MAIDUGURI, Nigeria -- It has been more than a year since Allabe Kaku Chibok lost his three daughters because he became a Christian -- paradoxically, he lost custody of them only after his ex-wife died.
An Islamic court in this city in the northern state of Borno granted custody to Chibok's wife's Muslim relatives after a chain of events that began in November 2004, when he allowed his daughters to attend the funeral service of their mother; she had divorced him when he left Islam.
The girls stayed for a week with Muslim relatives at his former wife's house, but when Chibok arrived there to take them to school, he found that a retired female police officer, Hajiya Maryam Aliyu, had helped his ex-wife's Muslim relatives abduct them.
Not knowing the whereabouts of his Christian daughters, Chibok on December 8, 2004 petitioned the Borno State police commissioner, asking that his three daughters be found and rescued from Aliyu.
Chibok, now 50, had kept custody of the children after Malama Botul Grema divorced him in 1996, and when she remarried in 2000 he had maintained custody of Zara, now 14, Fati, now 12, and 11-year-old Aisha.
A member of the Church of Christ in Nigeria in the Gambaru area of Maiduguri, Chibok told the police commissioner that his efforts to rescue the girls had met with the blunt assertion that he was no longer capable of being their father because he had become a Christian.
Police did not recover his daughters, and after four months Chibok on March 9 again reminded the commissioner of the urgent need act, asserting that Aliyu "be ready to face the wrath of law in order to serve as a deterrence to others who may because of sentimental reasons indulge in such acts again."
Maiduguri Muslims had threatened to visit harm on Christians should Chibok not back down from his demand for the return of his daughters.
"I am in this critical circumstance calling upon your humble self to urgently act before any ugly situation that is capable of creating chaos, anarchy or any break-down of law and order that ensues," Chibok wrote. "Frankly, I have done all that is required of a law-abiding citizen in this circumstance."
Sensing danger, the Rev. Joshua Adamu, chairman of the Borno State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, quickly sent an urgent letter to the police commissioner decrying the threat against Christians.
Police still did not act, Chibok told Compass.
"The police commissioner told me that the case of the abduction of my daughters is a family matter and cannot therefore be handled by the police," Chibok said. "The refusal of the police to intervene is just because the police commissioner is a Muslim too."
Aliyu and the family of his former wife then summoned Chibok to appear before a sharia (Islamic) court, Borno Upper Sharia Court I, to rescind his claims for custody. Aliyu and two Muslim relatives of his former wife, Hajiya Asabe and Muhammed Grema, filed claims against Chibok asking for custody of the girls.
Appearing before the court, Chibok recalled how the girls were taken from him. "I don't know whether the children are alive or not," Chibok testified.
Aliyu admitted to the court that she abducted the girls in accordance with their mother's death-bed wishes. In the hospital, Botul Grema had asked Aliyu that the Christian girls be taken away from their father so they would be raised as Muslims.
Aliyu also told the court that the Muslim community authorized her to take the girls into her custody, saying Islamic leaders "authorized me to come with the children to my house, and that they would come and receive them from me," Aliyu testified.
Islamic lawyers called for Aliyu and the Muslim relatives of Chibok's ex-wife to obtain custody of the three girls, as under Islamic law the girls were now Muslims and could not be allowed to live with their Christian father.
On August 4, 2006, Borno Upper Sharia Court I ruled that under Islamic law a non-Muslim father cannot be a custodian to his children if the mother of his children is Muslim -- or, in this case, if the deceased mother's relatives are Muslim.
"Based on the principles of Islam, the father has no right to keep the children," ruled Alkali Usman Gambo. "The father cannot be the custody [sic] of his children until it becomes [clear that there is] nobody from the mother's relative[s] before the burden will be shifted on the father."
Facing the bitter contradiction that he had retained custody of the children at divorce but lost them at his wife's death, Chibok told Compass that he is hoping Christians and the Nigerian government will help him recover his daughters.
"I appeal to my Christian brethren to assist in rescuing my daughters," he said. "I also appeal that those who can influence the Nigerian government to secure the release of my daughters should please do so."