LAGOS, Nigeria—She was sometimes referred to as “African Beyoncé” by her admirers, and had taken the continent by storm with hit singles over the last two years. But weeks before Zainab Ali Nielsen—best known by her stage name, Alizee—was due to perform in one of Nigeria’s biggest musical events, her body, and that of her 4-year-old daughter, Petra, were found lying dead at her residence in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital.
It was a sad end to the blistering career of the pop star who began her music journey in 2014 following a chance meeting with a top Nigerian producer, and rose to stardom two years later after her 2016 single, “Greenlight,” became an instant hit song across Africa, winning her a big contract with an Asian record label and comparisons with Beyoncé for her singing and video performance style.
The singer’s Danish husband, Peter Nielsen, who reportedly had a fight with his wife hours before her death on April 5, was reported to the police by the facility manager of Bellasta Tower in Banana Island, the area where the couple and their 4-year-daughter, Petra, lived.
Nielsen, who has been in police custody since being arrested on the day of their deaths, pleaded not guilty when arraigned on Wednesday before a magistrate court on two counts of murder by the Lagos State Police Command. He initially told investigators that he found the bodies of his wife and daughter in the kitchen once he woke up in the morning, and that they could have been suffocated by gas. Unknown to him then, Alizee’s 13-year-old sister, one of two younger sisters who lived with the couple, had heard them fighting on the morning she died.
Gift Madaki told the police that on the day of her sister’s death, “I heard her shouting: ‘help,’ ‘help.’ I woke my younger sister up and asked her if she also heard the shout for help. Later, I saw the man hitting my sister’s head on the floor. I tried to rush outside to call neighbours to come to my sister’s rescue, but discovered that the doors were all locked. By the time we got there later in the morning she was dead.”
Gift, according to a police statement released on Sunday, rushed out to inform Kunle Kukoyi, the facility manager at Bellasta Tower, that she had heard Alizee “crying in the early hours of the morning as she was being manhandled” by Nielsen.
“The little girl estimated the time she heard her sister’s cry to be 03:45 hours,” the police statement said.
The statement added that “preliminary investigation conducted at the scene revealed that the violence that consumed the deceased persons started in the couple’s bedroom, but the bodies were dragged to the kitchen,” and that “on closer examination, visible marks of violence were seen on the bodies.”
At the courtroom on Wednesday, Nielsen’s prosecutor, Effiong Asuquo, informed the presiding magistrate, Kikelomo Ayeye, that “upon the wife’s death, the defendant administered poison on the little daughter who also died. He then dragged the dead body of his wife to the kitchen and took the lifeless little girl and put her under the mother’s body. He then put on gas stove burners in the kitchen so that it would be believed that the wife and daughter were suffocated by the cooking gas.”
Nielsen, who is 53 years of age, reportedly has a history of domestic violence. According to Alizee’s father, Ali Madaki, the Dane, who was “of good character” at the start of the marriage, started to become violent toward his wife in 2017, and beat her into a state of unconsciousness late that year.
“Last November, a case was reported at the police station when he beat her to a coma,” Ali Madaki told The Punch, a Nigerian newspaper. “He then wrote an undertaking that he would never batter her again.”
It’s unclear how long Nielsen and Alizee were married, but Ali Madaki said in the interview that he has known his late daughter’s husband “for over seven years now.”
Last year, the 29-year-old singer signed a two-year record deal with Japan-based Petra Entertainment following the success of “Greenlight” and her second official single, “Masa,” released late in 2016. The huge contract, by Nigerian standards, reportedly earned her a house on the expensive Banana Island in Lagos, a new Ford explorer SUV, and international distribution with affiliates of her record company in Asia.
After the singer’s death was confirmed last week, her record label issued a statement calling on “law enforcement agencies to speedily unravel the circumstances surrounding the demise of” Alizee and her daughter, “and bring all complicit persons and/or entities to justice.”
“In the light of reports suggesting that Alizee’s husband may be under police investigation in connection with these painful deaths, we particularly call on the Nigerian immigration Services to remain vigilant at this time and urge the cooperation of all foreign missions in the country,” a part of the statement read. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the relatives of the late Zainab and Petra.”
There has been no word yet from officials of embassy of Denmark, the country where Nielsen comes from.
“Letters have been sent to the Denmark embassy intimating it that the state police command is investigating Mr. Peter Nielsen, a citizen of Denmark, for an alleged case of murder,” spokesman for the Lagos Police Command, Chike Oti, told reporters on Sunday. “Further development on this case will be duly communicated to the general public.”
A close friend of Alizee told The Daily Beast that the singer had planned to promote her single, “Alhaji Musa,” released in January, and was billed to perform in the “Kingmaker Concert” in the oil-rich town of Warri on April 29 that will feature some of the biggest names in African music.
“She had really big dreams, and was looking to take the world by storm,” said Eyo Eyo, who knew the singer for over two years. “Alizee is a huge loss to Africa.”
While the entertainment industry in Nigeria mourns the death of a singer, her family is seeking justice. Her father insists that Nielsen, her alleged killer, must not “get away with” murder.
“We want our government to pass a strong message to other foreigners with this,” said Ali Madaki. “If this happens in their country, they would surely execute the Nigerian. Our government must give justice too as they do in other countries.”
Nielsen faces the death penalty if convicted of murder under the Nigerian Criminal Code, which also applies to foreign citizens living in the country. His prosecutor said on Wednesday that “a duplicate copy of the murder casefile has been sent to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), for legal advice.”
During the trial on Wednesday, Nielsen’s lawyer said that at the Ikoyi police station, where the Dane was taken after his arrest, “the victim was physically battered by people from the side of the victims.”
“There was blood coming from his face and he has an injury on his fingers,” defense counsel, Frank Udoka Amah, told the court. “I saw him battered by some boys who were obviously angry that their sister is dead.”