Fresh from promises of governmental uptick in their remunerations after the gleeful destruction of 200 million naira’s worth of alcoholic drinks, Kano’s Hisbah Board has doubled its effort in tipping the scales of the state’s social structure towards religious extremism. The body, in an inferiorly constructed letter, notified Cool FM to make do without the term “Black Friday” in any of their broadcasts as it was not Islamic. The body also prevented stores around the state from conducting Black Friday sales. Hisbah has, in fact, been accused of several human rights violations in the past.
The Hisbah Board’s legal existence derives from the Hisbah Board law. Some Northern governors, felt that Sections 4 (6) and 11 of the 1999 Constitution allowed them the power to do it; so they did it. However, Section 1 (3) of the constitution provides for the supremacy of the constitution above other laws in Nigeria. Section 10 of the same Constitution states that the government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion. The establishment of sharia law or Islamic law, which Hisbah purports to enforce, ordinarily has been criticised as a loophole in customary law. Nigeria’s plural legal system tolerates customary law if it can scale three tests, but scholars have often argued that Islamic law is in fact a third legal system and quite different from customary law. Nevertheless, the balance, not to say the debate, remains delicate.
Section 6 of the constitution is unequivocal that powers to interpret the laws of the country, notwithstanding anything contrary in the constitution, would be the exclusive privilege of the courts of law. The Hisbah corps therefore should ordinarily not be empowered to act as judge, jury and executioner of the law in any instance, and any law purporting to grant them that power is unconstitutional, null and void. Indeed, it is the controversy surrounding the legality of some parts of Sharia law that has constantly pitched the Nigeria Police against the Hisbah Board in perpetual enmity.
Abdullahi Ganduje himself, Kano state governor who commended the Hisbah corps for destroying alcohol and promised the review of their salaries, has been accused of unethical behaviour. It would appear that executive immunity currently shields him. He has denied allegations of bribery but has frustrated attempts to probe such claims. If the allegations are proven, then he has also violated Sharia law. But will he subject himself to Hisbah’s controversial attentions? Religious policing is not only anti-democratic and unconstitutional, it is also hypocritical, especially as the body has now assumed the authority to carry out door to door searches to fish out “sinners”. Kano State and other parts of the North will do well to note that religion should not be a cause for the creation of a police corps as students of medieval history can recall. By the middle of 11th century, the European church had the power to mobilise armed forces and it abused that power, which ended up as the crusades, a symbol of Christian extremism. There is no evidence Hisbah will do any better.