Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Who Is Afraid Of Masaba And His 86 Wives?
One of the most extraordinary octogenarians living anywhere in the world today is Pa Bello Abubakar Masaba, the man with 86 wives and 190 children, who reportedly presides over a 5,000 strong household in Bida, Nigeria.
Ever since this old man’s marital feat became widely known, his detractors have employed judicial and extrajudicial stratagems, including harassment, detention, violence, and even incitement to murder, to emasculate him. Luckily for the old man, all the attempts his foes have made to permanently pinion his prolific phallus have failed, and he has continued to remain the protean potentate of his prodigious harem.
Pa Masaba’s opponents’ stated reasons for wanting to sanction him have changed over time. At first, they said they had trouble with him for his refusal to cooperate with the Niger State Government’s immunization exercise. Then they claimed he was cultivating a dangerous cult following that could metamorphose into a deadly fundamentalist movement. Next they accused him of blasphemy and anti-Islamic marital practices, a maneuver that got the Niger State Sharia Council involved in his case, but could not neutralize the Teflon old man because the government abandoned its case. There was also trouble when he attempted to join the ruling party (PDP) at the palace of the Etsu Nupe registration center, with the people against his membership of the party literally firmly standing in his way, citing orders from the above. Further, during the last voters’ registration exercise, the old man cried out that some thugs, acting on the orders of some powerful people, were harassing members of his household and preventing them from registering. I am not sure whether Pa Masaba had carried out his threat to sue INEC over this issue before some people recently sought a court order to force him to stop parading himself as a member of the Etsu Masaba Royal House.
This is a very unusual story that has refused to go away, but has gotten weirder with time. During one of the most dramatic moments in this saga, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, the Etsu Nupe or the paramount ruler of Nupeland, had pronounced:
“From the facts available to us, you are not a true Moslem and you are hereby given two days to divorce 82 wives from your 86 wives and if you fail to do so, we cannot guarantee your safety in Bida and the entire Nupe kingdom and as such should pack your load and leave.”
This order showed that the Etsu Nupe, who also happens to be an ex-military man, had ignored Nigeria’s status as a secular state, and overestimated the true scope of his royal authority in contemporary Nigeria. I remember asking myself how the Etsu Nupe would have reacted to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s marrying 27 wives in one day. The seriousness of the fix Pa Masaba was in became clearer to me when Jama'atu Nasir Islam (JNI) issued a fatwa urging Muslims to kill him anywhere they found him in Nigeria.
Even though many people were outraged by the Solomonic proportions of Pa Masaba’s marital appetite, the Etsu Nupe’s order to banish him from Nupeland if he did not divorce 82 wives within two days and the JNI’s fatwa to kill him were jarring to the ears of civilized people, and both were roundly condemned for their overzealousness. Civil rights advocates, mainly from Northern Nigeria, rose in Pa Masaba’s defense.
The wily old man, who appears to understand how to use the courts and the media to his advantage, has a unique way of making his importunate foes look inferior to him in more ways than in libidinal prowess. In his own defense against the banishment order issued by the Etsu Nupe, he had riposted:
“I have not contravened any established law that would warrant my being banished from the land. I am not a criminal as there is no law that says one must not marry more than four wives. All my wives are with children and some of these are people I have married and stayed with for over 30 years, how can they expect me to leave them within two days?"
He went further: "…to reduce the number of wives needed a lot of negotiations and one had to think of the children and what becomes of them." Who could have argued with that?
Pa Masaba’s saga speaks a lot about our society, which abounds with hypocrites. Some of the rabble rousers shouting “castrate and kill him!” are lecherous men with multiple sexual partners that they exploit to stroke their egos and quench their insatiable libidinal thirsts. It is common knowledge that having unprotected sex with multiple partners (whether one is married to them or not) has potentially perilous personal safety, public health, and social consequences. The more children a man has, the more difficult it is for him to provide adequately for their material and emotional needs. Also, apart from the scourges of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, many of the almajiris, street hawkers, “area boys,” “area girls” and other exploited and troubled youth on our streets are products of the sexual excesses of iniquitous men.
Nigeria is a secular state that leaves loopholes for men to practice polygyny. While moral laws may be used to regulate human lives in secular societies, not all immoral acts are actionable. Conversely, not all that are actionable are immoral acts. Morality itself is a socially constructed phenomenon, with what constitutes an immoral act changing from one society to another and from one historical period to another. The stipulated sanctions for violating societal laws, and even the level of seriousness with which such laws are enforced, are shaped by the dictates and priorities of those who control the instruments of coercion, the means of production and, in a lootocracy like Nigeria, access to public funds. The powerful follow the laws of the land selectively, and are well-equipped to circumvent the laws that they deem inconvenient or antithetical to their interests. Yet just laws are neither supposed to discriminate against people nor treat a group of people differently no matter how highly placed that they may be. Indubitably, the hallmark of a truly democratic state is the capacity of its judicial system to uphold egalitarian principles. Unfortunately, selective law enforcement is the norm in Nigeria, which, many would agree, is a corruption-ridden power arrangement rigged out in the ill-fitting garbs of democracy.
If not for the vociferous supporters of Pa Masaba, some members of the Northern Nigerian ruling class were determined to use Sharia law to banish him or put him away for a long time, while ignoring their own excesses. They had to back off when it became clear that jailing the old man would set a dangerous precedent that smart and courageous lawyers could use to nail some of them later.
Curiously, neither the Sharia nor conventional law has been able to catch up with Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, who, as a 49 year old man with 26 children, divorced his teenaged fourth wife and married a 13 year old Egyptian girl whose father he paid $100,000. Clearly, Yerima’s action was a brazen violation of Nigeria’s Child Rights Act, a gross contravention of all known international conventions on the protection of children, and an execrable assault on all known rules of human decency in the 21st Century. However, while admitting that Yerima’s marriage to a minor was an immoral act, Muhammed Bello-Adoke, Nigeria’s Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, claimed that he had no power to prosecute him because the Child Rights Act was meant to protect Nigerian children, not an Egyptian child!
Not surprising then that not even widespread condemnation has made Senator Yerima resign his position at the Senate or return the under-aged bride to her parents! Yet it was this mountebank that introduced Sharia criminal law to Zamfara State under very controversial circumstances. The most famous victim of this law was Jangedi, who had his hand sawed off for stealing a goat. There were many more draconian punishments after that, especially for petty crimes, resulting in outrage from far and near. Even a lady was nearly stoned to death for adultery!
If well managed, the stories of unusual people can benefit society. We must not be so carried away by the salaciousness of Pa Masaba’s story or the hypocrisy of the ruling class that we lose sight of this fact. With the clear ruling in Abuja that Pa Masaba broke no Nigerian law by marrying 86 wives, and since it is now too late to cure the old man of his unusual marital proclivities, the time is now ripe to start to explore and exploit his unusual life for any possible research, public health education, and social benefit it may have.
The Niger State government should be looking into how it can mine Pa Masaba’s story for its tourism potential. Whether we like it or not, this anachronistic man is one of the enigmas of our time. The ministry in charge of tourism and culture in Niger State has to be creative. I am sure there are people who would pay to visit Pa Masaba compound out of curiosity. Even when the ultimate sex symbol is eventually gone, this compound can, with the cooperation of his family, be turned into a tourist center, where his life can be reenacted daily for visitors. Examples abound all over the world where people buy tickets to see the reenactments of the lives of far less interesting personages. What have Nollywood geniuses been doing? So many movie plots can be woven around the story of this man. A documentary on his life is long overdue.
On the public health front, Pa Masaba and his wives should be encouraged to test for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. He should be asked to do radio and TV jingles to encourage others to get tested for HIV. He can preach to the youth about the dangers of polygamy and unsafe sex. It is instructive that he has steadfastly warned other men against emulating him. He may also want to take DNA tests to ensure that all those 190 children were truly fathered by him. If all are truly his, what a bountiful harvest for the Etsu Masaba Ruling House! That is, if Pa Masaba can prove his membership of that ruling house in the first place. A DNA test can actually put the controversy of whether he belongs to the royal family to rest rather than costly litigations.
Researchers should be interested in Pa Masaba and his family. Opportunities for research in anthropology, sociology, genetics, psychology, marital relations, and public health should be explored. Given the age of the old man, time is of essence. Psychologists may want to know the psychological predilections that would make a man marry eighty-six wives. Also, apart from seeking a shield against poverty, what would attract a woman to a man who already has so many wives? I was made to understand that some of these women are highly educated. How are the emotional needs of these women being met? How are the emotional needs of their children being met? Where are the Nigerian social workers? Pa Masaba’s women and children have consistently claimed that they are being well-taken care of and are in total support of their patriarch. Hafsat, wife number 3, had stated to a reporter during a protest pressing for Pa Masaba’s release from detention:
"We are happy living together. Some of the men persecuting Baba today have only two wives, yet their homes are not stable. Baba has 86 wives and has been able to sustain a peaceful home. They are simply jealous of his achievements. They should thank Allah that somebody like Baba lives in their midst. If not somebody sent by God, do they think it is easy keeping 86 women in one house without fight? Baba does not believe in adultery like many of those fighting him. You can see we are not hungry, Baba is really taking good care of us, what is Etsu Nupe's concern in the matter?"
Further, we need to understand the inexorable forces behind the actions of the Etsu Nupe and others so gung-ho about nailing Pa Masaba. Aside from their stated reasons (e.g., religious piety, protection of the sanctity of Islam, and so on) and his vow to deal with PDP at the polls for failing to admit him, what could be driving men with multiple wives of their own to persecute the old man with so much venom? With the new lawsuit to exclude Pa Masaba from the Etsu Masaba Ruling House, who is threatened by this old man? Who was behind the attempt to exclude the entire Masaba family from the voters’ registration exercise recently?
Drug makers should be interested in researching this old man to find out how he has been able to meet the sexual needs of eighty six women and yet has lived so long. What makes him thick? He may be able to make some money from TV commercials from drug makers.
Economists and financial planners should also seek to learn how the old man has been able to manage such a large family in these difficult times, especially since he does not have access to public funds.
Further, when Pa Masaba reportedly claimed that he had seen Allah, and was seeing Prophet Mohammed (SAW) three times a week, not just Islamic scholars, but also psychiatrists and psychologists, should be interested in him.
Members of Pa Masaba’s family would be supreme candidates for a research study that explores the possible connections between genetic predispositions and polygyny or the relationship between genetic predisposition and quality of marital relationships in polygynous families. I am sure there are a lot of researchers out there who will be interested in this family. For example, in a study that emanated from Sweden, Jenae Neiderhiser, Paul Lichtenstein, Nancy Pedersen, and their colleagues, found that Allele 334, a gene associated with pair-bonding in animals, was associated with the quality of marital relations in humans, especially with the capacity of men to bond with their partners. Allele 334 has been dubbed the “cheating gene” and is said to be related to the inability of some men to maintain a monogamous relationship.
The fact that a group of researchers had the time and resources to study Allele 334, first in animals, and then in humans and came up with findings that could help us to understand human relationships better, should be an encouragement to Nigerian researchers to go to Bida to glean whatever they can from the old man and his family.
One may wonder: “What has Allele 334 got to do with what we are talking about in Nigeria now, especially since INEC has just postponed the Federal House of Representatives elections that it had four years to plan? Will Allele 334 contribute to the ability of members of the Nigerian ruling class to plan anything better or enable the embattled Professor Jega to stop desperate politicians from rigging elections? Will it repair the Ore-Benin Expressway or bring clean water to rural communities in Bayelsa or desks and chairs to dilapidated schools in Adamawa? Will it bring stable power supply or stop the kidnappings in Southest? Will Allele 334 settle the imbroglios among the pugnacious politicians and their goons in Ogun State and prevent them from plunging my dear state into Armageddon?”
Allele 334 has nothing to do with any of the man-made problems bedeviling Nigeria. Yet on no account must we be so fixated on the unremitting antics of our bungling politicians that we ignore the strides in science and technology going on in the other parts of the sane world. Aren’t we far behind enough? Waiting for the present crop of leaders to create the environment that is conducive to groundbreaking research and technological advancement is like waiting for Godot or the death of God. Godot will never come and God will never die. They can’t even organize an ordinary election talk less of creating a stable and prosperous polity! We the people need to leave our leaders behind in the miasma of grimy greed that sustain them and make things happen by ourselves.
To His Royal Highness the Etsu Nupe, honorable members of the Bida Emirate Council, the Niger State Government, and other dramatist personae in this saga: “Pa Masaba’s polygyny is beyond redemption. You don’t have to look too hard to see the silver lining in his unusual life. Please, sheathe the sword and let Allah be the judge. As long as he does not break the law, leave the old man and his prolific phallus unbound.”
Dr. Olusesi, a social work educator, lives in New York.