‘The Media Circus’ – Who will Speak for Usifo Ataga?
Ever since the news of the gruesome murder of Usifo Ataga broke on 17th June 2021 when his body was identified, having been discovered by a cleaner the previous day, there was an explosion of media interest in the case. The case appeared to possess all the ingredients of an explosive newsworthy story and as such, to the untrained eye, it appeared that it had grown organically. But did it?
From the onset, some of us suspected given the precision, speed, ferocity, and targeted nature of the dissemination, that a seemingly well-oiled machinery had apparently been laying-in wait with a prepared narrative and unleashed same to an unsuspecting public, claiming that what had happened was a case of a crime of passion against all the known evidence to the contrary. Some had even gone as far as stating categorically, on that very day the news broke, that it was a side chick he had met two weeks earlier! This well prepared but clandestine machinery persisted even in the face of the Police coming out to state categorically that they were investigating a conspiratorial homicide. They achieved their aim of skewering the focus of the narrative in the early days and equally achieved the ignoble task of getting innocent readers to inadvertently assist them in throwing everyone off the tracks of the main perpetrators, by continuing to spread their false narratives.
By Tuesday the 23rd of June 2021, when the prime suspect was apprehended and named as Miss Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu, the entire national news and social media sphere were agog. She was subsequently paraded for the press that same day as is the custom with the Nigerian Police Force. However, unlike in times past, this parade from the onset, seemed quite different. The arrested suspect appeared well attired, groomed, and unruffled. A bench was set for her where people paraded for lesser crimes often sat on the floor, and most telling, she appeared to have a personal assistant on hand. A lady wearing a black face mask, dark brown/black trousers, cream long sleeve top with dark shades fastened on the front of her top was on hand to whisper in her ears constantly before and throughout the interview, even when she appeared to be asked difficult questions. On cue and in a nutshell, the paraded prime suspect stuck to script and claimed she was his side chick, and it was a crime of passion.
In the history of the Nigerian Police parading of suspects, no previously paraded suspects of the NPF have ever been so specially treated. It is pertinent to point out that this sort of VIP/special treatment for a confessed murder suspect could not have been carried out without the express acquiescence of the Nigerian Police who were in charge and in whose custody she was. Who exactly influenced the Nigerian Police to accord such special treatment to a confessed murderer? It certainly was not her father as he also, according to Police reports of that day had been arrested for obstructing Police at that time. It is either that the Police of their own volition did so for internal operational reason(s), or there is or are other figures powerful enough to influence such, not just in a local Police station, but at the very heart of the Lagos state Police command, in front of the world press. This is Nigeria and your guess is as good as mine.
This prime murder suspect though in Police custody, continued to enjoy such seemingly unfettered access to the media, granting various interviews and changing her versions of events depending on the new evidence presented to her; this was whilst the investigation was still active and her alleged co-conspirators on the loose and able to watch and read her different versions. The audacity of her volte face had often been as incredulous as her explanations were fatuous.
Notwithstanding, more media interviews appeared with varying versions, angles as well as degrees of salaciousness of her tales explored; almost every media house had vested interest. There was hardly any national television station that had not accorded this self-confessed murderer a prime slot. It fell mostly on very few brave ones to caution, interrogate, and stick to available evidence. These were too far and few in between and were easily drowned out by the pervading noise at the time. That a most horrific murder had unfortunately become a soap opera of sorts, speaks to the calibre of the media that had regrettably continued to act as an enabler, dwelling on the salacious instead of the substantive, and holding the investigating authorities accountable by asking pertinent questions and eschewing tabloid journalism.
No event in recent memory had quite blurred the lines between serious and tabloid journalism like the reportage of this story. No sooner had blatant lies and even outrightly labelled conspiracy theories peddled on social media than they appeared on mainstream media, sometimes replete with ‘legal experts’ discussing such outlandish nonsense as if they were facts. Internal controls in some of these media houses were haplessly exposed as exceptionally weak and moral boundaries non-existent.
How on earth do people stoop to peddling hurtful lies against children who had just lost their dad, falsely stating for instance, that these children exchanged text messages with their father’s killer via his telephone number? Dragging their mother throughout the press and beyond, a young wife whom regardless, had just lost a dear husband and bosom friend and was in no doubt at her lowest ebb, pilloried with the vilest and meanest of false accusations. How do people cook up such blatant falsehoods they evidently know to be false, with the mainstream media picking up such and using their revered platforms to grant such, clothes of believability and germaneness by broadcasting same without any iota of evidence nor attempt at prior verification?
These lies may have tickled itchy ears, aided in the quest to satiate gossipmongers, increase social media clicks and currency chasing aspirations, but were extremely traumatizing for Usifo Ataga’s aged parents, siblings, family, and friends, but even most devastatingly so for eleven and twelve-year-olds who had just lost a most loving and doting father. A truly ill conceived, morally repugnant, deplorable, inexcusable, as well as reprehensible conduct that must have no place in our society.
Usifo Ataga is dead and voiceless, however, a just, free, professional, vibrant, vigilant, and dedicated media is essentially a voice for the voiceless. Eschewing the unsubstantiated and accentuating the substantive issues in this matter will inevitably ensure that the facts of this case are freed from the shackles of conjectures, innuendos, fallacies, and the likes. This freedom will certainly enable the facts in this case speak loudly for Usifo Ataga. This is a worthy task for us all but will be near impossible to achieve without a resolute, professional, vigilant, and free media being on board.
As sure as the day follows the night, it certainly behoves on us all to ensure that amidst all the hocus pocus, we do not allow the noise to drown out the facts. We must reject the triumph of chicanery and sophistry over the evidence of solid facts. We must not be swayed, bought over nor intimidated, even led astray by whichever ploy, including attempts at diverting our focus!
For if we allow the perpetrators of this heinous crime to get away with it so easily, we embolden these perpetrators and their likes. We become complicit in cheapening the worth of our own lives, inadvertently becoming enablers in the insidious devaluation of the worth of the Nigerian life. Who knows who will be next? Usifo Ataga is dead and cannot be killed again, but we and our children are alive, whether we are living in the real sense of the word or merely surviving; either way we do not deserve to be gruesomely mutilated, to be so mercilessly butchered without any consequence in our own country.
I pray the facts of this case speak for Usifo Ataga!