Very Laudable But Grossly Misguided Law


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Well, the question that we are concerned with here, presently, is the decision by the Emir of Kano, Nigeria, His Majesty, Muhammed Sanusi, II, to ban all adult-male subjects in his emirate or kingdom officially classified as “poor” or “indigent” from having more than one wife. The objective here, according to the news report, is to ensure that these poor husbands and fathers-to-be would be able to cater to the needs of their family members (See “Nigeria to Ban Polygamy for Poor Men” 4/4/17). On the face of it, the decision seems quite laudable; but even as Emir Muhammed Sanusi himself and his councilors and counselors well appear to have almost immediately come to realize, it is far easier said than done.

Indeed, even as I write, a little over three months later, the Kano Muslim traditional rulers are still trying to figure out precisely what it means for any citizen or subject of their emirate to be classified as poor and thus not entitled to having more than a single wife. Then also, these Hausa-Muslim traditional rulers may not have been thinking about this corollary of their decision, but the question also immediately arises over just how many children a poor man with one wife may have in order to be considered to have met the contents or parameters of the law that is soon to be presumably enacted. For example, what would be the difference between a man with one wife but 10 or 12 children who is considered to be poor and therefore unqualified to take a second wife, and another poor man who already has two or even three wives and a total of, say, six children?

In other words, banning poor adult males from engaging in the age-old practice of polygamy, without also specifying the number of children that a poor husband and his wife may have would make the entire decision or law counterproductive. These leaders, clearly, would have a far better chance of promoting the education of young women, and even adult women, in order to heighten the chances of these veritable victims of polygamy in making wise and healthy choices in this matter. Then also, what happens if the poor man or husband’s second wife comes from a family that is wealthy enough to enable their daughter take good care of their daughter and her children? Or the second wife is personally industrious enough or has the wherewithal to take care of her own children and even the children of her rival or co-wife?

 It is quite clear that Emir Muhammed Sanusi would make a far more profitable use of his time and cognitive resources by creatively and progressively focusing his attention on the crafting and enactment of laws that place heavy penalties on adult-male fathers who have the means to afford their wives and children a decent quality of life or existence, but are or have deliberately refused or neglected to do so.

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
English Department, SUNY-Nassau
Garden City, New York
August 11, 2017

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