REFLECTIONS: The ugly side of Polygamy in Nigeria

Polygamy in Nigeria remains a big topic in Nigeria as it is a common practice in some religions and culture in Africa’s most populous black nation. There is a possibility that one is an average home in Nigeria has a polygamous background.

Under civil law, Nigeria does not recognize polygamous unions. However, 12 out of the 36 Nigerian states recognize polygamous marriages as being equivalent to monogamous marriages. All twelve states are governed by Sharia Law. The first

For example, According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2008, a third of married women in Nigeria are in polygamous unions and 16% of married men (aged 15-49) have more than one wife. In 2013, this has increased as the report states that 33% of women in Nigeria reported that their husbands have more than one wife.

Polygamy is more prevalent in northern Nigeria, which is predominantly Islam. The survey also found that older men, those in rural areas and those with lower levels of education, were more likely to have two or more wives than other men.


Polygamy is an umbrella term for a person married to more than one partners. The more common situation is of a man with multiple wives, called polygyny, and the reverse is polyandry. Although polygyny is more common among Muslims today, it did not originate in Islam. Although polygyny has been traced to the 1st century preindustrial revolution society, but the practice likely started before then as there are many references to it in ancient texts like the Christian Bible.

In this article, we’l be using the umbrella name Polygamy to refer to polygny becuase of its popularity in Nigeria. Culture and Religion are two factors fuelling the existence of polygamy in Nigeria and other places in the world.

The Nigerian Culture and Polygamy

Polygamy dates back to ancient time in various kingdoms that almagagmated to becoming the sovereign state of Nigeria. The kingdoms that made up the Ibos, Yorubas and Hausas tribes all practised polygamous. It was permitted in pre-Christian Iboland where a man could take as many wives as he wished to bear him many children, particularly sons. In modern Ibo culture, this practice is very rare as many have adopted Christianity which to a large extent disapproves such union. However, some Ibo natives in the Southeastern part of the country also permit polygynous unions. Ibo businessman, Ned Nwoko is a well-known polygamists and he believes it is important to cleanse the society of prostitution that ladies have seen as an occupation.

In the northern part of Nigeria, polygamy is a very common practise and it is highly influenced by their sharia law and islamic religion. In fact, polygamy is their most accepted marriage and seen as a way of increasing population, as well as what their religion preaches.

In the southwest made up of predominantly the yoruba tribe, Polygamy is more popular among the islam practising people than Christians; some christians though have been found to be polygamists.

Traditionally, Monarchs are known by power to have more than one wife. In fact, some of these kings inherit their wives and marry more. The 45th Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, had eighteen (18) wives while he was alive.

Religion in Nigeria and Polygamy

Christianity and Islams remain the most dominant religions in Nigeria, despite the rich veins of religions in the country. Both religions have their views on the subject of a man marrying more than one wife.

Christian View of Polygamy

The subject of polygamy among christians continues to hold lots of arguemets, as many modern christians completely refute that kind of marriage. While some denominations approve of it, modern Christian disapprove of the practice, adopting monogamy as the norm. Christainity can trace the concept of polygamy back to bible days, with patriarchs Abraham & Jacob prime examples. Nonetheless, there have been debate whether the New Testament or Christian ethics allows or forbids polygamy.

Many denominations, especially pentecostals and the Catholics forbid a man to marry more than one wife.

The Roman Catholic Church condemns polygamy; the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists it in paragraph 1645 under the head “The Goods and Requirements of Conjugal Love” states “The unity of marriage, distinctly recognized by our Lord, is made clear in the equal personal dignity which must be accorded to husband and wife in mutual and unreserved affection. Polygamy is contrary to conjugal love which is undivided and exclusive.”

African Independent Churches that still adopt polygamy, sometimes refer to those parts of the Old Testament that describe polygamy in defense of the practice.

Islam and its practice of Polygamy

Muslims believe they are entitled to four wives as their religion permits. The Islam martial law allows a plurality of wives, provided that the husband can provide for the economic and emotional needs of all his wives and children equally. This is based on verse 4:3 of Quran which says:

“If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or one that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.”

Islam formost prophet, Muhammad, after the death if his wife Khadijam married multiple women. Muhammad had a total of 9 wives at the same time, even though Muslim men were limited to 4 wives. His total wives are 11.

How Ugly is Polygamy?

Polygamy is a monster devastating the society. The consequences associated with polygamy overweigh any its benefits.

Leading cause of poverty

Regions with the highest rates of polygyny also have the lowest income levels. The 2017 Demographic Health Survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that 44% and 47% of women aged 15-49 in the Northeast and Northwest are in polygamous unions, and 20% and 25% of men are in the same. These regions are also the poorest in Nigeria. Since a man takes on multiple wives and does not have the economic resources to cater for them, this casts a financial strain on him, thereby leaving them broke / poor.

A show of Gender Inequality

Polygynous marriage contravenes a woman’s right to equality with men. Many of these women usually don’t have a say in the running of the house except child-bearing. In some rural places, the women are the ones who work on fields and farms; so the men use them as their ‘man-power’.

Sadly, in Islam, a man can marry more than one wife but women are prohibited from having more than one partners. That’s gross inequality.

Women battle Rejection & Emotional hurt

Having a second wife leaves lots of emotional pain on the first wife especially when she doesn’t know of the man’s plan of being a polygamist. Often, these women find succour and hope in the fact that they have kids to take care of.

In an interview with Tunde Filani News, the first wife of Adebayo Salami, popularly called oga bello recounted her experience after knowing the legendary actor has other wives. She said,

“… as a human being, sometimes it is painful. Sometimes I think about it but love won’t allow me to get angry. I just tell myself, I have my own kids. I have boys and girls, what else? So I told myself, “I will be patient with him and look after my children”.

Conflicts & Resentments

Polygamous homes are also synonymous to internal conflicts , where kids depraved of love begin to have resentement towards their half-siblings.

Award-winning journalist, writer and researcher, David Hundeyin in his publication titled, Alaafin’s death and the Yul Edochie firestorm: When tradition outlives its usefulness, said

“…geographical areas with high rates of polygamy also tend to have more wars and conflicts, as the pool of marriageable women is too small to accommodate a growing population of angry, undersexed young men who soon turn feral”.

Polygamy does more than good for the family and the society at large

Why can’t women say no ?

Firstly, as analysed earlier, culture and religion play the most important roles in a man having multiple wives. Many women who have found themselves in this kind of marriage have accepted their cultural & religious beliefs, seeing sharing one man among themselves as a norm. A good example is the queens in most Nigerian kingdoms.

Apart from cultural beliefs or religious, some other women don’t even have issues with polygamy as they believe there is no man who isn’t polygamous in nature. These women believe that a man can’t stay faithful to one woman, so accept any woman their husbands bring home.

For some others, they are attracted to the fame of these men, even when these women are financially stable. This is very common to celebrities who attract women of all walks of life.

For many other women, especially girls in rural areas, poverty contributes to why they get married to rich men who promise to take care of their family.

Should Polygamy be Totally Abolished in Nigeria?

Yes it should! Regions where polygamy is predominant have been known to be related to violence and terrorism.

In 2011, Rose McDermott, a professor of political science at Brown University, U.S.A wrote about her research for the Wall Street Journal on polygamy , which is practiced across religious lines in Africa.

“When small numbers of men control large numbers of women, the remaining men are likely to be willing to take greater risks and engage in more violence, possibly including terrorism, in order to increase their own wealth and status in hopes of gaining access to women”.

In many cases, it is accompanied by lower marital satisfaction and involves sexual, physical, and emotional abuse by the husband, which has severe psychological and physiological consequences for the wives, including low self-esteem, low life satisfaction, loneliness, depression, somatization, phobia, anxiety, and paranoia.

Nigeria is currently facing a harsh economy which has led to poverty and a very high level of unemployment. It would be extremely extremely irresponsible and unwise for an economically malnourished country, breeding unemployed men to practice polygamy.


Men should be advised to take the cost of living into account before embarking on taking a second wife. These men should also be advised on the dangers of this practise and the emotional damage it leaves their wives.

Medical consultation should be sought concerning infertility, menopause, child-rearing and other related issues before interested men invoke polygamy as a solution to any of these problems.

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