Published September 16, 2008
ABUJA, Nigeria – Police in northern Nigeria have arrested a Muslim preacher who claims 86 wives and 107 children, charging him with breaking Islamic laws governing marriage.
Authorities detained Mohammed Bello Masaba, 84, on Monday after an order from northern Niger state's Islamic court, according to police spokesman Richard Oguche. The preacher was charged with "infringing on Islamic laws," Oguche told The Associated Press by telephone from the state.
It was unclear when the man would appear before the court, or what the potential punishment could be. Muslim principles forbid men to take more than four wives.
Around half of Nigeria's 140 million people are Muslim, and Niger was one of twelve majority-Muslim states that adopted the Islamic Sharia criminal code after Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999. The move sparked religious riots throughout the country that left thousands dead.
But severe corporal punishments imposed by the Sharia courts are rarely carried out and no executions have taken place. Nigeria's secular, federal government, which controls the national security forces, has said it won't allow the most serious Sharia punishments.
Analysts say Sharia was implemented for political reasons as well as religious conviction — as a show of strength by the Muslim northerners and as an acknowledgment that secular courts had failed to stem years of crime.
Nigeria has 24 other states that do not follow Sharia law.
Masaba says God enables him to maintain such a large family.
"A man with 10 wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them," he has been quoted as saying in Nigeria's local media.