By Rafiq Raji
“You, stand up! Mai Ungwa, take her to my quarters”
Babangida had been relishing this opportunity for a very long time. He was determined to have his virgins here on earth. There wouldn’t be much privacy but the tent would do. In any case, his brazas needed to know he didn’t think the flowers beneath him. Some were already jealous of the life he enjoyed. His was the spoils without the slightest suspicion. As an elected public office holder, he had immunity. And he could count on his men’s loyalty. Anyway, they needed him more than he needed them. Who has been informing them about targets? And our people in the security services need to be taken care off regularly. Who provides the untraceable funds? This was not a bad reward for his troubles. The rhetoric around the security problem they created had also helped him politically. These were good times indeed.
“Kina da daurin kay, ko? Inna gama da ki, za ki sani”
“You think you are stubborn.”
The girls were all unkempt. He always thought Mai Ungwa was crude. Didn’t he know they were supposed to look appealing?
“Mai Ungwa, before you go, make sure she takes a bath”
“But we are hard-pressed for water, Commander”
“This is an exception; make sure she takes a bath and don’t take too long, I still have to go back to amarya.”
“Your new wife, yes.”
As Zainab waited for her husband to show up, her life hitherto played before her. A few months earlier, she had just passed her O-Levels with distinction and had pondered at the great task before her. Having congratulated her, Baba had told her he would like to discuss an important matter when she was done with her chores. Her father rarely sought an appointment to speak with her. It did occur to her though that people around the house had been extraordinarily nice to her lately. She did think this could not have been only because she did well in her exams; especially as Yaro, didn’t do quite well. The privileges her brother enjoyed always left a bad taste in her mouth.
“What are you looking at? You had better mind your business. Anyway, you’ll soon be married off!”
She had grown accustomed to Yaro’s taunts. As usual, he was about to go smoke some indo again. Don’t they see his darkened lips? Leave Yaro alone, Mama would always say. She pretends not to see him roll the smelly weed. Last time, Yaro asked the driver to drop him off at a friend’s place on the way to school. He didn’t show up for classes that day. What does Mama do?
“He’ll change, Zainab. You just focus on your studies, my dear.”
She thought maybe it would not be difficult after all. Zainab wanted to go to University before getting married. After all, she was still young. At 16, she could still find a suitor when she finished her teaching degree four years from now. The degree itself was a compromise. It was either that or Medicine. The difficulty of convincing her parents to allow her finish a 7-year medical degree before getting married didn’t escape her.
“I have spoken to your husband, you know him, don’t you? Hassan. He was the one I told you brought gifts for you the other day”
Who is Hassan? Mama told me it was Babangida. He was a popular politician who until his recent accession to public office was just another drifter. Even back then, he was feared. I had always wondered why. The rumour mill had it he belonged to a radical Islamic sect. We all knew he was a Brazas (if only they would pronounce “Brothers” correctly). There were suggestions this was a cover for much more violent allegiances. Not that the local population didn’t already dread these brazas. You knew a mother had lost her son to them when implausible excuses were given for their wards’ recurring absences. Then suddenly, they show up with brand new scooters and a louder voice. You knew something was off when older men started ingratiating themselves to these small boys. And you thought, what about tarbiya? Everybody got the message after the Limami was kidnapped. The police found the Chief Imam’s charred body dropped like rubbish in Sabon Gari market. A very public place. The thought sent shivers down her spine. Surely, her father was not going to betroth her to such a man. Baba would have found out if the rumours were true. Maybe, he is really just a little bit religious than usual.
“He will make a suitable husband. You know I always watch out for your interests. Hassan is a good man. And good husbands are hard to find these days.”
“Baba, I’m worried he won’t…”
“I’ve spoken to him about it. He has promised to sponsor your university education. You are a lucky girl, my daughter!”
“But Baba, he has two….”
“Good husbands are hard to find these days, Zainab!”
He only calls me by name when he wants to seem firm. That meant my objections were to be muted. Hassan would be my husband.
“Baba, what if I get pregnant? Would Hassan be willing to wait till I’m at least 18 years old before we go in together? It is only two years?”
Professor Mohammed Mai Mangoro had always worried about his daughter’s stubbornness. She takes after him in that regard. After his last rendezvous with Amina, he had come to the resolution that the only solution was to marry her off. Amina was a third-year Psychology student at the University. They had been seeing each other for some time now. He first sighted her when she came to visit one of his daughters at their campus bungalow. She had stirred something in him. Let’s just say, those stirrings were no longer fantasies these days. But the guilt had left him hollow. No, Zainab will marry first! I’m not going to live to see another daughter of mine in tight jeans and body hugging blouses. And what is that horseshit they all put on their heads? Does she think any man would wait even a day talk less two years before exercising his rights? This matter would require some tact though. You are her Baba, she’ll listen to you. But gently now, Mohammed. Gently.
“I have discussed that matter with him as well. Hassan is an educated man. He shares your concerns as well”
“But Baba, he already has two wives. How does an educated man have that many wives and still want more?”
“Just remember what I told you, good husbands are hard to find these days”
“Mai Ungwa! Mai Ungwa! Come here right this moment!”
“What is taking so long? I don’t want my new wife to get suspicious. You know I still have to drive back to town. And you know how long that takes with the soldiers and all. Did you deliver our gifts to them? You are sure? Because, if you didn’t, you know they’ll bother me on the way back”
“Ta na da daurin kay, Babangida”
“Are you telling me you couldn’t control a 14-year old girl?”
Zainab proved too difficult to acquire. And the wedding cost him more than necessary. He was going to make her return every dime. University? Am I her father? How an educated man like Professor Mai Mangoro couldn’t see his ruse baffled him. Maybe he pretended not to know his real intentions. Suitors like him didn’t come about easily. Hassan looked back at his life. He had once run into her, the arrogant bitch. She had the temerity to ignore his advances. But back then, he wasn’t exactly ango material. He wore the same clothes everyday and was lucky if he got some odd job here and there. His luck changed after he started attending the new mosque. After listening to one of the young Sheikh’s sermons, he felt enlivened. One day, after many visits, he was approached.
“I see you are a very serious Muslim”
“Yes, you.” Hassan couldn’t believe his ears. He never imagined Sheikh Zakari could have noticed him.
“I try my best, Sheikh”
“Very good. I’m happy when I see serious young Muslims”
“You should come and see me when you find the time. After Isha prayers, tomorrow perhaps?”
That was a while ago now. Today, he was a local government chairman with all the accouterments of office. He drove in convoys, had an Aide-de-Camp and people stood up when he entered the room. And there was no way the authorities could know he was a sponsor of Karatu Aha. Wait a minute, he was the authority itself. Even the Emir almost bowed his head a bit the other day. The thought brought a wry smile to his face.
“Commander! Commander, the girl is ready”
Hassan wondered how long his reverie had been. This escapade would have to wait another day.
“You know what? I’ve lost my appetite! We’ll continue this tomorrow. And this had better not repeat itself. And make sure to tell the others, she is not to be touched. They can take their pick from the others”
“Allah ya ja zamanin ka!”
As she waited for him after the last guests departed – the big wedding was an unnecessary expense if you asked her, she prayed very hard that Babangida would be gentle tonight. She had no illusions. He was feared for a reason. That Friday, after the Jumat service, Baba had asked her to serve lunch. She thought that unusual since Mama always served his food. And there he was, Babangida, meek as sheep. He even pretended to be shy. She wasn’t fooled. And now as his third wife, she wondered about her dreams. Who is to stop him now that she was in his house? Just then, she heard the sound of his jeep. Where did he go even? What type of groom runs off with friends minutes after his wedding? Well, maybe that is a good thing. Baba had told her he promised to wait a while. Her quarters weren’t that bad. She saw a tint of jealousy written over wife no. 2’s face. Asiya was no longer going to be the favourite; at least for a little while. They did their duty though; comforting her as she sobbed at the departure from her father’s house. Even Yaro managed to conjure up a sullen look. Yeah right, like he wasn’t already relishing the opportunity of being the only centre of attention now that she was gone. Hassan had done well for himself. Each wife had her own quarters; a living room, kitchen and bedroom. That should reduce the likelihood of petty quarrels, Zainab thought. She was still pondering where she’d put all the wedding gifts when the door suddenly creaked open. For some reason, she was jolted. Not that she was not expecting him. But, she had wanted to pre-empt his move; maybe even negotiate about her going to University. Too late.
“Take off your clothes”
And then there was a piercing pain.
Girl-child education remains a major challenge in Northern Nigeria. You’d be surprised to know that a majority of Northern Nigeria’s intelligentsia prefers to marry off their daughters at the earliest opportunity. This preference has foundations in culture and religion. In these societies, there is a revolving door between these two institutions. Incidentally, Islam does not make even the slightest suggestion that a girl child should not aspire to the highest academic achievement possible. In fact, Islamic history is replete with the scholarly achievement of women. It is thus unbelievable how some Islamic Clerics get away with such absurd assertions as there being a doctrinal basis for relegating women to their husband’s or father’s homes. For instance, Islam prefers that women attend to women on health issues. So tell me, how on earth would that be possible if there are no female doctors? In Islam, women have rights on the property of their husbands, parents, siblings and children. And surely, Islam does not accept marriages that cause harm to women before they are fit for childbirth. Such absurd practices like genital mutilation is also un-Islamic. The truth is, much of these practices shrouded in clerical proclamations and fatwas (and who the heck gave some mortal the right to make such proclamations in the first place; surely The Quran is encompassing enough) really stem from male insecurities. A lot of men are scared of women; their brilliance, elegance and grace. However, it should also be said that most Muslim women wear the hijab with pride. The idea that they do so unwillingly is simply absurd and really has more to do with western exceptionalism than fears of human right violations. That said, there are abuses. Thus, the society we should all aim for is one where everyone has an opportunity at redemption, is free to practise his or her faith without fear and one where there is respect for divergent views.
Hundred days have also gone by since the abduction of over two hundred girls in Northeastern Nigeria. This egregious act was purportedly under the banner of Islam. Muslims must therefore raise their voices in condemning these elements that commit crimes in the name of a faith they hold dear. As human beings, we must also do the needful. We should imagine these girls were our daughters, sisters, and nieces. Surely, our anguish would know no bounds if these girls were our relatives. They don’t have to be before we empathize with their parents and continue the advocacy that has made it possible for even the slightest progress that has been made toward their safe release. While some of them managed to escape or were saved, a significant number of them remain in captivity. It is mind-boggling that this remains the case in this day and age. The amount of time those innocent girls have spent in captivity is enough to change their orientation and personalities. There are reports that their locations are known and the authorities’ caution stem from a desire for the girls’ safety. Bottom-line, we should all do what we can to contribute to their safe release.
Piercing Pains is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Photo credit: Rafiq Raji (Sunset in Cape Town)