For Mary Peter, Treasure Ayuba, is not just a grandson. “He is my blood and flesh. His mother only gave birth to him, but I am his everything. He and I had a strong bond even before he was born,” she said.
For this reason, when her sleep was interrupted around 2am on July 5, 2021 to be told that the young Ayuba, who had just turned 12 three days earlier, was abducted from his school dormitory, Mrs Peter broke into tears.
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“I rushed to wake his mother up and the rest of the people in the house. We spent the rest of the night crying and praying before we rushed out to the school at dawn,” she recalled the moment in an interview with Daily Trust Saturday in the family’s small bungalow in Kaduna’s suburb of Mahuta.
Her grandson was among the 121 students abducted from the Bethel Baptist High School, located at Maraban Damishi in Chikun Local Government of Kaduna State last year.
During the overnight raid, which was allegedly masterminded by a bandit kingpin in the area, Tukur Sharme, two military personnel on guard duty at the school – Private Salisu Rabiu and Ordinary Seaman Bilal Mohammed – were killed.
Ayuba was a new student enrolled into the school to begin his journey for secondary education. The school was chosen because his mother – who finished from the school – believed it would be a good place for moral and educational development of her child. She had no premonition that the boy’s journey in her alma mater would be short and end in tragedy.
For the family, Ayuba’s abduction was a reincarnation of a recent tragedy. Four months earlier, Ayuba’s aunt, Jennifer Peter, was kidnapped from the Federal School of Forestry, Afaka, when gunmen attacked the school on March 5, 2021. She was to stay in captivity for two months before she regained her freedom after much furore and negotiations. Mrs Peter participated in the many protests by parents of the kidnapped students, demanding for rescue of their children. Eventually, Jennifer was released.
“The trauma of her abduction was still with us when this news came. She was kidnapped from school three weeks after her sister, Treasure’s mother, had sustained fracture from an accident. We were not yet out of the shock when this (Ayuba’s abduction) took place.
“She (Jennifer) was the worst hit by that news because she had experienced it. She knew what she went through. She told us that her concern was not the time he would spend with the abductors but the suffering they would go through trekking to the camps. She is still living with the trauma of her own experience,” Mrs Peter said.
For the family, it is the beginning of another chapter of agony, which they had no premonition it could drag this long.
Mrs Peter, who was widowed a year earlier, led the rest of the family to join families of the other abducted students in the quest to bring back Ayuba and his mates.
The fight for freedom
The fight was manifold. The parents deployed everything to see to the freedom of their children – talking to the state government and relevant security agencies and protesting, sometimes under the rain, to draw attention to the plight of their children. They also opened negotiation with the abductors when it appeared that no result was forthcoming from official quarters.
Through a tortuous negotiation and ransom payment, 120 students were released piecemeal over the course of six months. The last freed student, Daily Trust Saturday learnt, was the one released on January 1, 2022.
With every news of freed students, the family of Treasure Ayuba would rush to see if the young boy they adore was lucky to be out of the kidnappers’ den. They always came back in disappointment.
Despite promises and receiving payments, Ayuba has remained with his abductors, to the anguish of the family.
“At another time, my son-in-law volunteered, along with his friend, to go and deliver the ransom. The two of them were held by the kidnappers. They demanded that I pay ransom to before they would release them. They said they knew I had grains, that I should sell and give them the money. What do I do when my in-law and someone else’s children are held captive? I had to sell other things and add to what his family raised. My brother and I went to pay and get them out,” she said.
The family had joined others in prayer crusade for divine intervention. With the school authority and local leadership of the Christian community in the area, parents and other well-wishers engaged in spirited rounds of supplications for months.
Gradually, with more and more victims freed, the prayer group thinned out. Mrs Peter and only a handful of close family members remained consistent.
“I had to call off the prayer sessions because it turned out that only the old man leading the prayers remained with us. His mother was also becoming emotionally drained; every time we went there she would come back depressed. The father is old and sick, so at the end, it was only I and few others, so I asked them to suspend the sessions,” she said.
Beyond the communal prayer sessions, Mrs Peter said she had travelled to many places of worship for special devotions in her quest to get her grandson back.
‘What we miss about him’
In the 13 months since Ayuba’s abduction, the family holds on tight to his memories, signified by his last picture before the incident.
For his mother, Janet Peter, the photo of young Ayuba, snapped on July 3, 2021, a day after his 12th birthday, evokes a strong emotion. That day, she and other members of the family had gone to visit the boy and deliver a cake specially made to commemorate his birthday.
Looking at the photo, which shows Ayuba in his school uniform holding the cake, sets tears rolling down the cheeks of his mother; yet, it is the closest she had been to him in over a year.
Ms Peter said she had fond memories of her son, who she described as her look-alike.
Beyond that, he was a caring son in spite of his young age as he assisted the mother with laundry and dry-cleaning while she was nursing her broken leg.
“When I saw him ironing my cloths I would ask: Why bother when I am not going out in the cloth? But he would say he just wanted me to look good, even while at home.
“Treasure is someone who really cared about everybody in this house, especially my mum. She is not finding it easy,” Ms Peter said in tears.
As disclosed by her daughter, Mrs Janet confessed to having a rough time since the event of July 5, 2021. For her, Ayuba was a “helper” who showed responsibility beyond his age. “He is not just a boy. If you know the meaning of his name, Treasure, you would find him fitting of the name.”
Despite the passing days and months, Ms Peter holds on to a wish for another opportunity to see her son.
‘Student hypnotised, unwilling to return home’
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that there are fears that Ayuba was hypnotised by his captors and indoctrinated him into their wayward lifestyle.
Sources involved with negotiations for his release said the boy may have been influenced by the abductors, making him unwilling to return home.
“During the early days of the abduction, the leader of the kidnappers told the go-between that he liked the boy because of his courage and would want to keep him. We thought they were joking, but they are making that threat real,” a source who didn’t want to be named said.
The proprietor of the Bethel Baptist High School, who is also the president of the Kaduna Baptist Conference, The Rev Ishaya Adamu, confirmed the “reluctance” of the teenager to return home, but said it was not the only reason Ayuba is still with the abductors.
“I am looking for money to go and bring the boy,” he said, explaining that “part of it is the issue of money, but the boy in question has been reluctant to come back home. We have paid money and we sent someone to go and bring the boy, but he was reluctant. But we are still discussing with them. They are expecting us to bring money. They need serious money, but we don’t have it,” he said.
Asked if the boy was acting on his own or being restrained by his captors, Adamu said, “I am not sure this boy can take a decision on his own now. Whatever he is doing there must be influence.”
It’s untrue, we believe he’s willing to come back – Family
But the family of the teenager said it was unbelievable that the boy would choose the criminals holding him over them.
“I don’t believe what they are saying. It is impossible for a 12-year-old who was forcefully taken away. He did not leave to go and join the bandits on his own. People are insinuating different things instead of helping us with prayers.
“Those who spread falsehood and slander us and the little kid instead of helping us with prayer will be shamed. I have a firm belief that the boy would be back and the truth would be known
Mrs Peter expressed anger over what she described as twisted narratives and conspiracy, which she said were generating stigma for them.
Despite many broken promises by the abductors, the family said they would not give up in the fight to get Treasure Ayuba back home.