•Wanted: policies that can increase opportunities for citizens
A mass wedding for 1,500 couples has taken place in Kano with the support of the state government and under the chairmanship of the Emir of Kano, Malam Mohammad Sanusi ll. This year’s ceremony, like many others in the past, was organised for low-income people. According to Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, the mass wedding that has cost the state more than N300 million is aimed at further reducing the problems associated with the high number of unmarried youths in the state. Each bride received N20,000 as dowry; N10,000 as fund to start or support business; and a wedding robe ‘shadda’ for the groom.
In addition, each couple was given complete sets of beds, side mirrors, wardrobes and mattresses; and complete set of cushion chairs. The Emir used the occasion to urge married couples in the state to always respect marital vows. He also announced the coming of a new law to discourage divorce.
It is remarkable that the ancient tradition of mass wedding started by Alexander the Great has become a ceremony to assist economically disadvantaged citizens to get married without over- straining themselves and over-stretching their limited resources. The generous assistance by the state to single men and women carries several social and psychological benefits needed by both individuals and the society.
This modest empowerment of vulnerable women at ritual moments, common in several African Islamic societies, is commendable, especially as it plays a vital role in promoting family values. The social assistance for the brides acknowledges the poverty among widowed and divorced women, reduces the problem of single parenting for such women; and hopefully combats some negative effects of sex and procreation out of wedlock, especially in a society already over-exposed to HIV infection. Undoubtedly, such intervention in the problems facing widows and divorcees and vulnerable spinsters can bring some hope back to women who may have lost hope of restoring their social dignity and self-esteem.
As laudable as the assistance by Kano State government to needy brides and grooms is, it is also proper for the state to include local governments in the screening of candidates for mass wedding. In addition, Kano State and other states with the tradition of mass wedding ought to be strengthened with establishment of a social research unit to track widows, divorcees, bachelors, and spinsters that may require such services, not only for showcasing during ceremonies, but also to create a social policy framework for holistic approach to impoverishment of marriageable men and women in the community.
Further, while the current programme of periodic assistance to new couples may respond substantially to some of the material needs of vulnerable men and women on a once-and-for-all basis, states interested in assisting vulnerable citizens ought to give more attention to understanding of the social and cultural causes of rising poverty that deprives able-bodied men and women of the capacity to carry such social obligation as average citizens. A comprehensive research into causes of divorce can also assist the state to seek ways of reducing the number of women that experience divorce, and, in the process, swell the number of marriageable women.
Any opportunity to empower vulnerable members of our society should not be missed, particularly when victims of such vulnerability are women and young girls. This life-affirming intervention via the mechanism of mass wedding deserves to be built into a formal social assistance policy of sub-national governments, especially local governments which are the closest to potential targets of such policy. Life in the country is already too tough for women and unemployed young men; therefore, any effort to reduce the stress of widows, divorcees, and the unemployed is commendable.
But such intervention ought to be a part of a well thought out social policy, not as a periodic gesture of generosity by governors. For annual mass wedding not to appear as a political stunt, state and local governments are advised to establish policies that look beyond tying of nuptial knots. A policy of educational and economic empowerment of citizens before and beyond wedding is needed, not only in Kano but in other states.
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