Home Opinion Enter the Dragon, Reloaded: Hisbah and TikTok

Enter the Dragon, Reloaded: Hisbah and TikTok

by Isiyaku Ahmed
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By Prof. Abdallah Uba Adamu

It’s bound to happen. Sooner or later. It just happened sooner. The Islamicate public culture in the northern Nigerian city of Kano has finally come home to roost. One of its major implementation organs, the Hisbah, has embraced TikTok. It is the way to go. Instead of condemning TikTok as a space for enabling immorality, convert it to a space for morality — and eventually, the immorality will diminish. This is quite simply a revolutionary move that indicates a significant paradigm shift in public perception of media and culture.

The Hisbah, ’Islamic police’ was established in Kano State, initially on an ‘Islamic vigilante’ basis following the implementation of Shari’ah in 2000, but later formalized as a Hisbah Board in 2003. It went about its job with a zeal – collecting a clutch of misrepresentations and vilifications along the line, from both Muslims and non-Muslims in the country.

Under Sheikh Aminu Ibrahim Daurawa, perhaps so far Hisbah’s most visionary leader so far, it saw its halcyon days of social revolution and innovations in cleaning up the Muslim Ummah.

When technology became a commodity, it introduced a form of mass digital humanities in the Islamic public culture of northern Nigeria. For the most part, the Hisbah was most known for raiding cat houses in red light districts of Kano, shaving off ‘weird’ punk hairstyles from the heads of petulant young men wanting to look ultra-cool idolizing footballers with the same haircut, frown at hip hop clothing culture (sagging and flipped trousers ala Kris Kross)  and smash thousands of alcohol bottles (reports of drunken mice, rats and frogs running around the location of the destruction have never been verified, so Animal Rights activists can take it easy).

The detractors did not see the other things they had been doing – facilitating free mass weddings for both Muslim and Christian widows, providing counseling to all age and gender groups, etc.), it was their uncertain way of handling the virtual and ephemeral public discourses of social media that stumped it.

Internet became a public access facility in Kano in 2000, and by 2003, kids have discovered that at the price of an hour, you can indulge in all your fantasies, predominantly sexual, from the internet (frustratingly, there were no flash drives or memory cards to copy – and even if you do, where will you view them?). The café owners had to start shutting down browsers after users left. Eventually, a coalition of them sent complaints to the Sharia-compliant Kano State Government.

I and the then DG Censorship Board were invited for an informal interactive session on how to curtail the menace of young people going to undesirable internet places and seeing what they wanted to see, but should not see (even if married). I was frank in telling the authorities that this was not doable. Internet is not located in Sabon Gari, so you can’t just raid it and shut it down.

However, instead of seeking to shut it down (and throwing away the bath water with the baby, because the usefulness far outweighs the uselessness, if that), why don’t you set up counter sites/presence to preach something good? Already this was being done in fully Islamic countries (although you would not want to know what is going on in Pakistan!). No one listened, not because it was a bad idea, but because in 2002, competency did not exist. Things, however, were about to get worse.

The commodification of technology, particularly cheap Android smartphones gave young people access to greater, virtual, spaces and audiences to air their views. You don’t have to like it, but they express them anyway. Internet became a public access facility in Kano in 1999, followed by mobile phones in 2001.

Ugly, clunky, and a bit inefficient, these early mobile phones signaled urban cool for those who can afford them. Apple’s introduction of iPhone in 2007 gave clone manufacturers the opportunity to come up with cheap Android smartphones by 2010 and before you know it, everyone can afford a cheap Tecno, Vivo, etc. poor copies of the iPhone.

The next decade saw greater adoption. Couple that with competitive data from the, four major mobile network providers in Nigeria: MTN, Globacom, Airtel, and 9Mobile (in various iterations over the years), which means the internet is now a private encrypted space.

Soon enough, people had access to social media platforms, mainly YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram (having dropped Hi5, 2go, and others along the way). Access to these platforms did not cause many ripples. Until November 2019 when TikTok landed with a bang.

A simple application that enables users to make short videos from a few seconds to 10 minutes, and whose name is an onomatopoeia for clocks and a term for countdowns and minute-by-minute action like a clock; thus TikTok. It rapidly overshadowed other social media platforms because of its richer creative features. Young people took to it with gusto, particularly during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, when it became the new social space in the absence of a real space caused by isolation.

A new genre of creative digital artists was born: Ƴan TikTok/TikTokers. In less than three years, it had become a nightmare for public culture regulators in Kano. There is even a TikTok category called Ƴan Iskanci/TikTok Undesirables. The fact that as of today the category had 59.5 million viewers says a lot for ‘iskanci’ as a favorite pastime (and I doubt if it is all youth who wallow in the ‘iskanci’). Kids letting their hair down with video skits as social commentaries. Like a runaway steamroller. Out of control.

Until the long arm of the Islamicate law started catching up on them and handing down jail sentences, sweeping compounds – and getting flogged. Undeterred, they continued. Thus since 2022, attempts to regulate TikTok by both the Hisbah and the Kano State Censorship Board were aborted at birth.

Thus Hisbah was stumped as to what to do to curtain such rampant opinionated views that fall within its public mandate of cleaning up the Ummah. Until this week. It decided that since you can’t continuously jail them, join them and reach out to them.

The news that Hisbah has joined TikTok’s social media platform is, therefore, truly revolutionary. It does not have to be a didactic platform (although it is heading towards that from the few videos posted) but could explain how to avoid making a society dysfunctional from the Islamic point of view.

Arresting, jailing, and punishing TikTokers (both the ‘normal’ and the ‘ƴan iska’ as they label themselves) does not make them stop. Meeting them on the same battlefield is the answer – not to fight, not to preach, but be what you are – Hisbah, God-fearing cleaners of the society.

I challenge some aspiring PG students to pick this up as a research topic for it is capable of making a genuine contribution to knowledge through Netnography on the dispensation of public justice in an Islamicate society

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