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86 lawyers hired for Nigerian with 86 wives

Detained for unlawful marriages

A coalition of Nigerian human rights groups has mobilized 86 lawyers to defend the country's most married man, currently detained for unlawful marriages and inciting contempt of Islamic religious laws, an activist said Wednesday.

Masaba came to the limelight two months ago when he admitted in the media to having 86 wives and 170 children, insisting that his marriages did not contravene Islam which allows a man to get married to up to four wives.

"The coalition of 27 human rights groups in the north has mobilized 86 lawyers to defend Bello Masaba against the charges brought against him and the threat of banishment," Shehu Sani, a human rights activist and playwright, told AFP in a telephone interview.

"It is our determination to protect his fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution and international law," Sani added.

Sani is the director of Civil Rights Congress, a rights group based in the northern city of Kaduna and a member of the coalition.

He said the identities of the defense lawyers would not be disclosed for fear of blackmail and intimidation, adding that the coalition "will go to any length to defend Masaba whom we believe is a political prisoner and prisoner of conscience".

Masaba, 84, was whisked away from his home town Bidda by police and arraigned before an Upper Sharia court in the state capital Minna "for incendiary contempt of religious laws and contracting unlawful marriage to 86 wives", a court clerk told AFP.

The news about Masaba attracted sharp criticism and indignation from all over the north, particularly from Islamic clerics, with the Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the Nigerian Muslim umbrella body slamming a death sentence on him.

Two weeks ago, Masama agreed to divorce 82 of the wives and keep four, the maximum Islam allows, following a two-day ultimatum issued to him by the influential traditional chief of Bidda to either choose four among the 86 wives or leave the town.