The state government of the Northern Nigerian State of Kano is on a mission to shed the image of its state being home the largest number of divorcees in Nigeria. On Sunday it hosted a mass wedding ceremony for 250 divorcees, widows and young unmarried girls. Its aim was to encourage marriage, reduce the number of divorcees and widows in the community, and help those who can’t afford it. Divorce rates in northern Nigeria are among the highest in West Africa. Although there are no definitive figures, it’s believed that one in three marriages fail within three years.
At Kano’s central mosque some of the 250 grooms gathered for the marriage ceremony. Most of them are men who might never have seen this day, were it not for the intervention of the state government that footed their entire marriage expenses.
85-year-old Ibrahim Abdirahman is one of them. With his 65-year-old bride Amina Osman by his side, he couldn’t hide his joy.
“I am very happy. This reminds me of my first marriage which I enjoyed very much. My first wife died and this marriage will surely fill a void in my life,” the elderly man said.
Outside his new home friends and relatives broke into song and dance as they shared in the elderly couple’s happiness.
The mass wedding was held to among other things try to reduce the high number of divorce cases in Kano, where it’s not uncommon for divorced women to be left fending for themselves and their children, sometimes on the streets. There are an estimated 1 million divorcees in Kano state alone.
The marriages were arranged by the Hizba board, the main Islamic authority in this predominantly Muslim state that also helped with the matchmaking.
Aba Sufi, the board’s director-general, explained how they brought the couples together: “We asked them to come to the Hisbah board, fill out a form and say what type of man or woman they wanted. Short or tall woman. Slim or fat one. Everyone got his preferred partner.”
After the campaign calling for prospective suitors, the board screened the applicants, including testing them for HIV. One of the couples is living with HIV.
The newlyweds were also given furniture including beddings, clothes and even food.
Each bride was also given the sum of 20,000 Naira ($130) – money meant to help the couple start a new life free from debt.
This help comes with a strict condition. Organisers say the men who married through this programme will not be allowed to divorce their wives without permission from them.