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Always groom for one more

In Nigeria, where polygamy is legal, a man says he is able to satisfy his 86 wives.

Los Angeles Times

BIDA, Nigeria - He fell in love with his first wife because she was sincere and eager to please.

His second wife, a cousin, was irresistible because she did everything he wished and nothing he didn't.

"That alone made me love her."

His third wife won him because she submitted to his every request.

"I saw her, I liked her. I went to her parents and asked for her hand in marriage."

Wife No. 4 was very obedient. So was wife No. 5. Wife No. 6, the same. As were wives 7 and 8 and 9 and ...

Well, by then - it was the late 1980s - things had taken off for Bello Maasaba, an Islamic faith healer from this city in Niger state. He went from a wedding every few months to one every few weeks.

All told, the 87-year-old has married 107 women, which, even in a society with a tradition of polygamy, is on the high side. The Nigerian government is not amused. Neither are Islamic authorities in the state.

At the High Court in the capital, Abuja, the lawyers once called in his wives and their parents, one by one, to testify that they had agreed to marriage. At wife No. 57, the court told the lawyers to stop, and ordered Maasaba freed.

So he's still marrying, every time Miss Right comes along. He now has 86 wives, the youngest 19 and the oldest 64. Nine have died and 12 he divorced (for disobedience).

But how on earth does he ... ?

To ask the delicate question about how a man with so many wives, well, manages, one first has to visit a looming four-story house with 89 rooms and a broad veranda supported by gold columns that overlooks the street with an air of faded grandeur. But its view is inauspicious: an open gutter running from a bank of rickety street toilets, their wooden doors askew.

Maasaba begins with his family history, almost singing the story of his roots.

After school, he led an ordinary life for 21 years, involved in the clothing business and later working for a sugar company, keeping just two wives. Life was normal until a religious "vision" in the 1970s, which he says involved a visit from the archangel Gabriel. He fell deeply ill, unable to eat or sleep for days, and all the medicine the doctors gave him only made him worse.

He gave up work and became a traditional faith healer who eschewed medicine. The angel also instructed him to take wife after wife after wife.

"I get a revelation from God telling me any woman I'm going to marry. If it wasn't from God, I wouldn't have gone beyond two," he explains in a wispy, singsong voice.

Maasaba has to pause to remember the number of children he has - an ever growing figure, with the youngest just 1 month old. He has fathered 185, and 133 are still living.

With so many wives, how does he meet their romantic needs?

He smiles. Everyone asks him that.

"In his wisdom, God has given me the power and strength to give them the sexual portion they need," he says. "If I didn't satisfy them, they would leave."

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