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

Mario Bello: Youth advocate

"There's nowhere where the religion (Islam) recommends that the woman should be oppressed or the man should be oppressed, or that children should be oppressed or not listened to."
Mario Bello
Youth advocate

Mairo Bello, a Muslim who lives in Kano, West Africa, directs Adolescent Health and Information Projects (AHIP), a youth advocacy organization that provides information, education and counseling on sexuality and reproductive health. She has been active in the labor movement and in a coalition of Muslim women from the North.

On the North-South Split
When the southern woman sees the northern woman, she sees a stranger. She sees somebody that she has a stereotyped view of. The northern woman that is looking at the southern woman (thinks), "Oh, she is not a Muslim. It's anything goes, maybe she has no God-fearing streak in her." And the southern woman is looking at the northern woman as ignorant, backward. That's the way we see each other.

Fighting Ignorance
The biggest challenge right now is ignorance. Education for women in the North is much lower than education for the women in the South. We did not come to believe in education for a long, long time. A lot of governments are still fighting the communities to improve on women's education, to bring more enrollments of female students and all that. People still do not believe in educating the women.

It's just fortunate that a lot of the women are trying to educate themselves. ... It's not uncommon to see women that have been married off -- then from their husband's houses they start going back to school. Also, if the marriage breaks down, they strap their babies on the back and go back to school.

... If a woman has Western education and has the Islamic education put together, wow, she will do great. She'll do good [especially] if she gets the Western education and if she gets it with a focused mind on targeting what she wants to do or what she wants to be.

The northern Nigerian woman, a lot of times people see her as some senseless person. But she's the most intelligent woman around. You know why? Even though a lot of times she's not educated, she is downtrodden and she doesn't have the freedom to move around, she can still sit in her home, make a life for a lot of people. It takes some thinking to be able to make life for people. ... There are people who are backstage leaders, and we have a lot of such women.

You would be surprised at how politically conscious they are, even in that seclusion.

The Radio Revolution
The radio revolution is the best revolution that ever happened in the world. Because 24 hours, (even) in their seclusion, the radio is on in the compound. ... These women know every hour every station, and they are ready to turn from station to station. You would be surprised at how politically conscious they are, even in that seclusion. And the women in the South might not [be] as politically conscious as [the woman in the North] is in the seclusion because she gets her information firsthand all the time.

Everyone in the bush ... they have a radio around (the) arm ... . It gives enlightenment to a lot of people. ... It gets to people more than any other kind of media. Because the print media is for the educated ... and the television media is for people who have lights in our community. It's not everywhere you go that you get electricity ... . Your equipment and your battery takes you anywhere.

Women and Islam
As Africans we are brought up in some kind of cultural setting. We have cultures that have run over time, even pre-Islam, in [this] country ... . Sometimes you will find that a lot of inequity will come in, a lot of biases which have not been proscribed in the religion itself ... . There's nowhere where the religion recommends that the woman should be oppressed or the man should be oppressed, or that children should be oppressed or not listened to. There's nowhere where it is recommended that any segment of the society should be kept in ignorance. In fact, it is recommended that everyone will seek knowledge because it's only with knowledge that you can lead a good life ... .

The father should be seen to be relating to his wife like his companion, his sister. Not like a total stranger...

In Islam all people have their rights ... . I always tell people if the rights of women are followed the way it is in the religious book, the women will live perpetually happy. ... Religion has no gender bias ... . With religion, a woman can have knowledge, a woman can be given the same treatment you give to a man.

In a good Islamic home, the family should be seen as one. The family will discuss with each other ... . The father should be seen to be relating to his wife like his companion, his sister. Not like a total stranger ... . He is supposed to discuss with her, to take decisions with her, to consult with her ... because it is believed that the woman is a companion of the man and not "the man is the boss."

... Where the culture has already prescribed that you must be the boss, you are not allowed to even come as low as discussing with your wife, then the culture has impeded you from following what the religion says. ... It's not only Nigeria. Other African countries have this strong African culture that is handed down from generation to generation. Nigeria is no different. ... As it is now, gradually the younger generations are trying to reform certain things.

Equal Punishment
Sharia is supposed to treat both men and women equally. I think the reason a lot of people are talking about the discrimination in sharia is that sometimes the investigations are not followed through. For instance, a female is accused of being promiscuous or she is accused of getting pregnancy out of wedlock, which is not permitted in Islam. But if you need to punish the girl, she [did] not conceive like a Virgin Mary. Somebody put it there. The investigation should cover it totally and fish out whosoever is responsible for that pregnancy. We Muslims claim that science started from the Koran. If science started from the Koran, why don't we use science to prove who is responsible for that pregnancy?

As a Muslim, what I'm saying is that if it's good for the goose let it be good for the gander. So if you punish the female, get the man that is responsible for that pregnancy and punish him too. Whosoever [he] is, no matter how highly placed he is, he should be brought to justice.

Muslim Law and Non-Muslim Citizens
Sharia has always been in all the northern states. It's not like it's a new thing. But this (politician) thought the strategy for him to be accepted is to whip up sentiment and tell people, "OK, if you work for me I will bring back the full-fledged sharia." They voted for him based on his promise that he will revive [penal] sharia in the states ... . After he got into office he found that it's very difficult now to implement because that same state (has) different kind of people living in (it). You have Christians. You have Muslims. You have those that are non-Christians, non-Muslims. They are neither here nor there. So how do you start to implement sharia on these people? Because sharia itself recommends that it is only for Muslims. You should not make other people's life difficult. People listen[ed] to this guy and believed in him that if sharia comes, there will be some sanity. There will be more equity. All this anarchy will go away. All this joblessness will go away. He will create a Muslim state. The Muslim states live like communal states, where everybody is everybody else's keeper. But that never happened. People were still jobless. There was still crime.

NEXT - Stella Din: Publicist, Miss World organization

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