It is difficult to feign indifference with the raging controversies generated by our equivalent of modern day “King Solomon”, in the person of Alhaji Bello Abubakar Masaba, who is currently having a raging “legal” battle with the government of Niger state. I have read newspaper accounts and articles on the plight of this octogenarian. It is instructive to state that the life and times of Masaba and his current travails epitomise the inherent contradictions in the Nigerian state. One is left perplexed by the manifold contradictions and distortions this episode has brought to the fore about that blundering contraption called Nigeria. The almost maniacal vigour in prosecuting this case by the Niger state government also raises eye brows. In a way, the views of James Ndagi (The Guardian, 23 September 2008) and that of Taslim Anibaba : Gambari kills Fulani (Nigerian Village Square), represent two ends of a spectrum.
James Ndagi viewed the dilemma posed by Masaba from the social point of view, in the context of the impact of his exuberant procreation on the society, via creating a legion of largely uneducated children, destined to be almajiris, layabouts, touts, social rejects and hoodlums He failed to see why Masaba should not be made to pay for his affront on the society by not learning to tuck his reproductive organ properly inside his trouser piece (if he wears any). Taslim Anibaba, ever the intellectual, took a more moderate approach, viewing things from the legal (albeit Islamic) and intellectual angle. Being a staunch Muslim, he had the requisite knowledge to compare Masaba present ordeal with the dictates of the holy book (Quran) and seemed to disagree with the present treatment being meted out to Masaba. Being a non-Muslim, his write-up afforded me a great opportunity to have an inside view of the Islamic faith on this rather interesting topic. However, a third point of view, and apparently the most preponderant, views the fact of Masaba marrying 86 wives as rather un-Islamic and clearly beyond the dictates of even the Quran which permits polygamy with qualifications. Qualifications in the sense of the male so involved being able to equally provide for the wives in this scenario. To this group (obviously the Niger state government belongs here), Masaba could not have been a Muslim and deserves every imaginable punishment.
Bello Abubakar Masaba is not alone in his practice of polygamy, there is historical antecedent to it. Polygyny or polygamy as it is well known and that has suddenly assumed international notoriety in Nigeria, is an ancient practice which has not been a strange bedfellow to many cultures. History is replete with many famous names associated with this practice. Judaism has it that most of the Old Testament prophets were polygamists. Abraham (“the friend of God”) had more than one wife. David, a noted King of Israel, had 100 wives and King Solomon had 700 wives with 300 concubines. Coming to the Prophet of Islam, Cyril Glasse in the Encyclopaedia of Islam noted that Mohammed had 10 wives and two concubines. He was said to have been married monogamously to his first wife, Khadijah, for 20 years, and she was the only one to bear him children. He, however, married several widows and other women after her death, to create political alliances. It is perhaps of further significance to state that in Christendom, earlier prophets of the Latter Day Saints Church (the Mormon group) were committed polygamists. The founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith Jnr had 33 wives.
The point is, if polygamy was immoral, then these significant figures of history (Mohammed inclusive) must have all been immoral.
In Nigeria, polygamy is common place. The practice of both simultaneous and consecutive polygamy is widespread. This practice also cuts across religious, ethnic or social affiliations. Personally, I used to know of a herbalist/traditional worshipper who had close to the 86 wives Alhaji Masaba is now being prosecuted for. This gentleman, in his lifetime, could not recognise all his children and in fact, kept a diary of their names, dates of birth and mothers’ names. While the practice of simultaneous polygamy tends to raise more eyebrows, consecutive polygamists seem to get away with the game. This is a situation where a man has or has had many wives but not at the same time. This practice also knows no regional limitations and is actually rampant in the so-called civilised western countries.
I took the pains to illustrate the above to show that the current hullabaloo about the antics of Bello Abubakar Masaba is rather puzzling. If all polygamous men in Nigeria were to be sanctioned, the list would be too full for comfort. Perhaps I am missing something, but going through the Masaba saga, it is apparent that he faced three accusations at the beginning, namely:
– Claiming to be a prophet. This he denied but claimed to have seen the Prophet Mohammed.
– Claiming to have seen Allah. Muslims (according to the Quran) believe that no human being can see Allah.
– Marrying 86 wives, which according to the Etsu Nupe of Niger State is against Islamic injunctions. Masaba, in his defence, claimed to have stopped reading the Quran (and possibly unaware of such an injunction) though quite versatile with it before stopping. Based on this, the Etsu Nupe expressed doubts on Masaba’s sanity.
This is not a defence of Masaba and his proficiency at procreation and neither is it a condemnation of him. Rather, the situation that had inadvertently turned a randy octogenarian into a global super star raises some salient questions about the contradictions in our fatherland. Masaba in his defence challenged his persecutors to point to parts of the Quran that forbids marrying more than 4 wives. This is neither here nor there and I must submit that I am not competent to answer this. However, I want to begin from the moral platform, being cognisant of the fact that many view Masaba’s action as being immoral. Is there any justification in locking up an 86-year old man over acts that took several years to commit? Where were those sanctimonious authorities when these acts were being committed in stages? Obviously, Masaba did not marry all his wives in one day.
Could Masaba’s plight have any connection with strong doubts about his allegiance to the Islamic fate? The allegations listed above and his responses to them may raise genuine concerns about his commitment to Islam. The follow-up question is, would he have been prosecuted if he had expressed and demonstrated unalloyed loyalty to Islam – that is, if he had not seen Prophet Mohammed and Allah? Remember, no matter what happened along the way, Masaba started his illustrious polygamous journey as a Muslim.
Once again, would Masaba be the only Muslim in Nigeria with notable greed for women? Is he the only prolific simultaneous polygamist in Nigeria? On a wider scale, would he be the only Nigerian in history with an untidy number of wives? Answers to these and numerous questions throw up disturbing contradictions in our present day Nigeria. Ultimately, other question arise: what is the purpose of the present incarceration and punishment of Masaba? Has any state or religious body got the right to decree the number of wives a Nigerian should marry in this age and time?
We live daily with undeserved priviledges and political chicaneries thrown in our faces. Obvious and disturbing advantages in our faulty political arrangements rear their ugly heads almost on daily basis. The case of Masaba is only a demonstration of the contradictions in our political arrangement, a situation whereby a federal state that loudly proclaims its secularity gladly turns the other eye where that sacred ethos is being violated. The concept of a rather primitive Islamic law that allows the stoning to death of “adulterers” and amputation of the limbs of “thieves” in a modern state proclaiming secularity remains a nightmare. Yet this same state would happily roll out its might where a component part decides to exercise its inherent constitutional right of creating more local governments – Lagos State being an example.
The inherent question remains plainly this: Is Nigeria a secular state? Has secularity got a limitation in its application in this country? Are we practising the federal system of government? Is the practice of Sharia in any state in Nigeria an element of federalism? Is it possible for states, on the basis of federalism, to have freedom of religion in Nigeria, even within a federal set up? These and many questions beg for answers. Also, in the present day Nigeria, which law is ultimately supreme – the secularity of the state or the application of the Sharia code?
To further illustrate the undue and almost hedonistic priviledges being enjoyed by states in the Northern part of the country, can aggrieved states in the South Eastern part of the country also express their degree of freedom, autonomy or what have you, by declaring a Confederation of Biafran States even within a federal Nigeria. A confederation with its own set of religious and social rules, even while being submissive to the federal and economic might of Nigeria? Would this have been allowed? I fully realise that it is quite easy to regard this analogy as being far fetched. However, let us consider another scenario, a seemingly possible one (after all, the North can survive without oil!). What would have happened if the North was the region that declared secession in 1966? Would there have been a civil war? The impression is that some regions or states in Nigeria can get away with anything.
All I am trying to say is that we have successfully built a nation based on contradictions, injustices, political chicaneries and oppression. For so long as these negativities abide in our body polity, for so long would cases similar to that of Masaba continue to come to the fore to test our sincerity. True, Masaba is a Northerner; the reality is that in his extreme avarice for the female folks, he brings up the issues that should be dealt with in order to create a just and sustainable society. He raises posers that should be answered by all.