Madam Jessy Ukeje, a 77-year-old grandmother from Eluoma Uzuakoli in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State, is in pains. So also is her daughter, Joy Ihedinma Ukeje.
Mama Jessy’s granddaughter (Joy’s daughter) Rita Chinedu Ukeje, 15, was allegedly abducted by Islamic fundamentalists and given out in marriage to one of their own. Since then, the family has been in untold distress.
Now, Mrs. Ukeje is calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to help rescue the girl from the clutches of her abductors.
Ukeje said her granddaughter was given out in marriage by a top official of Zaria City Local Government area, without the consent of her family.
Rita, an SS 3 student of Top Spring Secondary School, Zaria, Kaduna State, was abducted by a commercial bus driver, called Usman, who held her captive in his home, denying her the chance of sitting for the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) she had enrolled for.
Few weeks later, she stated, the council chief, who took her to his home and promised to make her available for settlement with the family, allegedly gave her out in marriage to Usman.
The incident happened in Damagaji area of Zaria in Kaduna State, even as every effort made by the family to rescue the teenage girl from the clutches of her abductors have met with stiff resistance from the kidnappers.
Mama Jessy, who could not hold back tears while narrating the abduction of the girl in her house in Eluoma Uzuakoli, alleged further that the girl’s abductors are after Rita’s mother, Joy Ihedinma Ukeje, for insisting that Rita must be sent back to her.
She alleged that they had been sending assassins to her, forcing her to quickly run back to Uzuakoli from Zaria after several attempts on her life.
“If they wanted to marry my granddaughter, both tradition and religion demand that they should come home and marry her according to Igbo tradition and customs. But they abducted her, took her into captivity after undergoing their Muslim rituals of bathing and feeding her with concoction as a way of turning her into a Muslim. Then, they gave her to somebody to marry without the consent and knowledge of her parents. This is certainly against religion and against tradition,” she said.
Rita’s mum, Mrs. Joy Ihedinma Ukeje, 37, said the incident happened one Friday in April when she came back from the market and discovered that her daughter was not at home.
“I wanted her to bring me some money to buy water and firewood which we would use for the next days business, but I did not see her at home. I called her phone and one Usman picked it and told me that they were in Zaria city, the traditional abode of the Hausa, in the house of the man that turns people into Muslims. I was shocked and wondered what they had gone to do there.
“By 12 midnight, they brought her back in their vehicle and I rushed out, looked into the vehicle and saw that they had covered her with their Muslims clothing. My elder sister asked Usman whether he would marry her, having dressed her that way and Usman said no. Then they left without Rita. We questioned Rita on why she did not tell us about what she was doing, but she kept crying. By the time I came back the following day, she had disappeared.
“I called her phone and she said she was coming, but she never came and I knew that she was under some influence. I was told that even if I took her back to Uzuakoli, she would still find her way back to meet Usman. I called Usman and asked him to bring back my daughter and he told me that I was stupid. I went and reported the matter to the police. They got him arrested and brought Rita to the police station.
“When the police eventually brought her out, she said she did not know me, my sister, my aunty and all our relations. She said the only person she knew was Usman and his people. We went to the police station by 9 am and left by 10 pm because I said I would not leave my child for them.
“When I insisted that they must give me my daughter, they invited a top official of Zaria City council and some Christians leader. They told the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the area to take the girl to his house, but he said he was going to bring a vehicle and he disappeared. The council chief said I should allow him to keep Rita, that he would produce her when the matter would be settled and my daughter would be given back to me. I agreed, trusting him as a public servant. But he did not bring out my daughter.
“Other Igbo CAN members met with the Chairman of the council in Sabon Gari and told him to tell the Zaria City council official to bring the girl to them. But the chairman said the girl was not with alleged council chief.
“I was in the village where I fled to due to their incessant harassment when my aunty called me and informed me that the chairman had given out my daughter in marriage to Usman. Since then, I have not seen my daughter, and when I called the council official to bring back my daughter, he said I was an idiot.
“I am appealing to the relevant authorities and President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to rescue my daughter from her abductors. It is unfair that someone’s daughter would be given out in marriage without the knowledge of the parents in the name of religion. They have been sending assassins after me for insisting that they must bring back my child. I no longer sleep in the house.
“Now, they have changed her phone number and I can no longer communicate with her. This is what they do to young Christian girls from the South who reside in some parts of the north.
“I confronted one Malam Abdulahi, a man I learnt usually turns other people’s daughters to Muslims, using charms and concoctions, before giving them out in marriage, and he boasted that he had done it to over one thousand people. He said he couldn’t understand why I was proving stubborn. He said I was lucky that I even saw my daughter, and that I was only wasting my time, as my efforts would not yield any fruit.
“The day we got to the police station, if Usman went out, my daughter would be crying, ‘mummy, please help me so that what these people did to me would clear from my eyes’. But immediately they stepped in, she would clean her eyes and tell everyone that she did not know me. Before, she used to call me on phone, telling me to put her in prayers. But for some time now, she has not called me and I am worried on what should be her state now.”