Celebrating 50 years of marriage in Nigeria’s ‘divorce capital’


A couple living in Nigeria’s ‘divorce capital’ are being praised for their long marriage, having recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Mahmud Kabir Yusuf and Rabiatu Tahir spoke to the BBC about the secrets of their happiness and why so many marriages fail in the northern city of Kano, in a widely commented-on video.

Mr Yusuf attributes it to his wife’s generosity.

“She is a very selfless person and she ignores a lot of things that contributed to the success of our marriage,” the 76-year-old told BBC Hausa.

That brought a smile to Mrs Tahir, who is in her late 60s. Together the couple have had 13 children – and she praised her husband’s ability to remain calm in the face of the difficulties that all families face.

“He’s a very patient man and I think that was also the key to our success,” she said.

The pair say they love and respect each other, clearly enjoying each other’s company and sharing a few laughs during the interview.

For Hassana Mahmud it is a revelation. The 39-year-old divorcee has been married five times and is impressed by the couple and their obvious contentment.

“In all my marriages, I’ve only spent four years with one partner, so it was refreshing to see them celebrate this milestone on social media,” she said.

“My husbands were all kind and caring during courtship, but changed after the wedding,” the mother of four said.

“I feel bad when I hear people calling Kano the ‘divorce capital of Nigeria’. I hope things change,” she added.

Kano got its nickname after the divorce rate began to rise in the 1990s, and the city has yet to shake off the unwanted label.

Hundreds of marriages fail every month in Nigeria’s most populous state, whose capital, Kano, is the commercial hub of the north.

Research by the BBC in collaboration with the local government in 2022 found that 32% of marriages in Kano State last only three to six months.

It also turned out that some people between the ages of 20 and 25 had already had three marriages.

Brides in red and grooms in white arrive at the central mosque in Kano for a mass wedding - October 2023Brides in red and grooms in white arrive at the central mosque in Kano for a mass wedding - October 2023

Brides and grooms arrive for a mass wedding at Kano’s Central Mosque in 2023 (Getty Images)

The scale of the separations is a concern, particularly for the Hisbah, a Kano state-funded Islamic agency that deals with moral issues and enforces Sharia, Islamic law, in the state.

There is a police unit that enforces things like segregation in public places and a ban on alcohol for Muslims, who make up the majority of the residents. There is also a counseling service that mainly helps married couples.

You often see long lines of women standing in front of the offices, complaining that their ex-husbands do not help with the support of their children.

In Kano, people often marry at a young age, often before the legal age of 18.

Others argue that the ease of divorce in Islam may be a factor, as husbands can simply tell their wives, “I divorce you,” or write it on a piece of paper and it’s over. Nowadays, a social media post is enough to end their marriage.

Aminu Daurawa works for the Hisbah to address the high divorce rate. One of their solutions is to give people a second chance and better prepare them for married life.

The agency organizes mass marriages, known as “Auren Zawarawa”, mainly for divorced people and acts as a matchmaker on a large scale.

The hundreds of newlywed couples who attend a grand wedding ceremony are also offered a small amount of money to set up a business and purchase other household items.

This initiative started in 2012, but Mr Daurawa acknowledges that divorce rates are still high.

“We know that problem. That’s why we set up a committee that checks every couple after marriage, so that we don’t get the same results,” he said.

Household items given to couples are seen alongside brides at the venue of a wedding reception at the Kano State Governor's Office after they attend a mass wedding at the Central Mosque in Kano city, Nigeria - October 2023Household items given to couples are seen alongside brides at the venue of a wedding reception at the Kano State Governor's Office after they attend a mass wedding at the Central Mosque in Kano city, Nigeria - October 2023

Couples at mass weddings in Kano are given household items to help them decorate their homes (AFP)

But Hadiza Ado, founder of the non-governmental organization Women and Children Initiative, says the divorce rate continues to rise.

“We are currently receiving around 30 matrimonial cases a day across our various offices,” she told the BBC.

“The worrying Nigerian economy is the main reason right now.

“Husbands go out to make ends meet and sometimes come home empty-handed, which leads to conflict.”

The use of matchmakers is common in Kano because in an Islamic society singles do not socialize with each other and it is therefore difficult to find potential partners.

The only place where the sexes mix is ​​at university or other colleges, but most people don’t go there.

When people are matched together, they often marry without knowing each other.

Mahmud Kabir Yusuf and Rabiatu Tahir were introduced to each other as boys by an older woman in their neighborhood.

She was the one who felt they would be a good fit, but they didn’t get married until twelve years later, which gave them plenty of time to get to know each other.

Rabiu Ado (R) meets a customerRabiu Ado (R) meets a customer

Matchmaker Rabiu Ado (R) is nicknamed “Mai Dalili”, which means “He who makes it happen” (BBC)

A man known for his successful relationships says that’s the key.

“A lot of research needs to be done before marriage to get to know the people involved,” Rabiu Ado told the BBC.

He started out as a matchmaker 10 years ago. The 46-year-old had no intention of becoming a marriage broker, although that was his mother’s job.

He was working as a truck driver when friends approached him with complaints about the difficulty of finding a partner.

After making a number of successful introductions, he realized he had a talent for the family business.

He now has billboards advertising his services – and gets between one and five clients a day. He interviews them and gets to know their attitudes and expectations. Often men want a woman who can make money and women want rich men.

“Many people enter marriage with the wrong mindset, which leaves them disappointed over time.”

He says he has performed about 500 weddings in the past ten years, with a success rate of over 90%.

He advises couples to always take the time to get to know each other well before getting married.

Mr Ado, who is nicknamed “Mai Dalili”, meaning “He who makes it happen”, says the high divorce rate means some people are not taking marriage seriously.

“I think the reason there are so many divorces in Kano is because people think that after a divorce I can always find someone else.”

Mahmud Kabir Yusuf and Rabiatu Tahir Mahmud Kabir Yusuf and Rabiatu Tahir

Mahmud Kabir Yusuf and Rabiatu Tahir knew each other for 12 years before they got married (Mahmud Kabir Yusuf)

Islamic cleric Abdullahi Ishaq Garangamawa defends the ease with which Muslims can apply for divorce.

“Islam is merciful and has made marriages and divorces easier so that people are not locked up if things don’t go well,” he told the BBC.

“We didn’t have that many divorces before because our parents were married for decades. It was only recently that people started abusing the process for selfish interests,” he says.

“But in essence, unlike other religions where it is until death regardless of the situation, Islam legalizes divorce if things get out of hand.”

Mr Yusuf, who formerly worked for the now-defunct Nigeria Airways, says sharing life’s difficulties and helping each other has been crucial to his lasting partnership with Ms Tahir.

“Love is also the key, because if you really love each other, you usually stay together.

“My advice to people who are getting married is not to go into it for selfish reasons, but with sincere intentions.”

His wife agrees, adding: “My own advice is that people who want to get married should be patient with each other – if one partner is angry, the other should remain calm.”

Additional reporting by Abba Awwalu

More Nigeria stories from the BBC:

A woman looks at her mobile phone and the image BBC News AfricaA woman looks at her mobile phone and the image BBC News Africa

(Getty Images/BBC)

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