KANO, 26 July (IRIN) - Women in Kano State have been banned from riding in the same buses as men and from riding behind men on motorcycles as the state government extends its application of Islamic Shari'ah law.
The separation of the sexes in this state in northern Nigeria will be enforced by a 9,000-strong religious police force with the power to fine people who ignore the new rules.
State governor Ibrahim Shekarau launched the implementation of the new law on Tuesday at a ceremony at Kano city stadium attended by 10,000 chanting supporters.
He told them that the new road traffic law promulgated by the state government earlier this year would stop "the mixture of men and women in commercial vehicles and the carrying of women on motorcycles."
"Our aim is to be at the forefront of conducting our activities decently and to protect Allah's Sharia," Shekarau added to chants of "Allah is great!"
At the ceremony, the state governor formally presented new 100 mini-buses, 100 motor cycles and 300 motor tricycles which have bought to ease the implementation of the new law.
Motorcycles as well as cars are widely used as taxis in Kano city.
Shekaru said his government had recruited 9,000 Hisbah or Islamic law enforcers to help with the implementation of the law.
Transport operators who mix men and women in their vehicles risk a fine of 5,000 naira (US $38) or a six-month suspension of their license.
However, some exceptions will still be allowed. A man will still be able to ride in the same car or taxi as his wife and children, for example.
Kano is one of 12 states in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north that adopted the strict Shari'ah code in 2000, but it is the first to introduce segregated public transport.
The introduction of Shari'ah deepened mutual suspicions between Nigeria's Muslim north and the mainly Christian south, erupting in periodic bouts of sectarian violence in which thousands of people have died.
Punishments under the legal code include amputation of limbs for stealing, stoning to death for adultery and homosexual activity and public flogging for premarital sex and drinking alcohol.
Kano's Muslims majority, for the most part, welcomed the new law.
"It is against the injunctions of Allah for a man to sit close to a woman who is not his wife, and this is what happens in public vehicles," Suleiman Musa, a Muslim cleric, told IRIN. "That is why we want this law."
But the large Christian community in Kano, which will have to abide by the new rules too, was less happy.
"In the first place the buses are not enough to serve the millions of people in this city. But then I hope they limit the application to Muslims only, because we Christians won't accept it," said Michael Akpabio, a Christian Pentecostal preacher in the city.
Kano, with a population of four million, is the biggest city in northern Nigeria and has long been a hotbed of sectarian violence.
More than 200 people died in the last outburst of Muslim-Christian clashes in Kano in May 2004.
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