From JOHN ADAMS, Minna
To the children of the late controversial super polygamist and Islamic cleric, Alhaji Mohammed Bello Masaba, who died penultimate Saturday, the death of their 93-year-old father may have come sooner than expected. But they entertain no fears of surviving after him. “I know that my father is not dead, he is alive. Allah sent him to come and help mankind. He only called him home to come rest,” these were the submissions of the eldest daughter of the late Islamic cleric, 36-year-old, Fatima Abubakar Bello Masaba.
Looking relaxed, calm and composed, Fatima, a Higher National Diploma (HND) 11 student of the Federal Polytechnic, Bida, told Sunday Sun that her last moment with her late father was very emotional and touching but full of encouragement. She recounted the deceased’s last hour: “It was as if he knew he was going to die. He called us and shook hands with all of us and told us that we should put our hope and trust in God in all our dealings.”
“We never knew that he was going to die that day because he was not sick. But he said if God decides to call him, we should not entertain any fear on how we are going to survive.”
Since the demise of the Islamic cleric, the concern of many has been the survival of the 103 widows, 203 children he left behind and other less privileged that fed under his roof every day.
Aside his widows, children and grandchildren, Sunday Sun learnt that the late Masaba took responsibility for feeding of over 50 people every day. He also extended other philanthropic gestures to many within and outside the state.
Despite Masaba’s demise, his three-story building located in the centre of Bida, the popular Kota woro, is still a beehive of activities even as the children promised to carry on, saying their father had taught them how to live without him.
According to the children, the spirit of togetherness, love and oneness, which the late cleric had built in the children over the years, would remain one of their greatest strengths. With over 300 people under one roof, the super polygamist had no history of domestic violence, as he maintained a peaceful coexistence among all the family members.
One of his neighbours, who attested to this feat, described the late Masaba as a man of principle and courage. Mohammed Idris, who had lived with him for over 50 years, said: “Baba” lived in peace with his family and neighbours. I have been his neighbour for over 50 years now and I have never seen Baba in any controversy. He lived peacefully with his family, he lived a disciplined life.”
The late cleric had no western education even though he worked with the Bida native authority and retired in the 70s. But then, he took the education of his children as a priority.
With 20 university graduates, over 30 undergraduates, coupled with 25 others pursuing diploma programmes in various polytechnics across the country, Masaba bequeathed a lasting legacy for his children.
Although he did not run a full-fledge Arabic school in his house, the Islamic cleric had no less than 10 teachers under his pay roll. With no visible business, he ran his Islamic movement “Halihumot Nabiyyi Islamic Organization” with over 5,000 followership spread across the country. Even at that, there was enough to eat and share with neighbours. It was gathered that he slaughtered a cow every week for the family.
However, in adherence to Islamic injunction of the mandatory three months and 10 days mourning period for the widow of a deceased, all the widows of Alhaji Masaba declined to speak on what life holds for them after the demise of their husband.
During the three-day Fidau prayers held in his house which was attended by sympathizers from across the country, the women observed the proceedings from the three-storey building with their children.
According to the eldest son of the cleric, Mahmoud Abubakar Bello Masaba, sustenance of the ‘huge empire’ left behind by the deceased is in the hands of God, the sustainer of lives. He said: “Even when Baba was alive, it was not him that was sustaining the family but Allah. So, the same Allah will continue to sustain those he left behind.”
“Our biggest strength is the spirit of love and care for one another that he had built in us. All of us his children imbibed this spirit and it will keep us together,” he assured.
Many travails of the super polygamist
Muhammadu Bello Abubahkar Masaba Bida hit the limelight in 2008 when his matrimonial life caught the attention of the media. Subsequently, he was arraigned in sharia court under Sharia law and reminded in prison custody.
His arraignment followed the death pronouncement passed on him by an Islamic group, Jama’atu Nasiru-l Islam (JNI). He was equally invited by Bida Emirate Council and the assembly of Islamic leaders for interrogation over his marriage of more than four wives allowed by Sharia.
At the end of their deliberations in Etsu Nupe’s palace Bida, a verdict was read out by the Etsu Nupe of Bida himself, Alhaji Yahya Abubakar, saying Masaba should divorce 82 out of the 86 wives within 48 hours or leave the entire Nupe Kingdom as his safety could not be guaranteed within the kingdom.
The controversial polygamist, however, remained defiant, adding “If God permits me, I will marry more than 86 wives.
“A normal human being could not marry 86, but I can only do by the grace of God. I married 86 women and there is peace in the house. If there is peace, how can this be wrong”, he queried.
“A man with ten 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 added.
The argument of the late Masaba was that he did not pursue any of his wives. Rather, they all sought him out due to his reputation as a healer. Many of his wives were much younger than he was. Even a few were younger than some of his elder children. Notwithstanding, the wives claimed that he was a good husband and father.
According to the injunction of the holy Quran, a man can marry four wives. But Bello maintained that since the Quran set a law, it must also set a punishment for offenders. But in this case of marrying more than four wives, he argued, no punishment was given.
Before his trial at the Sharia court, the Niger State Police command gave the super polygamist of Bida a clean bill, declaring that nothing incriminating was found in the house of the controversial husband of 86 wives. “We found nothing incriminating in his house. There was no knife, no pistol or skull in his house when we went to invite him to the headquarters for a chat”, the head of the police team that arrested him declared.
While being kept in detention at the Minna Prison, an Upper Sharia Court in Minna, presided over by Justice Alhaji Abdulmalik Imam, on 6 October 2008 transferred the case of Masaba to a Chief Magistrate’s Court in Minna for lack of jurisdiction. This action drew sharp reactions from some Muslims leading to mass protest against the court’s decision.
Thereafter, on November 12, 2008, a Federal High Court sitting in Maitama, Abuja, ordered the release of Masaba from detention in Minna Prison with immediate effect. The trial judge, Justice G.O. Kolawole, attached no condition to his release. The judge also ordered the then Inspector General of Police, Mr Mike Okiro, to ensure protection of Masaba’s fundamental rights to life, liberty and privacy, as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In July 2011, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, the governor of Niger State, in justifying the position of Masaba’s refusal to divorce any of his wives, said “though we have Sharia in place in the state, but we have no law to pin him (Masaba) down”.
The then attorney general and commissioner for Justice, Niger state, Adamu Usman, disclosed that various attempts to prosecute Masaba ran into hitches because there was no provision in the law of the state to effect his prosecution.
Until his demise on January 27, 2017, Alhaji Muhammadu Bello Abubakar Masaba Bida had lived peacefully as a law-abiding citizen of Nigeria in his hometown, Bida, with his 203 wives and 103 children.