Though for the wrong reasons, Chidinma Ojukwu, the 21-year-old alleged to have killed Usifo Ataga, the CEO of Super TV, has become a viral sensation in the Nigerian media landscape.
The spotlight has continued to beam on the 300-level student of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) ever since she was paraded by the Lagos state police command as a prime suspect in Ataga’s murder.
The pair were believed to have checked into a hotel to have fun but the encounter took another dimension that apparently led to the demise of the businessman.
As the case gradually becomes a subject of concern to members of the public over how it is being handled by the police, the disquiet was further heightened on Monday after a video of the young lady denying her initial confession that she killed Ataga surfaced online.
Three interviews, three contradictions — why is Chidinma going back and forth?
Chidinma had on June 24 confessed to stabbing Ataga “twice on the neck side”. She had alleged that the businessman forcefully had sex with her the first time but a dispute ensued after he attempted it again.
This, she had claimed, prompted her to put a knife through Ataga’s neck which eventually led to his death.
“At some point, he was chasing me around the kitchen cabinet. I took a knife and stabbed his neck. I approached the door and he followed me. I stabbed him twice on the neck side,” she had said.
But a few days later, Chidinma changed the narrative of how the Super TV CEO was murdered.
In an interview with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), the student had claimed she killed him because she sensed he wasn’t ready to meet her financial needs as promised.
“He was sleeping so I tied his hands so that by the time he wakes up, he would give me what I want and I would leave. I did that so that he won’t attack me when he wakes up because I wanted to steal from him,” she had claimed.
“I asked him for money but he said he didn’t have when I knew he had it. So, I had to do what I did because I needed the money. When I realised he was gone, I took everything he had and left.”
But in a dramatic twist, Chidinma denied her initial confessions that she killed the Super TV CEO in her latest interview with Crime Fighters.
In the now-viral interview, a relaxed and unfazed Chidinma had said she confessed to killing Ataga earlier due to pressure and the fact that nobody was ready to listen to her.
In her recent account, the student claimed that she had gone out of the room to get food and drugs only to meet him in a pool of his own blood when she returned.
She had also dismissed reports that her confessions were being influenced.
Inibehe Effiong, a constitutional lawyer, told TheCable Lifestyle that the contradictory statements given by the suspect will affect the case when it is eventually taken to the court.
“This will affect the case. The testimonies and confessions she has made will be challenged if they’re relying on the conventional statement. Ordinarily, the confession she has made is not admissible in law because it is an extra-judicial statement,” he said.
“An extrajudicial statement is admissible in law when it is an admission of an offence and there are circumstances surrounding that.
“But in this case, you have the suspect giving a conflicting extrajudicial statement to the press. I am not privy to what she wrote in her statement to the police. But from the look of things, there is no way all this embarrassing display will not have an effect on the case when it eventually gets to the court.”
Her latest interview has continued to generate heated controversies.
While many Nigerians questioned the decision of the police to release a suspect in a criminal trial for media interviews, others also raised eyebrows over the appearance of the student in the video.
Since she was paraded, Chidinma has had two other exclusive interviews with different media outlets.
The question on the lips of many is why are the police authorising such interviews — even when it is against the law?
Parading suspects is illegal — what are the police trying to prove in Chidinma’s case?
According to Section 36(5) of the Constitution, “every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty; provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.”
Effiong said based on the provision of the constitution, Chidinma is presumed guilty until she is convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction.
The lawyer also accused the police of subjecting the suspect to “media trial”, adding that by doing such, the police is already “compromising the case.”
“It may be normal for the Nigerian police but for a responsible police in a serious country, it’s very abnormal. When it comes to the Nigerian police, abnormal things seem to be normal. On a more serious note, it is an embarrassment for the case to have taken this dimension,” he said.
“Constitutionally, section 36(5) guarantees her the right to presumption of innocence. But in this case, it looks like the police have some agenda in the matter. It appears they’re pursuing a sinister agenda. It is quite unusual to have a prospect in such a high profile case, in fact in any case of any kind granting interviews to media houses as a form of celebrity the way they have done.
“For me, the officers responsible for such should be dismissed from the police. I strongly believe they should be dismissed, we cannot tolerate such an act from the police. What point exactly are they trying to prove? If there is evidence against her, they should be interested in having the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) take her.
“This is also to show that the attorney-general in Lagos should direct interest in the matter and get involved in the case. The police started the media trial by parading her before the press to have confessed to the offence, now the same police brought her before another media interview for her to recant her previous statement to the press.
“What that shows is that the case has already been compromised. As far as I am concerned, the case has already been compromised.”
Effiong added that Chidinma’s appearance in the recent interview also raises suspicion.
The legal practitioner said while suspects are expected to be accorded respect and treated with dignity, such is not common in Nigeria, especially when it has to do with a criminal case.
“Even the way the lady appeared in the recent video raises suspicion. You see how clean she looks. Ordinarily, that’s how suspects should look, they should be treated with dignity,” he added.
“But it is very unusual in Nigeria to have a murder suspect in a criminal trial with different hairstyles, looking so elegant, with her two hands in her pockets, sitting so comfortably. The police are dramatising. This is just a dramatisation of a serious murder case and for me, it an embarrassment to the country.”
Festus Ogun, a constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, also condemned the action of the police, adding that such is illegal.
Ogun said parading suspects and thereafter subjecting them to media interviews is a violation of their fundamental rights as well as the constitution.
“There is absolutely nothing to agree with about the evil practice of parading suspects. I make bold to say that the parading of suspects, although common, is unknown to any living law in Nigeria. It is manifestly illegal, unconstitutional and intolerable in any civilized society,” he told TheCable Lifestyle.
“The parading of suspects and setting them for media interviews could compromise the investigation process. It amounts to a total waste of time, hypocritical “eye-service” and a deliberate attempt to subject the human dignity and fundamental rights of accused persons to jeopardy.
“One major dimension to the whole issue is that the police hardly parade rich and influential suspects. When big men and political elites are caught within the webs of law, they are never made to go through a public parade or press interrogations.
“The poor, victimized and helpless are the usual targets of the public parade. That alone exposes the discriminatory nature of the arbitrary policy. It should be abolished without further delays.
“The police must respect the law and desist from this show of shame. We have always made it known that parading suspects are unfair, illegal, unconstitutional and discriminatory. Even the courts have given judicial blessings to our advocacy on this issue.
“What more? The authorities should do away with the garb of impunity and allow the rule of law to prevail. In the end, maybe the National Assembly should enact a law to sanction all erring officers of law involved in the unconscionable act.
“And for the citizens and civil society, they should never bow to the altar of arbitrariness under any guise. All public parades and press interrogation of suspects carried out by the police should be challenged in the court of law.”
Efforts to get the reaction of Muyiwa Adejobi, Lagos police spokesman, on the matter, proved abortive as of the time of this report.
He neither responded to calls nor text messages sent to him on the issue.
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