KANO, Nigeria — One hundred couples tied the knot at a mass wedding at the main mosque in Nigeria's second-largest city on Tuesday, part of an Islamic police programme aimed at promoting stable families.
Hundreds of residents in the city of Kano, the largest in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, thronged outside the central mosque for the wedding of divorcees and widows attended by the city's traditional chief and government officials.
The brides were the first set of 1,000 divorcees and widows the sharia police, known as the Hisbah, screened for marriage to available suitors.
Grooms were dressed in flowing robes as a Hisbah official read off the names of the couples at the cavernous mosque.
According to local custom, brides usually do not attend the ceremony, but some were there on Tuesday, dressed in veils and wax-cloth dresses.
"I'm very happy today. May God reward all those involved in this project," 40-year-old bride Magajiya Ya'u told AFP.
One of the grooms married his second wife, as Islamic beliefs allow for up to four.
"I'm in high spirits today because I have married the woman of my choice virtually at no cost because the government has shouldered the cost," said 55-year-old Sule Alaramma, surrounded by well-wishers outside the mosque.
The wedding was a product of a Hisbah programme seeking to match divorced and widowed women looking to re-marry with available men.
It aims to address what officials say is a high divorce rate as well as to provide a stable home environment for children.
Part of the goal is to reduce unrest in Kano, which has been hit by deadly violence blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram. Analysts say frustrated youths have helped fill the ranks of the Islamists.
Women who volunteered for the programme included those left in difficult circumstances after the death of their husbands or a divorce in a region where arranged marriages are common.
The programme was run in conjunction with the Voice of Divorcees and Widows Association of Nigeria (VOWAN), and officials say all women participated on a strictly voluntary basis.
Women and men who qualified were allowed to meet each other at the Hisbah offices and decide on their own who they wished to marry.
"We are grateful to God that we have begun to realise our dream of marrying 1,000 women as part of the government's commitment to mitigate the social malaise we are facing in our society," the head of the Hisbah, Aminu Daurawa, said after the wedding conducted by the city's chief imam.
"We will continue to conduct the weddings in batches and soon we will have the wedding of the second set of 100 women already screened."
Outside the mosque, a large crowd waited at the gates while the sharia police screened grooms before allowing them to enter the mosque.
Armed policemen kept watch in the scorching heat amid drumming, singing and dancing.
The Hisbah paid the 10,000 naira ($63) dowry for grooms and provided the brides with furniture and kitchen wares, as well as 15,000 naira ($95) to enable them to start small businesses such as tailoring or food preparation, Daurawa said.
The brides were represented by the emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, and the grooms by a senior government official on behalf of state governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.