Polygamy is widely accepted all over Nigeria, but one of the country’s most prominent Muslim leaders is trying to ban the practice — in some cases.
Why is having multiple spouses under scrutiny?
Men who cannot afford more than one wife are the catalyst for these reforms. The Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi, suggested that polygamy among the poor was linked to the rise of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has been behind a violent insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. But it has managed to find recruits from all over the mainly Muslim north of the country.
“Those of us in the north have all seen the economic consequences of men who are not capable of maintaining one wife, marrying four,” the Emir said over the weekend. “They end up producing 20 children, not educating them, leaving them on the streets and they end up as thugs and terrorists.”
It was a brave statement that anyone who has visited the north will find hard to deny. In many northern towns and cities, groups of small children, known as “almajiris,” crowd around cars stuck in traffic, begging for small change.
How common is polygamy?
Marrying multiple wives is a lot less common among educated people in Nigeria, but polygamy still happens in rural areas, especially in the Muslim north.
It is legal. Though the official marriage registry only allows for one wife, it also has a clause that allows for marriage under “customary” law. These rules will differ depending on the community. One man from central Niger state, who died last month, famously had at least 86 wives and at least 170 children.
But according to Islamic law, a man is not allowed to have more than four wives at the same time. It also states that a man should treat his wives fairly and equally, otherwise, he should remain in a monogamous marriage.
Would a polygamy ban prevent terrorism?
The Emir was not clear on where he gleaned his research, but a study published by the Royal Society scientific journal in 2012 said that polygamous societies were more prone to war, rape and theft.
The cause was not an abundance of uneducated children but a surplus of poor, young men with no prospects of marriage.
How can it be enforced?
The proposal has been submitted to a council of Islamic scholars for “validation” and then it will be presented to the Kano state legislature in two weeks’ time. If passed it will be enforced through the Islamic family courts.
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