A Nigerian mass wedding to fight stigma of 'divorcee'

In a state better known for bombings, a mass wedding of 100 divorcees to confront traditional stigma of divorce in Nigerian society.

Kano has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, as Islamist rebels calling themselves Boko Haram attack Christian churches and government installations.

But this week, Kano put itself into the history books in a different way, holding what is billed as the first "mass" wedding in Nigeria's post-colonial history.

The wedding had all the trappings of a carnival: 100 couples were married off by the Kano state Gov. Rabiu Kwankwaso. Grooms dressed in white robes and red prayer caps, and women wore long white flowing dresses and veils, and filed into mosques to hear Quranic recitations and speeches from senior politicians.  They all then filed out again to the streets, to be serenaded by traditional praise singers wishing the new couples the best of luck in their new marriages.

Aside from celebrating marriage, the mass wedding was also a platform for Kano society to break with old traditions of shunning those who have been widowed or divorced.  

The nongovernmental organisation Voice of Divorcees and Widows of Nigeria (VOWAN) estimates that more than 1 million divorcees and widows live in Kano state alone, and the state government plans to help select and marry off 1,000 screened couples in the coming months. In each of the 100 couples married in the mass wedding, at least one spouse who had been previously married.

Two blind couples also participated in the mass wedding, in a bid to confront the prejudice that those with disabilities suffer in Nigerian society. And because the ceremony was paid for by the state, it was a welcome break for couples who didn't have enough money to pay for a traditional, and often expensive, Nigerian wedding.

Suleiman Alarama, one of 100 grooms to get married at the mass wedding, gave thanks and praise to God for making it possible for him to have another wife. 

“Today, I have taken a second wife after the death of my wife two years ago; and my new wife is a woman I love so much. She is so dear to my heart and I have promised Allah to take good care of her,” the 50-something said.

According to Suleiman, for one and half years since the death of his former wife, he tried to get the new wife, but his ambition crashed due to lack of getting his right choice, but the introduction of this system by the government helped him now accomplished his mission to get wife

Magajiya Yau Ismaila, a 40-something divorcee, was also grateful that the state helped her to get her life restarted, after a painful divorce.

“I am back to life again," she said after the wedding, smiling. "My marriage crashed six years ago and it has not been easy living as a single parent. I have no job or means of livelihood. But today, Governor Kwankwaso, through the Hisbah Board has wiped away my tears. I am now happily married and I feel so great.”

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