By Nkasi Kolie
A prosecution witness, Mr. Rotimi Albert in the ongoing trial of Chidinma Ojukwu, charged with murder of Super TV Chief Executive Officer, Usifo Ataga on Tuesday narrated how deceased’s family and friends searched for him but found his body in the mortuary on his birthday.
Albert who is the fourth prosecution witness stated this while giving evidence as one of the witnesses, before a Lagos High Court, sitting at Tafa Balewa Square.
Ojukwu, an under graduate, is facing trial alongside her sister, Chioma Egbuchu and one Adedapo Quadri, for Ataga’s murder.
The witness who introduced himself as a long time school mate and family friend to the late Ataga, said he wanted to call the deceased on June 17, his birthday, to send birthday wishes to him.
Albert said another of their mutual friends called him in the evening of June 16th and asked if he had seen or heard from Ataga.
He said the mutual friend told him on phone that no one had heard from Ataga since Sunday June 13th.
The witness said he tried calling the deceased on phone, adding that his phone rang but there was no answer so he sent a WhatsApp message which delivered.
Albert said he observed that the deceased was online which showed on the WhatsApp last seen.
“I was surprised when he didn’t return my calls nor reply my messages.
“I started calling other friends to ask if anyone has seen him, even his siblings abroad called me to ask about Ataga’s whereabouts. I told them I was also worried.
“His wife and family were also looking for him because they were supposed to celebrate his birthday with him in Abuja,” he said.
The witness told the court that the wife to the deceased reported to the police about their worries.
He said the phone of the deceased was tracked and it was noticed that the phone was last used at University of Lagos guest house.
According to him, it was already late that June 16th, so the next day, (June 17th) he and a mutual friend went to University of Lagos guest house to search for Ataga’s vehicle but the vehicle was not there.
He said the phone tracker also indicated that the phone was used at Aladimeji area.
Albert said the tracking became difficult because the movement kept changing.
“In the course of all these, we got a call that Usifo is deceased and in the mortuary.
“We therefore went to Panti police station, there we found out that the police had already visited the crime scene.
“After going to the crime scene, the police told us to go to the mortuary to identify the body so we went and confirmed it was Usifo Ataga.
“At the mortuary, I observed that he was assaulted with multiple stabbed wounds on his neck, abdomen, his side and leg.
“I also observed that his wrist had rope marks and deep indentations. That was how I got to know that my friend was deceased,” witness said.
The witness was led in evidence by the Lagos State Director for Public Prosecutions, Mrs Adeyinka Adeyemi.
After his examination-in-chief, the witness was cross examined by the first defendant counsel, Mr Onwuka Egwu.
The witness said he was not the one checking and tracking the deceased phone and his bank transactions but a mutual friend.
The witness stated that he made a statement at the police station which was tendered by the defence counsel and it was admitted as evidence.
The counsel to the second and third defendants, Mr Babatunde Busari and Mr A. O. Ogunsanya, said they did not have any question for the witness.
The prosecutor, however asked for an adjournment to enable them bring other evidence.
Justice Yetunde Adesanya, consequently, adjourned the case until February 14 for continuation of trial.
The three defendants were arraigned on October 12 on a nine-count charge preferred against them by Lagos State Government.
Ojukwu and Quadri are facing the first to eight counts bordering on conspiracy, murder, stabbing, forgery, making of bank statements and stealing.
The third defendant, Egbuchu, is facing the ninth count of stealing iPhone 7 belonging to the late Ataga.
The first and second defendants were alleged to have conspired and murdered Ataga on June 15, 2021, by stabbing him severally with a knife on the neck and chest.
The alleged murder took place at No. 19, Adewale Oshin St., Lekki Phase 1, Lagos.
The duo were also accused of committing forgery by procuring and making bank account statements purported to have been made by the deceased.