Polygamy in Nigeria

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The states where polygamy is legal in Nigeria.

Under civil law, Nigeria recognizes polygamous unions.[1] The northern states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara recognize polygamous marriages as equivalent to monogamous marriages, as all twelve are governed by Sharia Law,[2] which allows for a man to take more than one wife as long as he treats them equally.[3]

Zamfara State was the first to legislate polygamy,[4] which occurred on January 7, 2000. Gombe State has been the most recent state to provide for civil polygamy, legalizing it on December 14, 2001.[5]

As the southern region of Nigeria is composed of mostly Christians, polygamous marriages have not been legally introduced at this time. Despite such, attempts to introduce Sharia (thereby legalizing polygamy) have been made in Oyo State, Kwara State, Lagos State[citation needed], a various others, yet all unsuccessful. However, polygamous unions are recognized by customary law in Nigeria, providing a handful of benefits for those in polygamous unions ranging from inheritance rights to child custody.[6] As of 2009, there has yet to be any debate of introducing a measure that would allow for civil polygamous marriages to be recognized within the entire country of Nigeria, letting the legislation play out on a state-by-state basis rather than introducing a nationwide measure.

Practice[edit]

There are no requirements based on religion in the North, therefore Christians are legally allowed to form polygamous unions just as Muslims may do. Christian church leaders such as Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Anglican Church of Nigeria have condemned the practice of polygamy by Christians, with Akinola going on to write "The observation [of polygamy] will destroy our witness if not firmly addressed. We cannot claim to be a Bible-believing church and yet be selective in our obedience."[7] Reports of Nigerian Mormons practicing polygamy have also surfaced.[8]

Despite the four-wife limitation, there have been numerous indications that many Nigerians bypass this law, such as with Muhammadu Bello Masaba, an 84-year old Islamic cleric who was accused of illegal marriage due to his exceeding number of spouses, in which he 86 wives.[9] The charges were later withdrawn by the Niger State Sharia commission, with Masaba able to retain all of his spouses.

On an opposite note, it was reported in April 2007 that a Nigerian lesbian, Aunty Maiduguri, married four women in an elaborate ceremony in Kano State, though her union is not recognized by the government, and Maiduguri and her partners were forced to go into hiding shortly after the ceremony to avoid the possible threat of being stoned if convicted for lesbianism, which results in capital punishment for married Muslim women or caning for single Muslim women in Nigerian areas under Sharia Law.[10]

Legality of polygamy by state[edit]

Bauchi State[edit]

Bauchi State has been the most recent Nigerian state to legislate civil recognition of polygamous marriages for its citizens, which was established after the implanting of Islamic Sharia law on July 1, 2001.[citation needed]

Kwara State[edit]

Since the introduction of Sharia law throughout northern Nigeria, various attempts have been made to implant Sharia law into the southern Kwara State, which would legalize polygamy. Polygamous unions are currently recognized under customary law throughout Nigeria, but lack numerous benefits in a Nigerian civil marriage. While civil marriage in Nigeria is monogamous, a dozen states and counting have implanted Sharia into their legal systems and thus are exempt. While the implanting of Sharia was unsuccessful, numerous Sharia courts were set up in Kwara State to serve for Muslim legal cases. Sharia has yet to be introduced to the entire state as the governing legal system.[11]

Lagos State[edit]

Polygamous marriages are not permitted as of 2010 in Lagos State, which has Nigeria's most populous city, Lagos. Attempts to introduce Sharia law in Lagos State, thereby legalizing polygamy, have been made since early 2002,[12] after a dozen of Nigeria's northern states established Sharia as the governing form of law for Muslims, but not non-Muslims, in these states. The city of Lagos currently has a Sharia court that pertains to civil and legal matters concerning Muslims in the city,[13] though the state does not recognise its rulings as binding, much like the Sharia court in the United Kingdom.

Nasarawa State[edit]

Currently, Nasarawa State does not provide for polygamous marriages, though the status could possibly change.[14] Since the legislation of Sharia law in a dozen of Nigeria's northern states, the debate of legislating Sharia in Nasarawa State soon entered the political arena,[15] sparking both outrage and excitement from the residents of Nasarawa State. The introduction of such a measure failed, but was revived in mid July 2005.[16] Supporters have vowed to continue their attempts to implant Sharia into the state. The state remains one of the few states in Nigeria's north that is not governed by Sharia Law, possibly due to the majority Christian population. While Sharia law is currently not implanted, there is a Sharia court that operates in the state,[17] though pertains to Muslims only.

Oyo State[edit]

Since May 2002,[18] attempts have been made to implant Sharia law into the southern Oyo State, which would legalize polygamy. Polygamous unions are currently recognized under customary law throughout Nigeria, but lack numerous benefits in a Nigerian civil marriage. While civil marriage in Nigeria is monogamous, a dozen states and counting have implanted Sharia into their legal systems and thus are exempt. While the implanting of Sharia was unsuccessful, numerous Sharia courts were set up in Oyo State to serve for Muslim legal cases. Sharia has yet to be introduced to the entire state as the governing legal system.[11]

Plateau State[edit]

Plateau State currently does not recognize polygamous marriages under civil law, though the federal government of Nigeria recognizes such unions under customary law, thereby granting significant benefits to those in polygamous marriages not civilly married. Efforts to introduce Sharia law in Plateau State have resulted in several brutal clashes between Muslims and Christians,[19] though as of 2009, Sharia law has not been implanted into the state's legal codes.

Zamfara State[edit]

After the adoption of Sharia Law in Zamfara State in early January 2000,[20] Zamafara State became the first state in Nigeria to allow for legal recognition of polygamous marriage under civil law, as such is practicable under Sharia, which allows for a man to take up to four wives on the account that he treats them equally. Mahmud Shinkafi, the governor of Zamfara State, has two wives.[21]

After Zamfara State established Sharia which brought about polygamy, numerous other states such as Kano State soon followed suit, thereby legalizing polygamy.[22] While the Government of Nigeria only recognizes a monogamous marriage under civil law, recognizing polygamous unions with similar benefits under customary law, states that impose Sharia are not affected by such and therefore can provide polygamy for their citizens.

References[edit]

See also[edit]