When Mr. Christopher Oshi, of Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu State, decided to allow his daughter, Blessing, to go and live with a relative, Jonathan Michael Ogbonna, in Jos, Plateau State, in 2012, there were no indications that the move would, with time, result in an unbearable tragedy for his family.
Blessing was nine years old at the time, and it was expected that the relocation to Jos would expose her to a better life in the household of her uncle, who is also married with children. It was expected that, when in Jos, Blessing would help look after her uncle’s little children, and also go to school. Initially, everything went according to plan. Blessing arrived in Jos and started school in one of the primary schools in the Dangi area of the city, where her uncle lives.
She also helped to look after the uncle’s little children. Blessing was described as an obedient, reserved and shy, dutiful girl who did all that was expected of her without any fuss. Her mother, Elizabeth, also said she was a happy girl. However, the story changed suddenly, on the Sallah day in 2014. The uncle, Michael, searched for her everywhere and even beyond their community but all efforts proved abortive.
But, about a week later, Michael received a call – from an official of the Bauchi State Sharia Commission, who told him that the girl was in Bauchi. The official informed Michael that Blessing had ‘willingly’ converted to Islam. Interestingly, the official referred to Blessing as ‘Hajara’, which they were told was Islamic name she was given following the conversion.
The Bauchi State Sharia Commission official, whose identity was not disclosed to our correspondent, reportedly told Blessing’s uncle that the girl converted to Islam on August 8, 2014, following which she brought herself before the commission through Da’awah Council Committee members, a non-governmental Islamic organisation. Blessing was equally alleged to have reported to the commission that Michael had refused to allow her to practise her new religion.
Also, a letter was addressed to Blessing’s father, Christopher Oshi, and the uncle/guardian, Jonathan Michael Ogbonna, by the Bauchi State Sharia Commission, apparently to notify them of the new development, particularly the commission’s decision to place Blessing in the custody of the Da’awah Council Committee. A copy of the letter, bearing the letter head of the Bauchi State Shariah Commission, No. 3 Darazo Road, Old GRA, Bauchi, and dated August 8, 2014, was made available to our correspondent.
The letter, read, “The bearer, Hajara Christopher Blessing, brought herself before Shariah Commission through Da’awah Council Committee members reporting her conversion to Islam willingly. “According to her statement that she wanted to practise (Islam) because she embraced Islam on her own wish sometimes in 8/8/2014 and she requested the commission to intervene. “In view of the above, Shariah Commission has handed her custody to the Da’awah Council Bauchi pending the time things are sorted out with her parent, Mr. Christopher Oshi.”
The letter was signed by Muh’d Hadi Aliyu, Acting Director, Da’awah Council, Education Department, for Chairman. Blessing, or Hajara, has not returned to her parents, or her uncle, since her ‘conversion’ to Islam in August 2014. Since that unfortunate development, her family members have borne their agony in silence. But they decided to speak out, for the first time, in an encounter with our correspondent in Enugu.
Anybody that is meeting Mr. Christopher Oshi, Blessing’s father, and his wife, Elizabeth, for the first time would not need to be told that the couple are suffering. Agony, grief, despair, helplessness – these were literally written on their faces, as our correspondent observed at a meeting with the couple in Enugu.
The couple were in company with a younger relative, Ajuro Felix, during the encounter. It was difficult getting the couple to speak up – two years of helpless suffering had taken a heavy toll on them. They appeared beaten and dejected. It was obvious that the shocking developments surrounding their daughter had equally affected their health. Christopher, the father, was apparently battling some major health challenges, and he admitted that sleepless nights and unceasing anxiety over the fate of his daughter had robbed him of any form of joy over the last two years.
The man nearly broke down in tears at the commencement of the encounter with our correspondent, when he was asked to narrate what happened to Blessing. After some awkward moments, the aggrieved father said, “Blessing is my third child, and in 2012, she was taken to Jos, Plateau State by my brother, Jonathan Michael. She is 13 years old now. “At some point in 2014, my brother told us that Blessing was missing but after some time, he informed us that she had been found. “He said she was with a Shariah court in Bauchi State, and they wrote to accuse him (my brother) of refusing to allow Blessing to become a Muslim.”
But he explained that, even though her family members had gone to meet her where she is living in in Bauchi, she had refused to return home. For reasons that are not clear, she insisted on remaining with the Da’awah Council, having ‘converted’ to Islam. Continuing, Blessing’s father said the initial joy expressed by the family over reports that the missing girl had been found quickly turned to shock and despair when she refused to return home.
“My brother said he went to the Sharia Commission, where Blessing was being kept, in Bauchi, to bring her home, but she refused to follow him. “When my brother insisted on taking her with him, they asked if he was her father, he said no and they said he should bring the father,” he added. Following the development, Michael came to the village and returned to Bauchi with Blessing’s father and two other men, including Ajuro Felix. Felix, who took over the narration at this point, said they were shocked when they saw Blessing dressed in a hijab in Bauchi. Felix said, “Three of us travelled from the village to Bauchi – Blessing’s father, me and one of our in laws, Sylvester Ozoanya. “When we got to Bauchi, after a long wait, she was brought out from the Sharia court where she was being kept.
“They asked if she knew us, she identified us but refused to follow us home. “We were there for about seven hours – at a point, while we were pleading with her to come home with us, we called a man of God to pray so that she could change her mind. “But Blessing did not change her mind, she was not saying anything reasonable – she just kept saying that she didn’t want to go back home with us.” Felix added that, at a point during the bitter encounter with Blessing in Bauchi, the father, exasperated at the strange and shocking development, scolded his daughter, asking if that was how she would repay him for all he had done for her.
“The father even said that if she wished to marry any one of those people she is staying with in that place, she should bring the person along and he would give his consent and bless the union when we got to the family house in the village, but she refused,” Felix said.
He added that they were not told how Blessing came to Bauchi from Jos. “An official of the Sharia court, who came to speak to us, said that Blessing came to them to complain that her uncle in Jos did not allow her to convert to Islam. “My uncle is a Christian and Blessing follows him and his family to church regularly so we can’t understand what happened.” However, Felix hinted that Blessing might be under a spell. “We were told that it was on the day of the Sallah celebration that she ran away from Jos to Bauchi. “From what we were told, she was with her uncle’s children and they went out to the street where people were saying ‘Happy Sallah, Happy Sallah’, somebody gave her meat to eat and immediately she ate the meat, she abandoned the children and went away with the people that gave her the meat,” Felix said.
Surprisingly, Blessing’s father told our correspondent that the development was not reported to the police and other security agencies. Also, the matter was not brought to the attention of any human rights organisation. However, he explained that the family had visited several prayer houses in their quest for a solution. Christopher Oshi, Blessing’s father, said he got wind of what transpired in a similar case involving Ese Oruru, who was rescued from abduction and forced marriage after a publication by The PUNCH.
Calling on the relevant authorities to come to his aid, the man, who was shaking uncontrollably all through the encounter with our correspondent, said, “It pains me a lot because she (Blessing) is my daughter. “If it was possible, I would have rescued her myself – I would have rescued her with force. “The entire family is in pains, nobody is happy, all her siblings are sad. “They cry whenever they remember her. “The most painful part is that there is no communication between us and her, no phone calls, no letters, nothing.
“She was a very well behaved girl with a lot of promise – she was in primary five when this thing happened, she would have been in secondary school by now. “I need help – Nigerians should help me to rescue my child because I am helpless.” Blessing’s mother, Elizabeth, who was moved to tears while her husband spoke, said she was having sleepless nights. Elizabeth said the family have been praying for Blessing’s return. “I am not happy, but we have been praying for her return. We have met many men of God for prayers,” she said. Efforts to get in touch with the Bauchi State Shariah Commission, and the Da’awah Council, Bauchi, were not successful at the time of filing this report.
The Bauchi State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Haruna Mohammed, said he would get back to Saturday PUNCH when contacted, but he didn’t do so as of the time of publication of this story. The Press Secretary of the Bauch State Government, Abubakar Alsadique, said the state government had nothing to do with the matter and that the Sharia body should speak for itself.
“We don’t have anything to do with the Sharia commission. We don’t have their contact. We have not heard of this story and we’re being sincere with this. We don’t want to get involved in this case. The Sharia body should speak for itself,” he said.