Hajia Titi Atiku Abubakar is the most well known of former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakars wives. In his biography, ATIKU: The Story Of Atiku Abubakar, late Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba revealed how both of them met at Idi-Iroko in 1969 and hit it off from there. Below are excerpts of the story culled from Atiku’s biography. It is interesting. It reveals the soft side of Atiku who is the flagbearer of the PDP for 2019 Presidency.
Atiku joined the Customs and Excise Department as a Cadet Assistant Preventive Superintendent on June 30, 1969. His Service Number was 7370.
He was sent for training at the Police College in Ikeja and at the Customs Training School in Ebute Metta, Lagos. The training programme at the Police College was jointly organised for Police and Customs cadets.
Coming to Lagos was a remarkable experience for Atiku. For the first time in his life, he was venturing South, the other half of the country, which he heard was different in many ways from what is obtainable in the North. With all the negative stories they had been told about the south, some of the recruits from the North were not comfortable about going to Lagos.
Atiku was curious about Lagos. He had heard so many unpalatable and frightening stories about the city, which then served as the capital of Nigeria. It was not a city for the lily-livered people, he was told. It was, however, a place of possibilities. Money could be lost as quickly as it was made. He has always loved travelling and seeing new places. He believed that experiences in such a big and impersonal city as Lagos would further enrich his life.
Surprisingly, he found the city peaceful and fascinating. City life was fast, vibrant, but merciless and crazy at times. He loved the freedom it offered a restless soul like him. Atiku visited the Lagos beach and went clubbing at the then reigning night clubs such as (Kakadu, Gondola, Caban Bamboo and Fela Kuti’s Africa Shrine).
He went to the stadium to watch soccer matches, frequented cinema houses to watch a staple of cheap Indian romance movies, Chinese martial art films and Cow Boy Western celuloid . He also visited friends and colleagues and attended weekend social parties. He loved the freedom Lagos offered him and the seemingly limitless pleasure of city life. He was determined not to miss out on anything not prohibited by his religion.
While still in training school, Atiku met and became friends with Idris Yusuf, then a staff of Bank of the North in Lagos. Yusuf persuaded Atiku and his classmates to open accounts with the bank at 118/120 Broad Street, Lagos. As a young Customs Officer, Atiku earned Four Pounds, Fifteen Shillings and Six Pence per month. He managed to save part of his meagre paycheck and invested as much as one pound every month, with the help of Yusuf.
Atiku gave Yusuf a standing instruction to buy shares of companies which in his opinion were doing well at the time. “Atiku has always been a shrewed investor and businessman. It was, therefore, not surprised that he later became a wealthy man.
He was always interested in using money to make more money”, Yusuf said in an interview.
At the end of his training, Atiku was posted to ldi Iroko as officer-in-charge of baggage. His unit examined all baggage passing through the border to see if there were duty-able goods and if they were, assess the duty to be paid. Located on Nigeria’s Western borders with the Benin Republic, Idi Iroko was until the mid 1970s when Seme border post was built, the only entry and exit point for West Coast travellers and goods.
It was one of the busiest border posts in Nigeria. An informal trade mostly run by West African women thrive between Nigeria and other West African countries and the traders mostly used Idi Iroko as their entry and exit point. Besides, thousands of people with family and cultural ties arbitrarily pass through this border post every day.
All these factors raised the profile of ldi Iroko as a crucial border post in the county. Atiku worked with over 100 colleagues at ldi Iroko, collecting duties on imported and exported goods, checking the entry and exit of banned items, and arresting, detaining and prosecuting smugglers.
The war ended while Atiku was still at Idi Iroko. It became his responsibility and those of his colleagues to handle and process of re-entry of thousands of Igbo refugees who were returning from neighbouring countries to Nigeria.
Atiku also found love at Idi Iroko. He was in the office one late afternoon, in 1969 when his eyes caught a pretty young girl, who seemed very distraught over the action of his colleagues at the screening points. He sent someone to call her. That girl was a 19-year-old Titilayo Albert and her cousin, Wosilat Akinsanya, entered Atiku’s office as he wanted to know what the problem was between them and his colleagues.
Titi, looking very upset and frustrated, told him that she had been asked to pay One Pound and Seven Shillings (Nigeria was then still using Pounds and Shillings as medium of exchange – a legacy of British colonialism) duty on four parcels of cloth which she had received as gifts from an aunt in Cotonou in Benin Republic, who sold cloths. She had argued that since the goods were not in commercial quantity, she should be allowed to bring them into the country without paying any duty. The officers, who assessed them vowed to confiscate the cloths if she did not pay. She said she was a school girl and could not afford such a heavy duty. Atiku asked, half jokingly, what would happen if he paid the duty.
“When will you be able to repay me?” He asked, wanting to know.
“I don’t know”, Titi said. “My mother will not allow me to travel again until next year when I will visit my aunt again”.
Atiku gave one of his assistants two Pounds to pay the duty. The officer returned with the change which Atiku handed over to Titi. The two women were happy and appreciative. Before they left, Atiku took Titi’s name and address and asked if he could visit her. Titi said her mother was too strict and that she would not take kindly to his presence in her house.
She thanked him for his assistance and then left. Although she was touched by such an unusual act of kindness from a stranger, Titi did not think much about it again until a few days later when one of her brother’s friends known as Ajibade came to call her from her house.
“He said the Customs Officer we met at Idi Iroko was looking for me”, Titi remembered. She asked Ajibade why, Ajibade said he did not know.
Titi was then living with her mother at 29, Berkeley Street downtown Lagos. Her father, Domingo Albert, came from Ilesha (now in Osun State) and had settled in Togo as thousands of other emigrants from the area. Titi grew up in Lagos and attended St. George’s Primary School, Falomo, and St. Mathias’ Primary School, Lafiagi. For high school, she was sent to a convent school, St.Mary’s Grammar School in Iwo, then in Western State. Her family expected her, after graduating in 1969, to proceed immediately to a university or any other higher institution. They wanted her to be strong and independent in life.
Ajibade led her to a section of the house where Atiku and his friend from Bank of the North, Idris Yusuf, were patiently waiting. After exchanging some pleasantries, Yusuf went straight to the point.
He said there were two kinds of people in the world – the deceitful ones and the honest and truthful others. ‘Atiku’, Yusuf said, fell into the latter category. His friend, Yusuf ,went on to say, would want to marry Titi and that he was serious about it. When he finished, Titi was too shocked to say much. She was confused. Marriage was not on her mind at the time. She was interested in higher education. Atiku promised to look after her and sponsor the rest of her education.
Unknown to Titi, on the day they met at Idi Iroko, an inner voice told Atiku he had met his wife. This inner voice had never led him astray.
He was sure he heard right. At that time also, he was running away from an older woman, who wanted to marry him by force.
Titi refused to make any commitment by the end of that first visit.
Atiku, who had left most of the talking to Yusuf, invited her to a football match that he was going to watch at the Onikan stadium.
“No, I can’t. What will I tell my mother?” Titi asked. She said she was not interested in it and that she did not even know where the stadium was located. The two friends rose to go with Atiku looking somehow disappointed.
They returned the following day after work. Titi still did not know how to respond to the marriage proposal. She knew her mother would not react very well to it. ‘I was very close to my mother. I was her queen. She wanted the best for me”, Titi remembered.
When the two friends were leaving, they insisted Titi should see them off. Titi brought a visiting friend along. They got into Atiku’ Peugeot 404 car with registration number LS 7194 (It was his first car in life). They went as far as Yaba. By the time she came back home, her mother was already looking for her. Titi had never been far away from her before. She had to lie that she had accompanied a friend to see another friend somewhere on Lagos mainland. She could not bring home the money Atiku gave her. She kept it with her cousin , Francisca Thompson in Yaba. Not quite one week after, a friend visited Titi’s sister, Georgina Atiba, and said she had seen Titi in Yaba and was wondering what she was doing there. Atiba sent for her to explain what she was doing in Yaba. Titi said, with a straight face, that she was not the one that was sighted in Yaba. They were not entirely convinced. From that moment, her mother and sister started suspecting that something was going on in Titi’s life.
Atiku’s visits became fairly regular. Every evening after work, he would drive to Lagos, spend the night in the city and return to Idi Iroko early the following morning. He wanted to spend more time with Titi, who was beginning to take him more seriously. She admired his persistence, his quiet demeanour and kindness. It was her first close encounter with someone from Atiku’s part of the country. She was fascinated and at the same time nervous about sharing her life with someone from a culture and a worldview so different and unfamiliar to a Lagos girl. Atiku said he had been attracted to her by her beauty and innocence. “She was quiet and honest. She was not your typical Lagos girl”, Atiku said.
Information soon got to Titi’s mother that a certain Hausaman had been coming to see her daughter. She wanted to know if it was true.
Titi confirmed the rumour and then broke the news of Atiku’ s marriage proposal to her. “My mother cried. She called on several people to talk to me not to marry a Hausaman (Out of sheer ignorance, Hausa has become the generic ethnic identity for anyone from Northern Nigeria). My mother was worried about me ending up in a polygamous home”, Titi said. “My sister was worried too that I was plunging into marriage so soon after secondary school”.
Those opposed to the relationship constantly dredged up ethnic slurs and prejudices to convince Titi not to dare it. No member of her family had married outside their ethnic enclave. They, therefore, could not understand why Titi wanted to go up North. For many people on Lagos Island, the world began and ended on that small, crowded and island. They disdainfully referred to some places on the mainland Lagos a “farm settlements”. When Titi told her mother that Atiku is from Yola, she said she had never heard of the place before. She became even more convinced that her daughter was going astray. “It is not Hausa Kano, not Hausa Kaduna, not Hausa Zaria or Hausa Sokoto, but Yola. Where in the world is Yola?” her mother asked.
She was convinced that her daughter was going to get lost in some remote and lonely Northern outpost. Her mother and sister enlisted assisted more people to talk Titi out of what seemed to them a crazy idea. Some of them said Titi was under the spell of some Hausa charms that Atiku was alleged to have cast on her. The family was convinced that Titi did not know what she was doing any more.
Atiku personally came to Titi’s mother to convince her that he had good intentions towards her daughter. She refused to give her consent.
He brought friends such as Adamu Yaro, Wakil Nanawa, Mohammed Koiranga Jada, a childhood friend from Jada and a colleague in the Customs, and Abdullahi Jika, a Police Officer and a brother to his high school friend, Mohammed Mana Mubi, to beg Titi’s mother, but the woman was unyielding.
Atiku then decided to do something radical He told Titi to get ready to accompany him to Ikoyi Registry. They were going to get married with or without parental consent. They loved each other, and they wanted to be together. He felt they had exhausted all explorable sources to get parental consent and blessing. Atiku did not tell his family in Kojoli and Jada. His mother and aunt were always sending him photographs of eligible women to choose from. He did not like that.
He wanted to choose his own wife, someone he loved and really cared about. He did not want a woman to be imposed on him. He would present Titi as a fait accompli to the people of Jada and Kojoli.
In December 1971, Titi and Atiku secretly got married at the Ikoyi Registry. As they drove back to Berkeley Street after the ceremony, the new couple ran into Titi’s mother and Atiku turned round and zoomed off in the opposite direction to avoid being seen by her. He finally dropped Titi near the house and went away. Before leaving home that morning, Titi had sought and got permission to attend a friend’s wedding. But her mother was suspicious of Titi’s meticulous preparations and her choice of a special dress, a pair of shoes, handbag and other accessories. She assured herself that Titi would not dare give herself away to a man without her blessing.
Two weeks after the wedding, the Lagos Weekend, an entertaining weekly tabloid, devoted to salacious divorce and wedding stories, reported the Titi-Atiku marriage as one of those recently contracted at Ikoyi Registry. Someone took a copy of the publication to Titi’ s sister and she was shocked that her younger sister could do a thing like that without her knowledge. She threw Titi’s possessions out of the house.
Titi gathered them together and headed for Yaba to live temporarily with her cousin, Wosilat Akinsanya. The following day, she went to see Atiku’s friend, Abdullahi Jika. She wanted Jika to inform her husband about her sister’s action.
Unknown to her, Atiku had taken off for Kojoli in his Peugeot 404 car that weekend. The journey ended after a serious crash between Oyo and Ogbomosho. Atiku was speeding and had lost control while trying to overtake another vehicle. The car somersaulted several times and landed in the bush. Atiku, surprisingly, escaped without injuries, but the people in the other vehicle were wounded and evacuated to the hospital. Atiku’s car was a write off. He called off the trip and returned to Lagos. Meanwhile, Jika had led Titi to Berkeley Street to appeal to her sister and mother to take her back. Her mother took her back, but her sister refused to have anything to do with her for a year.
Atiku, Jika and Koiranga Jada begged her, but she was adamant. She felt Titi had gone too far. Atiku brought the album of the wedding to his mother-in-law to make the point that the marriage was already a reality and that it was fruitless making a fuss about it. The old woman was even more devastated by the photographs.
Titi and Atiku visited her father in Togo and told him about their marriage and her mother’s refusal to bless it. Domingo Albert was a liberal, debonair fellow, who did not believe in standing in the way of two young persons in love. He asked for a bottle of Dubonet wine and it was brought. He opened it, poured some libation on the floor, blessed them, and then took Atiku’s hand and joined it with Titi’s and pronounced them husband and wife. He prayed for them to live happily ever after and advised them to ignore those hostile people in Lagos.
It took a year for Titi’s mother and other family members to agree to a traditional Yoruba ceremony to formalise the union. Titi’s people brought an unusually long list of items they wanted Atiku to bring, but he exceeded their expectations. A Muslim Nikkai ceremony followed soon after.
Mariyetu Atta Shodeinde, Idris Yusuf’s mother-in-law, represented Atiku’s mother at the ceremony. When it was time for Titi to leave their Berkeley Street home, her mother cried. Suddenly, it dawned on her that she was losing her daughter. The new couple moved into a three-bedroom Customs-rented flat at Anthony Village to begin a new life after the harrowing epic struggle for the right to live together as husband and wife.