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Fatal Attraction: Unanswered questions in the murder of a 50-year old Billionaire

Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one. –Benjamin Franklin

Fatal Attraction is a 1980’s movie classic. Released in 1987, it is the story of Dan Gallagher (played by Michael Douglas). Gallagher is a rich and successful lawyer. He is on the rise at his New York law firm, (he) is happily married to his wife, Beth (Anne Archer), and has a loving daughter. But, after a casual fling with a sultry book editor named Alex (Glenn Close), everything changes. Jilted by Dan, Alex becomes unstable, her behavior escalating from aggressive pursuit to obsessive stalking. Dan realizes that his main problem is not hiding his affair, but rather saving himself and his family. (Fatal Attraction Film Synopsis.)

Though Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) lived to tell the story of his near-fatal escapade in the movie (Fatal Attraction), it is not so for Mr. Michael Usifo Ataga, a 50 year old Nigerian media entrepreneur and CEO of Super TV whose dalliance with a 21 year old damsel, only old enough to be his daughter, cut short the life and career of a rich and powerful man whose family is still left wondering,’ what did we do wrong’, where did we go wrong?’

Born June 19, 1971, Michael Usifo Ataga, a handsome man from Edo State is a 1995 graduate from the University of Benin in the same State. He is a director in a telecom firm, Super Network Limited and Chief Executive Officer of Super TV. A ladies’ man, Michael lived on the high-brow Banana Island in Victoria Island Lagos, a place where low income earners and born-again civil servants dare not visit in search of accommodation because of the prohibitive cost.

Michael, like the character in the classic, Fatal Attraction, was married and the marriage is blessed with two children. His wife, beautiful Brenda Ataga, works in an oil company. This, indeed, must be a rich family. One that could easily attract attention – all sorts of attention.

From the view point of an innocent bystander, life was good for Michael and going well for his family. He was at the top, the pinnacle. Although many men would give an arm and a leg to knock him off his exalted perch, they could not and he was on a cruise and enjoying it.

Suddenly, the unexpected happened and the family is trust into the limelight for the wrong reasons.

A Michael Suddenly Goes Missing:

Michael Ataga was reported missing on Sunday, June 13, six days to his 50th birthday, by his family and friends when he failed to return home or turn up at his office in Victoria Island.

After frantic efforts to locate him failed, his family reported to law enforcement officers who spread the dragnet to unravel the mystery behind his sudden disappearance. This is understandable: In Nigeria, when a rich man goes missing, all hands are put on deck to find him – wealth is a powerful magnet that wills all to its beck and call.

On Friday June 18, (a day to his birthday) and five days after he was declared missing by his family, Michael’s lifeless body was found in a service apartment on 19, Adewale Oshin Street, in Lekki Phase 1 in Lagos. His wife, two children, friends and loved ones were in deep shock.

Not known to be a violent person, it was a mystery as to how a gentleman could come to such a horrific death with multiple knife wounds on his body in an unlikely place. What happened, how did he get there? Where were his personal detail(s)? Was he kidnapped, drugged and killed when he tried to fight off his assailant to regain his freedom? Why was he naked save for his boxers? Many questions, few answers.

Then the answers trickled in…There were multiple withdrawers from his bank account through the use of his ATM card.

But who took his atm card and some personal belongings and why…?

It was time for the Police to step up to the plate and they did with uncommon efficiency.

And the answers began to rush out in torrents.

But there was a twist to the whole saga.

The Other Woman

It is sad for the family of Michael Ataga that they lost a loved one, but to think that behind it all could be the lure of the flesh would be a hard pill, a very bitter one for them to swallow. To every Romeo however there is a Juliet and to every Samson, there is a Delilah lurking in the dark somewhere. O woman… The strength of a woman!

Chidinma Ojukwu is a 21 year old student of Mass Communication in the University of Lagos (UNILAG). An ivy league school founded in 1962 by an act of parliament. Located in Akoka, Yaba, UNILAG has a reputation for incubating some of the best brains in Nigeria. It is considered a veritable catalyst with the capacity to bring out the best in its students. But to every coin there are two sides.

With an enrolment rate of over 57,000 students, it is difficult to have all the ducks in a row and hold it all together with students from diverse backgrounds and every part of the world. It is therefore understandable that the school has its own fair share of the “other side of life”. The good, the bad and the ugly sometimes roll together. But this is story for another day.

On the other hand, Chidinma Ojukwu and family would have a big battle on their hands to wipe off the heavy tar of ugliness on their family heritage in the days, months and perhaps years to come. But this is not completely story for another day.

Reason? The 300 level, innocent looking Chidinma was with Michael Ataga when he died according to police investigation. TROUBLE! She is the last person he saw before his untimely death. The police revealed that the deceased was drugged, disposed of his ATM card, International passport and other personal items.

According to Hakeem Odumosu, the Lagos State commissioner of Police, Chidinma checked into a short-let apartment in Lekki with the deceased. She was with him until Tuesday when she suddenly left the facility alone without her Romeo on Wednesday.

“When the man didn’t come out on Tuesday and Wednesday the workers responsible for evacuating trash bins went in to carry out their normal duty and discovered that the door was left ajar. When they got in, they discovered the victim in the pool of his blood wearing only his boxers,” the police czar said.

He volunteered more details about the possible cause of his death.

“She cut off the artery that supplies blood through the neck and also on his stomach and she cleverly changed her cloths before leaving,” he added.

“She also disappeared with the deceased’s ATM card which she claims he gave to her voluntarily alongside the pin, which she went further to make withdrawals with,” he added.

Having escaped from the scene of the crime undetected, Chidinma must have thought she was home and dry. But she was dead wrong as the police refused to give up the chase.

“She was traced to 57 Akinkunmi Street, Alagomeji, Yaba area of Lagos on June 23. We have been able to recover his driver’s and complimentary cards in her bag as well as well as clothes and some personal effects that the man came with,” CP Odumoso continued.

“Also recovered were one Access Bank statement of account, one Nigerian International Passport with No. B50010434 belonging to the suspect, one fake driver’s license bearing ‘Mary Johnson’ with the suspects photograph, one National Identification Card bearing the suspects names, one UBA ATM debit card bearing the suspects name and one University of Lagos ID card bearing the suspect’s name.

 “Also, the clothes she wore while the fight was ongoing which was fully soaked with the man’s stained blood were recovered.”

Granted, the alibi stacked up against Chidinma at this stage of police investigation looked impregnable. But she refused to go down without a fight.

Chidinma Ojukwu’s Story:

As expected with developments of this nature, cupid’s arrow was at work and Chidinma claimed that she and the deceased were in some sort of relationship for four months – that they were familiar with each other. She also claimed the ill-fated escapade was arranged at the behest of the deceased.

“He told me to get a short let apartment (similar to a hotel but more private),” she volunteered to police.” I searched online and sent it to him. He said I should go and check it out, which I did. He then paid for it. That was on 16th June, 2021.

“On Monday, we were together, drinking, smoking, we had fun together, later I went out to get food for both of us. Then on Tuesday, he was trying to make advances at me, I was tired but he became violent.

“Eventually, he got his way, which I let him. Towards afternoon we ordered for a smoke together that was what we took. We ate food, we became high, I wasn’t happy for the first one (s*x) he did so I was sitting on my own,” she continued.

“Smoking and drinking with my food. He was on the couch, later he came to me where I sat watching television and I told him I wasn’t happy with what he did in the first one. I told him, you don’t help or assist me but yet you just want to be playing with me around.

“He was like ‘take my ATM card you can go and withdraw what you want.’ He said the pin. I was like that is not what I mean, he became violent, trying to get to me and I was resisting and defending myself and at some point, he hit my head on the wall and I also retaliated. He was choking me when I was at the kitchen cabinet I leaned on, I stretched out to the knife and stabbed his neck.

“I attempted severally to leave when he became violent but he stopped me. Contrary to the rumour that I collected five million from his account, it was only N380,000.00 I withdrew from his account.

“I don’t have that kind of money in my account. I felt a lot after the incident even though I went home straight without reaching out to anyone. He was the one that gave me his ATM card and pin after I complained that he wasn’t taking care of me,” she said.

she also explained why she withdrew money from his account.

“I wanted to use the money I withdrew from his account to pay my fees. He was the one that invited the drug guy, he is always having a smoke with him, so I don’t know if that was the first time.

“In the last four months I have known him, we haven’t gone out like this, we just met and then go to the house in Victoria Garden City.

“I felt disappointed when the police came to my parents’ house to arrest me. It was 9 pm when the police came and arrested me on Wednesday; it was already very late. I live with my parents I told my parents that I was going for ushering job. I used to do freelance ushering jobs,” she told journalists.

She also volunteered information on her multiple identity perhaps to dispel the suspicion that she must have orchestrated it all and this may not be her first attempt.

“I checked into the short-let apartment with a foreign number, not because I had it all planned out or I didn’t want to be traced.

“The foreign number was what I used in contacting the lady that is in charge of renting out the short let apartment. I used an app to generate the foreign number,” she told the media when she was paraded by the police.

Interesting story, but there are many questions floating in the subconscious.

Questions in the wind:

What really transpired in the apartment on that fateful Tuesday? This is difficult to tell and the police is still investigating but let’s stretch the imagination a little. Where did the young, gentle looking girl who had smoked joint and used roofies get the strength to subdue a fit looking man? She claimed she sustained some injuries on her head when the deceased hit it on the wall but did she show it to the police? Were there scratches on her body or tell-tale signs of a scuffle with someone? “We struggled until the knife broke…” she said in another account, but did she sustain any injuries from the broken knife? Where is the knife now?

To be clear Roofies, roophies, forget-me pill or Mexican Valium are some of the street names for Rohypnol {Except of course this is not the same Roofies referred to}. Rohypnol is a tranquilizer, about ten times more potent than valium. The drug is available in white or olive-green pill and is usually sold in the manufacturer’s bubble package. Users crush the pills and snort the powder, sprinkle it on marijuana and smoke it, dissolve it in a drink or inject it.

Rohypnol is usually used to commit sexual assaults because it renders the victim incapable of resisting, hence it is the preferred drug for date-rape or gang-rape as the victim is usually left paralysed within twenty minutes of ingesting and the effect can last for as long as eight or twelve hours. Typically, victims can lie on the floor with eyes open, able to observe events but completely unable to move. Afterwards, memory is impaired and recall of events during the state of stupor is impossible. The person often experiences loss of muscle control, confusion, drowsiness and amnesia. (Source: Drug Free World.org.)

If indeed roofies was used either willingly or not, who gave who and what quantity was consumed? A toxicologist would know. Again, what quantity was bought and who really made the purchase and who are the seller(s). This information should prove critical in the days ahead.

Without prejudice to law enforcement, this whole saga lends itself to the following possible scenarios:

Scenario One:

Chidinma Ojukwu is a lone operator who had it all planned. This could well explain why she checked into the short-let with a Pseudonym. She had a fake Driver’s license with the name ‘Mary Johnson’ and she also made the booking with a foreign number generated with an app. Why would a 21 year old go this far if she hadn’t some dark ulterior motive(s)? Was she not covering up her track, working hard to throw the police off her scent – the scent of a femme fatale?

Her account of the scuffle that degenerated into a fight also does not add up. How can a man who just gave his ATM card and the pin (a blank check) to a girlfriend to withdraw any amount she wants suddenly gets aggressive without any prompting?

“He was like ‘take my ATM card you can go and withdraw what you want.’ He said the pin. I was like that is not what I mean, he became violent, trying to get to me and I was resisting and defending myself and at some point, he hit my head on the wall and I also retaliated. He was choking me when I was at the kitchen cabinet I leaned on, I stretched out to the knife and stabbed his neck,” she said.

And afterwards, with a man she has shared a night with lying dead in the room, she walked out? She did not inform the apartment owners/staff about the incident, she did not call the police, she just changed her cloths and walked out with his ATM card to later withdraw N380,000. Haba! Just like that, and she did not inform her parents about the horrific incident involving her either.

Could she have lace his drink with roofies to weaken him, soften him up for the kill and then pounced immediately she figured the drugs must have taken its toll on the deceased?

Still on this line of thought, it is hard to fathom the motive for the recourse to the use off hard drugs by the victim. Moreover, he had money and means and was already familiar with the accused for four months according to her story and they had met previously. It does appear he would have no motivation to rape the lady because he had a reputation – it would be too reckless and dangerous. Similarly, if he needed an aphrodisiac to rise to the occasion, he would be spoilt for choice at any pharmacy of choice. It is unlikely that he tried to drug the lady and it is unlikely that he had a pre-disposition to harm her. Arguably.

Further action: A toxicology analysis, an autopsy by a seasoned coroner is an imperative.

Scenario Two:

Chidinma worked in conjunction with one or two other persons (at least) still at large. Namely, the supplier of the drugs, someone who helped her to break the code to the ATM card because her line that the deceased volunteered his pin number may not add up. Possibly too, the apartment owner may know more than we know. Someone needs to explain how a client who made a booking and checked in with a patron suddenly checked out alone and undetected. Was it her first time at the apartment or is she a regular? “He was the one that invited the drug guy,” she said about the drug courier, “he is always having a smoke with him, so I don’t know if that was the first time,” she claimed.

Again, was this part of the plan to give the impression that the deceased was heavily into drugs and may have ingested some hard drugs himself? Just think about it, if she spiked his drinks with some drugs, it would serve has grand scheme to claim that the deceased drugged himself. Again, this are mere journalistic conjectures.

There are more.

Where is the murder weapon (the knife?). Whose finger print(s) are on it? What was the state of the kitchen cabinet when the police got there. Was anything damaged, any sign of a scuffle as claimed? Is the knife broken? And how come no one heard nothing while heads were hit against the wall during the fighting? Or, conversely, was the deceased pinned down by someone while another walked to the kitchen cabinet to get the killer weapon to finish the job after the drugs must have deadened his muscles. whose fingerprints are on his lifeless body?

Further, the drinks and the containers used to serve them, are they still intact at the scene or were the bottles emptied into the sink and evidence destroyed before the police got there? Who tampered with the evidence? Did she do it on her own before leaving or did someone clean up the mess after her?

Further action: The police should dig farther and further. A post mortem should not be waived for any reason.

Scenario Three:

Perchance it was an accident after all. It is left to the imagination what smoke (street name for Indian hemp or Cannabis Sativa) can do to the mind. But the impact of a combo of cannabis and other drugs, possible roofies, can not be left to the imagination. It is combustion waiting to happen. Hence it is also possible that the two lovers checked into the apartment without any hidden motives beyond the age-long exchange of bodily pleasure for cash or other material gratifications. However, and just maybe, the drugs got the better of them. Perchance they were both stoned or one was very high and beyond control. Perhaps they had an argument over a topic/subject that crossed the benign lines of conviviality to the dreadful throes of discomfort and violent reactions. What came to the fore, what secrets were uncovered, what hidden secret became an open secret. Was blackmail an underlying factor? we may never know.

Although it is also worth considering that the post-event action by the defendant hardly lends itself to the interpretation of an accidental development, it may not completely obviate the possibility that what happened was on the spur of the moment. Be that as it may, it has cut short the live of a man, husband and father; and will definitely define the life of a young 21 year old girl forever. May the soul of the departed…

UNILAG: Throwing the baby away with the bath water:

It is curious reading the statement credited to Dr. Bunmi Ajibade, Senior Lecturer of the Mass Communications Department of UNILAG about the involvement of Chidinma Ojukwu in the gruesome murder of Michael Ataga.

Dr. Ajibade, who says he has made some investigations about Chidinma Ojukwu, a murder suspect, circulated a message on WhatsApp after the news of the incident went viral. In the message, he put the blame of Chidinma’s inexplicable bad behaviour on her parents who he said ought to have monitored her.

“We parents should pray for and monitor our children. There is so much evil going on in tertiary institutions now. Drugs, alcohol and s*x have become the order of the day among adolescents,” he wrote.

“As Coordinator of Part Time programme,” he said, “l have made some investigations about the lady. The last time she came to school was before Covid-19 lockdown. She has never written 300 Level exams with her cohorts.

“She has never stepped her feet on the soil of UNILAG since the commencement of this semester early last month. Yet, she was arrested in her father’s house.

He was not done.

“Were the parents sensitive enough to discover her truancy in school? Did they monitor her progress in school if they suspected something is amiss? How come they were apparently neglected that this calamity came upon them suddenly? Many questions are begging for answers,” he said.

This is most unfortunate and unhelpful and it is akin to throwing the baby away with the bath water – pushing the blame elsewhere. In a society like ours, the parents and tutors/teachers have a role to play in the development of a student. There are processes in place to deal with truancy by students in school. So how come since early last year Chidinma was not in school for lectures, did not sit for exams and the school could not contact her parents/guardians to report her? How come she was not sanctioned or made to face a panel or disciplinary body for abandoning school for over 365 days? Or is UNILAG telling us something we don’t know?

It is easy to pass the buck now, but with time Dr Ajibade and other lecturers/tutors alike may soon be called to give account of their stewardship – in truth and in deed. Its only a matter of time. Only time can heal the wound, the pain and shame Chidinma has brought upon her parents and loved ones.

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