For Mohammed Bello, marriage really is a case of till death do us part – multiplied by 86, that is. Despite strict orders from one of Nigeria's top Islamic bodies, the sprightly 84-year-old is not only refusing to restrict himself to a mere four wives, and divorce the other 82; he has announced his intention to marry again.
The saga of Pa Bello and his 86 spouses (not to mention at least 170 children) has gripped Africa's most populous nation. Newspapers have dissected the unusual marital arrangements in minute detail, recounting how the family needs two giant sacks of rice and two of beans just to provide lunch, and speculating at length on how Mr Bello copes with the nagging (not to mention where he gets his energy from).
"Seeing the calibre of wives Papa has lined up like a congregation, one will wonder how he was able to get those women and how he satisfies their conjugal needs in spite of his age," one columnist pondered in This Day newspaper, articulating the question on everyone's lips.
Nigeria's Jamatu Nasril Islam sentenced the elderly preacher to death last week for having too many wives. "Any Muslim that marries more than four wives either by mistake or out of ignorance is instructed to choose but four and seek Allah's forgiveness or shall be sentenced to death, according to sharia law," it said in a ruling.
The fatwa was later commuted to banishment. Mr Bello had until Sunday to choose the four wives he wanted to keep, and divorce the others, or leave his home in Niger State. Initially it appeared the husband extraordinaire had bowed to this demand yesterday, with Nigerian newspapers yesterday reporting that he was in the process of arranging for the rejected wives to return to their families.
But last night Mr Bello's spokesman said:."He is not going to divorce any of his wives. Rather he is going to marry more," he told Reuters. "Since he married those women, none of them or his children have ever gone out to beg for food or money."
The Nigerian's most recent wedding was in February this year, when he wed Hajia Monsura, 30. And despite the crowded marital bed, harmony apparently reigns.
"God is really using him to assist people in wonderful ways, things unheard of," said Hajiya Raliat, one of the 86 wives.
"We live like sisters, we love ourselves and you can never find us fighting because all we care about is our husband and since he satisfies us all ... we don't fight."
Mr Bello has bragged of his ability to attract women of all ages – his oldest wife is 70, the youngest is 25. "I can get any woman I want, no matter where she comes from and what she does for a living," he told the Vanguard.
But Mr Bello is attracting more unwanted attention. His spokesman said he had received death threats. "Sometimes people will call and tell us they are coming to kill him and everyone in the compound if he doesn't leave," he said. "Is that fair? What offence has he committed?"