PRESS STATEMENT BY CONCERNED FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF LATE MR MICHAEL USIFO ATAGA IN RESPONSE TO THE THURSDAY, 24TH OF JUNE 2021 PRESS BRIEFING BY THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE, LAGOS STATE, CP HAKEEM OLUSEGUN ODUMOSU AND THE CONFESSION OF THE PRIME SUSPECT, CHIDINMA ADAORA OJUKWU
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press,
We, the immediate family and close friends of Mr. Michael Usifo Ataga, our son, brother and friend who was gruesomely murdered on Tuesday, the 15th of June 2021, following the arrest of the prime suspect, Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu, and following a public statement made on the arrest and other developments by the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, CP Hakeem Olusegun Odumosu on the aforementioned date, do hereby make the following statement.
From the instant the news of the murder of our son, brother and friend, Michael Usifo Ataga, broke in public space, we have collectively remained in a state of deep shock. Neither we nor any of our representatives has made any public statement, not only because of our state of shock, but also because we’ve chosen to wait until the Police formally say something publicly about how their investigation is going. Of course, we did read reports of the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, CP Odumosu briefing certain members of the press on the challenges they were facing trying to apprehend the prime suspect, while assuring the public that they were on her trail. We also read when he informed Nigerians that they had blocked Mr Michael Usifo Ataga’s account after reports claim about N5 million had already been withdrawn from the account after his death. The Police wisely did this to prevent further withdrawals by the criminal elements behind the killing. But on Thursday, the 24th of June, 2020, CP Odumosu formally issued a press briefing in which he updated Nigerians on the latest developments in the case. This was exactly what we had been waiting for.
The first thing we would like to do in this piece before going into the substantive issues that have necessitated this press release is to thank Nigerians. We are humbled by the outpouring of support and messages of condolences the family has received from Nigerians far and near, known and unknown. To be honest, we were as pleasantly surprised as we could possibly be in the circumstances because we had been following the news and the types of reports and commentaries we were reading about the incidence, especially with the concerted attacks directed at our son, brother and friend, the victim of the murder, did not give us much hope.
We had become immediately aware that those behind his death were the ones behind those initial press reports slanted to give a wrong impression of what really happened. In all, we couldn’t understand how a victim of murder would be blamed by a section of the public for his death at a time his killers are still at large and when the stories coming out were evidently coming out from the same ill-disguised sources clearly linked to the killers. It was obvious they were trying too hard to paint Michael Usifo Ataga as a cheating husband and a deadbeat dad who’s met his comeuppance in the hands of his “side chic,” even when the supposed single murderer was yet to be apprehended. So, to see that thousands of Nigerians we do not know still reached out to us to share their outrage and condole with us is heartwarming. We really are exceedingly grateful. We thank you all very much.
The next group of people we must thank are the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu and the men and women of the Lagos State Police Command. They have surprised us and all Nigerians with how fast they deployed their skills and professionalism to apprehend the prime suspect, despite the obvious challenges they faced with no CCTV camera in the area or any other security apparatus to rely on. Despite these challenges, they apprehended the prime suspect just about a week after the crime was committed. Though, we have said here we are pleasantly surprised as we could possibly be in the circumstances, we have never doubted that the men and women of the Lagos State Police Command were ultimately going to get to the bottom of this. Every time our representatives have gone to the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Yaba, Lagos, they have always come away feeling quite hopeful after talking with the officers. CP Odumosu and the men and women under his command are great exemplars of the noble Nigerian character of pure professionalism and empathy. We thank them, we appreciate them immensely.
Now, while we are saddened by the bad press our son, brother and friend, Michael Usifo Ataga has received, even in death and even in being the only victim of this gruesome murder, we are not joining issues with anyone about it. However, it is inevitable that we have to address some dangerous misinformation in public space. We do not intend to address all because we believe that those who know Michael Usifo Ataga know what is not true about him flying around and that is what mostly matters to family and friends. To this end, we have chosen to first address two specific issues in this misinformation campaign because these have been key in unfairly and falsely driving the narrative of this unfortunate incident in public space. We reckon that since we are the only ones with the facts and since the matter has become a public issue, it would be proper to share these with Nigerians, so people are not hoodwinked into believing anything in the name of being properly informed about the matter.
The first issue we want to clarify is the state of Michael Usifo Ataga’s marriage and his family situation before his passing. We would not have been doing this at all, but for the fact that there are so many lies being bandied around right now in public space that need immediate debunking. The record simply needs to be set straight. Michael Usifo Ataga at the time of his death had been formally separated from his wife, Brenda Onose Ataga, for about four years. This is not a secret amongst family and friends. In these past four years both he and his wife have been living totally separate and independent lives with him in Lagos and the wife and the two children of the marriage in Abuja. So, there was no expectation for Michael Usifo Ataga to return to any matrimonial home when this unfortunate incident happened, even though he dutifully met his obligations to his family at all times. Indeed, his body was discovered when it was only because that was around his birthday and family and friends were calling to wish him a “Happy Birthday.” It was because they couldn’t get him on the phone and his daughter realized someone else was trying to respond to her on her daddy’s phone when she actually wanted to greet him on his birthday that raised the alarm within the family that led to the search that led his friends to the scene of his murder.
We have to state the fact above because we are shocked to see that the press and social media is inundated with “news” about his marriage delivered on one hand with the intention of painting him as a cheating husband, while on the other hand, those talking about the separation are just getting the facts wrong. Not that this matters or should matter when we are talking about murder, but it matters greatly if this type of “news” is being funneled into public space by those who killed him, which is what we believe is happening right now. The objective would be to paint him in bad light, so gullible and uninformed members of the public (and they are very many) would feel less horrified by his death. We can see that they have doubled down on this tactics by carpeting everywhere with editorialized pictures and biographical information about Brenda. We do not believe that Brenda at the time of mourning her husband would be commissioning agents to release this type of inversely damaging information about her husband. It’s all coming from the stable of the killers trying hard to throw people off their trail by getting people mired in moralizing (some hypocritically) about a man who seemed to have everything – money, great wife and beautiful children – but who still was greedily going for a “side chic.” Context matters.
We urge everyone who has posted the “MEET BRENDA” texts and accompanying pictures on social media and elsewhere to take them down. It is not in good taste. A wife would not choose the moment of her husband’s death to put out her CV or crow triumphantly about her academic and professional achievements in public space. We believe she didn’t commission it; we believe those who are behind her husband’s death and those acting for them funneled it into public space. We urge decent Nigerians not to be unwitting spreaders of false, tasteless and damaging information. Bring it down, if it’s on your wall on Facebook or on your page on WhatsApp or anywhere else. We urge the press, including news websites, to do the same and desist from continuing to publish it or any related information. Please, give the family the respect, the right atmosphere and privacy to grieve in peace.
The second thing we’d like to clarify is the claim that Michael Usifo Ataga was using drugs. This is a claim by the prime suspect, Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu. We do not believe this because we know Michael Usifo Ataga. He was a trained boxer and martial artist who took great care of his body. He was a fitness freak who avoided smoking and drugs. He did indulge in alcohol, but only mildly in social circumstances with family and friends. The picture painted by Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu is not true and can easily be debunked. She claimed Michael Usifo Ataga ordered some drugs delivered at the premises where they were lodged and where this killing took place, but then said she was the one who went out to collect the drugs when it was delivered. Also, the kind of drug she claimed they had (“Roofies” or Rohypnol) is reported to render the user incapacitated and their memory impaired, so how come Michael Usifo Ataga was suddenly involved in all the activities she narrated before she claimed to have stabbed him? How come she herself is now able to recall everything that happened when she too was supposed to be under the influence of this drug at the time?
We do not know what the toxicology report would indicate, but if any drug is found in Michael Usifo Ataga’s system, it could only have been injected into his body by those who tortured and killed him or he may have been forced to ingest this by these people as part of the torturing process before his death. We know Michael. He was an extremely circumspect man who would not indulge in any form of drug use. We have no doubt that Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu is a drug user. She has confessed to this already. We do not doubt that she used drugs while at the scene of the murder when she was with Michael. But we very much doubt that Michael knew about this or used it with her.
Now we have reached the most important portion of our press statement and we would want to make certain clarifications before proceeding: For the purposes of the remaining part, we are not interested in all the stories in the press and all that is making the rounds on social media and in public space. As far as those are concerned, we have addressed them with the two specific clarifications we have made above relating to Michael Usifo’s family life and his supposed drug use. Our objective going forward now is to offer our opinion and analysis about what (i) the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, CP Odumosu said in his press briefing and (ii) what Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu said publicly on the grounds of the Lagos State Police Command Headquarters, Ikeja, by way of a confession. We are limiting ourselves to these two public statements because they are the only things the Police have released to the public pertaining to this case. Any other story elsewhere is irrelevant. We start with Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu’s supposed confession.
NOTE: The above is the draft I was preparing before we read about the lawyers’ release, so I stopped. I’m posting this part I have written (which is supposed to be one of two parts) to give you an idea of how I was thinking we should go. What would have followed this would have been a comprehensive debunking of the lies of Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu that are being presented as a confession. We would have picked serious holes in her “confession” and showed with our analysis why the Police and the public should not believe she is the only one involved in the murder and why no one should believe Michael died the way she’s narrated. Going forward, it would have been a useful document for investigators and prosecutors.
But, as I’ve said, we shouldn’t bother with this anymore. I’m happy with what the lawyers have said. Let’s just pray the Police apprehend the other culprits and diligently prosecute everyone involved in this dastard crime.
May the great soul of our friend, Michael Usifo Ataga, rest in perfect peace. Amen