For several years, she searched unsuccessfully for a man to call her own amid pressure from her mother to get married because age was not on her side. Her desperation heightened when her bosom friend, Veronica, kissed goodbye to spinsterhood in an elaborate ceremony that remained fresh in her memory.
On a business trip sometime in February 2011, she encountered an alluring young man with whom she later fell in love. A reserved, handsome stranger who exuded a romantic charm that was shrouded in mystery swept her off her feet.
Beginning of trouble
Expectedly, her parents were full of joy when she arrived her village on a Saturday evening to commence the traditional marriage rites, but payment of the bride price was defered because she was already pregnant and the tradition forbade such. Notwithstanding, they returned to Lafia, where they settled down and cohabited as a couple for over five years.
A few months after presenting her heartthrob to her parents at Lokobo village in Keana Local Government Area of Nasarawa State where she hails from, she was delivered of a baby boy, a development that further lifted her soul and strengthened their bond. Within a period of five years, she also had two miscarriages, which she believed, was an act of God.
Unraveling the mystery man
Suddenly, in March, this year, she discovered that for almost six years, she had been living with a dead man who she called her husband, the father of her child.
It sounds like a fairy tale, but it’s true. This is the story of 39-year-old Angela Tyoor Agber, a boisterous woman of Tiv extraction resident in Lafia, until the macabre encounter turned around her life. She is yet to recover from the shock, after an unscheduled visit by two guests to their home on Obi road, on the outskirts of Lafia, blew the veil off her ghost marriage.
He disappeared since that day with her four-year- old son, Joseph Jnr., to a world unknown, leaving her in sorrow and fear.
The bubble burst when Angela, who sells oranges, wanted to rent a shop at a plaza located close to the Lafia-Makurdi Roundabout to expand her business. As part of the conditions, the property owner, Alhaji Musa Usman, requested to meet her husband ostensibly to ensure she was a responsible woman.
Unfortunately, her supposed 42-year-old husband, “Barrister” Tyopenda Joseph, was too busy to meet Usman, who decided to visit the couple at home on the fateful day.
He was accompanied by a mason, Mr.Targba Iortim, whom Usman had contracted for a building project. Iortim, also a Tiv from Taraba State, had joined Usman in Lafia for a trip to Abuja. But Usman decided to meet Angela’s husband before embarking on the journey.
He drove to the couple’s home without prior notice in company with the mason, unknown to him that Iortim was acquainted with Angela’s husband at Andole village in Kashak Local Government Area of Taraba State, a Tiv community where he hailed from. Angela had barely ushered the visitors into the sitting room when the unexpected happened.
Iortim was jolted when her husband emerged from the bedroom to meet his guests. There was pin-drop silence as Joseph, popularly known as Big Joe while alive, seemed to have frozen on seeing one of his visitors. Moments later, Iortim reportedly summoned courage and hailed him by his nickname, and then, added a shocker: “Big Joe, but you are no more, why are you here”? The response was a thunderous sound; when Angela and her guests recovered from the shock, her husband and child had vanished.
Shock and disbelief
She collapsed and went blank. After being revived, she was told her husband had died over 11 years ago, precisely December 2005, in an auto crash on Takum road in Taraba State. His body, which was badly mangled, was buried same month in his village.
Four months after, members of his family were wiped out during a clash between farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the state when his village was completely razed. Iortim, who said he attended Joseph’s burial, gave horrendous details of the event.
Angela eventually pulled herself together and briskly packed her belongings out of her “matrimonial home”. Consumed by fear, she has relocated to Lokobo, her village, far away from Lafia where she had toiled since 2007 and barely savoured her blossoming trade in oranges. She has now realized why everything about Joseph was enigmatic; why she neither saw nor heard about members of his family and friends, why he rarely spoke of his past, beyond the fact that he hailed from Kashak Local Government in Taraba State, and his family perished during an invasion of his village by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Though they lived in a secluded area on the outskirts of Lafia, Angela never suspected anything about her husband who told her he was a legal practitioner and relocated from Taraba State as a result of communal crises. Strangely, he vehemently opposed to enrolling Joseph Jnr., their only child in school even when he was aged four.
While her son whom she described as a lively and gentle boy did not exhibit any strange behaviour, her husband was withdrawn and often spoke about death, which unsettled her.
“Each time I complained about his quietness, he tells me that he was thinking about his people who died back home, and that he would join them someday. Most times, he talked about his terrible dreams, how water surrounded him while he was going to a farm. There was a day he asked me how I would feel if he slept one day and didn’t wake up; there was a day he told me he had a dream that Joseph Jnr., our son, died and was buried. In all the years we spent together, he never attended a church service even for once; he had no friends.
On the day he went to my village for our introduction, two young men and a woman accompanied us; he told me one of the men was his uncle who came from Kaduna, while the other was his friend from Makurdi. He said the woman was with us to represent his mother and was a relation from Makurdi.
Since then, I had not seen any of them after they accompanied him to my village, but we sometimes talk only on his mobile phone. When I was delivered of my son, my mother visited and spent some days with us, but none of those people came. Whenever I raised the issue, he gave excuses. There was a time he promised taking me to his village in Taraba, but he later reneged on the grounds that herdsmen had taken over their community and I became afraid.
About two years before my shocking find, he kept travelling and hardly stayed around. All along, he gave me the impression that his village had been razed completely by the herdsmen and because of the stories we hear from there, I was convinced. I never knew I was married to a dead man”, she lamented.
It’s a cruel fate for Angela which members of her family had resolved not to make public, as they seek spiritual help to cleanse her of any evil spell.
Following a tip off by a relation of an arrangement for her to take sanctuary in a church led by a female prayer warrior at Otukpo, Benue State, our correspondent laid siege to a spot popularly known as Obi Bus Stop situated a few kilometers away from Lafia, from where they were to transit to their destination on the scheduled day for the trip.
On Wednesday, last week, the effort paid off as Saturday Sun met Angela in company with her uncle, Anodohumba Adzor, as they embarked on the journey en route Otukpo. It was a horrifying encounter as she narrated how she got hooked to a ghost marriage, and a dark cloud of uncertainty that has enveloped her. She told Saturday Sun her story in detail.
How we met
“In 2007, I relocated from my village to Lafia with the assistance of Veronica, a close friend who sold oranges. Since I wasn’t educated and couldn’t farm, my late father raised a sum of N6000 for me and encouraged me to set up a business. I joined my friend in the orange business which made me travel frequently to purchase the fruit at interior villages in Konshisha, Ushongo and Gboko areas of Benue State where they are cultivated in large quantity and cheap.
“My mother did not give her blessing to the business I was doing; she felt since I couldn’t engage in farming, I should marry and settle down for whatever business I wanted to do in my husband’s house. My father didn’t send me to school, because he was opposed to sponsoring the education of a female child.
So, my mother was against my stay in Lafia alone; she wanted me get married and complained about it each time I went to the village. Though, I had several boyfriends in Lafia, none was ready to marry me. They were only interested in having sex, but my mother kept pressurizing me, more so, when my friend, Veronica got married. Due to the pressure, I also became desperate to marry, but could not find the right man.
“In February, 2011, I was returning from a business trip to Konshisha via Makurdi en route Lafia. On that fateful day, I boarded a taxi at Makurdi to Lafia with about six sacks of oranges which filled up the back seats. The driver charged N2, 500 as my fare and my load and as I pleaded with him to collect N2000, a young man in black suit who was seated at the front, offered to make up the balance of N500 so that we could move immediately; he said he was in a hurry for an appointment in Lafia.
“As we commenced the journey, he started a conversation with me; he probed into my life and when he realized that both of us were of the Tiv ethnic group, he changed to our language so that the driver, who was Hausa, would not understand our discussion.
He identified himself as Barrister Tyopenda Joseph, hailed from Taraba State, and said he had just relocated to Lafia after being displaced by herdsmen/farmers clashes in Taraba which consumed his entire family. He said he was starting life afresh in Lafia, and we exchanged contacts. Eventually, we started an affair which led to marriage within a short period.
Before then, he lived in a lonely area on Obi road; he told me how all his family members were killed in an attack on his village. It was sympathetic and based on the kind of stories he told me, I didn’t bother anymore to probe into his roots in Taraba, though he told me he hailed from Kashak. At this point, we were deeply in love. He proposed marriage so that he could settle down properly, and that was the first time a man would propose to marry me.
Since that was what I had long awaited, I did not give it a second thought to investigate him further, at least, within Lafia. I was already spending most of my nights in his house. I leave home early in the morning for my business and return late in the evening.
Whenever I returned, he would tell me he had also just arrived home, and I believed everything he told me. He regularly assisted me with money for my business; really showed me love, and I loved him passionately. I was ready to do everything to please him, and one thing that made me give him my heart was that he satisfied me sexually, the way no man had done since I lost my virginity.
Seven months into our relationship, I became pregnant and he gladly accepted to shoulder the responsibility. All along, I had wanted to marry because my only friend had married and I had gone an extra mile to make my dream a reality. He was about 42 years. I took him to my parents who were happy, particularly my mother.
A forum of family members and elders of the village was convened, where he was introduced as my husband. He bought drinks and performed some traditional marriage rites, but the bride price was not paid instantly because I was pregnant and our tradition forbade collecting bride price for a pregnant woman.
This was in November, 2011. He promised to pay the bride price after I was delivered of the baby. We returned to Lafia and lived in peaceful matrimony. He was reserved and had no friend. Daily, he left home by 6am and returned at about 8.pm weekdays; he doesn’t go out on weekends.
I was delivered of a baby boy in June, 2012, and thereafter, had two miscarriages. Throughout the period of our marriage, he did not go back to the village to pay the bride price as he earlier promised. He kept giving excuses, but my family exercised patience with him because he catered for them; he solved every problem to which his attention was drawn.
Our son behaved normal; he was a gentle boy always comfortable wherever you kept him. But one strange thing his father did was that he never allowed me to enroll him in school; he warned me not to enroll him in Lafia as he was planning to relocate to Abuja where he would attend a good school. My son was four years old at that time. I felt bad and reported the matter to my mother, but she told me I should allow my husband do what he desired for his son.
“Sometime in March, 2017, I wanted to rent a shop at a plaza along Lafia/Makurdi Roundabout to expand my business. The property is owned by one Alhaji Musa Usman who requested to see my husband before letting the shop to me. I told him how busy my husband was, but he insisted and instead, offered to visit our home on a Saturday.
He said he was travelling to Abuja same day for a business trip that would take him a month. I forgot to tell my husband about Alhaji’s visit and the man came with a mason, a Tiv man who relocated from Taraba State to Makurdi who knew my husband while he was alive and attended his funeral when he died.
That was when my world crashed like a pack of cards. I had no inkling my husband had died before, but I later believed because if it wasn’t true, he wouldn’t vanish with his son; it’s true. I’m short of words to express how I feel, but have to accept my fate as an act of God. It is shocking, because we had come a long way and now, the man has gone”.
Anodohumba Adzor, Angela’s uncle who accompanied her to seek divine intervention at Otukpo, Benue State, said the family was concerned with how to manage the attendant stigmatization, following the incident. “When she packed her belongings and returned to the village, people thought she had misbehaved and was divorced by her husband.
The truth is that except for few persons, most people are not aware of what happened. We want to manage the incident carefully so that her future will not be ruined; so that she can live her life in the future. Since the incident happened, we have approached several spiritualists who confirmed that the man was a ghost; he wasn’t a human being and the woman need to undergo some traditional rites for living with a ghost for years. But we shall do our best for her to return to her normal life; that is why we are keeping her away from people. We have been directed to a woman at Otukpo for spiritual help and we are going there”, he told Saturday Sun .
I attended Joseph’s funeral –Iortim
Targba Iortim, also a Tiv who hails from Taraba State, is the mason who unmasked Angela’s ghost marriage. He spoke about her husband’s lifetime in an interview with our correspondent, during which he revealed Joseph’s true identity and members of his family.
He gave his father’s name as Mr. Gbamwuam Tyopenda, and his mother, Mrs. Oladi Tyopenda. He also mentioned Iorna Sunday Tyopenda and Akem Humphrey Tyopenda, as Joseph’s younger siblings. Unfortunately, suspected Fulani herdsmen killed all in an attack on their village. That was however, after Joseph had died in an auto crash in 2005.
“I knew him very well; he wasn’t a lawyer. He did a diploma in Law at the Benue State University sometime in 2002. We used to live together in Taraba State. He was into politics, had two motorcycles and a Volkswagen Golf car, which he hired out for commercial purpose.
He was a boyfriend to my late elder sister; in fact, he wanted to marry her before she took ill and died of cancer infection. I still have photographs he took with my late sister, but I don’t have them here with me. He was always in our house; I knew him well.
He died in an accident on Takum road in 2005, and I attended his funeral. He was a neat, gentle and humble man whose aspiration was to be a lawyer; he took the West African School Certificate Examination four times without a credit in Literature, but he refused to study any other course apart from Law.
“You could hardly predict him, but he was in love with my sister. When she died, he left the village for an unknown destination for more than a year. A few months before he died, he travelled to Ibadan and spent about three months; when he returned, he started practicing as a medical personnel.
At a point, he wanted to contest councillorship election, but later dropped his ambition. He lived a lonely life at Andole village in Kashak Local Government Area of Taraba State. He doesn’t talk much and his favorite food was pounded yam as well as roasted yam served with palm oil, which my late sister used to prepare for him. He loved watching football”.
Iortim was emphatic on his claims and linked our correspondent with Mathew Kpeber, his (Joseph’s) close friend in Taraba who had also relocated to Makurdi, for a confirmation. When contacted on his mobile phone, he confirmed Joseph died over a decade ago.
“I used to ride one of his commercial motorcycles in Taraba, but we fell apart after we had issues over remittance of proceeds. He died in an accident on Takum road, though I didn’t attend his burial because I had a surgery at that time and was on admission in a hospital. But I know that Big Joe was dead”.