“I’ve passed through hell,” said a teary-eyed Hajiya Binta Abba Umar. “I’ve even prayed to God, to even show me the corpse of my son, so I can have closure,” she told Daily Trust. The shaken-yet-happy mother of seven said Suleiman, now 15, is her fourth. He was whisked away by unidentified persons on Tuesday, 6th January 2014, after closing from school in Abuja. He was in Primary Four then, at a school in Kado.
Binta narrated: “On that day, I just got home when my daughter told me the news that Suleiman was not in school today, and also not yet home. I reached out to his father, and from then, a search began. We reported at a police station, visited hospitals in case of involvement in accidents, and reached out to friends and family. I was worried because Suleiman isn’t very much the visiting type, and is generally quiet. He’s always home watching TV, particularly cartoons.”
Binta and the family resolved to prayers. “After a few days, we came to the conclusion that he was definitely taken by God-knows-who. For three years we’ve lived with that pain.”
The family kept eyes and ears open for all and any news on missing youngsters, on TV and radio stations. They also visited Nasarawa, Kano, and Kaduna states, including Abuja, but there was nothing.
To worsen their tragedy, another Binta’s children, Khalifa, was struck by an ailment which left him deformed and immobile, while he was writing his final exams at secondary school.
The overburdened mother took him to various hospitals, and even an Indian one, but there were no conclusive findings. “I resorted to prayer, sure that it was a test from God and prayed He see me through. Khalifa became well, and we resumed the search for Suleiman,” she told Daily Trust.
During the period the family was searching for Suleiman, Binta got appointed as Special Adviser on Girl Child Issues to Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State. This made rumours swirl, that she must have used her missing son for rituals, as politicians are known for devious things, and so on. “I was gutted, I shed tears, and moved on.
From then I changed my prayers to God, begging him to show the truth to the world,” she said. “Now, the rumour-mongers have been put to shame,” she added.
One evening, while Binta was in Kaduna for a workshop, and was asleep, her phone rang. Her young son, who was with her, woke her to answer it. She was upset to be woken up, but she collected the phone. “To my shock, I heard Suleiman stammering at the other end,” she said. “As I heard his voice, I knew it was him, and I began to cry, and he joined in,” she added.
Binta’s torrent of questions followed: ‘Where are you? Are you OK?’ The confused mother called Suleiman’s dad, while she continued to talk with the youngster, who told her that he was in Lagos, squatting with some persons who had relocated from Maiduguri because of the insurgency.
Binta was confused as to what to do next. “It was past 1:00am and I couldn’t wait to get to Lagos. I reached out to agents for flight tickets, to no avail, as virtually all the morning flights had been booked,” she said. “In the morning, I rushed to the airport having finally got a flight for noon. As I was doing this, I reached out to Katsina Liaison Office in Lagos to help, as well,” she added .
The excited mother arrived Lagos and met Suleiman. “He’s totally changed, he’s now a man, and darker as a result of hardships he’s been through,” Binta told Daily Trust.
For Suleiman, it was a terrible experience having come from a sheltered life, to find himself battling to survive in the fast-paced city of Lagos.
He told Daily Trust that after he was grabbed by unidentified people, he passed out. “I regained consciousness only to find myself on a pile of corpses by a beach, some with missing heads or limbs. I was terrified,” he said. The youngster said he only realised he was in Lagos when he later found and read a sign-post.
Confused and scared, Suleiman soon began to sleep at the beach, going into the city by day to look for menial work to survive. “I visited food vendors, pushed disabled people on wheelchairs for a commission of their takings for the day, sometimes as low as N100 daily,” he said.
With no-one he knows, and no phone he could use, he soon began to visit a viewing center in a nearby neighbourhood. “That’s where I met one Muhammed, and we became friends, so I soon moved to their shanty,” he said.
There, he met other youngsters, too, and they would take him along for menial jobs, bricklaying, house-keeping, and so on. “I was always quiet, so almost everyone around me thought I had a speech impairment,” Suleiman said. For two years, he lived like that.
One night, as he was asleep, Suleiman said he dreamt of his family, and in the morning he spoke, to the shock of Muhammed and the others. They began to ask him questions, too. “I told them my parents’ names, and they came up with all kinds of ideas, and someone suggested I search for my family on Facebook,” he said.
Suleiman found his mum’s page, and sent her a friend request. “There was no response for a while, so we also tried using mutual friends. One of my cousins accepted, and we got chatting, and when I told him who I was, he laughed and thought I was an internet fraudster out to exploit the family’s pain,” he said.
“My cousin reluctantly sent me my mum’s number, and that’s when I placed the call that night, and we spoke,” Suleiman told Daily Trust.
Reunited with his family, a happy Suleiman said he intends to visit his other ‘family’, Muhammad and Earnest, in Lagos after Sallah celebrations.
Binta said Suleiman is presently undergoing a rehabilitation processes which will take a while.
“He’s been through so much,” she sighed. “Going through his stuff, I found a CV and application written to a firm in Lekki, seeking for employment as a cleaner. He told me he wanted to work and go back to school, as Muhammed and Earnest are going to school,” she said. “I cried,” she added. But the tears were those of joy.