After she was stolen at three years, her abductors changed her religion and married her off at 13. When she eventually found her way home, her parents had died and only their pictures could tell her what they looked like
When Ruqayya Yusuf told the story of her mother, the years the mother spent looking for answers about her stolen daughter and her loud prayers seeking God’s intervention, tears streamed down her face.
“I was told that she was always praying, asking God to return me home even if not in her lifetime,” she said, clutching to her newborn baby inside the sitting of their home in Zakirai, some 37 kilometres from Kano city.
Ruqayya’s story is one that has left many people emotionally broken. But, except for the occasional tears that rolled down her cheek when she related all that she was told about her mother and about dropping out of school, Ruqayya told her story with an incredible emotional strength.
If her attention shifted during the interview, it was to the days old baby she was holding and breast-feeding at intervals.
She was one of the children born to families that were relatively well-to-do in the ancient city of Kano in the 1980s. Her father was Alhaji Yusuf [Isuhu] Mai-mai, a famous vegetable oil dealer at the popular Sabon Gari market.
“Our father had taken young Ruqayya to the market to change an oversized footwear he had bought for her the previous day for the Sallah celebration that was around the corner when he learnt that his friend had been rushed to the hospital,” Ruqayya’s elder sister, Maryam Yusuf Umar, recalled.
At the time, Hauwa, a wife of his soldier friend serving at Janguza Barracks, was at his shop. Because of the familiarity and relationship that was established between Hauwa’s family and Alhaji Yusuf, he didn’t entertain any fears as he left the young girl at the shop with Hauwa.
To underscore the importance Sergeant Yakubu attached to his friendship with Ruqayya’s father, when his first child was born in 1974, he named the boy Yusuf, in honour of his friend.
Even though the Yakubus are Christians, religious differences did not come in-between their relationship with Alhaji Yusuf.
How Ruqayya’s travails started
When he returned to the market after the hospital emergency, he discovered that neither Hauwa nor his daughter was in the shop. But he did not raise an eyebrow, believing his three-year-old daughter was in safe hands.
“He went to the house where Hauwa and her husband were living in at the Janguza barracks along Gwarzo Road in Kano, only to be told that Sergeant Yakubu had retired and moved out of the place with his family,” Maryam said.
Soon after Ruqayya was stolen, Dateline Nigeria learnt, Hauwa and Yakubu divorced and the toddler was passed on to Hauwa’s brother, also a soldier, in Kaduna. From Kaduna she was relocated to Jos, to stay with another brother of Hauwa, a soldier too.
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After spending time in Jos, Hauwa finally took Ruqayya to her hometown of Keffi in Nasarawa State and enrolled her in primary school. She was first given the name Mommy and when she was being registered for school, they gave her Asabe.
Back in Kano, the parents and family of the toddler searched in vain for their young daughter.
In Keffi, Hauwa allegedly placed her victim in the care of one Maman Mbu, her late elder brother’s wife at Unguwan Mada and moved to Mararraba [also called Maraba], another part of Nasarawa close to the Federal Capital Territory Abuja.
Ruqayya recalled that she was in primary school when the wife of Hauwa’s nephew, Pastor Obadiah Doka, asked her to go and stay with her “because she had noticed that I was going through a difficult time.”
While at the Obadiahs, which is the same compound as Maman Mbu’s, Ruqayya was encouraged by Obadiah’s wife to start a business which she did, selling “corn, rice and other staples” until she completed her primary school.
“After I completed my primary school, they (the Obadiah family) did not pay for me to go to secondary school,” she said. But she got around the obstacle by raising her own money through her business to enroll in “JSS 1”.
Not long afterwards, Hauwa died and her schooling was truncated because she was forced into a marriage at the age of 13.
Confession on a deathbed
Her joy of finding succor in Obadiah’s house did not last long as his wife allegedly accused her of theft and threw her out. Ruqayya denied committing the alleged offence.
But she was soon to get a clue that she was actually abducted by the woman who raised her and pretended to be her biological mother. And that was only two weeks before Hauwa died.
Bedridden and confined to a room where she spent her last days on earth ‘screaming’, Hauwa summoned Ruqayya, who had been counting herself as the only biological daughter of the woman and her lastborn.
“That was when she prayed God to bless me and asked that I should forgive her for what she did to me by not returning me to my parents. She said my father is called Alhaji Yusuf, and was living in Kano. Because I was still young, it didn’t occur to me to demand for details and direction,” Ruqayya recalled.
Instead of Hauwa’s revelation to provide an avenue for Ruqayya to return to her parents, who may still be alive at the time, another plot was hatched to keep her away from home.
“After her (Hauwa’s) death, her younger brother, Ajama, who was then living in Bauchi, came home and said I should be married off to stop me from escaping back to my parents. So they married me off when I was not even up to 14 years.”
Ajama owned the expansive compound that the extended family lived in at Unguwan Mada in Keffi. Dateline Nigeria learnt that he died some years ago.
It was the same Ajama that allegedly shopped for a man that was far older than Ruqayya and joined them in marriage, a decision that many members of his family objected to because of her age.
Ruqayya recalls that the wedding took place at a church in Maraba the same area she settled with her husband, Agada, from Benue State.
“Unknown to me, my parents were back home looking for me,” she said.
Months into the marriage, the underage girl got pregnant and was told by doctors that she would require a Caesarian Section because she was too young to give birth on her own. Miraculously, she gave birth to a girl without complications.
“When I was married off, nobody (from Hauwa’s family) gave me even a spoon. So I suffered a lot,” she recalled.
She soon got pregnant again and gave birth to another girl.
‘I wanted to convert to Islam’
Since Ruqayya learnt of her Muslim background, she told Dateline Nigeria, she longed to revert to Islam.
“When I informed some Muslim faithful that I wanted to be a Muslim, they advised me to seek for my husband’s permission. But when I sought for his consent, he told me to leave his house if I must convert to Islam.
“So I left. People contributed money for me and I went to Kano and converted to Islam.
“I had two children at the time. So, two days after accepting Islam, I called my ex-husband and informed him. He asked about my location but I refused to tell him. He however called the number and asked the phone booth operator of the place from where I made the call. He asked for direction. So, he came over.
“He was told that we were no longer married except he would accept Islam. He accepted, converted and even adopted the name Abdurrahman.
“After we went back, I noticed that he was not interested in Islam. Then we got our third child, named Anas. All this while, I did not tell my children that I was not a member of the family they were regarding as mine,” she narrated.
‘How I found my original family’
All along, Ruqayya’s heart was always seeking for a way to return home and one day, she found an answer.
One of Hauwa’s sons, Yusuf, was getting married in Adamawa. Hauwa and Sergeant Yakubu gave birth to Yusuf, Shagari (now late) and Blatus. When Yakubu retired from the Army, he relocated to his hometown in Adamawa State with the male children.
“So, in 2013, I went for the wedding and one morning, I went to greet him (Sergeant Yakubu). A guest came in and met us together and after they had greeted, he told the guest: “This girl’s parents are Hausa, my wife abducted her.”
Since it was the information that she had traveled for, after the guest had left, she went back and begged for details: “Please, father can you give me the direction to my house?”
“He told me to go to Gwammaja, Kukar Idau and ask of the residence of Alhaji Yusuf Mai-mai of Sabon Gari market. He even gave me my father’s shop number,” she recalled.
She further asked the retired soldier about the last time he saw or visited her father and she was told that it was when he informed Alhaji Yusuf about his retirement and separation from Hauwa.
From Adamawa to Kano
Having had the information she had been longing for, Ruqayya traveled to Kano from Adamawa, in search of her original family from where she was stolen at the young age of three. She had been to Kano before but made no effort at tracing her family because there was no lead.
Now she had found one.
With the aid of the vivid descriptions and address she got from Sergeant Yakubu, she landed at Gwammaja, the place in Kano where she was told her father lived. It was not difficult to locate his house.
“When I got to Gwammaja, at the entrance to my father’s house, were my elder brothers. One of them had not visited home for the past three months. That day he came home and was outside with the others.
“So, I greeted them. One of them asked if I was the one that was kidnapped by the soldiers. ‘Are you Ruqayya?’ he asked. I told them I don’t know my real name but I was being called Mommy or Asabe. He said, ‘she’s Ruqayya” and we observed that all of us look so much alike.
“He said they had gone to different places, far and near looking for me to no avail. I was informed of how my father died and, after his demise, his estate was shared among his heirs and how mine was reserved for me since there was no evidence to show I was not alive.
“So you are alive?” they asked me. “We all started crying.”
Memories as consolation
Her biggest wish of meeting her biological father and mother were not met. She however found consolation in the good memories they left behind, especially ones relating to her and the troubles they passed through in a bid to locate her and return her home.
“I was told that he (my father) would disappear completely on some occasions and would spend most of the time thinking, which resulted in him contracting an ailment. He was helpless over my matter. One of his younger sisters told me that there was a time he called her crying and saying that his biggest worry in life was his missing daughter. That he didn’t know where she was.
“For my mother, I was told that people outside could hear her prayers during prostrations as she always prayed to God to return her daughter home even after her death.
“She too went through a lot searching for me.
“They left everything in the hands of God, praying and asking for His intervention. I don’t know either of them (my parents), save their faces that I have seen in photographs. I didn’t meet my grandfather who took my father to court either,” she added.
“My (maternal) grandfather had sued my father, alleging that he knew my whereabouts and must produce me. The case was going on when my father died and the woman (abductor) also died,” she narrated.
Ruqayya’s marriage to Agada dissolved
Now married and settled in Kano with two children, Ruqayya’s biggest worry is her three children from her previous marriage. She said they have chosen not to be with their father.
“They are now living in Maraba being taken care of by good Samaritans. If I have my way, I will bring them here and sponsor their education,” she said.
Dateline Nigeria made efforts to speak to Maman Mbu after establishing contact with her son, Mbu, who resides in Keffi. The elderly woman who also lives at Unguwan Mada in Keffi would not want to talk on the issue, we were told.
Mbu, who was initially forthcoming with assistance to reach other family members who are related to the story, subsequently backed out and stopped answering our calls.
Hauwa’s son, relation speak
Dateline Nigeria also learnt that Sergeant Yakubu has since died, but our reporter was able to reach his eldest son, Yusuf, who responded to the allegation that his mother, Hauwa, abducted Ruqayya.
Yusuf said Ruqayya was not abducted, insisting that her father, Alhaji Yusuf, gave her to his father to raise and marry off. His father Yakubu, he said, had informed him that “the girl’s mother died”.
He said he was one of the people that opposed her marriage to Agada but that he was overruled and told that he had no right to stop the marriage.
But Obadiah Doka, when contacted, gave a different narrative about the origin of Ruqayya and how she came to the family. After Dateline Nigeria traced him to Gwagwalada where he settled after moving out of Keffi.
He said it was a mistake that Mommy or Asabe (the name given to Ruqayya by her abductor) to have referred to him as a pastor, explaining that he preferred to be recognized as a politician and businessman.
Obadiah Doka also confirmed that Ruqayya once lived under his watch because her mother requested he took care of her when the girl was very hungry and becoming a ”street girl”.
He said Hauwa had, in July 1991, approached his wife and requested they took custody of ‘Mommy’ because she (Hauwa) was facing a serious marital crisis.
He said he approached Hauwa and asked her a ‘pointblank’ question on how she got the girl when he only knew her with three boys.
“She said a friend of Yusuf (Ruqayya’s father) gave birth to a girl and as they (the Yakubus) don’t have a daughter, they can have one now. That this fellow impregnated one girl and he is not ready to take care of that small girl and that he is looking for who to take care of that his friend’s girl,” he stated.
Doka said he went to Janguza Barracks – not the girl’s parents or Alhaji Yusuf – and confirmed Hauwa’s claim to be true before accepting the girl.
He said he was not aware that Mommy had been accused of theft and thrown out of his house because he went for studies overseas.
He however confirmed that she was married to Agada by his uncle, Ajama, saying the decision was taken against “my will” and without his knowledge. He said since he found out, the issue created “a serious problem” in the extended family.
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But Ruqayya’s elder sister, Maryam, refuted the claims by Yusuf and Obadiah, arguing that they were only made up. She said their father, as a Muslim who came from a respected family of renowned Islamic scholars, would not have given his daughter to be raised by adherents of another faith.
She also denied that Ruqayya was born out of wedlock for her father’s friend.
“The submission that our father gave them Ruqayya to raise defies commonsense because he was married to three wives and came from a famous family. If he wanted anybody to help him raise his daughter, he would have taken her to one of the wives or his relations but not somebody practicing a different religion,” she said.