By Olayinka Oyegbile and Gboyega Alaka
• Blames mother-in-law
• Exonerates former Vice President
It seemed quite like an epic love story. Love-struck aristocratic young man, fighting off all oppositions, including his mother, to be with his heartthrob. Woman giving up everything to be with her beau, and three lovely boys in a short spate of time. But like the saying goes, nothing lasts forever, sadly. Maryam Sherif, divorced wife of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, son of former VP, shares her travails with Deputy Editor, Olayinka Oyegbile and Chief Correspondent, Gboyega Alaka.
She cut a pitiable sight: forlorn; probably sad; as she came down from her hotel room somewhere in Ikoyi, Lagos to meet with these reporters. She would reveal later in this interview that she has lost 28 kilogrammes and spent several weeks in and out of hospitals over the past seven months. That’s the number of months Maryam Sherif, formerly Maryam Atiku Abubakar, says her three sons and daughter have been taken away from her, without an iota of access. She had sent an SOS to The Nation through an intermediary, early last week, pleading for an urgent interview to voice her pain, while emphasising that she had reached breaking point.
The principal causes of her pain, she stated, are her former husband, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, whom she said took the three sons she bore him, her daughter from a previous marriage and her adopted daughter from her since March 10 this year; and his mother, former wife of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, Hajia Ladi Sa’adatu, with whom the children are being kept in Yola, Adamawa State. One of the children, the daughter from the previous marriage was later returned. But not the other four. All entreaties, including emails to Atiku Abubakar Snr and the police have also failed. Last September 26, the judge, who was supposed to sit on the case, also failed to show up in court, further aggravating her fear. So now, she’s at her wit’s end. Worst of all, she says she’s stranded. She’s penniless and can’t even raise money to fuel her car or get an apartment of her own.
“My name is Maryam Sherif, formerly Maryam Atiku Abubakar. I was married to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, son of former vice president and presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the last Presidential Election, Atiku Abubakar, although we’re divorced now. We divorced Islamically following our quarrel, which reached a climax when he moved out of the house early this year. After a while, the children were asking to see him; so when it was the birthday of one of them, the agitation to see him increased and I reached out to him. I told him to come back home because his children were asking after him. So he came home March 10; five days after the birthday of our son. He brought gifts and asked to take the kids out for a treat.
Although they were already in pyjamas and in bed, I got them dressed and ready. But as they made to go, something stirred in me and I asked him, ‘I hope you’re not taking my children away from me?’
“He said no, that he just wanted to buy them ice cream and pizza at Domino’s Place, which was around the corner to our house in Maitama. He also said I could join them if I wished. Initially, I got in the car, but I wasn’t feeling up to it, so I turned back and let him take them. After all, he is their father. Then, we hadn’t divorced, so there were hopes that we could still iron things out.
“Thereafter, I waited and waited; then I started calling him frantically, but he wasn’t picking. When it was 11pm, I panicked and ran to the nearby police station. I told them my husband came to take my kids out and he had not returned them. I also told them our situation and my suspicion. The police put a call through to him right in my presence and told him, ‘Your wife is with us; she said you took the kids and have not returned them. Please return the kids to her; don’t try to take them away.’ But he banged the phone and refused to pick it thereafter. I went back home and continued calling him. After a while, he picked and told me to forget about the kids. He said over his dead body would I set my eyes on them again.
“That was how he took my kids away, five of them. His three sons, my first daughter from my previous marriage and my adopted daughter. He probably would have taken my two maids as well, if I hadn’t told them to stay back.
Last month, he returned my first daughter though, because I kept inundating the police. I told them to do their job and get me back my children because no-one is above the law. I was in my best friend’s living room, where I am currently squatting one day, when I heard a knock and his uncle with his lawyer, a lady and their driver came in with my daughter and her luggage. I said ‘But this is not my only child.’ His uncle said, yes, but this does not belong to them. He said the boys belong to them and only the law could get them back to me.”
Locked out of the house
Asked why she had to be squatting at her friend’s place, Maryam said she’s been locked out of the house since May.
“I went out to my sister’s place and returned to find my house locked with Mobile Police officers stationed to deny me entry. My maids were also evicted and I came back to meet them outside. Even though he had served me divorce papers, by Islamic tenets, I still had rights to be in the house for at least three months after our divorce. Since then, I haven’t been able to enter the house. They did not allow me to take a pin. Not my clothes, not my vital documents or my phones and other personal effects. All my efforts to reach out to him have been rebuffed.
“Meanwhile, I was still hoping we could iron things out and was reaching out to him for the sake of our children. Even though he had moved out, I’d apologised to him at some point and told him we could come back together and continue to be husband and wife; but he told me I’d blown my chances.
“The situation has become more scary because his mother has vowed that over her dead body will I see my children again. From what I learnt, she gathered all the maids in her house in Yola – that’s where the children are – whom she believed had sympathy for me and broke all their phones. She knows they all love me because I’d always been nice to them and didn’t want them to call me or get the children to talk to me. We used to go to Mama’s house in Yola a lot; there was a time I spent seven months there. They told the children, ‘Your mother is a bad woman, she’s a harlot.’
‘My life in danger’
How about visiting mama’s house in Yola to try to sort things herself?
To this, she said, “No, because they want to kill me. That reminds me, they attempted to kill me or was it kidnap me twice. They sent gunmen, who tried to abduct me. Seven of them! But for my brother who resisted them and called security men, only God knows what would have become of me. It was a Monday, they came in Black Maria and surrounded our vehicle as we made to park in my friend’s house. They were looking ferocious and shouting, ‘Shut up! That is the lady we want! Hand her over!’ But my brother told them there was no way he was handing me over. They wanted to hit him with the butt of the gun, until he called the security men and they picked race. In fact, the seventh one had to run after the vehicle in order not to be left behind.
“The following Monday, they came again, this time in police uniform. This time, they didn’t brandish guns, but they were shouting ‘Open the door! We need that lady!’ But again, my brother was around to ward them off.
A mother’s pain
“You won’t believe it, today, September 30, is the first day I would be speaking directly with my children since that March 10. Only women will appreciate what I’ve been through. The children called to say ‘Mummy, do you remember that October 23rd is my birthday?…Please try and come, we miss you.’ They also asked after my eldest daughter, Zahra, the one that was returned. They said they were missing her. In fact, I recorded it.”
She played the recording and soft mournful voices of distressed children filled the air. The call came to an end with the children chorusing, ‘Mummy please come and pick us. We miss you’
“But something tells me if I go there, they will kill me. I’ve seen enough. But they should just give me my children.”
“In fact, if not for my adopted daughter, Halima, who is with them, I don’t know how the boys would have coped. She was there when I gave birth to the three of them and they have largely become used to her. But this is a girl I adopted before I even met their son – although she bears the Atiku Abubakar name now, for documentation and convenience. They have no right to keep her.
Has she tried to reach Atiku Abubakar Senior?
“Yes. I’ve sent three e-mails to daddy telling him about our problem and the fact that I don’t want to do anything that will tarnish his image. I told him we have become one blood, having born him three lovely grandsons and begged him to please tell his son to hand over my kids to me and also open the house for me to pack my things, even if they won’t let me stay there.”
“But he did not reply me directly. I learnt from an indirect source, though, that he told his son to return my kids to me and also open the house and let me stay there with the kids. In truth daddy has been a father, nice and caring. But I learnt that my mother-in-law, Hajia Ladi Sa’adatu, was the one who told daddy to stay out of the matter and not interfere. Meanwhile, this is a woman daddy divorced years ago but who still lives in his house in Yola, without anybody harassing her or telling her to go back to her family in Gombe. She still gets allowances from him, bears his name and travels the world on his account – all because she is mother of his children. Only recently, she travelled to London for an eye operation on his account. Yet she is denying me the same opportunities she is enjoying. Even her daughter, Zainab, who has also joined them to gang up against me, was married to Tunji, a Yoruba man, but she was allowed to keep her child from that marriage after they divorced.
Running battle with mother-in-law
By the way, we’ve never got along. Me and my mother-in-law. Right from the beginning, she never approved of our relationship and told her son not to marry me; but he insisted he loved me. She told him the only way he would please her was to divorce me. So when he started telling me, ‘My mother said, my mother said’, I told him that’s not acceptable to me. Sometimes, she would be in Yola and be ordering my maids around. Sometimes there’s a family party and I would be the last person to know. She’d come into my house unannounced and start ordering the maids to dress up the kids, even telling them what to cook. At other times, my friends would go to the party and be calling to ask me ‘What happened, we were at your party, we saw your children but we didn’t see you?’ And I’d be looking like an outsider. I was practically becoming a laughing stock amongst my friends.
She practically did everything to destroy my family. So when I couldn’t take it anymore, I confronted her.
“Really, I think the reason she disliked me was because I had been in a first marriage before meeting her son and Hausa people naturally don’t like their sons taking second wives as their first. I was divorced before I came back to Nigeria. I’m Mauritanian by origin but born and brought up here. I’m a Lagosian, I’m Nigerian. My sisters all speak Yoruba fluently, I am the only one who can’t speak it well; but I understand it. So she made up stories and told my husband that I’m a prostitute, that I had destroyed my wombs with tablets and could never have a child. But my husband insisted I was his choice. So I told him ‘I will prove to your mother that that I have eggs in my stomach, that I did not sleep with the whole of Nigeria.’ The plan initially was to let him settle down a bit after our wedding before we began having babies – because he only just came back from schooling in London. In fact, I was the one who put him in Customs. But to prove his mother wrong, I took in right after we got married and had my first son. We came to Lagos, I had my second son; we went to Dubai, I had my third. We were in Dubai for five months. And then my mother-in-law came and started insulting me. She said I was having children in quick succession and wasn’t I ashamed of myself?
“And I told her, ‘What? Was it not you that said I no longer have eggs, that I could never have children again?’ I told her the day my husband tells me to stop, I would stop. Then she said I was rude, that I was talking to her anyhow.”
If her husband fought such a huge battle to be with her, shouldn’t she try one last card at settling with him? Or send emissaries?
“My phone crashed and I lost virtually all his numbers, except one, which I know off-hand. They’re not communicating with me. If I call the mother, she would not pick; and since the son told me I had blown my chances, I decided to let them be. But I’m really disappointed in him. This was a man I met when he was a student and I was working. I was into construction and real estate. I built and sold houses. I had my own house, had a car and was comfortable with my daughter. But I gave up everything to be with him because he said he was marrying me for love. His mother told me, ‘Everybody is saying you’re too much for my son, that you have too much money and that you are prostitute. If you really love him, you have to leave your job and follow him to Lagos.’ I asked, ‘Will that please you and convince you that I love your son?’ She said ‘yes’. So I came to Lagos with him. We were staying at Oniru Estate, not too far from Oniru’s Palace. But what did I get in return? Mother-in-law went into my house and dashed away all my belongings: my clothes, electronics, furniture, even cars! I asked her ‘Why?’ and she said they were old and they’d get me better ones. And I told her if they were old and I wanted to dispose them, I had staff who had served me well; I had sisters, cousins… I was hurt and was really crying but my husband wiped my tears and told me ‘Just bear me children and prove wrong those who said you’re a prostitute.’
All my family have called and tried to settle us: my parents, my friends. He even left two of his childhood friends who were trying to mediate. He said they were siding with me.
“My appeal to the Atikus; daddy and everyone that is concerned, is that they should think about humanity. Whatever you do, you do to yourself – good or bad. I don’t expect that having been part of the family for almost nine years and having three lovely kids for them, they’ll treat me like this. These are my children that I carried in my stomach for nine months. They did not catch me with another man. Yes, we had our fights, but I wasn’t extra violent. So I don’t understand why they are all ganging up against me.
“As you see me, I have lost 28kg. Can you imagine that? In just seven months! What kind of dieting is that? I’ve been sick and hospitalised, and always on drips. All because of the pain of not seeing my children.
To the police
“I think the police are playing games, because they only brought my daughter. That’s a big question on their performance. Are they saying Alhaji Atiku Abubakar or his mother is bigger than the law or that they are incapable of dealing with them? I wrote a petition to the police telling them to locate my children and bring them back to me.
“The case is to come up for hearing again come October 8, but I don’t know what lies in wait for me.”
To human rights groups and organisations, I want Nigerians to know what I’m going through. I need help to get back my children because they seem too powerful for me to fight alone. I believe God is just and no-one is above the law.
Former VP Atiku Abubakar not involved
Finally, I want the world to know that the Atiku Abubakar, the father and former VP, has no hand in this whole saga. He is a father and a very nice person. He took care of us while we were in Dubai. I know that he sent a message to his son to return my kids but this issue is too much for him because of his divorced wife, who is the mastermind. Hajia Ladi Sa’adatu is the one behind the whole problem.
I don’t want to talk about it – Atiku Abubakar
When The Nation put a call though to the man at the centre of the matter, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, he refused to comment on the matter.
His exact words: You cannot call me, I don’t want to talk to you. You have no right to call my phone.”
He also said the case was in court, to which this reporter pointed out that there has not been a hearing. Thereafter, he cut the call.
We also put a call through to CP Aliyu Abubakar, whom Maryam said handled the case, but the CP said he was not the IPO handling the case and that he was not even posted to the Police station, where the matter is being handled. He said he only happened to be at the station when the matter came up and he interceded accordingly.
Source: The Nation