Last week, the internet was agog with the viral pictures of Miss Chidinma Adaora Ojukwu, the alleged killer of Usifo Ataga, the CEO of Super TV. She was crowned as Miss Cell after winning a beauty pageant at the Kirikiri female prison. The event was in commemoration of the International Women’s Day 2022 with the theme: #BreakingTheBias.
Chidinma, clad in various flowing dinner gowns, different from the prison uniform, matching high heels, with heavy make-up and new hair style, caught the attention of many people because of her ongoing celebrated case. The 21-year-old student of Mass Communication at the University of Lagos has been in the news since the incident happened on June 15, 2021. She was said to have stabbed Ataga several times with a knife in the neck and chest.
Prior to the beauty pageant event and in fact since her arrest, concerns have been raised on how she has been treated at the Correctional Centre. Most Nigerians were of the view that Chidinma was being given an undeserved preferential treatment. For instance, she was once brought to the court without handcuffs and on another occasion taken back to prison in a private cab. In addition to that, she was allowed to grant interviews with so much calmness and confidence. She smiled all through the interviews. Undoubtedly the first celebrity murder suspect in Nigeria.
We view the reason for organizing the pageant as not cogent enough. The Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) said she was allowed to participate in the contest as part of its effort to rehabilitate her and other inmates. If we agree and go by this, then the authorities shouldn’t have allowed pictures and videos of the event to leave the prison premises. At least for thesake of the Ataga family who are still in pains over the gruesome murder of their son, husband and father. It would have been strictly an internal affair without the cameras. It was the height of insensitivity with respect to the plight of the Ataga family who are still seeking justice.
Let us emphasize that prison is a place of punishment and rehabilitation and not for fun. Once the main purpose is defeated it becomes a caricature of the judiciary. There are other ways to rehabilitate inmates and not the insensitive show of glamour as we saw in the Chidinma saga. The incident has further fuelled suspicion that some powerful people are doing all they can to make her more comfortable in custody and also to set her free at the end.
Again, it is questionable why the Nigeria Correctional Service will want to make a murder suspect, who by the way has since confessed to the crime, to be their face. What message are they trying to convey? It simply means that there is nothing wrong with murder and that there is some form of self fulfillment and joy in taking the life of someone. Some kids will run with this in their head as they will now see Chidinma as their role model and icon. A cruel joke taken too far and an insult on our sense of morality as a people. It should not be the case, not at all, else we will be destroying further the moral fabric of our society.
We therefore call on Rauf Aregbesola, the Minister of Interior, to fish out those behind the show of shame and punish them. The prison service should also apologize for that insensitive action. Whatever crown placed on her should be withdrawn and the monumental embarrassment should not repeat itself. This will assuage the feelings of the Ataga family that their quest to find answers as to who and how Usifo was killed, is not being swept under the carpet.
We are of course aware that until a judicial pronouncement is made, Chidinma still remains a suspect. The authorities should keep her so rather than elevating her to the status of a celebrity. They should also be conscious of the fact that Ataga’s family are filled with unpleasant memories over the issue. The public display of Chidinma as a “star girl” could reinforce sadness and constantly remind them of the tragedy.
We also call for the speedy trial of the case. The suspected conspirators, including Chidinma’s sister Chioma Egbuchu and one Adedapo Quadri, should know their fate. Since they were arraigned last year, on a nine-count charge preferred by the Lagos State Government, it is almost as if the case is running on snail speed. It shouldn’t be so with the number of testimonies and evidence before the court. We need to remind our lord the presiding judge that justice delayed may be justice denied.