Chidinma Ojukwu: Rahman Saliu, the co-founder of Super TV, has told a court how an SMS from the phone of Usifo Ataga, the late media entrepreneur, raised suspicion just around when he died.
Saliu testified on Monday as the fifth prosecution witness during a Lagos state high court sitting at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) in the ongoing trial of Chidinma Ojukwu, the prime suspect in the Super TV CEO’s murder.
The co-founder of Super Network Limited (owners of Super TV) took the witness box to testify that a total of seven multiple stabs was found on Ataga’s neck.
He said the deceased was fluent in English but an SMS sent to him from Ataga’s phone had errors.
Saliu, who broke down in tears while testifying before Justice Yetunde Adesanya, said apart from the stabs on Ataga’s neck, there was one to the stomach and several on the two sides of the ribs and the left ventricular to the chest.
Led in evidence by Deputy Director of Public Prosecution, Mrs Adenike Oluwafemi, he testified that the deceased was tied up, on both hands and legs like a ram waiting to be slaughtered.
Saliu, who is also a network engineer, programmer, and developer, testified as the fifth prosecution witness in the case. He told the court that he met the late Usifo Ataga 10 years ago in the course of building the Super TV App.
He explained that he was introduced to Ataga by a friend, Mr Bisi Osuneye, who is also late. He added that when Ataga came into the project as an investor, he became a co-founder by adding so many ideas and they started working on the project until his demise last year June.
The witness also stated that as Chief Executive Officer of Super TV, Ataga usually convene management meetings on Mondays and Executive (EXCO) meetings on Tuesdays and they sometimes meet virtually using Microsoft link.
Narrating how he came to hear about his death, Saliu said that he got a call from Ataga on Monday 14, June 2021, that he was having stomach pain and he subsequently advised the Super TV boss to take his drugs and get some rest.
He said that much later, he needed to reach Ataga, in relation to some tasks and so he started to call him the next day from about 11am.
I started calling him, he didn’t pick his calls neither did he return my message. I was surprised because the only thing he wants to hear is the billing App, with MTN, which is working now.
Michael (Ataga) didn’t pick his calls, everybody started reaching out to me because the only way they can get him is through me and the only way they can reach me is through him; he still did not pick up my calls, 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 made me sleeping.’ The construction of that message was not Michael, because Michael was very fluent in English.
I knew that was not Micheal’s typing and it was someone else but I sent him a screenshot of the billing system in the Super TV App, that it’s working and his response to me was ok, great, that was when I knew something was happening because Michael will 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 up 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 was traveling with to Abuja.
Gambo said he got a WhatsApp message, that was between 5 to 6pm, on June 15, 2021, then we started thinking of what could have happened to him. Another of Micheal’s friend, Okwuedo, who lives with us at Victoria Garden City (VGC), also asked of his whereabouts, I told him I got a WhatsApp message from Michael. So, Okwuedo said let him see the message, immediately he saw it, he said this is not Michael’s typing.
Okwuedo and Gambo went to 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. I then 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. I told myself that 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 actually waiting for him; 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, but he didn’t. I had to raise an alarm that I don’t know where Michael was.
My last WhatsApp message to Michael on June 16, 2021, was at 10:30am and the message read ‘Bro, where are you? I am worried, my BP is rising.” The message was read, no response, I started getting calls from his family wanting to wish him happy 50th birthday.
Calls started coming in, I did not really 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 6:35am on Thursday, 17 June 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 Tuesday. She was a bit upset with me that I was 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, 10 minutes later she called back and said Michael’s phones were 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 asked how I knew Usifo was in UNILAG, I mentioned that the information came from Brenda.
Mrs Brenda Ataga also called me and said there is a team of policemen that will meet me at UNILAG, to conduct the search. I got to UNILAG before them, so I went to the security and told them I was looking for a black Range Rover and they directed me to the guest house.
The police joined me with two of his friends and staff (member) from my office. Mrs Ataga called me and was giving me the GPS coordinate from where the direction of the phone is. While going through Yaba, I got a call from our GTBank account officer, whom I asked to help me trace Michael’s transactions, so that I can know where exactly he is.
He told me that Michael made transactions on Sunday and Monday. The Sunday transaction was to a lady Mrs Nkechi Mogbo, 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, I said today is his birthday and I have been looking for him since Tuesday.
So, I told him that since the owner of the service apartment uses GTB, he should send me her number, and he did. The police said I should give the number to Brenda so that it will not distract from our search of Michael.
Only for Brenda to later call and tell me that Michael is dead. I fainted; it took the police to resuscitate me. When I was a bit okay, I called her and asked how? 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 was 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.
I met her with some of Michael’s friends at Panti, and we went to the scene of the incident where Michael was murdered. I didn’t want to believe that Michael was dead, I saw Michael’s belongings that the police brought out and we were not allowed inside.
Saliu recounted in tears;
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 17 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 Ojukwu, I started looking at Michael’s calls from 9mobile and MTN, Chidinma Ojukwu was calling him with a WhatsApp number.
I traced the money that was transferred by Michael to Chidinma Ojukwu’s Sterling Bank 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 Ojukwu has been arrested.
Michael’s iPhone came with an original Apple pouch, when the police recovered the iPhone from Chidinma Ojukwu, it was replaced with a N1000 pouch; Michael’s laptop was also recovered. There were two iPhones, one iPhone 11 and one iPhone 7 or 8, was also recovered; I was told by the police that she gave the other iPhone to her sister.
He further stated that there was 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 Angle Villa, to confirm if a transaction was actually made. They confirmed that Michael came so we requested CCTV footage to know if he went alone, but we discovered that he came with Chidinma Ojukwu. The police at Panti took the video and I was surprised to see the CCTV footage all over the social media.
During cross-examination by the counsel to Chidinma Ojukwu, 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 prior to the arrest of Chidinma Ojukwu.
Justice Adesanya, in her ruling, adjourned until February 17 for the continuation of the trial.