Celebrating 50 years of marriage in Nigeria’s 'divorce capital'

Mahmud Kabir Yakasai and Rabiatu Tahir
[Mahmud Yakasai]

A couple who live in Nigeria’s “divorce capital” are being hailed for their long marriage having recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Mahmud Kabir Yakasai and Rabiatu Tahir spoke to the BBC about the secrets of their happiness, and about why so many marriages fail in the northern city of Kano, in a video that has generated much comment.

Mr Yakasai puts it down to his wife’s generous nature.

“She is a very unselfish person and she overlooks a lot which has contributed to the success of our marriage,” the 76-year-old told BBC Hausa.

This prompts a smile from Ms Tahir, who is in her late sixties. Together the couple have had 13 children - and she praised her husband’s ability to remain calm in the face of the difficulties all families confront.

“He is a very patient man and I feel that was also key to our success,” she said.

The pair say they love and respect each other - and they clearly enjoy each other’s company, breaking off to laugh several times during the interview.

For Hassana Mahmud, it is a revelation. The 39-year-old divorcee has been married five times and is impressed by the couple and their evident contentment.

"In all my marriages I have only spent four years with a spouse - so to see them on social media celebrating this milestone was refreshing,” she said.

“My husbands were all nice and caring during courtship but changed after the wedding," said the mother of four.

“I feel bad whenever I hear people call Kano 'the divorce capital of Nigeria', I hope things will change," she added.

Kano gained the epithet after divorce rates began to rise in the 1990s and it has not been able to shake off the unwanted label.

Hundreds of marriages collapse each month in Nigeria’s most populous state, whose capital, Kano city, is the commercial hub of the north.

In 2022 research done by the BBC in collaboration with the local government disclosed that 32% of marriages in Kano state only survive between three and six months.

It also revealed that some people aged between 20 and 25 had already gone through three marriages.

Brides in red and grooms in white arriving at the central mosque in Kano for a mass wedding - October 2023
Brides and grooms arriving for a mass wedding at Kano's central mosque in 2023 [Getty Images]

The scale of separations is a concern - especially for the Hisbah, a Kano state-funded Islamic agency that deals with moral issues and enforces Sharia, or Islamic law in the state.

It has a police unit that enforces things like segregation in public places and an alcohol ban for Muslims, who make up the majority of residents. It also has a counselling service mainly to help struggling married couples.

Long lines of women can often be seen queueing outside its offices to complain that their ex-husbands are not helping with maintenance for their children.

People tend to marry young in Kano - often before the legal age of 18.

Others feel Islam’s easy method of divorce might be a factor as husbands can simply tell their wives: “I divorce you” or write that on a piece of paper and it is over. Nowadays a message sent on social media is enough to end their marriage.

Aminu Daurawa works for the Hisbah to address the high divorce rate. One of their solutions is to offer a second chance to people and better prepare them for married life.

The agency organises mass marriages, known as “Auren Zawarawa”, mainly for divorcees - acting as a matchmaker on a giant scale.

The hundreds of newly wed couples, who are treated to a big wedding ceremony, are also offered a small sum to help them set up a business and other household goods.

This initiative began in 2012 - though Mr Daurawa acknowledges divorce rates are still high.

“We know about that problem - that is why we set up a committee to check on each couple after the marriage so we don't get the former [same] results,” he said.

Household items given to couples are seen beside brides at the venue of a wedding reception at the Kano state governor's office after taking part in a mass wedding at the central mosque in Kano city, Nigeria - October 2023
Couples at Kano's mass weddings are given some household items to help them set up house [AFP]

But Hadiza Ado, founder of non-governmental organisation Women and Children Initiative, says the number of divorces continue to rise.

“At the moment we get up to 30 marital cases daily in our various offices,” she told the BBC.

“The troubling Nigerian economy is the number-one reason at the moment.

“Husbands go out to make ends meet and sometimes come back home empty-handed, which causes rifts.”

The practice of using matchmakers is common in Kano because in a Muslim society single people do not mix, so it is difficult to meet potential partners.

The only place that the sexes mix would be at university or other tertiary institutions, which most people do not attend.

When people are matched together they often get married hardly knowing each other.

In fact Mahmud Kabir Yakasai and Rabiatu Tahir were introduced as youngsters by an older woman in their neighbourhood.

She was the one who felt they would be a good match - but they did not tie the knot for another 12 years, giving them ample time to get to know one another.

Rabiu Ado (R) meeting a client
Matchmaker Rabiu Ado (R) has the nickname "Mai Dalili", meaning "He who makes it happen" [BBC]

One man with a reputation for making successful matches says that is key.

“A lot of investigation needs to be done before marriage to know the persons involved,” Rabiu Ado told the BBC.

He set up as a matchmaker 10 years ago. The 46-year-old had not intended to become a marriage broker, though it had been the job of his mother.

He was working as a truck driver when he was approached by friends complaining about the difficulty of finding a partner.

After making some successful introductions, he realised he had a knack for the family business.

He now has billboards advertising his services - and gets between one and five clients each day. He interviews them and gets to know their attitudes and expectations. Often men want a woman who can make money and women want rich men.

“A lot of people go into marriages with the wrong mindset, which is why they get disappointed after some time.”

He says he has organised around 500 marriages over the last decade, with a success rate of more than 90%.

He counsels couples to always take time to know each other well before marrying.

Mr Ado, who has the nickname "Mai Dalili" meaning "He who makes it happen", says the high number of divorces means some people don't take marriage seriously.

“I feel why divorce is high in Kano is because people feel I can always get another person after a divorce.”

Mahmud Kabir Yakasai and Rabiatu Tahir
Mahmud Kabir Yakasai and Rabiatu Tahir knew each for 12 years before they married [Mahmud Kabir Yakasai]

Islamic cleric Abdullahi Ishaq Garangamawa defends the ease with which Muslims can get a divorce.

“Islam is merciful and made marriages and divorces not hard so that people will not be caged when things aren't going right,” he told the BBC.

"In the past we didn't have this many divorces as our parents were married for decades. It was in recent times that people started abusing the process for selfish interests," he says.

"But in essence, unlike in some religions where it's till death no matter the situation, Islam legalises divorce when things get out of hand."

Mr Yakasai, who used to work for the now-defunct Nigeria Airways, says sharing life’s difficulties and helping one another has been crucial to his enduring partnership with Ms Tahir.

“Love is also key because when you love each other genuinely you tend to stay together.

“My advice to people getting married is not to get into it for selfish reasons but go into it with genuine intentions.”

His wife agrees, adding: “My own advice is that people wanting to get married have to be patient with each other - if one partner is angry, the other should be calm.”

Additional reporting by Abba Awwalu

More Nigeria stories from the BBC:

A woman looking at her mobile phone and the graphic BBC News Africa
[Getty Images/BBC]

Go to BBCAfrica.com for more news from the African continent.

Follow us on Twitter @BBCAfrica, on Facebook at BBC Africa or on Instagram at bbcafrica

BBC Africa podcasts