Kano: Nigerian city to ban sale of alcohol to non-Muslims

Business was good in the taverns of Kano as the city’s football fanatics gathered to watch the English FA Cup quarter finals over the weekend.

But as the beer sellers stacked crate after crate of empties back onto their lorries they seemed unaware that this might be one of their last loads.

The Government of northern Nigeria's biggest city — part sprawling warren of mudbrick neighbourhoods, part modern trading centre — insists it is finally getting ready to get serious about the application of Syariah, just over three years after millions of cheering Muslims celebrated its return.

"Last week someone caught drinking was caned on the back with 100 strokes as Syariah requires. The police prosecuted the case," boasted Sule Ya'u Sule, Kano State's genial young spokesman, welcoming a small victory for Governor Ibrahim Shekerau's policy of gradually involving Syariah in all aspects of his rule.

Last week's case should be a minor incident in an unruly yet conservative city, but in reality it marks a significant shift, Sule said.

The unlucky drunk's prosecution was overseen by Nigeria's federal police force, acting in co-operation with Kano State's Islamist vigilante force, the Hisba.

Once a gang of steet toughs loosely organised by the mosques to enforce Islamic morals, the Hisba has been brought under Shekarau's wing as a paid arm of law enforcement; reporting un-Islamic activity to the police for punishment.

Kano's Christian minority could be the next to suffer their wrath.

For although Syariah is not meant to apply to non-Muslims, Sule says the state is determined to enforce the law banning the sale of alcohol, whether it be in the crowded beer parlours of Kano's Christian ghetto, Sabon Gari, or in the high-class hotels serving expatriate traders and the political elite.

"Two weeks ago the Syariah Commission called all the hoteliers to State House. They were given a period of time to dispose of these things. I think it was three months," he smiled.

In Kano's neighbouring northern cities — Kaduna and Jos — more than 4,000 people have been killed in clashes between Christians and Muslims since 1999.

And even some Muslim leaders fear that this time the authorities could push their zeal too far and trigger violent unrest, in part because of the rising influence of Saudifunded ultraconservative Wahhabi Muslims in the Government.

"They need to send them packing, because of the dangers and distress they bring among Muslims, which could explode into violence," said Sheik Musalqasiyuni Nasir Kabara, one of the local leaders of the moderate Qadiriyya sect.

"We abhor alcohol, on that the sects converge, there's no doubt about that," he said. "The point of difference is how to go about solving the problem of the sale of beer ...The beers are largely drunk by Muslims.

"The issue is now to convince the Muslims to hold to Islam. If the Muslims now withdraw from Sabon Gari, they will have fewer customers there, and they will have to change their way of life, or move on," he advised.