On January 28, 2017, the world-famous super polygamist, Alhaji Muhammadu Bello Abubakar Masaba, 93, died in his hometown, in Bida, Niger State, at exactly 9.22am. He was buried the following day beside the twin four storey building that sheltered his gargantuan household, witnessed by surging crowd that included curiosity seekers who thought the nonagenarian with strange spiritual powers would resurrect. Called Baba by his children, wives and disciples, his family size was protean, affected more by fluid new acquisitions of women and frequent births than the limiting factors of death and divorce. The eldest son of the deceased, Mahmud Bello Abubakar MasabaBida, 43, however told Newsline on Sunday that at the last count the father left behind 130 wives and 89 children. Over 5,000 people feed daily under him, including cult-like following of disciples who come from everywhere in Nigeria and abroad. The four storey structure along Kotaworo-Masaba Area in Bida town serves as a Mecca of sort,playing multiple functions as a sacred place of unity, worship, evangelism, nourishment, and residence. The disciples believe that their leader is immortal. “Baba is not an ordinary being like we people,” said Alhaji Mohammed Mukhtahir Salaudeen Bello in an interview with Newsline on Sunday last Friday. “God works beyond human imagination. Baba is not dead; he is still alive. Men of God don’t die.”

Alh Bello Abubakar Masaba was a nonstandard, heretic Islamic cleric, teacher and healer, who achieved wide and wild renown in Lagos before he eventually moved permanently to Bida with his followers. He lived on the fourth floor of the Kotaworo-Masaba edifice, an uncompleted floor, just brickwork done to lintel level, the rooftop of this room covered amazingly with straw. There are probably about 48 rooms in the three levels already finished, containing the members of his household, including the male children who are married. There was no mattress in his room, no adornments, just an Islamic calendar. He slept in one corner of the room on a prayer mat. When it rained and strong winds hurled pellets of rain into the room, he shifted his mat to a safer area. He could stay in this sparse room for days, devoting his time to prayers and worship. He was so simple; although he had regular eating wares in which his meals were served, a one-time councilor in Bida, Hon Bala Baba Asibiti, told Newsline on Sunday that even the use of these wares was not exclusive to him as he had permitted others to be served in them.

The day-to-day affairs of Bello Abubakar Masaba’s religious organisation is run by the Secretary, Mukhtahir Salaudeen Bello, who likened his role to that of head of service, with the religious icon himself as the spiritual head. There are other layers of actors under the secretary, who function separately to ensure that a complex place like that did not breakdown. These are Group 15, consisting of followers above the age of 50 (the equivalent of council of elders assuming quasi decision-making roles) and Nakaba, mostly youths (the avant-garde of social activities, who ensure that crowd activities such as child christening events, religious crusades, etc which take place in front of the storey building, the corner stone of the religious sect, were orderly, peaceful and comfortable for followers and guests. They clean the ground, set up the canopies and other paraphernalia, usher guests to their seat, and manage crowds. For efficient and effective administration of this group, a youths’ leader by name Hafeez is appointed. Thus the Bello Abubakar Masaba’s religious organisation runs to perfection, without glitches. “We are living peacefully in this place,” said the secretary. “Baba himself has shown us how to live peacefully. His message to the world is to embrace God and have strong faith in Him; to trust in Almighty Allah, to love your neighbourhood as you love yourself. You can see this in his family; he practices it to his people.”


Wives of late Alh. Muhammadu Masaba protesting their husband’s incarceration in 2008


Alh Muhammadu Bello Abubakar Masaba shot into global limelight in 2008, when the BBC sensationally reported the patriach and his unnatural-sized family. That was the beginning of his legal and extra-legal travails and tribulations. The BBC report embarrassed many Muslims, the Bida Emirate Council and the Bida branch of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, especially because he paraded himself as a Muslim. The Islamic religion, of which he said he was a messenger, an annoying point for mainstream Muslims, permitted an adherent to have not more than four wives, but Alh Bello Abubakar Masaba at that time had 86 wives. The Etsu Nupe, Alh (Dr) Yahaya Abubakar, the spiritual head of Muslims in the emirate, summoned him to his palace and asked him to divorce 82 wives and keep the regulation four, failure which he would be banished from the town. The state, which had in May, 2000, joined the league of states implementing full blown Sharia law in Nigeria, arrested the Islamic scholar and preacher and threw him before Sharia court. The case waltzed through Sharia court to magistrate court in Minna and to Federal High Court, in Maitama, Abuja, which ordered his release from detention at a Minna prison and asked the police to ensure the protection of the man’s fundamental rights to life, liberty and privacy enshrined in 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He returned to Bida November 13, 2008, and brought three more women into his harem. By May 2011, the women in his nest stood at 89. The effort to prosecute him collapsed beyond redemption because, as Bar Adamu Usman, attorney general and commissioner of justice in the state at the time, observed that the state government later discovered that “Sharia courts in Niger State cannot deal with the case (because) there was no provision in the Penal Code CPC (i,e. Criminal Procedure Code) or Sharia administration of justice to deal with such case.” Alh Bello Abubakar Masaba himself had argued that although the Holy Quran permitted a man to have four wives, it was silent on punishment, if an adherent so chose to exceed the number. Besides, he said, he had divine authority to acquire any number. He told the BBC in 2008: “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.”

Declared as parson non grata and heretic, he was harassed by unidentified persons. There were even attempts in the run-up to 2015 elections to prevent him and members of his family from registering during the voters registration exercise. He had also come into direct confrontation with the state, when he refused to allow his children to be immunized against the five childhood killer diseases. As an article of faith, his followers disavow the ingestion of drugs, herbal or allopathic, to treat any medical condition, and urge apostolic faith. Hospitals are a taboo; consequently, although there is a healthcare centre at Kotaworo-Masaba Area, just a stone’s throw away from his spiritual headquarters, neither family members, followers, nor him patronized it. His meals were also devoid of artificial seasoners, such as maggi cubes; he preferred local condiments, such as dawadawa, derived from locust bean trees.

Over the years, a major sticking point between him and some of his neighbours is the way and manner waste from the septic tank is disposed, which leaves the area engulfed in stench of putrefaction. Some of the neighbours, who spoke with Newsline on Sunday, complained that the tank, compared with the size of the house and the resident population, was small and easily fill up, a source of frequent irritation when it is being evacuated, especially as the spiritual leader detested the use of disinfecting chemicals to suppress the odour. All efforts to prevail on him over the years have failed, leading to hostile reactions in the neighbourhood.


Wives and children of late Muhammadu Masaba


Alh Muhammadu Bello Abubakar Masabawas born April 14, 1924. A canvass poster emblazoned on the top floor of the four storey building traced his genealogy to the great Islamic scholar and revivalist, Manko, the father of  Masaba, who in the annals of Bida was emir. Although the matter of his bloodline is a subject a court is trying to sort out, it occupies a significant place in the lore told by disciples of the man.

The spiritual icon calls himself a messenger of Allah, and this has created a repugnant impression and hostility among Muslims who thought the man was appropriating prophethood to himself. For mainstream Muslims, Prophet Mohammed is the seal of all prophets, and any other latter day prophet is a liar, a fraud or impostor. Alh Bello Abubakar Masabais seen in that degenerate mould. But in an interview with Newsline on Sunday, the secretary denies prophethood claims saying, “Baba has always said that he is not a god, a prophet, angel, satan, saint or devil; he is just a messenger of Allah sent to the world to embrace God and have faith in Him. His message is for people to love each other, to avoid fornication and all evil things.”

In June 2015, Baba ended six months of marathon preaching in front of his house, and declared that his mission was at an end; that he had consummated his divine assignment and that the time was neigh for him to return to his Lord. That day, he warned “thepeople not to deviate from the right path; that we should remain hopeful and calm, and that if we continue to embrace Allah, nobody has anything to fear. And all the goodness will come to everyone, which will show that God is with us.”

The Bello Abubakar Masaba household is a mini-nation; there are Yoruba, Nupe, Hausa, Igbo, etc, but the Yoruba speaking people outnumber every other constituent group. Newsline on Sunday asked why this is so, and the Secretary, Mukhtahir Salaudeen Bello, replies cryptically: “Nupe people do not know what God has done for them, but we the Yoruba people know, but soon Nupe will know.” Alh Bello Abubakar Masaba spent multiple decades in Lagos, where he became legendary for his ability to heal people without applying any medicine or concoction. “We the followers,” said Alh Abdulrazak Bekun, professional printer and importer, “following the faith of Almighty Allah, by not using any drug at all, get healing. Baba taught us to have faith. He is an agent of Allah, who is on a spiritual assignment.” He narrated how he took ill and was consigned to a wheel chair. He said he came to Baba December 27, but the next day, he started to walk about, and before long he was as fit as fiddle.

Alh Jamiu Bello, who is resident in London, an architect and property investor, told how he had chest pain, habitual precursor to heart attack, and, in spite of medical interventions in London hospitals, the condition did not abate. “Eventually,” he said, “I came in contact with Baba, who ordered me to do away with all medications and have faith in Allah, leave alcohol and anything bad. In less than a week, the heart attack vanished, and that is nearly 30 years ago. I have not taken drugs ever since.”

There were also testimonies by a staff of Ministry of Defence Headquarters, Abuja, Sulaiman Nasrudeen Adeosun, who was paralysed, and Kamarudeen Ola Olowun Bukhari, who had died for three days and was “brought back to life.” All the people who received healing through Baba willingly give to sustain his sect.

His son, 43 year old Mahmud, a graduate of public administration, narrated how he was shot at the back by armed robbers on his way to Lagos on May 22, 2000, and how, through his father’s intervention, he “vomited the bullet” lodged in his back.


The remains of late Muhammadu Masaba being carried to the grave side

The Islamic scholar is said to be stupendously generous. A neighbour form the nearby Nakordi title holders, who did not want his name in print, said, although he vigorously disputes the late scholar’s title claims to royalty, Alh Bello Abubakar Masaba was undoubtedly beneficent and generous. He told Newsline on Sunday that the man could in one night “distribute one million naira or more to talakawa. And he does not discriminate, and even if you lie to get money from him; although he knows, but he will still satisfy your request. That is how kind he was. What we don’t like about him is his boastful and blasphemous claims that he is messenger of Allah. He denigrates the Qur’an, for how can you do what is forbidden by God, like marrying more than four wives. How can you say that some prophets, like Idris, are in hellfire. How can you have such knowledge and audacity? His preachings provoke and annoy the community, because they are at variance with the Holy Qur’an. By marrying more than four wives, he has turned haram to halal.

Newsline on Sunday asked the secretary how they will continue the religious creed without the nonagenarian, and he said: “God will raise his successor.”

Stories by Ndama Abubakar