Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2011
He fell in love with his first wife because she was sincere and eager to please.
His second wife, a cousin, was irresistible because she did everything he wished and nothing he didn’t.
“That alone made me love her.”
His third wife won him because she submitted to his every request.
“I saw her, I liked her. I went to her parents and asked for her hand in marriage.”
Wife No. 4 was very obedient. So was wife No. 5. Wife No. 6, the same. As were wives 7 and 8 and 9 and . . .
Well, by then–it was the late 1980s–things had taken off for Bello Maasaba, an Islamic faith healer in this city in Niger state. He went from a wedding every few months to one every few weeks.
All told, the 87-year-old has married 107 women, which, even in a society with a tradition of polygamy, is on the high side. The Nigerian government is not amused. Neither are Islamic authorities in the state.
But he’s still marrying, every time Miss Right comes along. He now has 86 wives, the youngest 19 and the oldest 64. Nine have died and 12 he divorced (for disobedience).
After school, he led an ordinary life for 21 years, involved in the clothing business and later working for a sugar company, keeping just two wives. Life was normal until a religious “vision” in the 1970s, which he says involved a visit from the archangel Gabriel. He fell deeply ill, unable to eat or sleep for days, and all the medicine the doctors gave him only made him worse.
He gave up work and became a traditional faith healer who eschewed medicine. The angel also instructed him to take wife after wife after wife.
“I get a revelation from God telling me any woman I’m going to marry. If it wasn’t from God, I wouldn’t have gone beyond two,” he explains in a wispy, singsong voice.
Maasaba has to pause to remember the number of children he has: an ever growing figure, with the youngest just 1 month old. He has fathered 185, and 133 are still living. He has acquired an extended family of some 5,000 people, many of whom live in the sprawling compound in the block surrounding his house.
It takes three enormous sacks of rice a day and prodigious quantities of meat and vegetables to feed his enormous clan. He’s rich because of the handsome fees paid by those who come to be healed.
Maasaba’s many marriages underscore the gulf between modern urban Nigeria and traditional rural towns, where women often have few choices.
Aishetu Ndayako, about 57, clocked in at wife No. 40 or so. She had heard Maasaba was a good man who looked after his wives and solved all the problems of the family.
She was a widow with six children and no means of support when she married him, leaving her children living in her late husband’s house.
Three years ago, Islamic authorities in Niger, a majority Muslim state with Sharia, or Islamic law, ordered that Maasaba divorce 82 of his wives, keeping four. He refused and was ordered by the Sharia court to leave town. (Muslim scholars generally agree that the Koran allows up to four wives, provided each gets equal treatment.)
Police raided Maasaba’s house at 3:45 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2008. He was taken away to jail.
Refused bail, Maasaba spent 22 days behind bars, while his wives (11 of them pregnant) demonstrated for his release. In the end, a group of civil rights lawyers came to Maasaba’s rescue and had him freed on bail.
That November, at the High Court in the capital, Abuja, the lawyers called in his wives and their parents, one by one, to testify that they had agreed to marriage. At wife No. 57, the court told the lawyers to stop, and ordered Maasaba freed.
As Maasaba talks, they are hidden within, listening to the squawking speakers, as the delicate question is finally posed. With so many wives, how does he meet their romantic needs?
He smiles. Everyone asks him that.
“In his wisdom, God has given me the power and strength to give them the sexual portion they need,” he says. “If I didn’t satisfy them, they would leave.”