Ataga’s killers sent a text message to his friend from his phone: “I saw your missed call; I took some drugs that can made me sleeping.”
Chidinma-Ojukwu Usifo Ataga: How bad English gave out murderers, by witness
Chidinma Ojukwu being led to court on Monday by a prison official
Chidi-Ojukwu-in-court Usifo Ataga: How bad English gave out murderers, by witness
A Lagos State High Court sitting at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) has heard how a text message written in poor English raised suspicion about the fate of the late Super TV Chief Executive Officer Usifo Ataga.
Ataga’s friend and co-founder of Super TV, Mr Rahman Saliu, said the deceased was fluent in English but the SMS sent to him from Ataga’s phone contained uncharacteristic errors.
The SMS, sent by his suspected killer(s) to Saliu while a search was ongoing for Ataga’s whereabouts reads: “I saw your missed call; I took some drugs that can made me sleeping.”
Saliu testified as the fifth prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of Chidinma Ojukwu, the prime suspect in Ataga’s murder.
Ojukwu, a 300-level, Mass Communication student of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), is facing trial alongside her sister, Chioma Egbuchu and one Adedapo Quadri, for Ataga’s murder.
Led in evidence by Lagos State Deputy Director of Public Prosecution (DDPP) Mrs A. O. Oluwafemi, Saliu wept as he described how Ataga was killed.
He told the court that the deceased was tied up, on both hands and legs and “killed like a chicken” with multiple stab wounds to the ribs and surgery-like cuts to the neck.
Saliu, a network engineer, programmer and developer, told the court that he met the late Michael Usifo Ataga, 10 years ago, in the course of building the Super TV App.
The witness explained that Ataga, as CEO, usually chaired virtual management meetings on Mondays and Executive (EXCO) meetings on Tuesdays by Microsoft link.
He said Ataga called him on Monday 14, June 2021 that he was having stomach pain but he advised him to take his drugs and rest.
Saliu said he had a task that needed to be completed before the management meeting so he didn’t bother to call Ataga back until he was done.
He said: “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 11am, on June 15, 2021, I wanted to give him the brief that the task was easy in order to relieve him of his high blood pressure.
“I started calling him, he didn’t pick up his call nor did he return my message; I was surprised because the only thing he wants to hear is the billing App, with MTN, that it was now working.
“Michael didn’t pick his call; everybody started reaching out to me because the only way they could get him was through me and the only way they could reach me was through him. He still did not pick up my call; this was about 3:30pm 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 can made me sleeping’.
“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 was someone else.
“Then I sent him a screenshot of the billing system in the Super TV App, that it was working and his response to me was ‘Ok, great.’
“That was when I knew something was happening because Michael would have jumped up, picked up his phone and called me immediately.”
He and Ataga’s driver and Personal Assistant Gambo visited some of the deceased’s favourite spots but he was not there.
They called his cook at his house on Banana Island but was informed that Ataga had left home since Friday, June 12, 2021.
“His 50th birthday was supposed to be celebrated on Thursday in Abuja; I raised the alarm on June 16th 2021, when we didn’t know his whereabouts. His phone was still going through but he could not be reached,” he added.
Rahman recounted how he started getting calls from Ataga’s family members who wanted to wish him happy birthday including Ataga’s wife, Brenda, who called him on Thursday morning asking of the deceased’s whereabouts.
He explained that Ataga’s phone was traced to the University of Lagos, and together with a team of policemen, a search began for Ataga’s black Range Rover.
They also tracked Ataga’s phones via their GPS coordinates.
Outgoing payment transaction information from Ataga’s bank account led the search to the Airbnb apartment where he was killed.
One transaction was to a bank account with the name “Chidinma Ojukwu Adaora.”
The witness said Ataga’s wife learnt of her husband’s death before him and when she broke the news to him: “I fainted; it took the Police to resuscitate me.”
Saliu said when he got to the apartment where Ataga’s corpse was, “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 very big 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 17th June 2021, exactly 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, I started looking at Michael’s calls from 9mobile and MTN, Chidinma was calling him with a WhatsApp number.
“I traced the money that was transferred by Michael to Chidinma’s bank account and I supplied all the information to the Police at Panti. Around 1am, on June 23, 2021, on a Wednesday I got a message from Panti, that Chidinma has been arrested.
Justice Yetunde Adesanya adjourned till February 17th for continuation of trial.