious obligation and the safeguarding of women's dignity and society's morality.

The first explanation provided by the feminists is linked to Islam and Muslim scholar's perception of female sexuality. According to Mernissi (1987) and Rozario (1992), societies are generally concerned about regulating female sexuality. The strategy a society adopts to regulate it depends on the dominant perception over sexuality. In a society that practises segregation of the gender, female sexuality is thought to be active, and in a society that does not, that sexuality is assumed to be passive. Thus, the practice of segregation and Purdah in Islam and Muslim societies is related to the perception of the early Islamic scholars of the power of women's sexuality. According to Mernissi, women's sexuality is assumed to be active, dangerous and powerful and can therefore distract men from their religious and social duties. Moghissi (1999) argues that the seductive power of women which no man can resist is of concern to the Muslim community for two reasons. First, because of the weakness of men in resisting women's sexual power, there is the possibility of continual engagement of men in sexual activities at the detriment of worshiping God. The second reason is related to the threat of this power of women to the Muslim social order and morality. Thus, in order to protect men and society against the destructive power of women, segregation is emphasised. To Mernissi, segregation is one of the strategies or mechanisms meant to curtail the power of women in order to protect men against religious laxity and safeguard public morality. The Mernissi perspective, supported by other Muslim feminists found support, although most likely unintended, from Muslim scholars. A Muslim theologian Maududi (1962:145) quoted in (Razario, 1992:88) writes that “the most important problem of social life is... is how to regulate the sexual urge into a system and prevent it from running wild”. Thus, in order to safeguard public morality, there is the need to control women's sexuality through the practices of curtailment and segregation.

The second explanation is linked to the socio-historical processes in the construction of gender relations in most parts of the Muslim world. The Oriental's and colonial construction of the Muslim woman and her sexuality have caused cultural anxiety and concern in the mind of the Muslim man. Hiding Muslim women from the gaze of the western view and guarding their bodies and minds from changes produced by foreign intervention, argues Morghissi, is viewed as the protection of Islamic identity and communal dignity. Women are described as Islam's Achilles' heel (Adamu, 1999), a means through which Islamic morality and culture can be undermined. Thus, women are viewed as symbols and protectors of Islamic morality and identity, but who are, at the same time weak in moral judgement and therefore must be controlled by enforcement of high standards of modesty and limiting women's interaction with men. The foregoing two explanations have contradictory view about women, but similar consequences for women's role in the public space. For instance, on one hand, women are viewed as having more power than men; while on the other hand, the women are presented as the weaker sex that cannot withstand the pressures of western influence. The outcome of the two positions is restrictions and curtailment of women's public activities generally associated with Muslim societies and Hisbah, as an organisation or a movement has been the enforcer of such curtailment in many Muslim societies.

The Concept of Hisbah

Central in this paper is the concept of Hisbah. Hisbah is an Arabic word meaning an act performed for the good of the society. Islamically, the word is derived from Qur'anic verses and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that make enjoining what is rights and forbidding what is wrong obligatory on every Muslim. In the Qur'an, Allah states:  “Let there arise from you a group calling to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong.  It is these who are successful.” (The Qur'an 3:104).  Prophet Muhammad states that: “Whosoever among you sees an act of wrong should change it with his hands.  If he is not able to do so, then he should change it with his tongue.  If he is not able to do so, then with his heart, and this is the weakest of faith”. Islamic Scholars have interpreted these injunctions as applying to both individuals and society or state. At individual level, a Muslim is not to watch quietly as wrong act is being committed or an act of righteousness is being neglected. At the society or state level, Hisbah is meant to act as a mechanism for safeguarding the welfare and laws of the society. Thus, as a religious institution, an Islamic state or society is expected to have a Hisbah body responsible for enforcing the Shariah legal system and safe guarding it against violation.

According to Islamic literature, Hisbah as an Islamic institution performs the following functions (1) Protecting Islamic faith by ensuring that it is applied in the lives of the people, and safeguard against being corrupted. That is, Hisbah is responsible for everything that deals with safeguarding, reviving, and facilitating the faith. (2) Preparing a righteous society by supporting and cultivating high moral standards and by combating and eliminating immoral behavior. The duty of a Hisbah official is to prevent public acts of immorality and may be authorized to punish those who engage in them. (3) Working toward building a social conscience or social deterrent that keeps people away from violating the principles and general customs of the society. (4) Maintaining, fostering, and preserving upright social standards and ensuring that they are properly understood.

If these are the functions of Hisbah in Islam, how does it, in reality, function and operate in Nigeria? Before answering the question we need to review the thorny issue of the position of Hisbah in a multi-religious state like Nigeria.

Hisbah and the Nigerian State

The existence of Hisbah in the Shariah states to enforce Shariah and to maintain law and public order despite the existence of the Nigerian Police Force in such states has earned the group wrongly the label of vigilante. To what extent can the Hisbah be labelled vigilante remains an issue of academic discourse. What is obvious and uncontested are the complications arising from the existence of such parallel institutions in the Shariah states. The first complication is linked to the legal positioning of the two institutions within the Nigerian state. Hisbah corps belongs to the state government, and the p olice force is a federal institution answerable to the Federal authority. Although the police are expected to enforce both Federal and State laws, they are not trained in the field of Islamic law and, therefore, may lack the capacity and the will to do so. This is especially so, if the police officer on the ground is not a Muslim and therefore, may not have the will to enforce the Shariah law. The problem is compounded if such Shariah laws contradict the federal laws. For instance, in states where alcohol was banned, policemen and soldiers have continued to drink it openly. In addition, the police have not been active in enforcing new Shariah codes of behaviour such as dress codes for women and segregation of sexes in public transport.

Related to the above, is the nature of the relationship that exists between the police and the Hisbah. Feelings of mutual suspicion and distrust between the Hisbah and the police have been reported (HRW, 2004, Adamu, 2002, Lawan, 2004). It is a general belief among the Muslim leaders that the police would try to sabotage Shari'ah implementation because of the Federal government opposition to it. In fact, Hisbah emerged because of the belief that the police can not be trusted to enforce Shari'ah. The Human Right Watch has reported that the Hisbah members often complain of lack of cooperation from the police, and claim that when the Hisbah group apprehend suspects and hand them over to the police, the police hardly follow up such cases, and sometimes the police release the suspects. On its own side, the police has claimed that the Hisbah often arrest people on frivolous grounds, or on suspicion of committing acts which are not criminal offences. 

The existence of these parallel institutions performing similar functions has resulted in conflict of interest between the police and the Hisbah which resulted in clashes.  For example on May 30, 2003, in Hotoro, Nasarawa local government of Kano State, police officers clashed with members of the Hisbah who disrupted a wedding party on the basis that it was an “immoral gathering”. A group of about twenty members of the Hisbah group from neighbouring Tarauni local government entered the house of the person hosting the party, beat and injured several people, and damage properties. The police responded to complains from the organisers of the party and about thirty members of the Hisbah were arrested. Such incidences had occurred in many Shariah states, especially between 2000 and 2003. Since 2003, the two bodies have managed to avoid such unpleasant incidences and cooperation between the bodies has improved across the states.

However, a recent development in Kano state has changed the relationship between Hisbah and the Nigerian Police Force and by extension, the Federal Government of Nigeria for the worst. On the 9 th of February 2006 the overall boss of the Nigerian Police Force, the Inspector General of Police accused the state of trying to turn Hisbah into a parallel police force. The police boss also accused Hisbah leadership of soliciting foreign funding and technical assistance for training of the Hisbah corps. As a result, the group was banned and its leadership arrested for questioning by the Federal Government. Soon after that, the Minister of Information Mr Frank Nweke alleged that “The Kano State Hisbah Board has, with brazen disregard for the overriding imperatives of national security, sought the assistance of foreign governments for the training of '100 jihadists' in the areas of 'intelligence' and 'practice of jihad (Daily Trust Newspaper, 10 th of February 2006). In response to the allegation, in a State live radio broadcast, the Kano state Governor called the ban of Hisbah unconstitutional and states that “it is a blunder for anybody to interpret Hisbah as an independent terrorist group... We will pursue all constitutional means to assert our right on this issue". He further challenged the Federal Government to take the matter to court and said “We have heard the Inspector General of Police's announcement but to us, we have followed constitutional due process before Hisbah was established and the law that constitutionally gave us right to form Hisbah is still in existence and therefore, Hisbah will continue operating in the state… In a democratic regime, if any Government or individual felt that a particular law which was constitutionally established was wrongly formulated, such government or individual has only two alternatives: that is either go to court to challenge it or through the Assembly” (Daily Trust Newspaper, 10 th February 2006).

To sum up, the position of Hisbah within the Nigerian state is controversial and the legality or otherwise of the group has remained unresolved as is the case with the criminal aspect of Shariah in the country. The debate has centred over the extent to which adopting Shariah legal system amounts to the adoption of Islam as a state religion and to what extent has Hisbah constituted a parallel police force. Another debatable issue is does the Nigeria Police Force or even the Federal Government have constitutional power to proscribe a body or an institution established by a state law? The third controversy over the ban is the allegation of training jihadists and the circumstances surrounding it, in particular the fact that the evidence was traced to an internet through a letter written to Libya and Iran embassies. Answers to these questions may have to wait until the Federal High and Supreme Courts pass judgement on cases brought before them separately by the Kano state government

Operation of Hisbah in Northern Nigeria

Hisbah becomes relevant in the vocabulary and social formation of Northern Nigeria as a result of the expansion of Shariah legal system in some states in the region. Operation of Hisbah in Northern Nigeria occurs at both individual and societal levels. The nature of Hisbah operation and their roles has earned the group the label of vigilante. Like other vigilante groups in Nigeria, the Hisbah is dominated by youths who are locally recruited by traditional and religious leadership of the community. At t he beginning, the operation of Hisbah started at the level of individuals. As soon as the criminal side of Shariah law was re-introduced, people in their capacities as Muslims started to answer the Islamic call for believers to enjoin good and forbid bad deeds by volunteering to enforce the Shari'ah laws and forming Hisbah, independent of the government. Youths in their thousands across the Shariah states voluntarily offered their services to make the Shariah a success. Co-coordinated mostly at grass root level by traditional and religious leaders, the groups help in detecting crimes, making arrests and forwarding suspects to the police for necessary investigations and possible prosecution. They operate by patrolling the neighbourhood and enforce the law by apprehending suspected offenders and handing them over to the police. They sometimes administer justice instantly. Hisbah members carry stick and whip which they occasionally use to beat up suspected offenders of the Shariah law. They are recognisable by their uniforms and are on patrol with their vehicle clearly labelled with their names. These private individuals who voluntarily render their services enjoy little or no fix salary; however, they may occasionally receive support from the local or state government or community leadership.

As the activities of the group expanded and complains mounted, the state governments where this situation existed were forced to intervene to regulate and supervise the activities of the Hisbah group. In some states like Kaduna and Katsina, a committee was set up to supervise and monitor their activities and to ensure that they operate within the boundary of the law. Under this arrangement, the independent Hisbah group became recognized by the government, but was not part of the government. In some state however, the group either became integrated into government, or the idea of Hisbah as an enforcement agency was adopted by the state governments. In either of the cases, a structure generally referred to as Hisbah commission or board were created and by 2003 laws backing the structure were also passed by some states such as Zamfara and Kano. Under this situation, members of such board or commission were drawn from the existing government ministries/ parastatals and from the pool of Islamic scholars in the state. They also enjoy regular salaries and any other benefits enjoyed by the public civil servant.

Each state has spelt out the roles and duties of the Hisbah. In Zamfara state, the responsibility of the Hisbah include; (1) monitoring the implementation and application of laws relating to Shari'ah (2) ensuring proper compliance with the teachings of Shari'ah by workers in the private and public sector (3) monitoring the daily proceedings of Shari'ah courts to ensure compliance with the Shari'ah penal code and code of criminal procedure (4) reporting on all actions likely to tamper with the proper dispensation of justice (5) keeping a record of all people in prison with pending criminal cases (6) taking every measure to sanitize society of all social vices and whatever vice or crime is prohibited by Shari'ah (7) taking every measure to ensure conformity with the teachings of Shari'ah by the general public in matters of worship, dress code, and social and business interaction and relationships and (8) enlightening the general public on the Shari'ah system and its application (Human Right Watch Report, 2004)

In Kano state an officially established and controlled Hisbah became operational with the creation of Hisbah board in 2003 (Lawan, 2004). The board has a full-time Chairman, with representations from the Shari'ah, Zakkah and Hubusi Commissions, and representatives of all the law enforcement agencies and security outfits in the state. The responsibilities of the Hisbah spelt out in the section 7 of the Hisbah Board laws of 2003 include:

•  Rendering necessary assistance to the police and other security agencies especially in the areas of prevention, detection and reporting of offences;

•  Encouraging Muslims to unite in their quest for justice, equality and enjoin one another to do good and avoid evil;

•  Advising against acquiring interest, usury, hoarding and speculations;

•  Reconciliation of civil disputes between willing parties; and

•  Assisting in traffic control and emergency relief operations.

To be able to carry out its function of social re-orientation, the Hisbah airs a weekly radio programme called “Muryar Hisbah” (Voice of Hisbah). Most of topics covered under this programme are moral issues related to gender relations and marriage formations. The programme is meant to act as an instrument of sensitization and admonition of the public. To further strengthen and control the activities of Hisbah, the Kano state government inaugurated 9000 Hisbah Corps members with 900 members being women. The members are drawn from different parts of the state and from the volunteer or independent Hisbah members.

Other functions of the Hisbah include control of traffic during and after working hours especially the rush hours and where the traffic wardens do not cover. For instance, the Hisbah stay longer, from 7 am to 9 pm compared to the police that stayed from 7 am to 6 pm. After seeing the impact the Hisbah is having on traffic and the commendation from the public, the police also extended its duration of operation to 8 pm. The Hisbah also helps in settling minor accident cases and marital matters thereby decongesting the courts (Lawan, 2004). For instance, a woman from Sabuwar Gandu has tried for nearly a decade to get divorce through the court process on the ground of the husband's alleged impotency. At the intervention of Hisbah, the husband has granted the wife her wish (Lawan, 2004). The preference of the people to Hisbah is captured by one Kano resident in Kofar Na'isa. He said “I prefer to take my problems to Hisbah because they are more transparent than the police. No bribery, no bail money, and no hassle. In our area they have reconciled many family problems, and helped in curbing juvenile delinquency among our children” (quoted from Weekly Trust, February 18-24 2006). Another area of interest to Hisbah is in providing humanitarian assistance. In the recent crisis in Kano over the Jos religious crisis, the group was used by the government to quell tension by discouraging spread of rumors over the issue. They also distributed relief materials to victims of the crisis from the donations collected from the public.

The functions of Hisbah were aptly captured by two Hisbah leaders as that of guidance and education. One leader in Kaduna said their function is to ensure that Islamic law was implemented, and to enlighten people “to prevent them from going the wrong way…“If someone commits a mistake, it is the duty of the Hisbah to tell him it is unlawful.  If the person changes his conduct, then it's OK.  If he doesn't or continues making the mistake, it is the duty of the Hisbah to report him.  But the Hisbah is not the police or the army.  They just have a duty to guide people the right way.  If a person offends once or even twice, they don't apprehend him” (Human Rights Watch Report 2004). Another leader in Kano said “Enforcement is done by the police and the courts. The Hisbah is not a law enforcement agency per se.  It is a supportive agency.  If they apprehend someone, they preach to them.  If the person refuses to change their ways, they hand them to the police … The Hisbah are supposed to draw attention to transgressions.  They enjoin people to do good or preach to prevent them from doing bad.  In Shari'ah, there is room for advice before you get to the courts” (Human Right Watch Report 2004).

One central concern over the activities of the Hisbah is the tendency of the group to abuse the rights of citizens. A Human Right Watch Report enumerated cases of abuse that took place between 2000 and 2002 as (1) Frequent arrest of people and flogging and beating them up for a variety of offences. (2) In states that prohibit women and men travelling together, such as Zamfara and Kano, there were cases where Hisbah stops vehicles carrying men and women and ask the women to disembark.  (3) They also sometimes disrupt conversations between men and women in public places on the grounds that such gatherings were immoral.  (4) Seize and destroy alcoholic drinks and damaging the vehicles transporting them. (5) The rights of people to privacy were often violated at the beginning of the operation of Hisbah. This type of abuse of privacy has improved in recent years. It is through abuse of such rights that cases of adultery against Safiya Hussaina and Amina Lawal were brought before the courts. In both cases, the Hisbah members acted on a tip up and used it as the bases for questioning the women, even though they have no right to do so. Despite these reported cases of abuse, Hisbah did not have cells where they detain people. In fact, in one case in Zamfara State in 2000 a Hisbah member who had reported the case of a woman seen with a man in a room was himself charged on spying on the woman, and was flogged (Human Right Watch report, 2004).

The above problems of Hisbah are partly linked to the characteristics of the group. Apart from being dominated by young men with low level of formal education, they also lack background in law or training in law enforcement procedures. There is little training program for the Hisbah. In Kaduna, once members are recruited, they are given a handbook in Hausa on the definition and duties of the Hisbah, and other guidelines, such as how to approach people in the right manner (HRW, 2004). 

Despite the adoption of Hisbah as a government institution, the relationship between the Hisbah and the governments of the Shariah states is not always smooth and sometimes it is antagonistic. The involvement of Islamic scholars in the operation of Hisbah means that the Hisbah may sometimes hold different views and adopt different approach from that of government. For instance, Independent Hisbah flourished in Kano under Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso between the year 2000- 2002 because of the perception by the Islamic scholars and the general public that the government's approach to the implementation of Shariah was inadequate. However, with the election of Governor Malam Ibrahim Shekarau in 2003, an Islamic Scholar and a trusted supporter of Shariah in the state, the official and independent Hisbah merged.

The marriage between the Kano state government and the Islamic scholars was short live. Some Islamic scholars have questioned the strategies being adopted by the government in the implementation of Shariah. They accused the government for not being hard on such social vices and places as beer parlor, brothel houses and mixing of men and women. Consequently some members of the Hisbah commission resigned their appointment in protest and continued to attack the state government over its moderation. In their response, the government accused the disgruntled Islamic scholars of extremism and intolerance borne out of the fact that they have not been given permanent appointments in the Shari'ah bodies.

From the foregoing therefore, the operation of Hisbah in Kano state that is at the forefront of Shariah implementation is muddled with a lot of politics and uncertainly and therefore evolving. For how long Hisbah stays relevant institution within the Shariah states remains debatable. What is not debatable, however, is its impact on gender relations in such states as explained below.

New Regime of Morality and Construction of Gender relations

One of the noticeable changes in the Shariah states occasioned by the emergence of Hisbah is the emergence of a new regime of morality. This new regime is defined by the transfer of morality from the private sphere of the family and individual conscious to a public sphere of the state and religious bodies. This new regime is reflected in a series of restrictions against both men and women and over gender related issues. For instance, all the cases of zina (fornication) that so far attracted death penalty under the Shariah criminal legal system have their root to this shift on morality. Safiya and Amina cases would have been handled and settled at the level of their families and that of their alleged boyfriends prior to Shariah expansion rather than being a state and court affairs. The new regime of morality has affected and imposed restrictions in many areas of interaction between men and women. Of interest in this paper is in the area of transportation.


Like many countries in Africa, Nigeria has no organise and reliable public transport system. The vacuum created by lack of public means of transportation is filled by private individuals. The means of transportation within Nigerian cities had been buses and small cars taxi. However, as the cost of cars and buses, and fuelling them became high, many owners diverted their cars and buses to long distance route thereby creating scarcity of buses and car taxi in the Nigerian cities. At this stage, the condition was ripe for the introduction of new and alternative means of city transportation system, and motor cycle provided such alternative. The motorcycle soon became the most popular means of transport in Nigerian cities because of the number of factors. First, small amount of capital is needed to start the business, thus, many people were able to engage in it. A brand new motorcycle costs between 60,000 to 120,000 Naira compared to a second hand car for taxi that may cost between 300,000 to 500,000 Naira. Second, the cost of maintenance is extremely low compared to cars and buses, especially in the area of fuel consumption considering the continuous increase in the price of fuel by the government over the years. These two factors attracted many small scale investors, especially women into the business. The third factor for the popularity of the Acaba, Okada, and Kabu-Kabu (variably referred to the commercial motorcycle business) is the availability of young secondary school leavers who could not secure admission into high institutions or secure employment. On the part of the consumer, the motorcycle transport service is popular because of its convenience. It is always available in every corner of the Nigerian city. A person does not have to stay for a long period waiting for service or walk a distance to a service points as is the case with buses and cars. Immediately you are out of your house, a Achaba or Kabu-Kabu, Okada rider is available. Similarly, because motorcycle can operate on the narrowest of the roads and on a footpath, the Okada people take customer as closest to her/his destination as possible. In addition, it is the fastest means of transport because most often, they beat up traffics by avoiding the main roads. With all these advantages, and other disadvantages such as frequent accidents, the Achaba or Okada or Kabu-kabu is cheap. It costs less than the regular car taxi driver.

In view of the above factors, motorcycle transportation becomes the choice of most of those that cannot afford their own motorcycles or cars, majority of whom are women. However, as mentioned above, one of the disadvantages of the commercial motorcyclists is frequent accidents mostly as a result of rough driving. Added to that is the unladylike nature of climbing and disembarking from the motorcycles. It is not a good sight seeing a woman thrown from a motor cycle with most of her body exposed because of the general nature of women's wrapper and skirt dresses. This issue has always touched on the sensitivities of the general public and has been an outstanding gender issue related to motorcycle transport service long before the expansion of Shariah.

However, the expansion of the Shariah legal system and the establishment and operation of Hisbah as the guardian of morality brought another gender dimension to the issue. The site for the enforcement of morality shifted from the private sphere of the family where seclusion of women is generally practiced to the public sphere of the state. Women and men on a motorcycle sitting very close to each other is seen as offensive to public morality and therefore the concern of Hisbah. According to the Director General of the Shariah Commission in Kano State “everyone knows the type or manner in which women sit on motorcycles and it looks quite adulterous because women sit quite close to Achaba riders with their bodies touching each other. If mere looking can lead to adultery, then the manner in which women sit on motorcycles can increase the rate of adultery” (Weekly Trust, February 18-24 2006). Thus, the discourse for the need to have gender segregated means of transport features for the first time in the public domain, particularly among Shariah implementing scholars. The discourse over women's use of motorcycle as a means of transport shifted from being an issue of women's safety to that of public morality.

In order to enforce public morality, the practice of men and women sitting very close to each on a motorcycle needs to be stopped. There are few options available. The first option is to provide women with an alternative means of transportation and then ban the practice. Second, is to encourage female motorcyclists in order to have all women motorcycle transport service. The second option is a non starter because it may offend public morality more. Consequently, first option was adopted by the two states of Zamfara and Kano. The rest of the Shariah states seem to be short of the political and religious will to act on the matter.

Thus, in May 2004, the Kano state house of Assembly passed a legislation “Traffic Amendment Law 2004” banning women from ridding on commercial motorcycle. The law among other things punishs a defaulter with a six months imprisonment with a fine of 5,000 Naira ($37). The defaulter may also lose his permit for six months. Months after the passage of the law, the Hisbah corps of 9000 members were inugrated by the Government to enforce Shariah, including the new traffic law. During the inugration about 500 three-wheeled motorbike taxi and 100 buses for women only and later made available for woman's use at various points of the city. Months after ban, women have continued to travel on the commercial motorcycle claiming that the buses and tricycles provided for them are inadequate. They also claimed that female customers pay better than male customers.

The enforcement of the ban started with the Hisbah members stopping and warning commercial motorcyclists and the women passengers to desist from disobeying the law. Over 2000 motorcycles belonging to the commercial motorcyclists were seized by the Hisbah group. However, on the 14 th December, the Hisbah members changed their tactics by ordering women off the bikes. This action of the hisbah angered the commercial motorcyclists and they responded by attacking the Hisbah members and burning the tricycle bikes provided for women by the government. It was reported in the Nigerian media that atleast 11 people were injured and dozens of government vehicles belonging to the Hisbah were destroyed.

The confrontation between the Kano state government and the Federal government over the ban of Hisbah some few days later took the heat off the issue. Hisbah members became less visible in enforcing the ban. In fact, the lack of response from the public by rioting and even for the Federal government to dare ban Hisbah was linked to the tense relationship that was existing between the public and the hisbah. If the relationship between the general public, particularly the youth and the Hisbah was normal, the Federal government may not have banned the group because of the fear of rioting by the youth causing insecurity.

Conclusions: Implications for Gender Relations

The redifination of the role of women in morality and in particular, the current emphasis on public morality that desfranchised women from riding commercial motorcycle will impact on women and gender relations. There is the concern that the emphasis given to public morality may over the years feed back into our understanding of private morality. As a result, private and family morality becomes increasingly linked to the behaviour of the female members of the family in the public space. As a result, brothers may began to take of the role of protecting family morality by overseeing their sisters morality in the Public.

If public morality is interpreted in terms of women riding or not riding commercial motorcycle for example, then majority of women would suffer as a result. There is no doubt that it will affect women's access to education, particularly in the areas of enrolment and school attendance. Majority of schools in Kano city are not boarding, consequently, female students would have to compete with workers during the morning rush hours to use the available public buses and tricycle provided by the government. The looser is obvious, the trouble of having to stay on the road for a long period may discourage the female students going to school or their parents from sending them to schools. Even where they continue to attend, late coming to schools is inevitable. Similar situation is possible with regards to women's access to health. Women are likely to pile up their health problems and that of their children before seeking medical assistance because of the inconvenience of having to stay on the road for a longer period.

Perhaps, one of possible victims of this change is women's involvement in politics and governance. Already, records of the North in relation to women's participation in politics and governance is bad, the emphasis on public morality will worsen the situation. The possibility of using State apparatus to deny women's participation in politics and governance using the excuse of mixing of women and men in such activities is real. Riding commercial motorclycle could be a step towards imposing more restrictions on women's involvement in activities within the public space.

One of the main critisim laballed against Shariah implementation is its insensitivities to the condition of the poor. The law banning women's riding on commercial motorcycles is no doubt disadvantegeous to the poor. Women, whose husbands cannot afford personal cars and generally rely on the motorcyclists to conduct their activitiess would have to do with the government buses and tricycle that are not adequate. This will no doubt restrict their movements. Equally important is the effect the ban would have on the earnings of the commercial motorclists, who are mostly poor. In fact, riding motorclycle is associated with poverty and lack of or limited options. Responding to the ban a motorcyclist states that "the government intends to put us out of business by this new law because we can't feed our family by relying on male customers who do not pay as much as women," (AFP news agency).


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[1] DFID, under its Security, Justice and Growth Programme, managed by the British Council is involved in 2004 and 2005 with a project on the promotion of women's rights under Shariah. A report detailing current practices related to women in Northern Nigeria and the position of Shariah law on such practices has been published and series of activities are to be implemented.