A Nigerian court has granted temporary reprieve to an 84-year-old Muslim preacher with 86 wives after local leaders threatened to force him to leave the area unless he divorced all but four of them.
Mohammed Bello launched a legal challenge after local chiefs and Muslim leaders in Bida, a town in central Niger state where he lives with his wives and some 170 children, gave him until Sept 7 to comply with Islamic sharia law, which allows a man to have no more than four wives at a time.
The Islamic preacher said in his petition that the threats violated his right to life and personal liberty.
"Leave is hereby granted to the applicant to enforce his fundamental human right to personal liberty, life and to freedom of movement," state news agency NAN quoted Abuja High Court judge G. Kolawole as saying.
The ruling gives Bello temporary protection from banishment while the court decides whether his rights have indeed been violated. The judge adjourned the case to September 18.
Bello has received a number of death threats in the last few weeks after the Nigerian media began reporting on his unusual marital situation, his spokesman said.
Some newspapers said last week that Bello had agreed at a meeting with local officials to divorce all but four of the women and had asked for time to return them to their families.
But his spokesman denied the reports and said the preacher intended to marry more wives instead.
His case has stirred controversy in Africa's most populous nation of 140 million people, roughly half of whom are Muslim. Many Muslim scholars say Islam allows men to have up to four wives at any given time who must be treated equally.