Despite being found guilty of abuse and assault, Olympian Chika Chukwumerije is expected to lead the Nigerian Taekwondo contingent to the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, SaharaReporters has gathered.
“Can you imagine that the same person found guilty of abuse and assault is leading the Nigerian Taekwondo continent to the Olympics? Someone that ought to be in prison now.
“Instead of taking action against him, the Nigerian government, Sports Ministry, and the National Sports Commission (NSC) decided to reward coach Chika Chukwumerije,” a source at the ministry said.
Justice Peter Kekemeke of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyanya, Abuja, had dismissed a N500m libel suit by Chukwumerije against Yemi Adeyemi-Enilari and Delateur Foundation on May 31.
The claimant had filed the suit on December 22, 2015, against the defendants, claiming that they (defendants) published on Nigeria Taekwondo Black Belt College Facebook page a letter dated Monday, October 5, 2015, purportedly addressed to “President, Nigeria Taekwondo Federation” concerning him with the caption “Petition: Abuse and Assault of Taekwondo Athletes.”
He claimed that the alleged publication, which accused him of physically assaulting athletes, especially females, during the camping of Taekwondo athletes in Abuja, attracted hate, ridicule and contempt to his personality.
Adeyemi-Enilari, Chairman of Delateur Foundation, alleged in the post that Chukwumerije assaulted female athletes, Fatimah Abdullahi and Esther Uzoukwu, who were in camp at Febson Hotel, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja in preparation for the 2015 African Games.
In his ruling via Zoom, Justice Kekemeke of the Abuja court stated, “The law is that when such a defense is raised, the burden is on the defendant to prove the truth of the words complained of. The defendant must prove that the defamatory imputation is true by justifying the precise imputation complained of.
“It is not necessary to prove the truth of every word in the libel. If the defendant proves that the main charge or gist of the libel is true, he needs not justify the statements, which do not add to the sting of the charge. See Dumbo Vs. Idugboe (1983) 1 SC NLR 29.
“The gist of the charge is that the claimant assaulted athletes who were in camp at Febson Hotel, preparatory to the All African Games in Congo Brazzaville; that they were psychologically and mentally traumatized. A justification of the truth of the substantial imputation by the defendant is sufficient though it does not extend to every epithet or term of general abuse that may be found in the description or statement of the imputation.
“In the instant case, it is my view that the defendants have justified the precise imputation complained of and I so hold. The defendants have proved that the gist of the libel is true. In the circumstance, the suit crumbles and it is accordingly dismissed.”
One of the athletes, Abdullahi, had in an interview with SaharaReporters in 2016 said the Taekwondo training camp became “a sad experience” because of the assault “by one of our coaching crew Mr. Chika Chukwumerije.”
According to her, the abusive coach “used a rope tied with paper to beat” athletes “if you did not do certain things correctly.”
She stated that the abuse reached a more disturbing stage when Chukwumerije “wanted to use a tiny iron rod to beat us.”
She also alleged that there were instances where the coach slapped her for not performing the way he expected.
In a recent interview with PUNCH, Abdullahi said Chukwumerije, a bronze medalist at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, boasted that nothing would come out of the case.
“I have only been getting help from Master Yemi (Adeyemi-Enilari); nobody in the federation has been supporting me; this is a case of fighting with someone more powerful than you. When we reported to the grandmaster and the grandmaster called him, he boasted to the man, saying, ‘I am spending for taekwondo and I will continue to spend for taekwondo; nobody can control me.’ Ever since nobody talked about it again,” she said.
George Ashiru, President, Nigeria Taekwondo Federation at the time of the alleged assault, said the report of the panel’s investigations was presented to the sports ministry, but added that there was no feedback from the ministry before he was controversially impeached in December 2015, prompting Delateur Foundation, an NGO, to take up the matter on behalf of the athletes.
“Complaints were made and the federation took it up, but there was no feedback from the ministry until our tenure was over, so we don’t know what happened after that,” Ashiru said.
“What I can recollect is that some athletes complained to their state associations that they were assaulted and the state associations requested the federation to comment on that. Later on, an NGO decided to join the case, saying they were also fighting on behalf of the athletes.
“As president at that time, we had a disciplinary committee and the norm was to pass the matter to that committee to investigate, which we did and the committee submitted their report at the board meeting.
“Unfortunately, the day the report was to be provided by the chairman of the committee was when they decided they didn’t want to hear anything apart from impeaching me.
“We were never formally informed about all the actions that were taken subsequently, till the end of our tenure, which I presume is the reason the NGO decided to make it public, to try to force the government to do something about it.”
According to the PUNCH, the head of the disciplinary committee, Gideon Akinsola, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, said Chukwumerije was found guilty of the allegations by the committee.
“When the athletes complained against him, we checked and saw the evidence that he was physically assaulting them,” Akinsola said.
“(Sunny) Obot was the secretary of the federation then and secretary of the committee that investigated the matter and we submitted our report to the federation, who said we shouldn’t use a sledgehammer to kill a cockroach; that we should take it easy to avoid division because they were preparing for the African Games.
“But Chukwumerije didn’t help matters and started looking for a way to impeach the president and it led to our tenure coming to an abrupt end.”
A copy of the disciplinary committee’s report titled ‘SITUATION REPORT ON CASE OF ASSAULT BETWEEN MR CHIKA CHUWUMERIJE AND SOME FEMALE ATHLETES’ signed by then NTF secretary-general, Sunny Obot, and addressed to the Director, FEAD, National Sports Commission, stated that Chukwumerije physically abused the athletes.
The report, dated December 11, 2019, read, “After carefully looking at the two (2) statements from the athletes and the discussion between the Secretary-General and Mr. Chika Chukwumerije in camp, it was evident that the act was committed but since Chika could not talk to the committee, it became relatively difficult for the committee to determine his intention which could have given it a soft landing.
“Therefore, it was thus decided that: (1) Chika should apologize to the athletes, including the Taekwondo Community, for assaulting female athletes (2) Where he fails to do so; he should be suspended from all Taekwondo activities for three months.”
Obot stated that stand-in captain for the African Games, Ayodele Temitope had reported to him that “Chukwumerije slapped in particular, three (3) female athletes (Esther Uzoukwu, Ifeoma Dennis, Joy Ekhator – a police officer) for their inability to kick according to his instructions.”