Academic journal article Africa

Gender, Hisba and the Enforcement of Morality in Northern Nigeria

Academic journal article Africa

Gender, Hisba and the Enforcement of Morality in Northern Nigeria

Article excerpt


Vigilantism is a term often used to describe any form of policing and ordering that is non-state, and under analysis 'vigilantism' has often emerged as negative, associated with violence and violation of individual rights. However, a closer examination of the origin, practice, function and structure of some of the groups often referred to as vigilantes in Nigeria has revealed that not all of them fit into our understanding of vigilantes as gangs of youths that mete out violence and jungle justice to their victims. Some of these vigilantes have their roots in the community and are a preferred form of policing in Nigeria. Many such groups exist across the shari'a states of northern Nigeria, drawing their legitimacy from different and sometimes competing sources: the Yan'banga from the Hausa traditional and communal establishment, the hisba from the religious establishment and the Yan'achaba from the political establishment. What can we say about the operation, structure and function of these various 'vigilantes'? How is the politicking and struggle between religio-political and Hausa traditionalist elites shaping and reforming these three forms? What impact does this struggle have on women and the vulnerable? This article has two aims. One is to question the over-generalization associated with vigilantism in Nigeria by analysing one form of vigilantism--hisba--within the context of informal policing in Zamfara and Kano states. The other is to situate the issue of vigilantes within the northern Nigerian political context rather than within a simple moral framework that casts vigilantes as violent criminals.


Le vigilantisme, terme souvent utilise pour decrire toute forme de maintien de l'ordre non-etatique, ressort souvent negatif de l'analyse, associe a la violence et a la violation des droits individuels. Or, un examen plus approfondi de l'origine, de la pratique, de la fonction et de la structure de certains de ces groupes, souvent appeles vigilantes au Nigeria, revele qu'ils ne correspondent pas tous a notre interpretation des vigilantes en tant que bandes de jeunes infligeant de la violence a leurs victimes et les soumettant a la justice de la jungle. Certains groupes de vigilantes ont leurs racines dans la communaute et sont une forme privilegiee de maintien de l'ordre au Nigeria. Ces groupes sont nombreux dans les Etats du Nord du Nigeria qui ont introduit la charia, tirant leur legitimite de sources diverses et parfois concurrentes : les Yan'banga de l'establishment traditionnel et communal haoussa, les Hisba de l'establishment religieux et les Yan'achaba de l'establishment politique. Que peut-on dire du fonctionnement, de la structure et de la fonction de ces divers groupes de vigilantes ? Comment la bataille politique et la lutte entre les elites politico-religieuses et traditionalistes haoussa faconnent-elles et reforment-elles les trois formes etudiees ? Quel est l'impact de cette lutte sur les femmes et les personnes vulnerables ? Cet article a deux objectifs. Le premier est de mettre en question la surgeneralisation associee au vigilantisme au Nigeria en analysant une forme de vigilantisme--hisba--dans le contexte d'un maintien de l'ordre informel dans les Etats du Zamfara et Kano. Le second entend situer la question des vigilantes dans le contexte politique du Nord du Nigeria plutot que dans un simple cadre moral qui les apparente a de violents criminels.


The current expansion of the shari'a legal system to include criminal aspects in 12 out of 19 states in northern Nigeria is greatly influencing the dynamics of gender relations in the region. This is because since the expansion the question of the rights of women under shari'a is increasingly raised as one of the many issues now entering public discourse and debate. As implemented, the expanded shari'a law contains a bias when it comes to gender issues and women's concerns. This is demonstrated by some of the laws promulgated and the subsequent structures established to enforce these laws. …

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