Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Laleye Dipo in Minna
Fame comes in many ways. For Mohammed Bello Masaba, the Bida, Niger State-based Islamic cleric who died at the weekend, his rise to global prominence was linked to marriage to 97 wives, an unprecedented nuptial liberty which attracted attention worldwide.
Reports put the time of his death at 11:00 am on Saturday after a brief illness.
His Secretary, Alhaji Mutairu Salawudeen Bello, confirmed his death on Saturday saying the remains would be buried today (Sunday) at 10.00am.
News of the demise of the 93-year-old cleric was kept secret for several hours on Saturday especially after he did not come out in the early hours of the day to lead the Tafsir, a gathering for the learning of the Quran as he used to do weekly.
THISDAY checks confirmed the cleric was conspicuously absent at the Jummat prayers on Friday “In fact baba slumped twice on Friday and we had to give him medical attention in the house,” a close aide confided in THISDAY.
Masaba’s celebrated marital controversies stretched the limits of the Islamic and state legal codes. For being blunt and taking polygamy beyond known limits, he was charged under Sharia law and sent to prison. He was also threatened with mob action from members of his community in Bida who perceived his behavior as anti-social.
Masaba had married a total of 107 women in his time. He divorced 10. At the time of his death, he had 97 wives. This is not the first time Masaba would be reported dead. Rumours of his death were rife last October, but he emerged to debunk it.
The Nigerian super-polygamist only had one distant contender to his notorious crown in the person of another super polygamist, 71 year-old Ziona Chana of India who was reputed to have 39 wives and 94 children six years ago.
Born in 1924 to the Masaba ruling house in the ancient Bida kingdom, Masaba came to national limelight when he was engaged in a face-off with the Niger State government and other clerics after claiming that he married 86 wives.
Influential institutions like Jama’atu Nasiru-l Islam (JNI), the Bida Emirate Council and an assembly of Islamic leaders had at different times spoken on Masaba’s extreme polygamy and urged him to divorce some of his many wives and retain four wives which is the number allowed by Islam. Rejecting this option, an Islamic court sent him to prison, but this sentience was later upturned by a Federal High Court in Abuja.
He fathered at least 187 children from his wives, some of who he outlived.
A former Governor of Niger State, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, had in the heat of the controversy generated by his extreme polygamy, expressed the frustration of the government at checking Masaba’s perceived nuisance.
“Though we have Sharia in place in the state, but we have no law to pin him (Masaba) down,” Aliyu had lamented.
While the state government and some Islamic groups berated his penchant for acquiring wives, his prosecution was difficult to pursue in many instances as there were no formal complaints from the women he married even though many of them were far younger than him. Instead they attested to the fact that he was a good husband and father.
He claimed they were drawn to him by his reputation as a healer. The famous polygamist argued that he could not have been found wanting because he lived in peace with his wives, and vowed to continue to continue to marry more wives.
“I will keep marrying them for as long I am alive. Whoever is fighting me because of my wives or love life, such an individual has missed it. Left for me, I would have married maybe two wives, but what I am doing is divine. It is an assignment and I will keep marrying till the end of time. I just want to advise those fighting against the number of my wives to stop because such people are waging war against God, their creator.”
In one instance, however, one of his wives, Malama Azzatu Adamu, went to court to be separated from him after only seven months of wedlock, claiming among others, N1.5 million loan owed her and alleged physical assault on her after honouring invitation to come for settlement.