Progress Jacob, 13: Stolen, held by Bauchi Shari’ah commission
PETER OKEUGO writes about 13-year-old Progress Jacob who was abducted on the first Sunday of the New Year
Ms. Gobet’s world went awry on January 3, 2016 when her 13-year-old cousin, Progress Jacob, was kidnapped.
She is still in the dark on how her cousin was abducted.
“We live in Bauchi. Progress, went to church on January 3, 2016. The church closes at 10:30am, but as at 12pm, she was not back from church. I called my son and told him to check the church to find out if there was an ongoing programme. When he returned, he informed me that the church was locked and nothing was happening there,” she recalled.
According to her, the search for Progress became intense when family members who lived around the Yelwa area confirmed they had not seen her.
“I was worried and decided to go in search of her. I searched the whole of the neighbourhood till late at night but she wasn’t found,” she said.
Accompanied by her daughter and some family members, they reported the incident to the Yelwa Police Division and to the traditional ruler of the Sabon Kaura area, Seriki Sabon Kaura. Both the Police and traditional ruler told them to search for the girl and inform them if they were successful. Not giving up, they embarked on the search alone.
Three days after the case was reported to the police, Gobet’s daughter, Blessing, who is a teacher, decided to continue the daily search. She met a young girl in the vicinity where they live, who informed her that she saw Progress wearing a hijab the previous day. The girl also told Blessing she saw her (Progress) in company with another girl, Hadiza.
Blessing said she ran to Hadiza’s home with the hope of finding Progress, but she was disappointed.
Gobet said, “My daughter went to Hadiza’s home. She knocked but no one answered the door. When she came outside to ask the children playing outside about Progress, Hadiza’s father, Mallam Musa came out. She told him why she came but before she concluded, he aggressively told her there was no girl in his house.”
Disappointed, Blessing went back home and informed her mum who went back to the police to report the matter. Mallam Musa was arrested but later bailed that night and told to return the next day.
The next day, according to Gobet, two men delivered a letter to the police station, informing them that Progress had been converted to Islam and her name changed to Aishat.
The family reached out to a non-governmental organisation that wrote a petition to the National Human Rights Commission against the Shari’ah Commission and Da’wah Islamic Education and Mallam Musa.
Our correspondent spoke with NHRC’s, Deputy Director of Protection and Investigation, Lambert Oparah. He said, “We are working to ensure the girls are released but we cannot give full details as it is an ongoing case. We will reach out to the stakeholders involved and we are hopeful that she will be released as we have handled such cases in the past.”
When SUNDAY PUNCH reached out to the Shari’ah Commission, the acting Director of the Da’awah & Islamic Education Department under the Bauchi State Shariah Commission, Muh’d Hadi Aliyu, said the commission would not comment on the matter without proper proof that our correspondent is a journalist. He said, “I cannot comment on the issue over the phone, except you come to Bauchi. The parents should come to the commission if they have any questions, or they can inform the Christian Association of Nigeria. They are aware of our activities and work with us.”
Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, North-East, Rev. Shuaibu Byal, said even though the Bauchi State Shari’ah Commission is in existence as an agency of government, CAN has no dealing with them.
“Nothing connects us to them, especially the issue of conversion. It is only when they write to us that they have our children, then we connect appropriately to secure their release. Sometimes, we are not successful. Several times, we have gone to court. There is a pending case of a young girl, in which they sent us a letter.
“I went there as a senior pastor and they refused me audience with the girl. We are not happy things are happening this way especially when a child has to get to the age of 18 to decide for him or herself. If the institution is not out to destabilise Christianity, they should stop abducting our children. It is as if the government is not doing anything about it. Religion should be free and by choice, not by force.”
When SUNDAY PUNCH contacted the Bauchi State Police Public Relations Officer, Haruna Mohammed, he promised investigating the matter but advised affected parents to go the Shari’ah Commission.
“I am just hearing about the matter now. The police will investigate, but the parents should go to the Bauchi State Shari’ah Commission.”
Police said the case was beyond them — Aunt
Ms. Gobet describes how Progress was abducted
Did you go to church the day progress was abducted?
No, I did not go to church. I was at home. I had just returned from my night duty and needed to rest.
Where exactly did you search for her?
I searched at all her friends’ places. I went to one of the church members and asked if she saw Progress in church and she said she saw her and they were together. But after service, they dispersed and went to their separate homes. We searched from morning till evening.
Did you inform other members of the family?
Yes I did, I called my aunty, also my mum who lives in Yelwa thinking she might have gone there but they said they did not see her. She said I should call her parents in the village, I did, thinking she must have sneaked back to the village but they did not see her also. The search for her became intense.
Did you inform the police?
Yes, I did. I informed the Yelwa Police Division and they only took my statement and told me to continue searching for her and to inform them whenever I find her. I also informed the Chief of Sabon Kaura, (Seriki Sabon Kaura) and he told the same thing I was told by the police.
Were her parents involved in the search?
Yes, they were. They came from the village the next day and we kept searching for about three days.
How did you eventually know her whereabouts?
My daughter came back from school on a Thursday and decided to go into the Sabon Kaura town again to ask around. She met a girl who knew Progress. The girl told my daughter that she saw Progress on Wednesday with her friend Hadiza, wearing hijab. She asked the girl to take her to the girl’s house, and she did.
Did she find her there?
No, she did not. She knocked for a while but no one opened the door. When she came outside to ask some children playing, Hadiza’s father, Mallam Musa, came out from the house and asked what she wanted. My daughter narrated the incident and told him that Progress was seen with Hadiza, his daughter. He told my daughter that there was no girl in his house. My daughter told me when she got home and I marched to the police station to make a report.
Did the police arrest him?
They gave us a policewoman who accompanied us to arrest the man and his daughter. When we got to the police station, they detained him, while they took our statement. But another policeman came and asked them to bail him, because it was night time already. That was around 7pm. They asked us to come back in the morning.
What happened when you got there?
When we got there in the morning, two Hausa men came with a letter from the Bauchi State Shari’ah Commssion. They said the girl we were searching for was with them. That she said she wants to be a Muslim and her name has been changed to Aishat.
Did you go to the commission?
No, we did not go because we are Christians and have no business with them. We took the case to the police station. Since they brought the letter to the police station, they should have brought her to the police station for us to see her.
What other avenues have you employed in the search?
We got a lawyer who is processing everything. A date was fixed and letter sent to them for court hearing for February 23. We waited at the court but no one from the commission turned up. It was adjourned to March 17.
Have you made any contact with the commission?
No we have not. We do not know the specific place where she is. We cannot go there alone and I do not know who to lead us. That place is dangerous.
Have you seen Progress?
We have not seen her since January 3. She is still with them till date.
What did the policemen say when the letter was brought from the commission?
They said they could not judge the matter because it was new to them and beyond them.
Have you spoken with Mallam Musa?
He denied seeing her in his house.
How did Progress start living with you?
When my husband died, I brought her from the village to stay with me. She just finished primary school and about to enter secondary school.
‘ I have sleepless nights thinking about my daughter’
Mrs. Jacob speaks about her daughter’s kidnap
When did you hear the news of your daughter’s abduction?
I was informed in January.
How did you feel?
I was distraught and ran out to inform her father, my husband. It is quite painful to know that my daughter is being held somewhere by some people and we cannot do anything about it. I am worried about my daughter’s welfare and I am anxious to see her.
Is she your only child?
No, she is the second to last of my children. I have six children, three boys and three girls.
How do her siblings feel?
They are all worried and anxious to see her. We think of her all the time and I have lost my appetite generally. Most times, I have sleepless nights thinking about my daughter.
What efforts have been made to search for her?
My husband and my brother went to Bauchi the next day to search for her. They all went to the police station. The case was taken to the High Court.
How is your daughter’s guardian related to you?
She is my husband’s niece.
What is your occupation?
I have nothing to do, but my husband is a farmer. I am a full time housewife. Our efforts are limited and we do not have money to pursue any case. I want Nigerians to fight for me like Ese Oruru. We are poor people but Nigerians can help us.
Parents should come for negotiation — Shari’ah Commission
Muh’d Hadi Aliyu is the acting Director of the Da’wah & Islamic Education Department, under the Bauchi State Shari’ah Commission. He speaks about the alleged abductions with PETER OKEUGO
Is the Da’wah & Islamic Education Department the same as the Bauchi State Shari’ah Commission?
Yes, they are the same.
Are you aware of some girls that were allegedly held and forcefully converted to Islam by the Bauchi State Shari’ah Commission?
I cannot answer that over the phone. You have to come to Bauchi so that we can confirm that you are a journalist. I will not give you any information because I cannot identify you. Also, I need to get approval from my higher officers.
Have some girls been brought to the commission for conversion?
If you got my letter from the commission, you can follow the process that was stipulated in the letter to contact the commission.
Is it true that one cannot be let into the commission if one is not a Muslim?
You can contact the Christian Association of Nigeria to find out any information you need about Shari’ah Commission. We work together and they are aware of our activities.
Is CAN aware that you have the girls with you?
Why are you asking me the questions?
Should the parents contact the commission through CAN?
That is not my concern. I have to confirm you are genuine before I can release any information to you. Through the letter, they know the condition and process of getting them out. They should follow the process and come to our office to negotiate the issue.
Are you on Skype so that I can talk to you?
What is Skype?
The parents got the letter, should they come to the Shari’ah Commission for their children?
If they got the letter, they should come to the commission to verify if it is true or not. If it is true that their daughters are with us, we can negotiate, but I cannot give you any information because I do not know if you are genuine. If they do not know the Shari’ah Commission, they can contact CAN or their church in Bauchi.
Will their children be released if they come to the commission?
They have to contact CAN, they know our process and what we will do in cases like