The Lagos State High Court sitting at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos Island, has heard how the late Super TV Chief Executive Officer, Usifo Ataga, was declared missing and later found dead.
Giving testimony at the resumption of the trial, Ataga’s colleague, Mr Rahman Saliu, who was led in evidence in chief by the Deputy Director of Public Prosecution, Mrs Adenike Oluwafemi, narrated to the court that Ataga, being the Chief Executive Officer of Super TV, both of them usually had management meetings on Mondays and Executive meetings on Tuesdays. They met virtually by a Microsoft link.
Mr Salihu, a co-founder of Super Network Limited, said that he got a call from the deceased on Monday 14, June 2021, that he was having stomach pain. He then told him to go and take his drugs, adding that he (witness), being a high blood pressure person, told him the drugs to get and rest.
Mr Saliu, the fifth witness, said that he needed to provide Ataga with a task that needed to be completed before the management meeting, so I didn’t bother to call him back as he needed to complete the task.
According to him, on Tuesday, I wanted him (the deceased) to come to the meeting to give him the completed task, so I started calling; my first call was at 11 am, on June 15, 2021, I wanted to give him the brief that the task was easy to relieve him of the blood pressure.
“I started calling him. He didn’t pick up his call or return my message. I was surprised because he only wanted to hear the billing App with MTN that is working now.
“Michael didn’t pick his call; everybody started reaching out to him because the only way they could get him was through me, and the only way they can reach me was through him; he still did not pick my call, this was about 3:30 pm, on June 15, 2021.
“Then I got a WhatsApp message from him; after reading the message, I said to myself, this is not Michael, talking to me. The message read, “I saw your missed call; I took some drugs that made me sleep. The construction of that message was not Michael’s because Michael was very fluent in English.
“I knew that was not Michael’s typing. It someone else then I sent him a screenshot of the billing system in the Super Tv App, that it was working. His response to me was ok, great; that was when I knew something was happening because Michael would jump up, pick up his phone and call me immediately, so I went outside to take fresh air, and I started thinking where he could have been now that he is not picking my calls.
“I called Gambo, he is a driver and personal assistant (PA), to Michael I asked him, did you receive any call from Micheal, he said no, that he has also been calling him too because he needed to pick up his clothes from the laundry that he is travelling with to Abuja.
“Gambo said he got a WhatsApp message, that was between 5 to 6 pm, on June 15, 2021, then we started thinking of what could have happened to him, then his friend, Okwuedo, who lives with us at Victoria Garden City (VGC), asked where is Usifo, I told him I got a WhatsApp message from Michael so Okwuedo said to let him see the message, immediately he saw it, he said this is not Michael’s typing.
“Okwuedo and Gambo went to a few places where they thought he could be, so I went back to the office, and on Wednesday 16, June 2021, I asked Gambo if they found him, he said no, so I now called his cook at Banana Island, that was when I knew that he left home since Sunday 13, June 2021.
“I was keeping calm because he was going to Abuja on Thursday for his 50th birthday, wherever he was, I knew that he would come and meet me and we would go to the airport, stay with the girls (Michael’s daughters) and his wife for his 50th birthday. They were waiting for him, and they were planning a surprise birthday party for him.
“So, I started suspecting something was wrong because he was supposed to come to VGC on the 15th, so I had to raise the alarm that I don’t know where Michael was.
“My last WhatsApp message to Michael on June 16, 2021, was at 10:30 am, and the message reads “, Bro, where are you? I am worried my BP is rising.” The message was read, no response. I started getting calls from his family to wish him a happy 50th birthday.
“Calls started coming in. I did not know what to say. How can I say I’m looking for a 50-year-old man? To me, it didn’t make any sense. I wanted to go and make a complaint at the VGC police station of a missing person, when at about 6:33 to 6:35, am on Thursday, June 17 2021, I got a call from Mrs Brenda Ataga, who happens to be his wife and the wife said where is Usifo?.
“I had to tell her the truth that I have been looking for Michael since on Tuesday, so she was a bit upset with me that I had been looking for someone since on Tuesday and I did nothing about it. I tried to explain to her that I was trying to make a complaint. 10minutes later, she called back and said Michael’s phone was traced to the University of Lagos, UNILAG Guest House.
“I didn’t take my bath, I just grabbed my car key, and I started driving to UNILAG, a friend called me, and I told him I was driving to UNILAG, he queried how did I know that he was in UNILAG, I said Brenda called me and said they traced the phone to UNILAG.
“Mrs Brenda Ataga also called me and said to a team of policemen that I will meet at Unilag to search. I got to Unilag before them, so I went to the security and told them I was looking for a black Range Rover, so they directed me to the guest house.
“The Police joined me with two of his friends and staff from my office. Mrs Ataga called me and gave me the GPS coordinate from where the direction of the phone is. While going through Yaba, I got a call from our GTB bank account officer, whom I asked to help me trace Michael’s transactions to know where exactly he was.
“While we were on the search, I got a call from him that Michael made a transaction on Sunday and Monday and the Sunday transaction was to a lady Mrs Nkechi Mogbo the, the owner of the service apartment, (Where the deceased was murdered).
“The account officer also said that the transaction that was made on Monday was to a Sterling Bank with the name Chidinma Ojukwu Adora. The account officer asked me what was happening, and I said today was his birthday, and I had been looking for him since Tuesday.
“So I told him that since the owner of the service apartment uses Gtb, that he should send me her number, so after searching through Yaba, the account officer sent me a hard number, so the Police said I should give the number to Brenda so that it will not distract our search for Michael.
“Only for Brenda to call and tell me that Michael is dead. I fainted, it took the Police to resuscitate me, when I was a bit ok, I called her and asked how she was in Abuja. We are in Lagos, so she said she called the number I sent to her, and the owner of the apartment said somebody was murdered that she should show his means of Identification if it were the person we were looking for.
“So Brenda shared her husband’s picture to the woman, and the owner of the service apartment said this person was murdered here and she is on her way to the police station at Maroko, so Brenda asked me to meet Mrs Nkechi Mogbo at Panti. So I met her with some of Michael’s friends at Panti, so we went to the scene of the incident at Lekki, where Michael was murdered”, he said.
Saliu said,” I didn’t want to believe that Michael was dead; I saw Michael’s belongings that the Police brought out. We were not allowed inside.
“When I got to the mortuary, I saw Michael’s body, Michael was killed like a chicken, I saw a massive cut at the back of his neck, the wickedness for me is that the day I was with Michael’s corpse, they were still taking money from his account, that was June 17 2021, precisely the day he was 50 years old.
“There were subsequent USSD transactions on his account until Brenda and I decided to close the account. I started tracking Chidinma and looking at Michael’s calls from 9mobile and MTN; Chidinma was calling him with a WhatsApp number.
“I traced the money that Michael transferred to Chidinma’s Sterling bank, and I supplied all the information to the Police at Panti. On a Wednesday around 1 am, on June 23, 2021, I got a message from Panti that Chidinma had been arrested.
” Michael’s iPhone came with an original Apple pouch; when the Police recovered the iPhone from Chidinma, it was replaced with an N1000 pouch, Michael’s laptop was also recovered. Two iPhones, one iPhone 11 and one iPhone 7 or 8, were also recovered. The Police told me that she gave the other iPhone to her sister.
The witness further stated a restaurant at Lekki, Angle Villa Restaurant that the deceased made a transaction on June 13, “I shared the information with Michael’s friends, and they proceeded to Angie Villa, to confirm if a transaction was made.
“They confirmed that Michael came, so we requested for CCTV footage to know if he went alone, but we discovered that he came with Chidinma. The Police at Panties took the video, and I was surprised to see the CCTV footage all over the social media,” Saliu said.
During cross-examination by the counsel to Chidinma, Mr Onwuka Egwu, the witness said he had no idea who handed the CCTV footage Video to the Police.
He said that the CCTV footage was trending before the arrest of Chidinma.
The counsel to the second and third defendants, Mr Babatunde Busari and Mrs J. I. Osigede, did not cross-examine the witness.
After that, Justice Adesanya adjourned to February 17 to continue the trial.
Chidinma Ojukwu, a 300-level Mass Communication student of the University of Lagos, is facing trial alongside her sister, Chioma Egbuchu and one Adedapo Quadri for Ataga’s murder.