Ibadan, Nigeria - Mohammed Bello Maasaba and Ziona Chana, the world’s two leading super polygamists, have chosen the path of multiple marriage for different reasons. For Maasaba, a Nigerian faith healer who lives in Bida, Niger State, the decision to marry over 100 women was foisted on him by God. According to him, he had led a normal life as a factory worker, married to only two women. But all of that was to change sometime in the 1970s when he had an angelic visitation, with two divine instructions; one, he should become a faith healer, who would totally eschew orthodox medicine and that he should marry as many wives as the angel would direct him to.
Maasaba, now 87, said his initial action of disregarding the heavenly vision resulted in his taking seriously ill. He was unable to eat or sleep for days, and all the medications administered to him by orthodox medicine practitioners proved ineffective. It was at this point that he decided to obey the instruction of the angel and took up faith healing as a profession and, of course, decided to go on an endless wedding spree.
For Chana, there was no angelic visitation or instruction for him to marry so many wives. He explained that as a young man growing up with his parents, he even thought he would not get into the marriage business because seeing his father, who had seven wives, sorrounded by the many women depressed him.
According to him, “My father had seven wives and looking after them was a difficult task. When I saw him surrounded by women all the time it put me off. But my wish was not God’s wish.”
But that teenage idealism later gave way to necessity after he inherited the headship of a sect started by his grandfather, Challian Chana. The sect, known as Chana Sect, allows multiple marriage. Members of the sect believe they will one day rule the world with Christ.
To increase the membership of the sect, Chana has married 39 times. He, his wives, all their 94 children and 33 grand-children live together in a 100-room, four-storey building at Baktwang village, Mizoram State, India.
However, unlike Chana, who has never had any cause to divorce any of his wives, Maasaba, has had to divorce 12 of the 107 women he got married to. His reason was that they disobeyed his instruction of never patronising orthodox medicine practitioners.
He explained, “I told them not to go to hospital if any of the children is ill. They must report to me and pray. Some of my wives don’t have that confidence. They would take them to the hospital behind my back. If anyone goes behind my back to the hospital, the child will develop a swelling in the body and will eventually die.”
He also lost nine of the women to the cold hands of death. So at the moment, he has 89 wives, with the youngest being 19 and the oldest 64. The unions with his wives have produced 185 children with 133 being alive. The youngest of them is just one month old. The whole family lives in a four storey house with 89 rooms.
While Chana’s excessive acquisition of wives has not pitted him against the laws of India, Maasaba’s has led him into trouble with the authorities in Niger, his home state, which respects the Sharia law. In 2008, a group of influential Islamic clerics, known as the Jamaatu Nasril Islam, issued a fatwa calling for the death of Maasaba for contravening the Islamic law of not exceeding four wives. It took the intervention of the Emir of Bida, Yahaya Abubakar, for the group to stay action on their resolve to kill the faith healer. But the Emir gave Maasaba a condition, “We request that he either divorces 82 of the wives (he then had 86) or he should leave our Sharia lands as I cannot guarantee his safety if he stays.”
But Maasaba was not ready to do either. As he explained, “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?”
Knowing that he would be endangering his life if he did not act on the instruction of the Emir, Maasaba sought an injunction restraining the group and the Emir from banishing him if he refused to divorce his wives. His lawyers hinged their defence on the fact that banishing him was tantamount to a violation of his human rights. Nonetheless, in September 2008, Sharia police arrested him and put him in custody for ”insulting religious creed” and “unlawful marriages”.
But Maasaba explained that there was nothing wrong in his multiple marriage. According to him, “To my understanding the Koran does not place a limit and it is up to what your own power, your own endowment and ability allow. God did not say what the punishment should be for a man who has more than four wives, but he is specific about the punishment for fornication and adultery.”
The matter got to a head when, during one of the hearings, some of his wives and children had stormed the court. His lawyers called in his wives and their parents, one after the other to testify whether or not they had agreed to the marriage. When the 57th wife and her parents had told the court that the marriage was not forced, the court asked the lawyers to stop the parade of wives, and freed Maasaba.
Both Chana and Maasaba rely on hard work to feed their families. Chana, though a spiritualist, still sticks to his carpentary work to the extent that he has carpentary workshops run by his sons in his large compound. He also runs a piggery, a vegetable farm and a paddy field in his home. Maasaba feeds his family from the proceeds from his faith healing business. Maasaba has built a reputation as an effective faith healer that those requiring his services throng his home daily from every part of Nigeria and beyond. In the process, he has become wealthy and amply provides for his family. During his trial, one of the issues raised against him was the likelihood of his inability to cater for his large family. But his third wife, Hajia Hafsat, had told the court, “ We are very happy. He’s a good man, an honest man, and caring. Look at me, I am well fed and I am looking good. Who can keep me inside? Can anyone keep me here against my will?”
For both families, food time is a fiesta. In the Chana household, “a typical meal can see them plucking 30 chickens, peeling 132lb of spuds and boiling up 220lb of rice. All the cooking is done over an open fire kept burning throughout the day”. For the Maasabas, it takes as many as three bags of rice, a big ram and a lot of vegetables.
Both Chana and Maasaba have perfected ways of ensuring that none of the wives is shortchanged romantically. For Chana, who has a room to himself in the large house unlike his wives who sleep in dormitory-like halls, an arrangement has been made to ensure that the younger wives are closer to him. They all know the signals. Once the man picks who he wants for the night, the rest know that they have to await their turn some other time. This does not breed any ill feeling because they know that Chana is not just their husband, he is also their spiritual leader; arguing with a spiritual leader could be disastrous.
Maasaba deals with his wives more fairly. Because it is difficult for him to know whose turn it is, he has engaged a person whose duty is the handling of the roster for the wives. This has taken care of any animosity that might have ensued by those who might feel short changed because all the wives meet to agree on the roster.
The women have no cause to complain because Maasaba’s time is divided between attending to his clients and satisfying the amatory requirements of his wives.
Maasaba, who revels in his ability to keep his wives happy, is wont to say, “In his wisdom, God has given me the power and strength to give them the sexual portion they need. If I didn't satisfy them, they would leave."
And neither of them is done yet with marriage. For Chana, there is no stopping his acquisition of women, saying, “To expand my sect, I am willing to go even to the US to marry.” And for Maasaba, he will continue for as long as God keeps telling him to get more. Since neither God nor the angel has asked him to stop, it will not be in his interest to stop now despite his advanced age of 87 years.