Their Son Away was seized by the police. Then turned up the Hope merchants.
Police in Nigeria are catching and killing young men. Then priests, prosecutors and so-called champions of human rights squeeze money from their families and pledge to help them find them.
Just two framed pictures of Chijioke, the youngest sibling, remain in the tiny family portrait gallery above the television, in the nice home of the Iloanya family.
Eight years ago, he vanished. He was last seen by his friends, Hope and Emmanuel, handcuffed by the feared police station known as SARS—the anti-robbery squad.
They have since sought him, as they meet a company of smugglers expressing hope: lawyers, human rights organisations and churches and shepherds who have asked for Chijioke's photos and have vowed to pray for them and encourage him to return.
Hope, a 53-year-old devotee staring at the breach of her salmon-pink wall said, "They give you a prophecy that he will come back." "You do what you are told to do."
The Iloanyas are only one of many Nigerian families whose children have been detained by the police. Police authorities in Western Africa, according to several testimony in hearings and reports have for years kidnapped, murdered and extorted young people, accusing them of being criminals.
Finally, the young people of the world had enough and the largest demonstrations in a decade broke out in October. #EndSARS was a protest against the police and military forces of Nigeria. Against the system and its leaders.
So many have vanished in Iloanyas, Anambra in south-east Nigeria, that some have smelt a business chance, squeezing money from desperate families, who have often already paid major bribes to the police.
Groups of human rights offer to obtain details. Lawyers pledge fairness. Pastors, ghosts. Pastors. Their family members tried everything they could to support their son. They struggled over $60,000 from Hope and Emmanuel.
When he disappeared, Chijioke was 20.
His roster of friends was almost unmanageable, and he dubbed him "50 Cent," his sense of style drawing comparison with the rapper. They will go into and out of the home of his family where laundry blows along a stretch of road and lazards run along the walls. Four boys will jump into his small space and eat cereal and play cards.
In math and painting, he was decent and he played church drums. He taught Obianuju his little sister that she declined to repeat even today. She loved him. She loved him.
The family had suffered a loss already. Peace, the midwife of Iloanyas, collapsed inexplicably and died one day at the age of 13 in 2010. Her dad's village was buried by her.
Peace died left a hole in house of Iloanyas and in the restaurant of her mother's Hope Relaxation Spot in their hometowné, Awka, in a busy street. The kids helped after school in the restaurant. The place has always been packed.
During a baby naming ceremony in November 2012 Chijioke and six others, including the mother and the baby named, were arrested. The mother, baby and other woman were released shortly, but Chijioke was not detained for any reason.
In the nearby city of Awkuzu, Emmanuel and Hope rushed to SARS station. Officials of the police said it wasn't there. Then, however, Hope glanced into the handcuffs of her son.
"This is Chijioke! She yelled. "She cried.
"Yes, papa, Ma, here I am! I am! "He called out. "He called out.
Officers of the SARS have been driving them out. Never again did they see their son.
According to Amnesty International sources, Awkuzu SARS, where Chijioke was taken, has been the "headquarters of human rights abusses," including torture and executions.
According to several accounts of survivors, officials arrest young men on non-existent or trumpet charges to torture false confessions and to ask them to release their money — often tens of thousands of dollars. Many people disappear who can't pay.
By 2018, James Nwafor was the officer responsible for the Awkuzu SARS.
Mr. Nwafor celebrated the killing of suspended people personally, said those who know him. A guy with a heavy score, a list of questionable human rights prizes and a love for luxury cars.
"Nwafor just asked me what happened to a human rights lawyer his friend, a bus driver." "I just told him that James Nwafor said 'I killed him.' 'I killed him,"" "He did not conceal it. He did not hide it. The guy was so brave."
Bonaventure Mokwe, who kept Awkuzu SARS for two months in 2013, said "The murder is unfair. He identified the killing by Mr. Nwafor of a prisoner who opposed him.
"A silver pistol he pulled and shot the man," he said. "My naked eye saw it."
Hope and Emmanuel continued to return, asking for information, to Awkuzu SARS. They met Mr. Nwafor a week after the arrest.
He said he had killed his son straight away.
"I wasted your son," Emmanuel said, "that's the language he used. "Your son, you can do nothing. I've wasted your son."
In this post, Mr. Nwafor has not responded to repeated calls or emails that make the allegations. On the last afternoon, as Times reporters searched for him at its headquarters in Awkuzu SARS, his former colleagues took up their arms and told us to leave.
Mr. Nwafor's argument that Chijioke had been killed had been so unwaveringly, so uncaring that the Iloanyas couldn't believe it.
Then people, who claimed they were acquainted with Mr. Nwafor, came to them, saying, "Oh, he's lying."
The Prime Advocacy for Human Rights Preservers Initiative cartoon posters by furious judges are glowing down from the walls in a decayed building in central Awka, a local human rights organization office.
Emmanuel, an electrician, age 63, told his chairman that he had paid almost $9,000, who had military contacts and was able to speak to Mr. Nwafor. It wasn't anything. The successor of the Chairman said he did not know the case but paid only victims for the travel costs of the organization.
Hope was asked by priests and priest groups for her son's clothes and photos, and Hope was exhorted to improve his faith. They paid it for this.
"You must pay even for seeing the priest," she said. "It's a prophet that you go to watch, you pay."
One of those prophets was the Gideon Ajekwe, founder in a lush steep valley full of churches and competing sound systems for the Good News Of Christ Baptist Church.
He said in an interview, "Prayer is my job. He demanded a donation from Hope for his evangelistic radio program for his prayers. She gave it sixty dollars.
Lawyers also arrived in the house of Iloanya.
"There are many lawyers," Obianuju, a 26-year-old niece, said now. She had intended to study law until Chijiok's arrest, but changed course when she saw how her parents' money was taken by lawyers. Instead, she became an activist for social justice.
"Think lawyers as vultures, I started to think," she said.
The family tried everything.
As Emmanuel learned about those bodies thrown into the next river, he said that he was driving in, wading in and using sticks to face the bodies. No Chijioke. No Chijioke.
Emmanuel protested about the Chijioke case with Mr. Nwafor, to the state police commissar. He refused to kill anyone.
Emmanuel came back to Mr. Nwafor and gave him 19,000 dollars—all his money. The family said Mr. Nwafor rejected it as a "chicken change."
Not only were the Iloanyas warning for Mr Nwafor and Awkuzu SARS. Human rights lawyers, survivors and investigators published reports, wrote letters to government governors and to the Chairman, lodged complaints to the headquarters of police, and sued.
But Awkuzu SARS officers have never been arrested or disciplined.
Mr. Nwafor was instead nominated for a Human Rights Prize in 2018, the year he resigned from Awkuzu SARS. Then Willie Obiano the governor of the state appointed him promptly as a special security advisor.
When Mr. Nwafor retired, the abusses at Awkuzu SARS did not end.
Sunday 34, Ibeh was seized, a supplier of medical equipment and father of three, on charges of buying a robbed car in September. He said officers bound him up, put heavy weights on his back, almost ruptured him from a pole.
Just before the #EndSARS protests he was released—an eruption of outrage showing how popular his experience is in the populousest country in Africa.
The good police are very much needed in Nigeria. North-eastern Boko Haram is terrorizing. Northwest bandits strike. Farmers confront the core with herdsmen.
However, the police in Nigeria have a long history of brutality and impunity. The institution was founded by British colonial powers and reform has been painfully slow amid decades of efforts. Chronic underfunding — the monthly pay of a junior officer is roughly $130 — allows police officers to extortion the public or use money or power for them.
During the demonstrations, Mr. Nwafor was fired and SARS was disbanded and replaced by the president. But few saw it as confirmation of the government's desire for systemical reform.
"Other units are twice the fatality of SARS," Ijeoma said. "SARS is a metaphor for all Nigerian police violence."
Okechukwu Nwanguma, the executive director of the Rule of Law and Transparency Advocacy Centre, said police are too helpful politically to keep accountable.
The successive governments, he said, "would like the police to be guided by regime dictates," and not by the law.
Standing behind Hope's counter, Hope peeled the moimoi onion and steamed beancakes behind her turquoise shirt.
She served healthy food until Chijioke vanished. Yet it took her time and energy to drive to churches.
And money. And money. Almost all was sold by the family, including the land of Harmony.
Hope never returned her pictures from the churches. Chijioke studiously avoids looking at or smiling at the camera in the precious few she left. It blinks a sign of tranquility.
Sister Chijioke, Obianuju, witnessed to the investigation of police violence in front of the court panel. Nwafor James had been invited, but he didn't appear.
Mr. Nwafor reported in Twitter that the gas station was stolen from Chijioke. A police officer told a separate version to the jury that he was shot dead. However, the family of Chijioke says such arguments are ridiculous.
They have given up all hope that they can find him alive. They gave his shoes away finally in 2019. They opened his room and painted blue. Ruth, Ruth, their youngest, went in. The family has abandoned the hunt for justice.
Sister Obianuju went to Awkuzu SARS a short few weeks ago to drop her duplicate. Mr. Nwafor sat under a tree, she said. But she knew him from photos, he had not introduced himself.
She came next to him. He grinned and asked if James Nwafor would ever remember him. Then he said justice could go for it, it could be for it, it could go against it.
She responded, and walked out, "Let the court decide."
In the last two weeks, the End SARS movement has spread across Nigeria and at least 56 people have died - 38 of them on Tuesday alone, Amnesty International claims.
The government said the peaceful protests have been hijacked by thugs and warned protesters against being used by “subversive elements”.