Polygamy in Nigeria

Wonder what is polygamy or why should a man want more than one wife? Learn more about this type of marriage and get some intersting facts.

The issue of multiple wives or husbands is very relevant. Not everyone knows about polygamy in Nigeria. Besides, some people don’t even know what the term actually means.
Polygamy in Nigeria

Polygamy can be described as a phenomenon of having more than one spouse. In other words, it is the marriage including several (more than two) partners. There exist many different types of it in the world. Among them, you’ll find:

  • polygyny,

  • polyandry,

  • group marriage.

Types of polygamy

As we’ve mentioned, there are three main types of this phenomenon. Let’s have a closer look at them:

  1.  Polygyny.
    Polygamy in Nigeria 1In this case, when a man has two or more wives. This phenomenon has Greek roots. The first part “poly” means “many”, while “gyne” stands for “wife or woman”. You should know that not all the religions accept it.

  2. Polyandry.
    It refers to a woman, who has more than one husband at the same time. In a broader sense, it is also connected with a female having at least two sexual partners. Its origin is Greek as well. As we’ve learned “poly” means “many”, and “andria” means “man”.

  3. Group marriage.
    Polygamy in Nigeria 3This issue is a bit more complicated. It doesn’t usually concern particular gender. It is just a kind of marriage-like arrangement between more than two people. The group, as a rule, may consist of three to six people. They share finances, children, responsibilities, and, of course, accommodation. This type can be divided into several classes. It may contain both heterosexual and bisexual members. Thus, sexual relations within the group depend on this classification. There are cases, when females have intercourse only with males, and there are cases, when women have contacts both with males and females.


Polygamy is quite widespread. However, there are various attitudes to it in different parts of the world. According to Wikipedia, all these attitudes can be divided into the following categories:

It is permitted and widely practiced.
Polygamy in Nigeria 4This first category usually contains African countries and a small part of Asian ones. The total number is about 25%. And the most common type of this phenomenon is polygyny (all the other kinds are forbidden by law). Among them you’ll see South Africa, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Afghanistan, Maldives, etc. However, the laws aren’t the same. In Nigeria, for instance, it is allowed only in sharia states. There are also those, which permit polygamy only for Muslims (like in Maldives).

Legal status unknown/ambiguous.
There are just few countries in this group. They include Republic of the Congo and Swaziland.  The first one used to recognize this phenomenon as a legal one, having such unions. But current legal basis is unknown. As for Swaziland, there are no restrictions to polygamy, thus, even their king has thirteen wives.

Polygamy mostly illegal, but practice isn’t fully criminalized.
The countries with the debatable laws or laws to be voted on refer to this category. You will see South Africa, Namibia, Côte d’Ivoire, etc. among them. Many other states still fight to restrict such phenomenon and make it fully illegal.

Polygamy is fully outlawed and its practice is fully criminalized.
Polygamy in Nigeria 4This group contains most of the world countries. Phenomenon is prohibited and those who practice it are punished. The list of the states includes the US, China, European countries, the UK, and so on.  These are usually well-developed ones.

The forms of polygamy are not equally distributed as well. We’ve said, that polygyny is considered the most common and accepted type of it.
The main reasons of such marriages are as follows:

  • social status demonstration,

  • sexual necessities (in many tribes sex might be forbidden, for example, during pregnancy),

  • security of appropriate labor force.

There is one more reason. The female population is usually bigger than the male one. However, it isn’t the key factor.

Polygamy in Nigeria 5There are also cases of polyandry in the world, but they are very few. They might be found among the isolated societies, such as Canadian Inuit. It was also permitted in Ancient Greece among the Spartans.

Concerning the group marriage, such cases are extremely rare. It was practiced in The Oneida Community in 1848.

In modern Western society, any kind of bigamy is illegal. Even any sexual relations outside the marriage are frowned upon. However, it has led to the phenomenon of serial monogamy, as divorces are easy to get and permitted.

Issue of polygamy in Nigeria

You already know that polygamy is legal and accepted in Nigeria in the form of polygyny. The reasons for the fame of it in this country are divided into three groups – cultural, biological, and religious.

  1. Cultural basis.Polygamy in Nigeria 5
    When a man marries another woman, he can explore elsewhere. Besides, the procreation is also of importance here. It helps to create a larger community for a certain tribe.

  2. Biological reasons.
    The children being born may carry specific strength and qualities. And thus, they can be passed through generations. The more children from one good male are born, the better gene pool will be.

  3. Religious background.Religious background.
    As there are many Islamic tribes in Nigeria, such marriages are accepted and allowed by religion. According to their beliefs, a man can have as many wives as he needs to be sexually satisfied, and have as many children as he wants.

There also can be various types of marriages within the tribes of Nigeria, because not all of them are Islamic. For example, among the Igbo, they include:

Civil: you can have just one wife, and the ceremony should take place in the government registry office.

Traditional: it is an arranged marriage.

Religious: it may take place in the church or mosque. The ceremony depends on a particular religion the couple worships.

Polygamy in Nigeria 9The couple may follow just one or all of the three types of marriage in Nigeria. Besides, the decision if it will be polygamous or monogamous depends on the religion of a man.

In the history of Nigeria, there have been lots of examples of polygamy (as well as in the other West African countries).
This phenomenon has led to several negative effects, which many people experience even nowadays. There are among them:

  • poverty (many children are being born, while infant mortality rate is high because of the low access to medical assistance),

  • reduction of investment in girls’ education (polygamy is more widespread in those parts of Africa, where women had less access to the education in the past),

  • psychological issue (not every woman is ready to share her husband, but as we’ve found out, whether the marriage will be polygamous or not depends only on the man’s religion).

As many scientists think, the cause of such polygamy distribution in this part of the continent is that it was more vulnerable and subjected to slavery.

READ ALSO: Why do men cheat?

Situation over time

Polygamy in NigeriaYou need to understand that everything has been changing in the course of time. And polygamy is not an exception. African rates showing positive changes for the women born from the period of 1940 to 2000 and then were in the polygamy marriages, units. However, for the women, born in 2000, we observe the increase of polygamous marriages. At the same time, the best situation is represented in Cameroon.

Attitudes to polygamy in Nigeria

According to the people’s opinion, polygamy is a good thing. They think so, because of the following reasons:

  • Men like having many partners. Many people suppose the prohibition may create problems and unfaithfulness.

  • Individual rights and freedom promotion. They say, the right to decide whether to be polygamous or not should be given to an individual. And no one must be deprived of such right.

  • Adultery prevention. With several wives, a man will have less necessity for any extra-marriage relations.

  • Part of culture. No culture should be considered better or worse than the others. That’s why some people think, polygamy should be accepted as there are cultures, which practice it. 

  • Polygamy was practiced by great men of both the Bible and the Koran. Jacob and Abraham had more than one wife. So did Solomon and Mohamed.

  • Number of unmarried women reduction. There are lots of single women and, thus, they may get a kind of hope.

  • Leadership ability improvement. It is not easy to control and deal with three or even four women. So, such marriage is a good chance to try.

  • It teaches a man how to be patient. Sometimes women do things, which can annoy or irritate. That is why a man has to learn how to be quiet.

  • Humanitarian spirit. If a male has several wives and children, he not only brings them up, but helps them with food, accommodation, and many other thing. Thus, he is considered humanitarian.

  • Historical practice. 85% of the world once practiced it, so it’s been with us for ages.

Real examples

Among the examples of polygamy in real life, you will find:Polygamy in Nigeria

King Sunny Ade. He’s a Nigerian musician and songwriter, who has about seven wives.

Tran Viet Chu. He is a Vietnamese, who has fourteen wives and more than eighty children.

Saleh al-Sayeri from Saudi Arabia has about 58 wives. He cannot even remember all of their names.

Muhammadu Bello Masaba. A Nigerian cleric accused of illegal marriage because of having too many wives (about 84).

Aunty Maiduguri. A lesbian from Nigeria, who married four females in 2007.

These are probably the most striking and interesting cases. There are much more of them in the other countries. Polygamy is a widespread phenomenon in the western part of African continent. Many tribes still practice it. It is restricted in some states. However, there are those, where it is permitted and accepted. Nigerian traditions concerning this type of marriage appeared long time ago. It is mostly the issue of Islamic population of the country, but Christians sometimes also allow it (usually for Muslims).

The western world doesn’t admit any kind of polygamy, which is why it is more frequent among the African and Asian people.


Yes, in some countries, the tribes that are far away from civilization yet retained the concept of polygamy and polygamy. Of course, all this left an imprint presence of Islamic culture in many tribes. This is probably the most important and decisive factor. For me personally, polygamy is not acceptable. I can not even imagine how I would share her man with someone else. It's just not possible. Although the tribes polygamy is normal, and the children are taught from childhood to become accustomed. In general, it is strange for me. Although in this case, polygamous men probably do not change.

Answered 1 year ago.

In article contains many good aspects, but I do not support. For me, relationship should be between 2 two people. I think, only in this possibly trust, love and respect for each other. All needs be found in one person, it does not create harem necessarily. I think, in this case, people are just going meet their own desires, which are supported by old traditions. But I could be wrong, every country, everyone have individual ideas about marriage and love. And in such marriage, they can be satisfied.

Answered 2 years ago.

In my opinion, polygyny is ok as long as the husband is able to support all his wives and kids financially. If the head of polygyny family supports an adequate standard of living for each family member and wives are satisfied with this state of things, then polygamy makes sense.

As for polyandry, is it legal anywhere in the world? It's quite unusual practice for woman to live with many men. I wonder how do they share kids?

Group marriage idea seems quite strange and even a bit perverse for me. However, as long as all family members are happy, it's ok.

Answered 2 years ago.

I think that when you love really thoughts about the other partner doesn’t come to your head at all. Your feelings, emotions, thoughts, your life are connected with one person. I consider that if you have any thoughts about polygamy it means that the love is gone or maybe you have never love this person.

Every woman by nature is a possessive and she senses another girl as an opponent as a threat of her happiness. Of course if tradition is instituted the woman will just tolerate because it is necessary but she will suffer and agonize in the soul all her life.

Answered 2 years ago.
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