CIVIL society group the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (Huriwa) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to disband the Hisbah police force operating across several northern states because its existence violates the country’s constitution.
Over the last few weeks, Nigeria has been involved in a fierce debate about the role of regional security agencies after the six governors in southwest Nigeria formed am intelligence gathering outfit called Amotekun. Opponents of the scheme have said it risks dividing Nigeria along ethnic lines but it supporters say a precedent already exists as outfits like Hisbah already exist across northern Nigeria.
Set up in 2003 in Kano State, the Hisbah police was established to implement Sharia law and arrest those who breach the religious commands of Sharia. Huriwa, a frontline advocacy group, explained that Hisbah was an illegal group that violates the constitutional rights of Nigerians in the north.
Huriwa’s national coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko said: “It is no news that policing and security in Nigeria is the exclusive preserve of the federal government. Section 214(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides thus. There shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions to this section no other police force shall be established for the Federation or any part thereof.
“In most states of northern Nigeria, there exists one form of security apparatus or the other under different names with uniformity of functions and operations of Hisbah. The Hisbah police functions principally to enforce Islamic Sharia by enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong on every Muslim.
“First, there is the problem of legality of the outfits whether established by law or not in the light of the provisions of the constitution regulating policing and other security agencies in Nigeria as stated earlier. This clearly negates the argument in some quarters that such outfits, like Hisbah Police in Kano State backed by Kano State Hisbah Corps Law of 2003 passed by the Kano State House of Assembly, are legal.
“The passage of those laws on matters not within the legislative competence of the State Houses of Assembly makes the laws and by extension the outfits or organisations which they establish, illegal ab initio. The Hisbah police often effects arrest even though the law setting them up do not empower them in that regard, these they do sometimes in the most crude fashion including disruption of social and economic activities.
“They sometimes invade people’s privacy or premises without warrant or legal authority. They also carry out raids of vessels or vehicles or premises believed to be harbours of or used in the delivery of alcohol, seize and destroy the products.
“In 2017 the Sokoto Hisbah Commission was reported to have stormed the wedding party of the daughter of the governor, Aminu Tambuwal and seized the disk jockey’s musical instruments for allegedly violating sharia law. Other functions of the Hisbah Commission include the enforcement of rapists to marry their victims, settlement of marriage disputes and arrangement of marriages for those without suitors.
“Despite the argument that the Hisbah Police do not bear arms, they have in actual fact been found with arms and have thereby become a threat to lives in some occasions especially to the non-indigenous residents of or visitors to the applicable communities. Third, an inherent problem of the Hisbah Police is its religious colouration and connection in a heterogeneous and plural civil society with the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as guaranteed by the constitution.
“It is the reasoned view that Hisbah Police not being an establishment of an Act of the National Assembly and by virtue of its manner of operation in violation of legal rights guaranteed by the constitution as well as enforcing a religious standard as an agent of the States authorizing it as such is an illegal outfit. The Nigerian government is hereby urged to disband the illegal Hisbah police with immediate effect.”