Love and life advice from Nigeria’s Instagram agony aunt

  • TECH
  • Wednesday, 18 Nov 2015

Online agony aunt: Nigerian women are using Tahir's Instagram page to share their concerns anonymously and get advice from others.

KANO, Nigeria: A cheating husband, domestic violence, marital problems or a complicated love life are standard fare for agony aunts across the world. 

But in religiously conservative northern Nigeria, which has a Muslim majority, asking for advice in public has traditionally been frowned upon and problems kept within the family. 

Ziya’atulhaqq Usman Tahir and her Instagram page looks to be changing that – with an overwhelming response that shows a true desire, if not need, for such help. 

From her base in the northeastern city of Bauchi, Tahir, 27, uses her page for women to share their concerns anonymously and get advice from others. 

“This is the pioneer social media platform giving women the opportunity to share their problems and get solutions for them,” she told AFP by phone. 

“It is a social space that helps women to unwind by pouring out their anguish bottled up inside and seek honest opinions on how best to tackle such problems.” 

The page, with posts in English and the local Hausa language, also provides a forum for debate on other social issues, including drug addiction, child delinquency, financial problems and divorce. 

Increasing popularity 

It all started three months ago when Tahir, who had been writing her thoughts on “love from (a) northern perspective”, decided to post the dilemma of a young girl in a doomed relationship. 

“She was not ready to heed to my advice so I told her I would post it for all my contacts to see and wait for their responses, which turned out to be overwhelming,” she explained. 

“This was how it all started.” 

Since then, the page’s popularity has snowballed and now boasts more than 24,000 followers while its 400 posts have generated over two million responses. 

“Due to the huge volume of posts and responses we receive we decided to post every day of the week. At least 1,000 people send responses every day,“ said Tahir. 

This innovative approach to solving “marital chaos” is a departure from the ways in which some women in Nigeria’s Muslim-majority north tackle the problems of daily life. 

The consumption of codeine-laced cough syrup has been used by some women to block out problems and became such an issue for the authorities that its sale and manufacture was banned. 

Despite the ban, Nigeria’s anti-narcotics agency the NDLEA said at least 30,000 bottles of cough syrup were consumed in the north every day. 

‘Tip of the iceberg’ 

According to Tahir, the anonymous nature of the online chats coupled with a relative rise in literacy levels and awareness among traditionally shy northern women has helped them open up. 

“Family problems are seen as domestic affairs which no outsiders should be involved in, which mostly leaves the woman at the receiving end,” she said. 

“But more women are now coming out of their shells to talk about the depravity they are facing in their relationships.” 

One of five cases of domestic violence posted on her page is in court awaiting judgment, after followers urged the women to seek legal action, said Tahir. 

She accepted it was difficult to know exactly what kind of impact the forum has had on such women but maintained the interactions were clearly of “enormous help”. 

“I have received over 100 emails of commendation and encouragement from some of the affected women who benefited from the advice they received,” she said. 

“I believe they are only a tip of the iceberg.” 

With the increased interest, Tahir has brought in professionals such as gynaecologists, psychologists, lawyers and marriage guidance counsellors to act as “jurors” and dispense more informed advice. 

“My ambition is... to have our own TV show to allow people to interact physically with a range of experts in various endeavours and get the best advice on their social problems,” she added. — AFP 

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