By Chioma Okezie-Okeh
Few days to her proposed wedding on December 29, 2019, Josephine Cynthia Onche, a 45-year-old staff of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), told her family that she wanted to visit her fiancé in Akwa Ibom and would be back soon.
But it was the last time her family would see her alive. She simply disappeared! Her remains were found 18 months later, buried in a shallow grave at Adum, in Obi Local Government Area of Benue State. It was alleged that his fiancé, Christopher Akpan and a native doctor, Afolabi Akin Rafiu, who is based in Atum conspired and killed her for money ritual. Both are currently in the custody of the Police Force Intelligence Response Team (IRT), the squad that unravelled the mystery behind the disappearance of late Josephine.
Saturday Sun learnt from police sources that IRT operatives were ordered to investigate the incident when the elder brother of the deceased, Dr Onche reported a case of conspiracy and abduction of his sister against her proposed husband, Christopher Akpan. They had set the wedding date for December 29, 2019.
Few days to the wedding, Akpan had asked her to visit. She went to visit her lover in Akwa Ibom and was declared missing. Akpan was called on several occasions, but he reportedly changed his phone numbers and ran away. Luckily, IRT operatives tracked him down after three months of intensive search.
Meanwhile further investigations revealed that the deceased’s last communication took place in the house of a native doctor, Afolabi, who hurriedly relocated to Oyo few days after Josephine got missing.
Akpan was charged to court after several weeks of denial while a manhunt was declared to find the native doctor, so as to fathom what the deceased was doing in his shrine. The man was later found in Ogun state and, upon interrogation, alleged that it was Akpan that brought the job.
He confessed that he, in connivance with Akpan, killed and buried her after collecting her blood to be used for money ritual inside a calabash. A court order was obtained and Akpan was recalled from the Makurdi Correctional Centre where he was remanded. Both men took IRT operatives on May 27, 2021 to Edi-Anyoga forest in Adum where the decomposed body of Josephine that was buried in a shallow grave was found.
I am innocent
But Akpan has insisted he is innocent of the allegation. He told Saturday Sun that he was in Akwa Ibom on the day that she got missing in Benue State.
“I am a 57-year-old man from Akwa Ibom and a father of five. I lost my wife so many years ago. I am a trader and I buy and sell wooden mortars and pestles. I also sell local instruments. I was initially living in Enugu and Josephine used to bring goods for me from Otukpo in Benue state. She produces mortars in large quantity in her workshop in Benue.
“I started visiting Benue and Josephine helped me to get good deals from other sources if she did not have enough quantity for me to buy. Gradually we became friends and I was sure of eating good food anytime I visited Benue on a business trip. One thing led to the other and we started dating in 2013.
“I now had a good reason to spend few days while I bought my goods. I asked about her husband and she told me that she was divorced. She told me about another man who is an Idoma. She wanted to marry the man but his family refused due to age differences. She had a child for the man and I have seen him severally when he came to visit the child. We became so close and she introduced me to her family in 2015 after we agreed to marry. The marriage was delayed because I lost my mother. She was at the burial and majority of the gifts given to guests was provided by her.
“In 2019, I told her family of my intention to marry their sister and they gave their consent. We have started the process and fixed December 29 for the wedding.
“On December 15, 2019, she called me that she wanted to come to Akwa Ibom and I said no problem. On December 17, she visited and returned on December 19.
“On December 20, she called me that I should lend her money to pay a debt. I sent N50, 000 to her through her Zenith bank account. The next day her phones were switched off. I assumed she felt like switching off her phone and did not bother till her elder brother called me on December 23 and said that Josephine was missing. I panicked and his brother said I should calm down. I wanted to come but the family said that I should hold on a bit. I was in Akwa Ibom throughout that period.
“After Christmas, her brother, the professor called me and asked why I had never visited since I heard that Josephine was missing. I explained to him that I was asked to stay back. He then said that I should come. I was still making plans to come with my family when the Coronavirus lockdown happened,” he narrated.
According to Akpan, while he was waiting to embark on that trip to Benue, policemen from IRT arrested him. “I was later arrested and I kept telling them that I am innocent. Before my arrest, I had gone to the motor park where she entered a bus in Akwa Ibom and saw her name on the manifest. She even used my name as next of kin. I was charged to court and remanded at Makurdi Correctional Centre awaiting trial.
“I was surprised when the police came and took me back to their custody. The next thing, I saw a man who introduced himself as Afolabi and he kept saying that I was the one who contracted her to use Josephine for money ritual.
“On May 27, the police took us into a forest where Afolabi claimed that we buried my late fiancée. In my life, I have not entered such a thick forest even in Akwa Ibom and now someone insisted that I came this far to bury Josephine whom I loved so much. He pointed at a spot and her body was actually buried there.
“It is true that I have met Afolabi, but that was once and in 2017. I had visited my fiancée and helped her to drop off a bag of charcoal at Afolabi’s house. This was the first and last time that I met him.
“Suddenly, he said I was the one who used Josephine for money ritual. She has not done anything wrong to me. I have printed our wedding cards, gone for introduction and even hired a bus to bring guests to the venue. Why should I kill her? I loved her so much and referred to her as my ‘Nkem’. “
On the claim by the police that he was owing the deceased, Akpan said that the reverse was the case. “She was helping me buy a lot of goods from Benue and I sent money to her regularly. Her account statement is there. I do not know if she had any other man friend because I was not living with her. She never asked me to follow her to the house of any native doctor. She was a senior civil servant and very hardworking. She did not need the help of any native doctor to be successful. I dated her for up to seven years and I can attest that she was a good woman.”
On why he went incommunicado for months, Akpan claimed that his phones got spoilt at the time the policemen were looking for him. “My phone was unfortunately faulty when they were looking for me. I am innocent. This man killed my wife and decided to frame me in an attempt to exonerate himself.
“I have only seen him once in my life and I do not have his number. Police should please check our call log.”
He is a liar
The man, Afolabi whose confession to the police led to the end of the 18-month search for the late Josephine, swore that it was Akpan who suggested that the victim be used for money ritual.
“I am a native of Saki in Oyo state. I am 67 years old and married to three wives but only one is alive. I am a native doctor, a farmer based in Benue for years before I fled. I have the natural gift to use herbs to cure any type of ailment and also organise special prayers and sacrifices for people in need. I started in 1981 and I am proud to say that I have helped a lot of businessmen and women to be successful.
“In 2019, the late Josephine came to my shrine in company of one man. She was selling wooden mortars and needed my help so that her business would flourish. I collected N14,000 for the job and asked her to come back in three days. When she returned, she told me of her plans to get married. She asked me to prepare a medicine for her so that she would get pregnant quickly.
“I took the medicine to her house. It was there that I met her fiancé (Akpan). She stepped outside and her fiancé asked me about my job. He said that he wanted to do money ritual and I told him that I did not know how to do it.
“Akpan said that he used his late wife for money ritual but did not make enough money. He was only able to build one house. He called me days later with the late Josephine’s phone and asked if I had got any one. I told him that I have got the phone number of the person.
“Josephine called me in December that I should give her a birth medicine, as she wanted to visit her husband. On December 19 at about 6.30pm, I saw her and her fiancé in Otukpo.
“He later came to my shrine and said that he wanted to use her for money ritual. He said he would give me N5million for my silence,” he stated.
He alleged that it was Akpan that shot the deceased before her blood was extracted for sacrifice. “He told me that he would lie to her that they needed to perform a sacrifice so that what happened to his late wife would not repeat itself. He had a calabash with a python, pigeon and soap. I took him to the forest where he set the three on fire. He gathered the ash and put it in the calabash and left. We agreed to meet there around 10pm that same day.
“At about 10pm, he got there with the late Josephine. I never knew he had a gun with him. He brought a white cloth and spread it on the ground and asked her to kneel down for prayers. Before I could understand what was going on, he shot her on the head. He quickly grabbed the calabash and poured some of the blood gushing out from her head into the calabash. Next, he attempted to set the body on fire and I stopped him. I told him that the smell of the smoke would attract the villagers as the gunshot would only be seen as that of a hunter.
“I ran home and got a hoe, and we dug a shallow grave and buried her. He carried the calabash, late Josephine’s handbag and left. When I got home, I asked him to bring the N5milion that he promised. He promised to give it to me after eight days. He came to my house later that night and gave me N50, 000 and asked me to wait.
“He left and switched off his phones. I decided to move to another area in Otukpo because the ghost of late Josephine was disturbing me. On January 12, an okada man saw me and told me that everyone was looking for the woman. I knew it was time to run when I received another call asking me of her whereabouts. I quickly packed my property and fled to my home town in Saki, Oyo State and changed my phone number.
“I was surprised when I received a call from Benue requesting for medicine. Next, I got another call warning me to destroy my sim card and throw away my phone. I was shocked and ran to Abeokuta. I knew that the person who called must have found out about the incident. I was in Sango Ota at the house of a fellow native doctor, when policemen from IRT arrested me,” he alleged.
On Akpan’s insistence that he is innocent, Afolabi said that the man was lying. “God in heavens knows that I am not the one that killed the woman. I only witnessed the killing and it was Akpan that killed her. The late Josephine was so nice to me and my wife. She has bought plenty things of me. If I knew that she was the one that Akpan wanted to use for money ritual, I would not have allowed him to succeed. I used to do herbal medicine for her and she was very generous. She was the one who brought her fiancée to meet me,” he stated.
We warned her
Elder brother to the deceased, who identified himself as Dr Onche, told Saturday Sun through a phone interview that the family was never in support of the marriage.
“One Akpan came for my sister’s hand in marriage and we never accepted it over the years. But somehow, we did because of the persistence by my sister and a date was fixed for December 29, 2019. In preparation for that marriage, she was invited to Akwa Ibom by the proposed husband and she left on the December 17. She told my mother’s sister that the man invited her over to see where he was preparing for her to stay after the marriage.
“On December 21, 2019, at about 4pm, Akpan called us that he had been trying my sister’s number and it was not going through. We were not apprehensive at first because it could be network or her battery went down. We waited for another day and Christmas was approaching. We went to the police station in Otukpo and we were advised to come back the next day if she was not back.
“After three days, we went to the radio station and announced that she was missing. We called her friends, combed all the bushes and she was not seen. A friend directed me to IRT. It was discovered that my sister left Akwa Ibom on December 19 and went to another local government known as Adum, Obi Local Government Area,” he stated.
Determined to help search for their sister, Dr Onche said they were able to trace her last call to the house of a native doctor. “We met one guy known to us and he said that he saw our sister in October 2019. He said he knew the okada man that normally conveyed her. She told him that they were going to the forest to get logs of wood for her mortar business.
“The okada man confirmed it and took us to Afolabi’s house. This was on January 4 and the man is a native doctor. We were told that he had relocated. We were able to talk to him through phone pretending to be sick. He told us that he is in Shaki, Oyo state.
“Efforts to get him at Oyo also failed, as he had relocated but we were able to get information from a source from Adum that my sister came for spiritual cleansing. I reported the matter to the police and they promised to track him down. Luckily, on May 10, they arrested him in Ogun State.
“It was at the IRT office that he accepted that he killed my sister. He alleged that he did it with Akpan and buried her in the forest. We secured her corpse and have given her a proper burial.”
He said that the family started suspecting Akpan because of his response to the incident. “Akpan notified my family that my sister was missing on Dec 21, and we asked him to come over. He never came. According to him, it was my elder brother who asked him not to come, but my elder brother’s fear was that maybe they wanted to get to her fiancé by holding her.
“After the date of the wedding had passed, we asked him to come over and he refused. We reported to the police to arrest him. Rather than coming to the family to help, he decided to hide and ask questions from afar. Luckily, they arrested him.
“I warned her about this marriage but she insisted. We became suspicious because why did he run away when they went to arrest him? Why did Afolabi call his name? We are not God; all we are looking at is the allegation and behaviour. It is left for the police to investigate. We don’t know if he came to Benue or not. My sister was a very hardworking person,” he further stated.