Bilkisu Ahmadu sat on a wooden stool and focused on frying Akara in the bustling Mile 3 area of the city of Gombe. This wasn't the life she had chosen growing up, but circumstances led her here, and she has found solace in it.
On August 26, 2023, even though the Mile 3 area in Gombe was bustling, the 24-year old found it tough to narrate her story. As she put herself together to narrate her sore, abusive marital experience with Prime Progress, the remnant of the utter inhumanity still remained with her.
Ahmadu used to live with her abusive husband in Kalajanga town, Bauchi State, before their marriage ended in February 2022.
For three years, Bilkisu was subjected to cruelty by this man, who fathered her two children. Apart from the daily dosage of physical violence, she was left with intense hunger and deprived of basic needs of life and marriage rights.
“My body still echoes his beatings, and I remember that night when he issued me a divorce letter and kicked me out of the house. He said that I must leave his house at that moment together with the children,” Bilkisu recalled.
Bilkisu is among the 641 million women globally affected by intimate partner violence, according to data from the World Health Organization.
Intimate partner violence is reported as the most prevalent form of violence against women, particularly those aged 15 to 24, who are the worst hit and may also be young mothers like Bilkisu.
Walking away from the past
As she dragged the little children away from the house that fateful night, she was overwhelmed with sorrow and felt tears streaming down her face.
Bilkisu trekked 8 kilometers to the next village with the hope of seeking her father's solace. Unfortunately, both her father and her two stepmothers turned her away.
She admitted, “It was a heartbreaking moment for me. I thought maybe if my late mother was alive, she could have accepted me.”
Bilkisu's father wanted her to marry a different person, but she paid deaf ears and settled with another person with whom she thought a blissful matrimonial home was assured.
A few days before their marriage, the father warned her that if anything went wrong, she shouldn't return to his house. Yet Bilkisu still followed her choice and married the person her heart beat for.
Some weeks after the wedding, a series of struggles unfolded for Bilkisu. After every misunderstanding, the husband will end up beating her and keeping her starving for days.
“The people I thought would have supported me refused to do so. My father said I should find another place to live, but not in his house. I felt alone with no one to turn to,” she said with a trembling voice while reflecting on those bitter days.
The following morning, Bilkisu found herself boarding a bus at the motor park. She used the little money she saved from farm work in Kalajanga to embark on a journey to Gombe. She left behind a challenging life with the hope of finding a new one that would set her free from this bondage that taught her nothing but pain.
Gombe welcomed her with a packet of challenges. She was stranded at the park and knew no one.
“I roamed around the streets of Gombe with a worried heart," Bilkisu shared. "I couldn't continue seeing my children hungry, so I felt I had to find a way out and provide for them."
Receiving kind support
During these challenging times, Bilkisu met Maman Saratu, a kind woman who understood the weight of her pain and extended her a helping hand.
Maman Saratu took Bilkisu to her restaurant, where she's making traditional delicacies for passengers stopping by at the Mile 3 area.
“You will be staying here for now. There's a place where you can sleep with your children. You'll start washing the dishes before you get used to how we cook. If you're focused, you'll gain more strength and rebuild your life here,” Bilkisu narrated the words of Maman Saratu.
With Maman Saratu's support, Bilkisu became resilient and learned how to prepare various delicacies at the restaurant.
She became inspired to start her own business after Maman Saratu, who was astounded by Bilkisu's incredible growth, several months later.
It was in November 2022 that she accepted the decision to become independent by venturing into making a Nigerian delicacy called akara, a deep-fried bean cake, and pap, a nutritious porridge.
For Maman Saratu, it's a small business idea that holds great potential if utilized in the right way. “I didn't imagine myself as a street vendor before but Maman Saratu believed in me. So I had to believe in myself too even for the sake of my children,” Bilkisu told Prime Progress.
Bilkisu now wakes up early every morning feeling grateful for survival and securing the opportunity to provide for her children. Despite her challenges, she refused to be defined by her past.
Today, as she continues to fry Akara and sell pap with a rekindled spirit while making a daily profit of N3,000 to N4,500, her last wish is to return home and reconcile with her father.
“I want to go and see him and seek his blessings and forgiveness,” said Bilkisu.