From Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo

Mr. Iliya Filibus, a 52-year-old father of four, who hails from Kurmi Local Government Area of Taraba State, was kidnapped on March 12, 2021, in Takum LGA of the state. After three months of negotiation and ransom payment, his abductors ceased communication with his family, throwing them into an endless wait for either his return or the recovery of his body.

For his wife, Mrs. Rahila Filibus, it has not only been the most traumatic and toughest time of her life, but the longest 24 months that came with unexpected burden on her, leaving her almost completely drained physically and mentally.

The day started like every other day, without any premonition that would prepare the family for the prolonged agony and trauma that would become their story.

The annual Bethel Conference is a gathering of members of the Christian Reform Church in Nigeria (CRCN), where members gather for prayers and to discuss the wellbeing of the church. As such, Filibus, who was an elder in the church, left home to go and buy cows that would be used to prepare food for the thousands of persons expected at the conference.

Take this from his wife: “We went for the Bethel Conference in Takum and the RCCN- RCC Jalingo sent him to buy cows for the programme. So, he went to Lufu to buy the cows. On their way back, he gave a lift to another man, making three of them in the vehicle. It was on their way that they met with the kidnappers who abducted two of them but allowed the driver to return to Takum.

“It was the driver who came back and broke the news to us. For me, the shock that came with the news was unimaginable and I became so afraid because we all know how dangerous the boys operating in that axis could be. Later that evening, I got a call that they were the ones who took my husband and they demanded N10 million for him to be released. I reported the matter to the police and the youth in Takum took to the bush in search of them, but to no avail.

“They also gave the phone to my husband to talk to me. I was relieved to hear his voice but after the call I realized that there was fear in his voice. Anyway, he asked me to look for the money and give them. So we negotiated with them until we agreed on N3 million, which I took to them in Kasaa, a village in Zaki-Biam in Benue State.

“When I got to the place, two of them met me and collected the money from me. They came on a motorcycle and were not even wearing face masks or anything. They took the money and assured me that I would see my husband later that day. I pleaded with them to let me just see him but they refused and said that he was not close by. So, I left in the hope that they would keep their word.

“After a few days of waiting in Takum in the hope of seeing my husband, they called again that the money was too small so I should bring another N2 million. We negotiated with them and later agreed on N1.5 million. I don’t want to go into the details of how the money was raised.

“Meanwhile, the children were so traumatized, they were not eating. Some were falling sick. The whole situation became terribly chaotic for me. Days became weeks and then months of waiting and hoping. Every day, we would wake up and pray and keep waiting to see him or hear from him or just hear that he has been released. But nothing came.

“So, eventually, I took the money to them again, this time in Dogongawa, a village in Takum local government, on the fringes of Benue/Taraba borders. There again, they came out and met me on the main road. One of the men who met me in Zaki-Biam was among those that met me this time also. They told me I would see my husband that evening, but nothing happened.

“After they collected the money, that was in June of that year, that was the last time I heard from my husband. Their lines also stopped going through and it was total silence. About two months later, they called that I should give them another N200,000 if I want to see my husband. I told them I had no money. Eventually I gave in and accepted to give them N100,000 that I could raise. This time, I refused to go to the bush and insisted that they should send an account number through which I could do the transaction.

“After some time, they gave me two different account details that I sent the money into via POS. Still, I didn’t see my husband, I didn’t even hear his voice. Actually, I already said I wasn’t going to give them any money again. But I wanted to at least hear my husband’s voice, even if just one more time. A lot of people asked me not to send the money but, against all rationality, I had to do it. I could not risk the slight chance of having him back. That was why I went as far as selling some of our personal stuff to raise the money and send to them. That was the last time I heard from them.”

The Filibus family is a close-knit family of six, with three female and one male child. While the father worked with the Primary Health Care Management Agency in Jalingo, the mother worked in Serti, Gashaka LGA of the state. However, the family stayed relatively very close. Most times, the father was either in Gashaka, spending time with his wife or she was in Jalingo with her family.

Their daughter, Miss Dorcas Filibus, said: “I can’t remember any week that my dad didn’t visit my mother or vice-versa. It was either we went to Gashaka or she came over to Jalingo. Sometimes, it was only dad who would travel for weekends to spend time with my mother. There is so much we were doing together and that has been completely distorted now.”

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The incident has terribly impacted the lives of the Filibuses in so many ways. According to the wife, the finances of the family, the general wellbeing of the family, the education of the children and so many other aspects of their lives have been negatively affected.

“You understand that this is something we never prepared for. This is something we never saw coming and did not prepare for in any way whatsoever. And so it is very challenging. If he had died, we would know and accept the fact that we have lost our father and husband and try to move on. This has dragged on for two years already but it is hard to just accept that he is gone. So, the trauma lingers and the agony sometimes is almost unbearable.

“To worsen the situation, they started by first draining us financially and then leaving us in this endless wait and pain. All these children are in school, some are in the university. Funding their education has become very tough. We are just coping. At first, most of them could not even eat. They were always sick. It took the grace of God for them to start getting back to their lives.

“Even though we rarely talk about it, it is always hanging in the air anytime we are together. For me, traveling to Jalingo now is always a sad reminder. Each time I enter the house, I will instinctively look towards his favourite seat and will be confronted with the empty space. After two years, the nights without him still seem too long. Sleep itself has become a rare luxury.

“We usually ate together as a family most of the time I came to Jalingo. Now, there are times I make some of his favorite dishes and I will mistakenly dish food for him before realizing that he is no longer with us. Most times, when that happens, I just lose appetite. It is affecting the children also,” Mrs. Filibus narrated in tears.

For Dorcas, her father’s absence is the most painful experience of her young life as her father was not only a father but a friend and confidant.

She said: “The thing is that I was closer to my dad than my mom. We were always with dad but mom works in Gashaka, so we spent more time with him. Naturally, he became my confidant. I could discuss nearly anything with my dad and most times we could just sit and gist for several hours, especially weekends when he was mostly less busy.

“I loved eating with my dad. We went to church together. Sometimes he would even take us to the market and school. I never imagined that I would live without seeing my dad for even two months. This is now two years.

“At first, I could no longer eat and I lost a lot of weight. I could not also concentrate in school again and my GDP was affected. Luckily, the strike by ASUU lasted for long and I was able to recover, to some extent. I know a lot of my friends usually say behind me that my dad is already dead and we need to accept the fact and move on. I know they are being rational but it is hard to accept.”

The children, like their mother, are still finding it hard to come to terms with the situation. And the longer it last, the longer their time of misery in an endless night of a horrible nightmare.

After nearly two years of waiting, the police finally arrested one person in connection to the abduction of Filibus. His wife has identified the suspect as the same person who collected ransom money from her on two occasions, and into who’s bank account, money was sent via POS.

So far, the suspect has been charged to court but nothing much has changed.

“I was excited when they finally arrested him. I saw and recognized the man immediately because I met him twice already. All I want is for him to show me where my husband is. If he is dead, he should show me where they buried him so that we can give him a decent burial and put closure to this. Justice is with God. I am certain that all those responsible for our sorrow will never know peace in their lives and so I am not after vengeance. I just want to know what really happened,” Rahila said.

Whether the police are able to get the suspect to reveal information that would indict him and put bring closure to the case, or if the system will further add to the frustration of the family with the suspect walking away free is left to be seeing.

For now, the Filibuses are praying and hoping for the best.