IT’s by no means certain many Nigerians saw the bottle breaking event that took place in Kano last week as a form of the kind of intolerance the terror insurgents that have taken over many parts of Northern Nigeria are notorious for. But, however, insidious it may seem, what happened in Kano is but a variant of religious intolerance.

The hisbah, so-called Islamic police in Kano, had last week put up a show of violence that could only encourage others to toe its violent path. With approving nods from Aminu Daurawa, the hisbah chief in the city, the religious police had broken hundreds of thousands of bottles of alcoholic beverages and destroyed cigarettes in their hundreds of thousands as well.

This move, the hisbah said, was aimed at putting an end to the consumption of what it called ‘prohibited substances’ and to restore the ‘tarnished image’ of the city.

Sharia enforcers called Hisbah destroy thousands of bottles of beer outside northern Nigeria’s largest city of Kano on November 27, 2013. The Hisbah destroyed over 240,000 bottles of beer along with over 8,000 litres of local brew called “Burukutu”. AFP


The bottles that were destroyed had been confiscated from trucks conveying them around the city. In confiscating these so-called prohibited substances little or no attention seemed to have been paid to the unintended messages of such violence that is directed at others.

It is not possible that alcohol consumption is limited only to non-Muslims. There must be adherents of Islam who consume alcohol in spite of what their religion enjoins. While such people could be said to have ran foul of the codes of their faith, such can’t be said of non-Muslims. The question to ask then is what becomes the fate of those who do not share the religious convictions of the islamists?

This brings us back to where we were in 1999 when Sani Yerima ignited the sharia fire by proclaiming Zamfara a religious state under the sharia code. In a copycat fashion that was more political than religious, many states in the north of this country followed the example of Yerima.

The fire soon fizzled out down the line and nothing was heard of the sharia craze anymore. But some revanchists occasionally saw the opportunity for political relevance in pretending to uphold the sharia principle once in a while. Such is the case with the hisbah activists of Kano.

One cannot see the point in such open display of violence and intolerance, as was witnessed last week, at a time when the virulence of religious intolerance in the manner of the Islamic terrorists that have made the North a no-go area for non-indigenes is yet to clear up. People talk about a religion of peace but perpetrate violence in different disguises.

The question that many asked but couldn’t find answer to was whether this country or a part of it is or can be proclaimed a religious state. This is a valid question that Nigerians, especially political leaders, have shied away from asking for a long while.

This has gone on even when the original sharia advocate and underage-girls-loving senator Yerima and his cohort arm-twisted other legislators into the cul-de-sac of seeking constitutional backing for their pedophilic desires.

David Mark, the Senate President, had spoken then, just a few months ago, of the religious blackmail that forced the Senate into beating a retreat instead of taking on the matter head-on.

The foolishness of kicking the can down the road, effectively playing the ostrich, continues to nudge us in different directions that have turned the whole issue into a huge Gordian knot. But the matter is not as complicated as it seems if we would, for once, be honest with ourselves. It all boils down to this: what protection do people of other faiths have in places like Kano where some are determined to deny the rights of others to live as they please even where this poses no offence to the law guiding the Nigerian state?

It’s easy to say that Nigerians living in or visiting Kano must behave like Romans when in Rome. But what if similar demands bordering, this time, on religious or even ethnic differences which are not recognised by the Nigerian Constitution are imposed on followers of Islam from the North?

It may look like the activities of the islamists have no ethnic or regional colouration but there is no doubt that they seem directed at certain conduct presumably associated with ‘foreigners’ to Kano or other parts of the North where this kind of imposition subsists.

The belief that some people can simply impose their ways on others with threats of or actual violence should be revolting to all thinking people. Yet this is what we continue to witness even in official quarters in many parts of the north and generally among people acting in the name of Islam.

Even worse, we are beginning to see this in places like Ejigbo in OsunState where muslim youths assaulted the principal of BaptistHigh School, Layi Oguntola, for allegedly removing the hijab (veil) of a student, an allegation he denied.  When the terrorists opposed to so-called Western lifestyle and education explode lethal devices in religious places and on road sides, or slaughter innocent students in their sleep, we all express outrage.

But when people do the same thing in the name of the state, we pretend there is nothing wrong with it. What stops a person, taking their cue from hisbah, attacking another person on the street on grounds that they offend their religious sensibility or on suspicion of consuming any of those ‘prohibited substances’ that offend hisbah?

The Kano hisbah may feel justified to offer violence to people consuming ‘prohibited substances’. But in what way are they different from the terror artists who decree death to people in churches or schools? What right justifies such violence? And why must every issue be resolvable only by violence for these self-appointed soldiers of God?

At what point should we draw the line, insist on the right of others to live as they please as long as they have not infracted the law or insist we follow their example? For the truth is that we cannot all live in the same way. There will always be differences and the only way to avoid trouble in such situations is to recognise the right of others to live in accordance with their conscience and or faith. Any thing else is an invitation to anarchy.



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