The Punch

Chukwumeri­je slapped us, whipped us in training –Female athletes recount physical assault, agony

In this report, female taekwondo athletes recount their ordeal in the hands of Chika Chukwumeri­je in 2015, but the Olympian denies any wrongdoing despite a probe panel finding him guilty and an Abuja court ruling against his favour, write JOHNNY EDWARD an

- •Chukwumeri­je

The last may not have been heard of the scandal involving Olympian Chika Chukwumeri­je over allegation­s of abuse of female athletes, after the high Court in Abuja dismissed a N500m libel suit by Chukwumeri­je against Yemi Adeyemi-enilari and Delateur Foundation on May 31.

In the suit filed on December 22, 2015 against Adeyemi-enilari and Delateur Foundation, Chukwumeri­je claimed 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 the claimant with the caption “Petition: Abuse and Assault of Taekwondo Athletes.”

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 U. P. Kekemeke of the Abuja court stated, “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.”

It was learnt that other athletes who suffered similar abuse reported their ordeals to their state associatio­ns.

Several petitions from these state associatio­ns on the alleged abuse were sent to the NTF, which led to a probe by the federation.

Abdullahi, one of the affected athletes, recounted her ordeal in a petition written to the NTF.

“During my first training he (Chukwumeri­je) instructed us to do certain things and when we didn’t do it right he used a rope tied with paper to beat us,” she stated in the report of the disciplina­ry committee cited by our correspond­ents.

“There was a time he wanted to use a tiny iron rod to beat us, but Master Tony Anafulu stopped him from using it on us.”

Findings by our correspond­ents revealed that several other measures taken by the Nigeria Taekwondo Federation and some stakeholde­rs to ensure the affected athletes got justice prior to the court ruling, were largely unsuccessf­ul.

In an interview with SUNDAY 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 who is 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 still continue to spend for taekwondo, nobody can control me.’ ever since, nobody talked about it again,” she told

SUNDAY PUNCH

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 thereafter,” Ashiru told SUNDAY PUNCH.

“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.”

Disciplina­ry committee verdict

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, actually, he was physically assaulting them,” Akinsola told SUNDAY PUNCH.

“(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 sledge hammer 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 FEMLALE 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 carefully looking at the two from the athletes discussion­between Secretary General and

Mr. Chika 11, 2019, read, “After (2) statements and the the

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 apologise 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.”

Chukwumeri­je’s defence

Despite the disciplina­ry committee’s report and the court’s dismissal of his case, Chukwumeri­je, son of late Senator Uche Chukwumeri­je, maintains that he never assaulted the athletes in camp.

“That is very unfair to me. I did not assault any athlete during preparatio­ns for the African Games in Congo Brazzavill­e,” Chukwumeri­je told SUNDAY PUNCH.

“My family has a reputation. I can’t talk further because I have to respond to the World Taekwondo by Friday. I don’t want a media war. I have forgiven them.

“These people are only trying to scuttle my plans for the sport. In three months there will be an election and this is coming up. I know their plans but they won’t succeed.”

Trauma of abused athletes

Two of the athletes mentioned in the disciplina­ry committee report have brought honour to the country at internatio­nal events.

Uzoukwu won a silver medal in the 73kg event at the 2015 African Games in Brazzavill­e, while Ekhator claimed two bronze medals at the African Games in 2011 and 2015 and a bronze medal at the 2014 African Taekwondo Championsh­ips. Abdullahi has also won several national titles.

Abdullahi said after she was abused, she dumped taekwondo for another martial arts sports kung fu, because she was no longer invited for competitio­ns.

“It made me feel discourage­d; I don’t go to taekwondo competitio­ns anymore because there was one competitio­n they were meant to invite the players ranked No.1 and 2 across the weights, but they only called up the No.1 in my weight category (56kg) because I was ranked No. 2,” she told SUNDAY PUNCH.

“That was why I switched to kung fu, and I have gone on to represent Nigeria in various internatio­nal competitio­ns in kung fu.

“One of my friends, who was also assaulted by him, has also not taken part in taekwondo since she returned from the African Games in 2015.”

Uzoukwu, while testifying before the disciplina­ry panel, said she developed a phobia after Chukwumeri­je slapped her severally in the face and neck during training.

“l can’t count it (number of times she was slapped). His kind of slap was injurious and it was not once, not even twice. At one point, I developed ‘Chikaphobi­a’ each time I heard Chika was coming. But if he was not around, that made me happy because nobody would beat me up.”

Pursuit of justice

Adeyemi-enilari is unrelentin­g in seeking justice for the athletes.

After the Abuja court struck out Chukwumeri­je’s case, he wrote another letter titled ‘Judgment delivered on Monday May 31, 2021 in Mr. Chika Chukwumeri­je vs. Mr. Adeyemi enilari & ANOR implicatio­n of judgment’ and dated June 8, 2021 to sports minister Sunday Dare, asking that he be restricted from the athletes.

“That Mr. Chika Chukwumeri­je’s interactio­ns with taekwondo athletes, particular­ly the women, as a coach, and trainer, be supervised or restricted to prevent a repeat of the incidents. his involvemen­t in the administra­tion of sporting activities, especially in Taekwondo should be supervised,” Adeyemieni­lari wrote.

In a chat with SUNDAY PUNCH, he insisted he would not relent until the abused athletes get justice.

“We are suing for damages and filing criminal case against him on behalf of the ladies in the high Court in Abuja. One of the ladies said she is interested because it’s assault. We are also appealing the judgment in the libel case at the Court of Appeal,” Adeyemi-enilari said.

“We are appealing on two grounds. One, it is a well-known fact that if someone takes you to court and the case is dismissed against the person who charged you to court, you are to pay damages, the cost awarded to you against the person who took you to court. In this case, there was nothing like that.

“Secondly, the basis for which our countercla­im was dismissed was that the judge said we did not join the main parties - the Ministry of Youth and Sports Developmen­t and the Nigeria Taekwondo Federation - in the suit. When we were responding to the writ of summon, at the same time, we filed for countercla­im and we applied to join the sports ministry and the taekwondo federation as parties in the suit, but the judge ruled against us in 2016 that there was no need to join those parties.

“But the judge turned around now and dismissed our case based on the fact that we didn’t join them, when he was the one that ruled against our joining them. So, we are appealing on these two grounds.”

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 ??  ?? •Ekhator (left) in action
•Ekhator (left) in action
 ??  ?? •Adeyemi-enilari
•Adeyemi-enilari
 ??  ?? •Abdullahi
•Abdullahi

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