Frontline World

NIGERIA - The Road North, January 2003

Synopsis of "The Road North"

A Chronicle of the Pageant's Troubles

Interview With Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka

Five Diverse Voices

Learn More about Nigeria

Sharia Law, Human Rights, the Role of Women




Nigerian Women Speak Out

Amina Ladan Baki Mohammed: Women’s rights activist

"Sharia is a way of life."
Amina Ladan Baki Mohammed
Women's rights activist

Amina Ladan Baki Mohammed is a Muslim living in Kano, West Africa's oldest city, an ancient trading center and a sharia state. She is the deputy general manager at Bank of the North. She also works with Baobab for Women's Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization that has helped Amina Lawal and others who have been accused of adultery.

Community Organizing
I remember when I started working with women on community development. We used to go into the rural areas. People were initially hostile. They did not accept us, they saw us as (people) coming to brainwash them or their women. We had to come down to their level. We go to their homes, sit on their mats, eat on their calabash, we would share their food. Just to show them we were people like them. And we trained them in what they wanted initially -- handicrafts, basic hygiene. And then gradually (we began) to put new ideas into them, so that in the end they (come) to understand your mission.

You're not there to criticize them, you're just there to pull them up, to make them more aware.

You're not there to criticize them, you're just there to pull them up, to make them more aware. ...We encourage women to organize themselves in cooperatives. Small loans of about 20,000 naira [approximately US$163], as a group, to be able to set up their small industry. We have a lot of rice farmers and handicrafts. You saw a kind of surge of economic activity made by women to be able to improve on their living conditions, to be able to earn, and to know that whatever they earned was utilized properly. They could clothe their children, train them to a level that they'll be able to stand on their own, not to be subservient, like them just sitting there, idle, expecting the men to do everything.

Women's Rights
In Katsina, like in other northern states, the research showed that the women were lagging behind in knowing their rights. ... Women have to be brought out of themselves to be able to participate in development, in their surroundings and most especially in understanding their rights as Muslims, as people, as Nigerians, and also to encourage them particularly to participate in politics. In taking decisions that affect them and the wider society.

In some areas women are just sitting idle, not doing anything, not participating. We said it was our duty to enlighten women through seminars, workshops and lectures. To get them to understand their position as women and what they can do to improve on their condition. ...

Women are now appreciating their importance in the family. Especially in a situation where you have polygamy, a man cannot single-handedly take care of his four wives or three wives or two wives and numerous children ... .

Sharia As a Way of Life
Sharia has been with us all along. Sharia is a way of life. It is the way you live, you train your children, you survive, you educate yourself, provide social services, leadership and so on. If followed strictly, there will not be poverty, there will not be immorality.

Sharia has been with us all along. Sharia is a way of life. It is the way you live, you train your children, you survive, you educate yourself, provide social services, leadership and so on.

... Some people probably think that sharia is all about women or drinking beer. But there's a lot more to it than that. Take the example of paying Zakat, alms-giving. If people could seriously consider giving a portion of their wealth for the upkeep of the poor, and the money is strictly used for that purpose, it'll be like a welfare state. There would not be poverty, because people would be taken care of under that system.

Sharia was made to test people's immoral behavior. But it's up to you to accept it or reject it. There's no compulsion in Islam. What really disturbs me is that it's only the women that get punished in this respect. And there are arguments about holding some tests to prove or disprove so that both parties can be punished. But the courts don't want to hear that, because it's men involved. ... It's always easier to accuse a woman because she carries the baby.

On the Riots
When people are idle, the slightest news, the slightest provocation, will ignite all sorts of negative behavior. (The rioting in Kaduna) wasn't just a clash between Christians and Muslims. My friends were on their way to Katsina from Kaduna; they were really hassled, their cars were smashed -- and they are Muslims, they were attacked by Muslims. ... There are so many people who have nothing to do, frustrated, idle, the slightest provocation and they start smashing things -- cars, looting shops.

Using Islamic Law to Stand Up for Women's Rights
What I would like to see for women, at least among the Muslims in the North, is for them to really go into their position in Islam, to be able to stand up and fight for their rights. Not to be satisfied by a man saying, "You're a woman and you should do this and that." As a woman, you have a right to be educated. As a woman, you have a right to lay out conditions of marriage. ...

Because he's a man, and they have decided to choose what they want to believe.

For example, you can say, "OK, I'll marry you, but provided you don't have a second wife." It's your right to do that. But people don't use it. We don't exercise our right. ... In Islam, a woman is allowed to have her own property. At the death of your husband, you have a right to a portion of his wealth.

... You have cases of women, our neighboring communities, where the man dies, and everything's taken over by his relations. Under sharia, you could not do that. In leadership, the leader is supposed to be fair, honest, forthright and everything. To build his society toward the truth. But what happens now? You have leaders who come in. By the end of the day, you don't have anything to show for all those years that they have served people. That's not sharia.

They sideline other things and call it religion, when really it's not religion, it's tradition. They pick up what's relevant to them. Especially because men are the leaders. In the case of Amina Lawal, why is it they're not listening to the other side of the case? Why is the man able to go free? Why can't they apply that same sharia to check him? Because he's a man, and they have decided to choose what they want to believe.

This is a global problem. When it comes to a man, he can get away with anything, but not a woman. Traditionally men are the figureheads, and they have this hold. ... But gradually things will change, our children and our grandchildren, we'll be able to speak up [for] more of [our] rights. Now you have women who often leave, to be apart [from] their husband. They want to leave, they're educated enough and they have enough to sustain themselves. ...

The opportunities aren't balanced, the women are so behind. (But) I have confidence it will change because people, women, are becoming more aware.


back to top