MY NAME IS ZAHRA BELLO. I AM FROM TARABA STATE. I AM 39 YEARS OLD. I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE MY DIVORCE DIARIES WITH YOU.
I met Aliyu when he was a corper. He was serving in my Local Government. We met at the night Islamiyya I went to, he volunteered to teach hadith classes after isha prayer. All the girls in my class liked Malam Aliyu though I wasn’t particularly interested actually I pitied him. This educated man that government had sent to the dense bush of Taraba to serve the nation. I was just 19 years old, fresh out of secondary school, naive and inexperienced.
After some time, I noticed malam Aliyu looking at me in funny ways. I confided in a friend who told me that there were rumors everywhere that malam Aliyu was in love with me. I couldn’t believe it! So the whole school knew he was looking at me in that kind of way. I was angry; the Fulani girl in me wanted revenge. So I confronted him and to my surprise he didn’t deny it, this annoyed me even more. Actually it was a mixed feeling of shame, anger and annoyance.
‘Zahra’u matar wata, I like you, you don’t like me?’
I was speechless. I couldn’t even look at him again,I just turned around and went home. Up to this point in my life, I had not had a boyfriend or a suitor. I always assumed that when I became of age I would marry my cousin or someone related to me, you know the Fulani way. I had never thought of a man finding me attractive or if a man’s look meant he liked me. I was confused,what did he mean by ‘liking’ me?
I found out soon enough when Malam Aliyu came to ask my father for permission to start talking to me. He told my father he wanted to marry me and would like to be given the opportunity to talk to me and get permission. He wanted us to get married in two months, if I agreed, and we were to leave for Kaduna. Honestly I expected my father to say no, because we typically did not marry non Fulani men, especially Hausa men. But to my shock and surprise my father agreed.
I was summoned, before my father, Malam Aliyu and his two uncles. My father spoke to me and informed me. He asked me if I would be interested in seeing malam Aliyu. I said yes, though I was not sure. And just like that I was engaged to malam Aliyu. A lot of my family members were unhappy with what my father had arranged. I wasn’t sure I was happy with the arrangement but as an obedient daughter I had no choice but to do as he wished. My cousins teased me to no end about marrying an uncultured ‘hausajo’. After two months of courtship, malam and his family came to fulfill all the marriage rites. That’s how I married my Islamiyya teacher,and that is how my life with Aliyu began.
At first it was difficult to understand him,he was free and expressive. I didn’t understand that a man had feelings. The first 5 years of our marriage we were really poor. We struggled before we found our feet financially . Though he was a qualified architect, it was a bit difficult for him to keep a job. And when he kept the job the money wasn’t enough. In our second year of marriage I got pregnant. Aliyu did not welcome the idea. He said we were not financially stable enough to have a child. He wanted an abortion. We couldn’t afford one so he decided we should sell my gold jewellery to finance the abortion.
I knew abortion was haram. I could not believe that Aliyu, someone who had taught in an Islamiyya even knew the word. He said he knew a doctor that would help us to do it. His reasoning was we could not bring a child into the world if we couldn’t take care of it. He told me that Allah would understand, and as his wife I had to do what he wanted. I was so depressed and torn. I knew that I would not escape regretting aborting this pregnancy. I feared Aliyu at this point ,the way he casually mentioned abortion sent chills down my spine.
With my pregnancy in its 9th week, I lay bleeding in a dingy room in Narayi. It had been done. The physical pain could not compare to the emotions I was feeling. I went home and Aliyu nursed me back to health while we continued to struggle. In the meantime he said we could not be intimate till we were financially stable, since according to him I was too fertile. This is when we stopped sleeping in the same bedroom. He literally threw me out of his bedroom in the middle of the night. Our apartment was a bedroom with a small living room in a face me I face you compound in unguwan kanawa. We had one couch and a small rug. We didn’t even have a television in those days.
We lived like that for 2 years. Struggling to make ends meet. And I was struggling not to lose my mind. I was young and beautiful yet my husband treated me like a house help and I couldn’t speak up or complain. But I was slowly beginning to question myself. Aliyu kept saying our sacrifice would be worth it. I prayed he would be proved right.
After a while things completely changed. We moved to a 3 bedroom house in malali GRA, he even bought land at Ungwan Rimi. He wanted to build a huge house for me, he said, to compensate me for all the struggles in Unguwan Kanawa. And he kept his promise. After 4 long years, I finally became a mother. I had a bouncing baby boy. I was happy and relieved that the abortion had not interfered with my fertility. Everything seemed fine until Aliyu started complaining about me. He openly complained about my lack of exposure. His friends all thought he married below his class, they urged him to get a new wife and he agreed with that. He started to treat me like a plague. He would put me down in public, in front of my inlaws, in front of his friends and he just did not stop.
After everything I had been through with this man, he could not even treat me with any respect. Worse, he banned me from going home to Taraba to see my family. He banned me from going anywhere. I had no friends, except for his friends’ wives and they all looked down on me as a village girl. He said he was ashamed of me; he called me a disgrace, an embarrassment, a stain on his life. I only had my son to console me and my younger sister, Gaji, who was staying with me.
All this behaviour confused and hurt me. I kept asking myself if this was the real Aliyu or if it was the money that changed him. I was not sure what had happened. To be sincere I don’t know how I stayed with him for as long as I did. But Allah knows best.
After he completed the house in Unguwan Rimi, I waited to move into the house but he didn’t say anything. I was anxious because our rent was also almost due so I wanted to leave a rented house as soon as possible. But my husband had other plans.
I will never forget that day, It was a Sunday he came home around 5pm in the evening and demanded to have me. Excitedly I quickly prepared to meet him. I thanked God for touching my husband’s heart but little did I know he was about to break it to pieces.
After we had done the deed, I lay on his chest, thanking God silently when Aliyu dropped the bomb on me. ‘Zahra you have been a wonderful wife, I am lucky to have been your husband’
My heart skipped a beat: ‘lucky to have been?’ ‘Zahra’u listen to me carefully, I have to let you go. I am going to take another wife very soon. I love her. I don’t love you anymore’
I completely froze. I think I stopped breathing. I pinched myself. This had to be a dream. No way
‘Zahra’u you cannot be my wife again because now I am on another level, I am a wealthy man now. I need an exposed and sophisticated woman to complement my lifestyle’
I just stared. I did not know what to say. How could someone do this? After everything we had been through he could tell me this sort of nonsense, after making love to me? What the hell did he think he was doing?
I couldn’t say a word as I watched him get dressed and leave the room. I was dazed. I was just floating throughout the following week. I thought the worst had happened until…
My husband went to Taraba to inform my parents that he had caught me in another man’s arms and therefore our marriage was over! He lied to my parents that I had been an adulterous wife. My father almost died from shame. He had a stroke and is still bedridden to this day. My mother came to Kaduna, with my divorce letter in hand and told me everything. I was stunned. I could not believe it.
My mother advised me to start packing so we could start the long journey back home but I refused. I was not going to go anywhere. I had been docile long enough. I had been quiet long enough. I refused to leave. Disappointed and hurt my mother left for Jalingo with my sister Gaji.
I stayed in Kaduna. I started selling off his cars and watches. He had abandoned me at this point. I had no means of sustenance. I was unskilled, semi educated and I had been used and dumped. I thought that was the only way to get back at him. But Aliyu is a different kind of devil, he got policeman to come and arrest me. My son was forcefully taken from me; I was forcefully taken and beaten at the police station. In the end, I had to agree that I would leave Kaduna for good. I had to agree to leave without my precious son. I had no choice, I was the weak one, and I had nobody to fight for me. No one would fight for an adulteress. No one would fight for a village girl.
It has been 7 years since I left Kaduna. I have no access to my son. Aliyu has moved on to Abuja and was even a minister in the previous government. I am back to the village. I have no respect from anyone because I have been labelled an Adulteress. The only way forward for me is to remarry but no one will marry an unfaithful woman. My reputation is in tatters. Everybody believes Aliyu because he is the strong one. Because he is the man. I cannot defend myself against his word.
The biggest lesson I have learnt is that as a woman you must develop and strengthen yourself to face the challenges of life. I find myself in this position because I was the weak, dependent one. If I had any economic or educational power, I would have been able to fight for my son. I would not have been reduced to the position I am in now. Always make sure you have something doing, so that your husband will value you and not treat you like a burden.
Thank you for reading my story. I hope my fellow women will learn from my experience.
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Names have been changed to protect the identity of the narrator and other individuals in the story.
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