Unhappy Women;

Abuse Divorce Drug Addiction

In Kano

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Kano is known as the “divorce capital of northern Nigeria”, large numbers of women are also becoming addicted to drugs. What is responsible for the large numbers of divorced women who get hooked on drugs?

Before Huwaila got married at 16, before she was considered ‘ripe for marriage’, she knew a woman from their neighbourhood in Tukuntawa, Kano State, who went to prison for stabbing her husband. The stabbed man did not die. Years later, he confessed to stabbing himself and blaming it on his wife.

The incident stayed with her. She remembered how the woman pleaded her innocence, begged the community to help her, how it was chaotic, how even when the man confessed, people still considered her guilty. 

Although the woman was released from prison, Huwaila said vital years of her life had been lost and she took to substance abuse.

Something similar almost happened to Huwaila.

Huwaila’s Divorce Story

Huwaila Nasidi Huwaila Nasidi, 27, had finished Junior Secondary School when her aunt introduced her to 42-year-old Musa.They courted for three months and Huwaila soon became his bride.“It was not enough time for me to fully understand him, and then, I was young. I only saw him a few times before the wed-ding,” she says.Huwaila was Musa’s second wife. He had a much older first wife who bore him three children, and Huwaila’s distress began when she witnessed Musa hitting his other wife.“I started to fear him. I was never happy that he fought with my co-wife or that he beat her up. I knew I was next.”
Huwaila describes Musa as a very stingy man with ‘weird behaviour’.“When I was about to cook, he would measure everything I was going to use. Sometimes it was as if he counted the grains because when I served him and he wasn’t satisfied with the portion, he would ask ‘what did you do with my food?’ It did not matter if we were having visitors, he would measure it to his stomach’s satisfaction and that was it.”Huwaila did not know it then but Musa was a drug abuser.One afternoon as one of Musa’s daughters, Zarah, was playing with a girl from their neighbourhood, the girl asked Zarah about her sibling, and Zarah, in childlike innocence, said that the sibling was dead.“Before her mother was divorced, she gave birth and the baby died. She simply said what she knew, she was only a child,” Huwaila explained. Apparently, it had ticked Musa off.“He left the house. When he came back at night, his face was scary, his eyes were red; it was like he had become a beast. I waited to see if he would cool off after a while but he stayed the same until it was time to go to bed. Then, I asked him if he was okay.”
Musa, intoxicated from hard drugs, began to yell at Huwaila and accused her of allowing others to speak ill of his dead son. She remembers how he began to punch into the walls, screaming at her. At the bottom of their bed was a basket of washed dishes, and then he pulled out a knife.Huwaila ran out of their house, clutching onto the wrapper around her chest, and let out a scream that attracted their neighbours.She refused to go back into Musa’s room and stayed outside until the crack of dawn.“It was cold, but I was so scared I kept crying. Our neighbours kept begging me to go back in but I refused.As soon as the day was bright enough, I threw on a khimar [a covering garment] and went home.”Huwaila and Musa were only together for 10 months, but it’d take him 10 years to officially divorce her. It was during this period that she found out he had been a drug abuser.

It was like that woman [the neighbour from her childhood] was me, and I had already seen myself in prison. It was either he was about to stab me, or he was about to stab himself. He could have even stabbed me and claimed I committed suicide or, like that woman, stab himself and people would blame me.

The received wisdom in the community is that there is a direct relationship between divorce and drug addiction. Dr Maikano Madaki, a professor of sociology at Bayero University Kano (BUK), says that drug addiction and poverty are major causes of divorce amongst couples in Kano. “It is either drug addiction leads to a divorce or a divorce leads to it, or poverty leads to divorce and vice versa,” he says.

Divorce, in the eyes of many, is the weakening of social bonds that leads to immoral behaviour and weakness.

However, there are other considerations that throw more factors into the relationship between divorce and drug addiction. A divorce itself does not lead straight to drug addiction, says Hadiza Fagge, a women’s rights advocate who works with divorcees in Kano.

She explains that for women, their descent into drug abuse begins due to unfavourable things that happen during the marriage. She adds that it is the same with women facing great levels of poverty because many of them are not empowered during their marriage.

“Some of them want to continue schooling, or want to have something to do but are burdened with marriage responsibilities that hinder them from getting what they want,” Hadiza explains. “It gets too much when the husband also does not provide.”

Kano, Northwest Nigeria

There’s a popular saying about Kano, a predominantly Muslim community: ‘Kano tumbin giwa. Ko da me ka zo an fi ka.’ 

It loosely translates to ‘Kano, the elephant’s belly. Whatever you come with, someone could and would have better,’ meaning if one came with all the riches and wealth in the world, there would be someone in Kano that had more, and if one came as the poorest person, someone in the state could beat him to the title.

One can see this adage playing out in the institution of marriage too. On the one side are people who push the limits of polygamy, usually within the bounds of Islamic law. On the other side are astronomically high divorce rates.

Kakaki roundabout in Kano, Northwest Nigeria. Photo by Zubaida B. Ibrahim/HumAngle.

Ironically, as the people emphasise the importance of being married, Kano has been described as the divorce capital of Nigeria. Dr Madaki explains that as much as divorce is the best option for abusive marriages, it has created higher numbers of female-headed households that face great levels of poverty. 

But female-headed households come as a result of how the Kano Hisbah Board, the state’s morality police, shares custody of the children caught in the middle of it all. Mallam Hussaini Ahmad, the Assistant Commander of the Kano Hisbah Board, noted that when dealing with divorce cases, the board prefers to give the women full custody of the children and orders the men to deposit a monthly allowance which will cater for their children’s feeding, clothing, schooling, and hospital bills.

“We do this because we look at the children’s morality and upbringing,” he says. The board believes that children get better home training from their mothers rather than fathers who are occupied with earning an income.

Although Dr. Madaki is of the opinion that the high level of poverty that troubles households of divorced women does not begin from the public perception of marriage as the most important societal aspect for women, HumAngle spoke to seven women who, with such sentiment, went into marriages that turned out to be disdainful. 

Some say they did not consent to their marriage in the first place due to their age. All of them had to stop schooling. One of them admitted that when she tried to start a business to empower herself while married, it was met with reproach. 

All of them have resorted to doing domestic work like cooking and cleaning for the town’s residents after parting with their husbands. This is so they can sustain themselves and the children in their custody. “It has been unfair, especially since none of us asked for this,” Hajara, a divorced mother of four, says.

Divorcees Tell All

Hajara Muhammad

40, married for 13 years.

“My friend’s sister, whom we grew up with, advised me to ask him [Hajara’s husband] so that I can buy stuff, and follow Saude [Hajara’s friend] who does business, so I can sell the items and be taking care of myself.

So I bought shoes, some jewellery, and other stuff. I will be putting them together and following Saude to go and sell. 

I asked him and he said it was a good idea because he didn’t have enough to provide for me.

He said I should go and wished me best of luck.

Eventually, one of his nephews started inciting bad thoughts into his mind.

That is this how he lets me go out, putting inappropriate thoughts into his head.

One day he just descended on me saying I had gone into prostitution, saying things that were not proper, then his nephew called me that I should pack my things from the house.”

Zulaihat Idris

42, married for 27 years.

“They will say this and that, to the extent that my in-laws accused me of using black magic on him [my husband].

That was when a strong hatred came between us.

When that hatred came, you know someone who hates you will do anything to see you destroyed, is that not right?

That was why I was divorced, not because of something.”

Second Divorce Story Third Divorce Story
Fatima Mohammed

44, has been married three times.

Fatima’s first marriage lasted two years

“When he [my husband then] came, he would just beat me or hit me and that was how my parents separated the marriage.

They said marriage cannot be abusive.

That was why I was divorced then because of how he used to hit me.

Everything I did, he would hit me, my lips would swell, my face would swell, everywhere.”

Her second marriage lasted eight years

“He stopped giving me attention, he stopped eating my food for two years.

I would enter his room and clean it, arrange it.

When I served him food, he would put it outside his door. The next day, I would do the same without getting tired.

When I boiled his bathing water, if he realised I was the one who did it, he would not use it. He would pour it away.

Until I left the house, I did not stop.

“It was after two years of doing all of that that I called his elder brother and told him.

I said he [my husband] should not deprive me of my rights. If we are going to fix it, let us fix it, if it means I should go, then I should go.

Then he said he didn’t want to be involved. When I realised he would not do anything about it, I packed my things.

I have an uncle in Mandawari, inside the town, so I went to him and told him I was tired.

If we will fix up, let us fix up. If I should leave, let me leave. It’s been two years since the situation began.

My uncle is a big cleric. He said it would not work out because my rights had been violated.

My uncle sent for him, but he refused to come. He sent for him again and he refused to come. Eventually, he said that he had divorced me since.”

Her third lasted a year

“The third one, if you hear the reason, you would laugh.

It’s not even a tangible reason the marriage was just meant to end that way.

When I gave birth, he came to me and told me he didn’t have anything for the naming ceremony and I said it was okay, ‘may Allah provide.’

After 28 days, he bought a small goat, a very young one.

So I said to him, ‘Can I advise you? Since the naming ceremony is done, why not allow this goat to grow a bit, because if we slaughter this one it doesn’t have enough meat; the meat would not be nice’.

I said let us allow it to grow bigger then you will slaughter it since the time has already passed.

He said he would not buy grains for the goat to eat and I said there was no problem, I would buy.

Then he said he didn’t want to keep the goat in his house and then I said that wasn’t a problem too, I could find a house to keep the goat until it grew and then we would slaughter it.

Then he said I was not capable of changing his mind and I should leave his house. That was why I got divorced.”

Yahanasu Yususa

35, married for 17 years

“We had a lot of problems between us. The thing was not working.

Eventually, my co-wife said he should send me away or get me another house because she was tired of seeing me.

She said it is either I left or she left and that was how his mother asked him to send me away.”

Salamatu Hudu

25, married for two years

“His first wife always made us argue and fight.

Personally, between me and him, we didn’t have any problems.

It just happened one day. I didn’t do anything and he just gave me a [divorce] letter.”

Hannatu Ibrahim

30, married for six years

When you are fighting with your other wife, you know how to come to me and cling to me without thinking of anything else.

But the day you resolve things with her, I become worthless to you.

[I accused him of this] then he replied, yes, you become worthless to me, this and that, raining insults.

And then I said not me, because beating today and tomorrow makes one hardened.

I used not to react and then I started responding. That was how we argued and then he divorced me.”

Aisha Muhammed

23, married for four years

“After we argued, he said that our thing would not work when I apologised to him.

He said, ‘My mother said if I don’t divorce you, she would invoke evil upon me.’

I asked, ‘She would invoke evil on you how?’

He said he had asked around and said what do I think about the issue.

I said, yes, he is right, he should take his mother’s words from there.

He didn’t say anything again but I stood up and started packing my bags, my clothes.

I went to our neighbours to tell them what had happened.

They were even asking what type of woman he was looking for.”

Before their divorce, Aisha and her husband, Hussaini, had been through multiple fights and arguments that neighbours had to resolve. She told HumAngle she did not meet Hussaini’s mother until a year after they had been married and her mother-in-law instantly disliked her.

On different occasions, her mother-in-law would send women to their home so Hussaini could choose a second wife, and when he hesitated, she  threatened to swear him off to doom.

Addiction Activation

The accounts from Hajara, Zulaihat, Fatima, Yahanasu, Salamatu, Hannatu, and Aisha  present a broader problem than being divorced itself. 

Although these women did not mention taking up drug abuse to stifle the trauma of being in mentally and emotionally abusive marriages, others have. Especially those from low-income homes or from homes where family values are entwined with highly patriarchal beliefs.

Influence from peers is another component to it. According to Abubakar Maitumaki, founder of Youth Awareness Foundation On Drug Abuse (YAFODA), a Kano-based non-governmental organisation that responds to the drug abuse endemic, every week, hundreds of girls are being ‘activated’ across various public gathering places in the state.

Activation, he says, is the first step to drug addiction. Matumaki explains that in his view, divorced women -especially those newly divorced- are pushed into dire situations where they are left to fend for themselves and their children.

This is because they are burdened with taking care of children whose fathers do not offer support and  the system does not bring them to book.  

In this view, unsuspecting women are pushed into taking illicit drugs, he says. This usually starts with their peers informing them about places where they could meet potential husbands.

The stories around these places emphasise the fear that some have of social gatherings and how women who become divorced, once they are outside the family, might ruin their reputation.

The shisha bar is one such place where women are said to be at risk. “They are given pipes to smoke.” Maitumaki says, “these pipes are laced with marijuana and other intoxicating substances.”

You will see a young woman, who may not have enough exposure, being brought from her house to an ice cream place. From taking ice cream, later on, they will be taken to a shisha joint where the activation will happen and then the women will start to experience some changes like feeling better about themselves. That is how it happens to the point that even if no one takes them, they will take themselves.

However, Hadiza Fagge puts into perspective how outside influence usually takes part in drug abuse. Women become addicted to drugs because the trauma they suffer is often unbearable, and people will take drugs to suppress painful feelings. “Especially married and divorced women, they know what they go through and it is upsetting.

They build networks. To them it is a form of support system and some may decide to contribute money just to buy you these drugs so you can forget about your pain.” But this short term numbing is not a healthy solution, she adds. Once addicted, people usually need help to escape the power of the drugs they take.

Another way divorcees fall into drug addiction is by trying to be more productive through taking a drug called Pregabalin, Maitumaki says. Pregabalin is classified under drugs that are anticonvulsants. It is usually taken orally and is used to relieve neuropathic pain that can occur after a spinal cord injury or to treat fibromyalgia. 

He noted that the drug is said to enhance strength and those who try to make a living through farming or finding manual labour, such as cooking and cleaning, in affluent neighbourhoods resort to it so they could work more and earn more money that will support themselves and their children. 

Maitumaki describes this trend of abusing drugs to boost productivity and income as a ticking time bomb. 

Aisha Sadiq (whose real name HumAngle is withholding) has been caught up in it.

Aisha Sadiq’s Story

For Huwaila, her ex-husband’s use of illicit drugs led to her being divorced, but for Aisha, it was the hardship from her marriage that pushed her to seek drugs as a way to feel better.

The idea of marital bliss had always been an idea to Aisha. From the beginning of her marriage to Audu (not his real name), he physically and mentally abused her.

Aisha was thrown into a grim mental state that started to take a toll on her physical appearance. “My skin became darker, and I had lost so much weight.” It was in that condition that she ran into a friend who almost did not recognise her. 

“She asked me, ‘how come you look so bad?’ and I told her what had been happening to me.” Aisha’s friend informed her about a drug she claimed would make her worry less and feel better about herself. 

“She said I needed the drug because worrying too much was bad for me and that it could result in high blood pressure, which could destroy my well-being.”

Although Aisha was clueless about this drug, she was eager to obtain it. Despite facing hunger, abuse, and hardship in her husband’s house, she says she had no one to turn to for help, and so when her friend presented her with this drug that could make her problems vanish, she took it.

Aisha would be ‘activated’ with Codeine syrup and Pregabalin, which she says made her worry less, work more, and sleep more until she divorced and lost custody of her children.


Dr Madaki, the sociologist, and Malam Maitumaki, founder of YAFODA, say that although there isn’t enough data, half of the crime and vices bedevilling the town are associated with divorces and broken homes. 

Malam Maitumaki also revealed that about 90 per cent of women he has counselled and rehabilitated were either daughters who fled from unloving homes or women who were finding ease from hardship in their marriages.

Hadiza Fagge, the women’s campaigner, noted that 30 to 40 per cent of women she has worked with who went into drug dependency did it due to situations they found themselves in while married.

She added that she blames the society that acknowledges the problem and understands that it has negatively impacted the state, but refuses to set up a policy that will mitigate factors that give rise to abusive marriages that lead to divorce and to drug abuse and poverty. 

Indeed attempts at wider reform have been resisted.

In 2017, the then Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido mentioned how husbands and parents were not discharging their duties, adding that many people are not following the conditions stipulated by Islam on polygamy which in turn has caused and is causing problems for women and children. 

He also expressed the urgency of setting up laws that protect the rights of women and girls, explaining that he had been able to establish a connection between polygamy, poverty, divorce and terrorism, while also stressing the need for laws that prevent domestic violence.

In one of his speeches, he noted that, “those of us in the North have all seen the economic consequences of men who are not capable of maintaining one wife, marrying four. They end up producing 20 children, not educating them, leaving them on the streets, and they end up as thugs and terrorists”.

These frank words were met with a grave backlash from the Kano state authorities. Sanusi was sacked as Emir and exiled from the emirate in 2020. The state government claimed he was removed “in order to safeguard the sanctity, culture, tradition, religion and prestige of the Kano emirate”, accusing the emir of “total disrespect.”

Hadiza Fagge says many are oblivious to the real causes of the problem. “Few days ago, a man called me to say that his wife had sued him. When I eventually spoke to her on the phone, she explained to me that she is pregnant and the man was not taking responsibility for her and her baby’s well being. She was pushed to seek justice.”

This is just one example of many, Hadiza says, as many women do not know their rights and even if they do, the majority would delay seeking justice because of how they might be viewed by their families. 

She adds that Civil Society Organisations and advocacy groups have called on and urged the state government to set up laws and policies that will make seeking justice easier, and reprimand husbands who are abusive toward their wives and children, “it will drastically reduce everything if these policies are set in place.

There should be a law that states if a husband divorces his wife and he is found at fault, he should be fined or the wife to be entitled to a percentage of his money.”

Hadiza added that currently the Human Rights Commision and the Kano State Hisbah are usually the mediators in such affairs, but their resolutions are not strong enough.

“It is the men’s fault and the society’s,” she says. Currently, divorce and drug addiction is affecting more women than men, she adds, and these cases are increasing day by day.


Interactive Editor/Producer: Muhammed Akinyemi

Editors: Andrew Walker, ‘Kunle Adebajo, Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu

Web design: Attahiru Jibrin

Illustrations: Rahma Jibrin

Multimedia production: Hajara Ibrahim

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means without proper attribution to HumAngle, generally including the author’s name, a link to the publication and a line of acknowledgement.

3 Responses

  1. This feature story depicted the agony and trauma of women faced in Kano. As a result of abusive marriages. What is the way out of this terrible situation for the future.

  2. And this is why the northern politicians want to keep it this way so they can use a ₦1,000.00 naira to buy their vote every 4 yrs. This is so sad.

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