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It’s hard to believe mum got missing with her boyfriend’s car – Daughter of Rivers woman

Imo State indigene, Chioma Njoku, speaks with VICTORIA EDEME on the circumstances that led to the disappearance of her 50-year-old Rivers State-based mum, Joy Njoku, after a job interview

How and when did you first realise that your mother was missing?

My name is Chioma Njoku. I’m from Imo State. My mum, Joy Ijeoma Njoku, has five children. I am the second child. My mum is based in the Omachi area of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. I first realised that my mother was missing on a Monday, three days after she went for a job interview on Friday, September 1, 2023.

That Monday, my sister called me and said she had been trying my mother’s phone. I told her that I had also been trying to reach Mum.

On Friday, I called my mum to ask her how the interview went. When she was briefing me about it, the call ended. I tried reaching her again, but the line was busy.

Then I said I should not call her back again that day since it was late. I decided to call her on Saturday. I tried her line on Saturday but it wasn’t connecting. I thought maybe her phone was switched off because there was hardly a power supply in her area.

On Sunday, I tried her line, and it connected, but she didn’t take the call. I thought she might be in church but when I tried again, it indicated that it had been switched off.

My sister then called me saying that she had been trying to call my mum too but the line wasn’t connecting. My brother then had to go to her house, because she was staying alone. When he got there, he called me and asked me when last I spoke to my mum. I told him that the last time I spoke to her was on Friday after she went for an interview as a chef at Deluxe Premium Hotel in GRA, Port Harcourt.

There was an opening for a chef at the hotel and it was her first interview with them. I then told my brother to call the caretaker in charge of the house. The caretaker said the last time he saw my mum was on Friday.

After a short while, my elder sister called me on the phone and was crying as she narrated that my mum’s friend called her on the phone to tell her about her last call with my mum.

What was the call about?

According to my sister, my mum’s friend said she was on a call with my mum on Friday night and mum was telling her how the interview went. My mum’s friend is also a chef. My mum’s friend said she was on a call with my mum when my mum complained that she didn’t understand what the policemen in front were doing.

They kept on talking and while they were done talking, the friend said she heard my mum screaming on the phone because my mum did not cut the call. She heard my mum screaming ‘What did I do to you people? You people should leave me alone’.

My mum’s friend said that was the last thing she heard and that was how we knew that something wrong had happened, coupled with the caretaker’s testimony that he saw her last on Friday.

It became clear that she finished the interview but she didn’t get home. We then started calling her phone again and we saw that the line had been switched off.

Later, her phone line was tracked and the tracking showed that her phone was at Nembe waterside in Port Harcourt.

Policemen went there because my brother had to report the case to the police. The police went there and said they didn’t find her. What still surprised me was that my mum’s friend had to wait till Monday before informing us about the last call she had with my mum on Friday.

Where was she when she made the call to her friend?

Her friend could not say the location, but when MTN tracked her line, they saw that the last place she made a call from was Pipeline, Rukpokwu. She was in her car while she made the call. She drove a Venza that night.

How about the car? Was it recovered?

The car has not also been found. It’s a silver Venza with tinted glasses with Lagos number plate JJJ60ZE. The car belongs to the person my mum is dating. It’s not her car. My mum stays on her own so there’s someone she’s seeing, so it’s the person’s car.

What about your dad?

My dad also stays alone as my parents are separated.

Have you reported the disappearance to local law enforcement agencies, and what has been their response or progress on the investigation?

We’ve reported to the police but concerning the progress, I don’t know how far they’ve gone. They keep saying that they are on it, but I’ve not seen any results since.

When was the last time you heard from the police?

The last time I heard from them was on January 12, 2024. When I reached out to the police, I was told that they’ve got a new commander and the person was pointing out loopholes of things that they missed out. They keep assuring us that they are on the case, so I can’t say much about the progress.

Have you contacted the hotel where she went for the interview?

After the report was made and the police started searching, they went to the hotel. So, the hotel brought out the camera footage that showed when she left the premises around 9pm.

If she left the hotel by 9pm, when did you call her and what time did she make the call to her friend?

 When I called her, it was before 9pm. That was when she was about to enter her car. I remember her saying that I called her at the right time as she just finished the interview. While we were talking, the call ended. I didn’t know if it was because another call came in. I don’t know the exact time her friend called her, but I’m thinking it should be before 10pm.

What’s the distance between the hotel and your mum’s place of residence?

It’s far. It should be about a 40-minute drive.

A tracker revealed that your mum made the last call at Rukpokwu. Is that a route she’d take from the hotel to her place of residence?

My mum stays in Omachi but where her line was tracked was at Pipeline, Rukpokwu. This meant that she was going to return the car to the house of her partner. He stayed in that area but then, when she went, he was not in Port Harcourt as he travelled out of town. So, I think she was going to return the car because she doesn’t stay in that area.

How did she intend to return the car when the owner was not around?

Normally, when she takes the car, she goes back there to drop it. When she wants it, she goes there to pick it up.

Has he been informed that his car and your mum are missing?

He has been informed and he has been the one sponsoring the police investigation. He has been the one paying most of the bills concerning the case.

Has your dad been reached concerning your mum’s disappearance?

Yes. My dad has also tried his best. He has tried to talk to a few people he knows in the police to know how they can look into the case. My dad is on the case too.

How long has your mother been dating her current partner?

They’ve been dating for over 12 years now, so they’ve been seeing each other for a long time. My parents have been separated for more than 12 years.

Aside from your mum’s friend, who spoke last with her, have you been in contact with any of her acquaintances who could provide additional information?

No other person has reached out to us since her disappearance.

Are there any potential motives or reasons you suspect for your mum’s disappearance?

I have a suspect but I can’t say who I’m suspecting.

Have you informed the police about your suspicion?

I also can’t inform the police about that. Nigeria police need money to do anything, so it’s not about telling them who you suspect. If you don’t have money to follow up, there’ll be a problem. The police are not like the Federal Bureau of Investigations, which will swing into action after you share your suspicions. The Nigerian police are just somehow so I can’t just tell them about my suspicions. If I tell them, they may even go and tell the person.

What if your information will help to unravel the circumstances surrounding your mum’s disappearance?

I honestly can’t disclose my suspicion now. I should keep it to myself.

Since you don’t want to disclose who you’re suspecting, what do you intend to do about your suspicion?

I don’t know who to tell about my suspicion at the moment. Anybody can be a suspect. If it’s planned work, it should be someone who knew about my mum’s whereabouts and her movement.

But if it’s just a random kidnap, then I don’t know. It could be a random kidnap or a planned work, but for the fact that they are not asking for money, it’s somehow.

It could be a planned work so I don’t want to go ahead and call out people I suspect and later, it turns out that they are innocent. I will be willing to share my suspicion with a private investigator though.

Have there been any recent conflicts or issues involving your mum that might be relevant to her disappearance?

Not at all. My mum is always on her own. She’s the gentle type who minds her business. She doesn’t have many friends. She was not having any conflict that I’m aware of or any quarrel with anyone.

Are there any specific places or areas where your mum is known to frequent?

She is usually at home. If she’s not home, she goes to her friend’s shop to sit and while away time. She was trying to get a job so that she could keep herself busy. The friend’s shop is not far from her house. It’s just about 10 minutes’ walk.

Where has your mum worked before?

My mum never worked for anyone before. She has always been a businesswoman, but business has been slow lately. She used to sell male and female wares. So she decided to go to a catering school. After she got her certificate, she decided to go and look for a job as a chef.

Have you received any ransom demands or communication from potential abductors?

I received some calls but I’d say they’re scam calls because my mum doesn’t know my number by heart. The only person’s number she memorised was that of her partner. I believe those callers got my number when I posted that my mother was missing on my Facebook page on September 7.

After the post, I got a call from some people who said I should bring N300,000 to show me my mother. I figured that they took the number from my post.

What if they were abductors who took your number from your mum’s phone?

If real abductors were to call anybody, it should be her partner. I’m just trying to get on my feet. Abductors call people who have money. If abductors even told my mother to call someone, it’s her partner she would call first because he would have been able to raise any ransom.

Are there any medical conditions or special needs that should be considered in the search for your mum?

No, she’s fine. If at all she has any medical condition, it should be high blood pressure, because of her age. It’s just my assumption, but I know my mum is very healthy.

Since she went missing, how have you and your siblings been coping?

It hasn’t been easy for us. Most of the time, I don’t even want to remember it or think about it. It’s too hard to believe that something like this would happen. We know how happy she was, as it was her first time getting a job. She was excited about getting a job, but then something this bad happened to her. I just want to be optimistic that she’s alive and by God’s grace, she’ll soon be found. My mum’s siblings had to come from Owerri to Rivers State upon hearing about the incident.

Have you been in contact with any advocacy or support group for missing persons, and if not, would you be open to seeking their assistance?

Yes, I have been in contact with some human rights activists. I reached out to a Delta State-based activist, Harrison Gwanishu, but he doesn’t deal with such cases.

He, however, said he would link me up with someone but the person was demanding N600,000 to unravel the case and find my mum.

According to Gwanishu, the person is an anti-kidnapping squad member. I had to let it go because I didn’t have the money. One other female rights activist contacted me and said she could assist me, but she is also demanding a large sum of money. But I’m open to such assistance.

Are there any security cameras in the vicinity where your mum made her last call, and if so, have they been reviewed for potential clues?

I don’t know because there’s usually no camera on the road in Port Harcourt. So, I don’t think there’s any. I also don’t know if the police have investigated the area.

What specific help are you seeking from the Rivers State Commissioner of Police about your mum?

I would like the Rivers Commissioner of Police or someone with high capacity to look into this case. I’m not satisfied with the investigation so far. I don’t think the police are doing enough. I need someone to be on their necks so that they can get the job done.

If there was a way to track her calls and hear her last conversations, I believe it would help in this case. I feel that though this act may be random, someone who knows her may have had a hand in it.

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