Who Are The Hisbah Corps?

December 10, 2020

Citizen is a column that explains how the government’s policies fucks citizens and how we can unfuck ourselves.

On Tuesday, December 8th 2020, Nigeria became the first democratic country to be included in the United State’s official list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for 2020 — a list that curates the countries that do not allow religious freedom and expression.

In the CPC list for 2020, Nigeria, alongsides Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK), Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were alleged to have been engaging in “systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations”.

Now, while this recent CPC list by the US State Department may or may not be a true picture of religious activities in Nigeria, it is important to know about some of the prominent religious institutions in Nigeria — including the hisbah corps.

First created in Kano State, in 2003, the Hisbah Corps are now present in other Nigerian states, with many Nigerians curious about their true functions.

The Kano State Hisbah Corps

Hisbah is an Islamic doctrine which means “accountability”. Under Shari’ah law, Hisbah is also a collective duty which means: “to enjoin good and forbid wrong”.

In Nigeria, the Kano State Hisbah Board Law No. 4 of 2003 and Kano State Hisbah (Amendment) Law No. 6 of 2005 established the first hisbah board in Kano State, Nigeria. 

The general function of the Kano State Hisbah Corps, as established by the hisbah board, is to be a local and vigilante police force which will enforce obedience to Shari’ah.

The Kano State Hisbah Corps is regulated by the hisbah board, which is composed of government officials, secular police officers, and religious leaders. The board is also made up of local units supervised by committees composed of officials and citizens in the communities in which they operate.

The Kano State Hisbah Board started operation on the 7th November, 2003, and is composed of:

  • A representative of the state shari’ah commission;
  • A representative of state zakkah and hubusi commission;
  • A representative of the state emirate council;
  • A representative of the state civil defense corps;
  • A representative of the ministry of justice;
  • The state hisbah commander;
  • A representative of the police;
  • A representative of the office of the secretary to the state government; and
  • Four other members who are part-time members.

What Do The Hisbah Corps Do?

In Attorney General of Kano State v. Attorney General of the Federation (2006), a very important court case over whether the Kano State government had the power to create the hisbah board and the hisbah corps, Justice Umaru Atu Kalgo, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (as at the time), stated that some of the most important duties of the Hisbah Corps include:

(i)  rendering necessary assistance to the police and other security agencies especially in the areas of prevention, detention and reporting of offences;

(ii) Handling non-fire-arms for self defence like batons, and other non-lethal civil defence instruments; 

(iii)  Assisting in traffic control; and

(xiii) Assisting in any other situation that will require the involvement of hisbah, be it preventive or detective.

However, other duties of the Hisbah Corps include resolving disputes, condemning violators of Shari’ah, maintaining order at religious celebrations, and assisting with disaster response operations.

The Hisbah Corps do not have authority to execute arrests and officers are armed only with weapons for self-defense, such as batons. Hisbah officers who observe violations of Shari’ah are also expected to simply alert the Nigeria Police Force. 

Recent Controversies Trailing The Hisbah Corps

In November 2013, the Kano State Hisbah Corps, also known as the Shari’ah police, confiscated and destroyed over 240,000 bottles of beer and alcoholic drinks, to the consternation of many alcohol retailers and distributors in the state.

In November 2020, the Kano State Hisbah Board wrote to Cool FM, a radio station, warning it to desist from embarking on a proposed “Black Friday” sale, given that the majority of Kano state residents are muslims who consider Fridays as a holy day, and that it is a gross disrespect to the religion to tag their day of worship as “Black”.

A few weeks ago, the Kano State hisbah board also conducted a door-to-door search of “sinners” in the state, and the board has now placed a ban on things like “stylish haircuts”, sagging of trousers, playing music at events by disk jockeys (DJs), and seizing tricycles adorned with images that are deemed un-Islamic.

Two women are also banned from sitting on the same motorcycle.

The Nigerian Constitution

Section 10 of Nigeria’s constitution states that the government of the federation or of any state must not adopt any religion as state religion.

Section 38 of the constitution also guarantees a Nigerian’s freedom of religion, including the fact that a person can change their religion at any time, and a person is entitled to engage in their religion both publicly and privately, anywhere in Nigeria.

However, since 1999, 12 states in Nigeria have instituted the Shari’ah, or Islamic law, as the main body of their civil and criminal laws.

It remains to be seen how Nigeria balances non-religious and religious laws in different states of the country.

We hope you’ve learned a thing or two about how to unfuck yourself when the Nigerian government moves mad. Check back every weekday for more Zikoko Citizen explainers.

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