Meet the Sani sisters, Identical Twins that defy Biometrics
Abuja-based Hajia Ameena Hassana Sani and Hajia Hadiza Hussaina are identical twin sisters with a difference.
They look so remarkably alike that telling them apart has been one big task for everyone, who comes across, including their parents, since they were born more than 50 years ago.
According to experts, identical twins represent a real torture test for biometrics. This holds true in the lives of the two sisters, whose fingerprints have also confused data capture machines over the years.
As if that is not enough, they exhibit certain physiological and personality traits that sometimes make them seem like two computer monitors connected to one central processing unit.
For instance, one would start a sentence and the other would finish it, or both would start the same sentence at the same time with the same choice of words and all the mannerisms and gestures that follow.
“This thing is in the psyche,’’ Ameena said, “even we can’t explain it. I may be thinking of asking her a question regarding what I am thinking, and she will just give me the answer before I let it out.
“And I would yell `stop entering my brain, you know, stop reading my mind. These are the things that happen to us,’’ she said. “It is telepathic!’’ Hadiza added.
Sharing their amazing story, the Sani twins recalled how, on a particular day, they confounded their foster mother when they inadvertently dressed exactly the same way at different locations.
Hadiza narrated: “There was this time I was here in Abuja and my sister was in Lagos. We were to go to Kaduna.
“So, that Friday morning I left Abuja, and arrived in Kaduna by road, while my sister boarded her flight from Lagos. I met Mama in her living room and after the usual greetings; she said she needed to make salad, but that she forgot to buy a certain vegetable.
“I said no problem, I would go, and then I left. About 30 minutes later, my sister arrived home from the airport and met mama in the living room.
“The old woman started ranting, `what is wrong with you?! It is almost time to serve the salad, and you have not gone to buy the vegetable. What are you waiting for?’
“My sister said, `hellooo, excuse me mama, what vegetables?’ The woman looked at her with surprise and said, `are you going senile at your early age? You and I just finished talking about buying vegetable for salad. What are you waiting for? Go and buy it!
“She said, `mama, I am just coming in from the airport’. The old woman exclaimed, `La illah, illah lah!’
“Mama stepped back, and looking more closely she said, `What! Do you know your sister is dressed exactly the same way, up to earrings?! It was amazing.’’Both mom and daughter burst out laughing.
Till date, the twins cannot explain why they both have crooked baby fingers pointing in the same direction, or why they unconsciously interlock their fingers while walking.
Another surprise: they share and swap illnesses. While Ameena is prone to stomach upsets, her twin sister is often down with backaches.
“At some point, we interchange the ailments. And my sister would say `give me back my backache and take your stomach upset’.
“We started wondering why. Up till now, we don’t know why,’’ Ameena said.
During the interview for this article, the writer observed that Hadiza, the younger twin by minutes, is taller than her sister.
When this was pointed out to them, Ameena said anatomical variation is something they also constantly swap between them. It is either one gets taller today and shorter tomorrow or they level up.
Perhaps, the weirdest thing about the Sani twins is their fingerprints, which seem to be identical as well.
Indications to this effect emerged during their biometric capturing for voter registration in 2011; the National Identity Number (NIN), and the Bank Verification Number (BVN). On each occasion, Ameena’s registration failed, while her sister’s sailed through.
Hadiza said: “The first time we were captured was in 2011 during voter registration. Since we were both in Kaduna, we decided to register there. We went for capturing and when the list came out, my name was there in our ward, but hers was missing.
“We made enquiries and eventually got someone to inform Attahiru Jega (then Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission) that there seemed to be a problem with the capturing of twins, particularly identical twins. I think they didn’t take us seriously. We thought the belief then in INEC was that no two people could have similar fingerprints.
“Then we both came to Abuja to capture for the National Identity Number. We both did it at Radio House; I sat in front of one system, she sat in front of another. We were captured and given our slips. The list came out, but only mine was there.’’
Ameena added: “I think it was due to the alphabets. Her name starts with H, mine A. So, the first alphabet that comes in gets knocked off. We then started making enquiries and making a case not just in voter registration but also in National ID.
“Then we also experienced a similar problem with BVN. We operate in the same bank, but different accounts. It was a tug of war. Each time we went to the bank they would say problem with our BVN.
“So, finally we said we wanted to speak to the person in charge at CBN. We had to explain to the lady that we were two persons, not one. Eventually, our bank had to make a case to CBN that we were a peculiar set of twins. That eventually got that sorted. These are some of the strange things we experience.’’
Born in Sokoto to a Hausa-Fulani father and a Yoruba mother, Ameena and Hadiza who have been inseparable since birth, attended the same primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
It was difficult for their parents to separate them due to a combination of the fear of losing them and the traditional superstitions about twins.
They were born on 1 September 1965, into a family with a history of non-survival of twins. Considering their traditional backgrounds, their parents and relatives believed there were some rituals that had to be done to make them survive.
“ And then they noticed something: if one ran temperature, say around noon on a day, by evening the other will also run temperature.
“That strengthened their belief that twins had some spiritual powers, and those things guided the way they treated us, and the decision to keep us together,’’ Hadiza explained.
With keeping them together came the big challenge of identifying them. Even their parents couldn’t tell them apart. As a way out, they had to be tagged with wrist bands in different colours (blue for Ameena and red for Hadiza).
Hadiza recalled some instances where she took advantage of the confusion to escape punishment for offences committed both at home and in secondary school where they were initially placed in the same class.
“While in secondary school (FGC Sokoto), I used to be like a tomboy, very brazen, I didn’t have a lot of fears. I got into a lot of fights with boys. I fought a boy, the teacher came and broke it up, but the boy decided to report to the principal, who sent for me.
“I went and narrated my version. He warned me against fighting next time. I left thinking up how to get back at the guy for reporting me. So, I put some dead insects in his plate, including one that was not quite dead, because he had phobia for insects.
“The boy knew it was me, so he came and attacked me. I fought him, fell him to the ground and he went to report me again. From that point on I had made up my mind that the principal and I would not see again.
“The principal kept asking for me and finally he went to Ameena and threatened to punish her. But my sister started crying, insisting she didn’t know what the man was talking about. The teacher intervened and said it was possible because we were identical twins, and that it could be that my twin was responsible.
“I decided that if I was caught and sent to the principal’s office, my only saving grace would be to also cry and deny it. So, when I was eventually presented to the principal I denied it in tears. In order not to punish the wrong person, since he couldn’t get either of us to admit, he let us go with a warning.’’
Thereafter the sisters were split and placed in different classes – Hadiza remained in Form 1A, while Ameena was taken to Form 1B.
The similarity also reflects in their career choice, which has led them both to the media world. While Ameena currently heads the multi-media unit of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Hadiza is with the Voice of Nigeria (VON), both parastatals under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.
It all started at Model Primary School, Sokoto, where they were both in the debate club. Endowed with tellingly sharp tongues and quick minds, the girls were always found arguing about issues and driving home their points.
Their late uncle, who was then working at a television station, decided it was time to take it to the next level. The station had just started a children’s debate on television.
“ We went for the first session and the production was wow’’, Hadiza said. “A lot of people started asking for more. At the end of the day it became a routine thing.
“As we grew older, it stuck. Our father wanted us to study what was termed more serious arts like Law, Political Science, Public Administration, but we insisted we wanted to study performing arts, and got our way.’’
That dream took them to the University of Ilorin where they secured admission to study performing arts. Also faced with the challenge of telling them apart, the department later placed them in different units: Ameena in Music and Hadiza in Drama, the twins recalled.
But before then, they had got married after secondary school, with kids: Ameena has three, while Hadiza is blessed with two.
For the Sani twins, breaking up to get married to different men was like taking fish out of water. The bond between them was obviously much stronger than that of marriage.
So, when Ameena’s husband came for her hand in marriage, expectedly Hadiza did not like either the man or the idea of her sister leaving her.
“But I had decided I was OK with him”, the older twin said. “Initially, my sister was like, ‘ it’s ok, take her away. You want to go with him? Ok, fine leave me and go with him’.
“As soon as she also got married, it kind of doused that a bit. But new things came up. We discovered we preferred each other’s company to other persons’.
“My husband found it odd that I wanted to spend more time with my sister. It goes beyond what we could explain.”
Hadiza was also more drawn to her twin sister. Thus it was not difficult for them to divorce their husbands just to be together.
Divorce also provided the needed space for them to return to school. Ameena said, “In our society then, when you finished secondary school that was the highest level of education that was expected of women.
“Although, there were exceptions, about married women who had first degrees and even above at that time too, they were very few and far between.
“But gradually the society embraced girlchild education to whatever level. Some of us had to fight the battle too.
“We decided that since the kids were already there and growing, we needed to further our education. We took that decision and went.”
Interestingly, the Sani twins quarrel a lot, yet they refuse to be separated. They said the quarrels were usually over mundane and petty things as siblings would naturally do, but theirs were even more petty.
“The fight does not last for more than 15 seconds. We might be quarrelling now, and then something happens like breaking news on TV, and the next second we are jumping up and hugging.
“As kids if we had an open fight nobody would want to interfere because there was the tendency for the fight to turn from us to you coming to make peace. It was quite interesting,” Ameena said.
Yet another surprise about the twin sisters are their looks, which offer no clue to their age. At over 50 with 17 grandchildren between them (Ameena has 11, and Hadiza has six, all boys), they look thirtyish in their slim, petite frames.
They attributed the physique to a combination of early child bearing and contentment.
“Contentment makes you young,” Hadiza said. “Early child bearing is another factor,” suggested Ameena. “When you close the chapter of child bearing before 25, I think you retain that structure of youth for the rest of your life.”
Talking about contentment, the sisters said they loved their job to the extent that some persons started seeing them as married to the profession.
According to them, the foundation was laid at the university where they were taught by some of the best academic minds in performing arts, including the late playwright and dramatist Zulu Sofola, who was their Head of Department.
Added to the that was the mentorship they received from veteran broadcasters such as Bode Alalade, Julie Coker, Ruth Benamaisia Opia, among others they described as the creme de la creme of broadcasting at the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), where they did their youth service and later worked for some time.
“A lot of them helped to shape our dedication and willingness to sacrifice for the work, and things like that,” said Ameena.
“And that’s why we did not remarry,” added Hadiza. “The rigours of what we had to do in the office, the children at home and the responsibilities of wife, sister in-law, daughter in-law, can be quite daunting.
“Choose your battle, they say, and so we chose the one we could win.” That was how marriage became the opportunity cost.