Some months ago, a local Hausa newspaper broke the story of the man with 86 wives. In that report and in subsequent interviews, the man told how he had married 86 wives and fathered about 200 surviving children. The immediate reaction of most right thinking people was that this is a thoroughly misguided charlatan with an unruly libido who requires urgent rehabilitation. Quite unsurprisingly though, the man enjoyed generous press coverage.
His story gave the press a canvas on which to paint the most lurid images of their stereotypes of Islamic "leaders" and their "harems"; and the man gained national media notoriety, appearing on national newspapers and national television, and basking in the euphoria of his new-found fame. As· more details emerged, the press rapidly promoted him from mere "mallam" to "Islamic scholar", and on to "Islamic cleric", until the authorities were forced to take notice and take action in an equally public manner.
The Jama'atul Nasr'il Islam (JNI) called the man to order and asked him to repent and keep to only four wives, the maximum permitted by the Shari'ah. His local government even committed to take care of the women and children he had so irresponsibly sired (it was reported that most of the children were so-called almajiris, vagrants who lived off begging on the streets). Press reports indicate that the man accepted this overly lenient treatment, fixed a date to make a public recantation of his deviance, and then, in a not unexpected act of treachery, promptly went underground and filed suit at the High Court claiming that the order to divorce the "wives" violated his fundamental human rights!
Naturally, a horde of "human rights activists" have given him voice, claiming to have summoned 86 lawyers to represent the man and his "wives". We immediately note that these publicity-hugging characters were the same "Muslim" lawyers who sued the Zamfara state government some years ago to discontinue the implementation of the Shari'ah on the grounds that it violated their fundamental human rights.
Someone should ask the human "activists" if their sense of fairness is not affronted by the fact that a man can be sent to prison for marrying more than the limit of one wife imposed by common law, whilst the same person can claim human rights protection when he marries more than the limit of four wives imposed by Islamic law under which he claimed to have married the wives. We will reserve further comments on this aspect, whilst we await the denouement to these rather interesting events.
Meanwhile, probably the most significant of the issues surrounding this notorious case which we should examine for our own education - is the one highlighted by noted constitutional lawyer and Secretary-General of the NSCIA, Dr. Abdul-Lateef Adegbite. As we all know, some persist in the dubious argument that Nigeria is a secular state where the constitution is supreme. If that were the case, the man would be justified to take any number of "wives" that he wishes, subject to limits imposed by his local customs.
Now, by going to the High Court to validate these "marriages", the man is providing an opportunity for the courts to declare that the Shari'ah is inferior to the constitution. He is challenging the very essence of the Shari'ah in the common law court, and is thus compounding his deviance (as Dr Adegbite put it), with apostasy. Muslims recognise only one set of laws and that is the Shari'ah. For as long as characters like the man in question persist in taking benefits under the Shari'ah when it suits them, abusing those benefits when they desire, and then rushing to common law courts for "redress" when their hypocritical instincts are challenged, so long would the artificial conflict between the application of the Shari'ah and common law persist.
Cases like this would therefore make it imperative that those in the business of constitution making should simply declare that in a multi-religious country like Nigeria, the supreme law is the Shari'ah as far as Muslims are concerned, and that its application to Muslims is absolute and nonnegotiable. That way, we can checkmate dim-witted opportunists who seek to play on our common intelligence to foment artificial crises by approaching and reprobating as it suits their selfish ends. As for the pending high court case, it does not require much acumen for any common law judge to simply throw out the case on the basis that the man is subject to Islamic law and that its limits must be obeyed. Even if he (and deviants like him) can rely on the protection of the constitution, it does that for as long as he claims to be a Muslim (and since Islaam permits only four), his first four wives were the only legitimate wives he had in the eyes of the law, and the "excess" were mere concubines with whom he was simply engaged in an adulterous relationship. (Asking him to choose any four may even be wrong and unfair, since those other "marriages" are null and void!).
The consequence is that the punishments that the Shari'ah has prescribed for adultery should be applied to the man without mitigation (we have refrained from pursuing the same argument with respect to the "wives" because it is alleged that many of them were coerced or mystically enslaved into relationships with the man. He is reported to be an immensely popular "marabout" and even claims in one interview to regularly talk with "Allaah" and to receive directions and concessions from Him!).
Closer home, the man's case also gives us an opportunity to examine the legal effects and implications of many of our "legal" relationships, especially in southern Nigeria where many of us ignorantly head to the marriage registries to "forrnalise" our marriages. The fact is that if the man had married the wives at common law, he would have been guilty of bigamy, and any subsequent marriage conducted under any other system of laws (including the Shari'ah) would have been declared null and void. In effect would we not be guilty of the same delinquency as the man with 86 wives (to a lesser degree, maybe), when we forsake the Muslim marriage for the so called registry marriage which recognises only monogamous marriages?
In the final analysis, the man requires careful and decisive treatment, and we, the thoroughly embarrassed audience of these events, should seize the opportunity to demand that those who make – and interpret - laws, supposedly on our behalf, must always take cognisance of our fundamental values.
Postscript: last edition, we addressed the Lagos State Coroners' Law 2007 and noted the Lagos State Governor's commitment that the law has been Withdrawn to permit wider consultations and address the grievance of Muslims and other stakeholders on the new law. However, reports reaching us indicate that Muslim corpses are still routinely spending three days in hospitals before being released for burial. Someone should please bring this to the attention of the governor. We expect immediate action from him to forestall avoidable crises
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited