My friends call me a ‘strong man’,” 48-year-old furniture maker, Wasiu Bayeju, said with a grin.
Sitting with a soiled singlet in front of his workshop in Agege area of Lagos, the man spotting a pot-belly, that many could easily conclude to be a beer gut, is far from being an epitome of masculinity. But the fact that Bayeju has two wives under his roof qualifies him as a ‘strong man’ in the eyes of his peers.
“They say the fact that I have two wives in a hard time like this means I am strong financially,” Bayeju said, as he grinned the more.
That description summed up many of the assumptions about polygamous men in Nigeria.
Assumption about their financial status and their sex lives are two of the “wars” men like Bayeju have had to constantly fight.
“It feels like war, many times,” he said. But at this point, his grin had metamorphosed into a grim expression that speaks of the turmoil that the man was battling with.
He regarded our correspondent with suspicion and asked again why he was being interviewed about sex in polygamous marriage.
But now, Bayeju no longer grinned. He shook his head as if in self-derision when he was asked to explain what polygamous men like him go through in fulfilling their sexual duties to their wives without making the women feel cheated.
According to Bayeju, more than anything else, the issue of sex is a source of constant confrontation in marriages such as his.
He said, “It is something that happens in the house and we just try to manage it without it degenerating into a big problem that neighbours will have to know about.
“What you need to know is that it is an issue that women feel really sensitive about, especially when they think you are favouring the other wife over them.”
Bayeju had a warning before he proceeded.
“If you have to marry more than one wife and still have some peace, then you should be ready not to cheat one as far as sex is concerned. When women in polygamous marriages are jealous of one another, then you have to abide by their rules about sex.
“There was a friend of mine, who also has two wives that I told about this thing and he called me stupid. He said I should not have allowed my wives to choose what days of the week I should dedicate to their sexual needs. He said it was his decision. But I told him that he could only say that because his two wives are not living under his roof.”
Bayeju, an Akoko, Ondo State indigene, said he had been living in Lagos for 17 years. According to him, he met and married his first wife in 2001.
Then, a marital indiscretion led him to impregnate a woman, who became his second wife in 2008.
“The trouble was much,” he said.
According to him, his first wife, who already had two children for him at the time, threatened to burn down the house they lived in out of anger when she first heard about her husband’s deed.
Bayeju said, “She told me that I should not even dare come to the house. Our family members later settled the issue and I had to bring my second wife into the house.
“It was war in the first few months. We were living in a mini-flat. So, I had to rent another apartment, a two-bedroomed flat so that they could get separate rooms. My first wife gave a long list of dos and don’ts. In fact, the issue of sex was out of it for many months as she refused to have sex with me.
“But when she eventually agreed, that was when the issue of a time-table started. My first wife said if I did not want to create trouble in the home, Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday had to be her days. I knew she was trying to punish the new woman; but just to allow peace to reign, I told her I had agreed.
“My second wife is a gentle woman and never complained about all these. But things have gradually changed over the last few years. Now, it does not really matter to either of them anymore.”
As Bayeju spoke, it became clear that beyond the financial implication of polygamy, a system that is an integral part of traditional African societies, is not all it seems, at least as far as keeping up with sexual expectation of the women is another important issue
When Saturday PUNCH embarked on the task of finding out how men in this sort of unions manage to cope with upholding their sexual duties to their wives without leaving anyone disgruntled, many found it amusing that anybody could be interested in their sex lives.
But some of them became philosophical, speaking like men who had seen it all just so “others could learn from our experience.”
The Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood, has often hinted at this part of polygamy in Nigerian societies, with romanticised traditional story lines that portray women, who have to share their husbands with other women, laying down ground rules about what days of the week sexual contacts would happen.
In many other instances, it is the men who lay down the rules because women hardly have a say in such matters in a deeply patriarchal society such as ours.
But in the case of Julius, a commercial bus driver, who did not identify himself fully because “one of my wives is educated and may not like to see something like that in the newspaper,” sex is “shared” in his home the same way things he bought for his family are shared.
Asked to explain further, Julius, said mischievously in pidgin English, “Man, even if you be Mighty Igor, your wife na master when e reach that side,” implying that no matter how strong you think you are as a man, your wife owns you when it comes to your sexual duties in the home.
He said, “This is why when you have put yourself in trouble of marrying more than one wife, you have to be careful when it comes to sex because nothing angers a woman so much as to think you have cast her aside in favour of a younger wife.
“When I married my second wife, I had to rent another apartment for her because my first wife said she could never live with another wife under the same roof.
“Despite that, it was still not easy managing the issue of sex because any little issue in the house, my first wife would say, ‘Oh, you have a new wife now, why won’t you behave that way?’ Everything was always about my second wife.
“I was always angry, but relatives always advised me to handle the issue with wisdom because she had known me since I had nothing.
“But despite the fact that I don’t live under the same roof with my second wife but only go to her apartment and spend nights and sometimes weekends, the issue of sex still brings trouble in the home.
“I remember coming home one morning after sleeping at my second wife’s house. My first wife welcomed me with excitement and cooked for me. I became afraid because her happy mood was unusual. My mind told me, ‘This woman knows where you are coming from. She has decided to kill you.’ I did not expect her to be excited the way she was when I got home. So, I thought she had poisoned the food.”
Julius said he refused to eat the food but when the woman noticed his suspicion, she sneered at him and was about eating the food herself when he took it from her and ate it.
But later in the night, the meaning of his wife’s strange behaviour dawned on him.
“She was preparing me for a wicked plan she had plotted,” Julius, said, laughing now as he recalled what happened that night.
The man said when they settled in to sleep, he wanted to get some “actions” when his wife suddenly stood up from the bed and put on the light and said, ‘See this man o, oh, so you think you can abandon me here since yesterday and still come here and want to sleep with me? You are lying.’
“I noticed that the kind of erection I had was unusual. She was laughing. I asked her what she did, all she said was that she added something to my food, not poison but something that would make me stay up all night.
“I asked what it was she added but she refused to tell me. I was afraid but she said she only ‘helped me to get erection very well’ so that I could suffer through the night. She left the room and refused to let me touch her.
“I did not know whether to laugh or get angry but I suffered that night. She said if I forced her, she would scream and wake up everybody in the house that night. She left the room and slept in the sitting room. It got to a point I had to beg her, she still did not yield.”
The incident Julius narrated took place in Ikotun, Lagos in 2014.
He said when he made it through the night, most part of which was in agony, he had to report the case at the Ikotun Police Division but the policemen on duty simply laughed at him.
“They asked what exactly my wife did wrong when she simply helped me to get an erection and I told them I did not know what exactly she put in my food but that she could have killed me. They did not take the matter seriously,” Julius said.
According to him, that incident caused a big problem in the family that took many months to settle.
He said he is now wiser in managing his family affairs and issues that have to do with his sexual duties.
While some might deride Julius for “messing with the wrong woman,” there are many other cases of women going an extra length in various ways to claim their sexual rights in the home.
In some cases, the women are forced to seek legal redress like 35-year-old Maryam Mohammed, a resident of Sabon Lugbe area of Abuja did.
Maryam dragged her husband, Adamu before the court on the allegation that on days that were supposed to be her turn for sexual contact, her husband would sneak into the room of his second wife and spend the night there.
According to her, sex was not the only way her husband was exhibiting his selfishness in the home.
She said the man had also stopped giving her money to buy foodstuff.
However, even though this report focuses on the cases of polygamous men who have to live up to their sexual responsibility to multiple women, many men in monogamous marriages too sometimes draw the ire of their wives for failing in that department.
Few months ago, a housewife, Usman Aisha, dragged her husband, Ibrahim, before a Lugbe Grade 1 Area Court in Abuja on the accusation that he was not fulfilling his sexual duties and that when they had intercourse, he failed to live up to standard.
The marriage was dissolved when the man admitted that he was tired of the marriage too and could no longer cope with the sexual demands.
Polygamy or bigamy is no longer backed by Nigerian law in many states, except in 12 northern states, where Sharia Law permits such unions. But as one man told our correspondent, even if it is not so, “Who would sue you for marrying two wives in Nigeria?”
In Lagos State, the government drew the ire of women when the House of Assembly amended the bigamy law in 2011, stating that the previous law criminalising it was no longer realistic. Before then, bigamy was a criminal offence.
“Any person who having a husband or a wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of such husband or wife is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years,” the expunged Section 370 of the Criminal Code of Lagos State Cap C17, stated.
Before then, lawyers in the state, who clamoured for its removal from the criminal laws of the state, at the time, said it was not enforceable because of the peculiar nature of the Nigerian society.
A marriage counsellor, Mr. Eddy Anjorin, told our correspondent that even though polygamy is not a crime, it should be a crime to take on more than one wife and fail to live up to “all duties to them, including sexual ones.”
“The irony of it is that many of such men who are guilty of this, still go ahead to have girlfriends and outside those ones they have in their homes. If you feel you need many wives, then denying the women of their sexual demands must never come up,” Anjorin said.