158 views | Ozodinukwe Okenwa | March 28, 2021
Recently online discomforting news emerged about a Nigerian lady, Ms Itunu Babalola, living in the city of Bondoukou, Ivory Coast. Bondoukou is about eight hours drive from the capital city, Abidjan. Itunu was said to have visited her aged mother back home in Nigeria in 2019 only for her to return to find to her chagrin that her house had been burgled! She reported the matter to the police station as every law-abiding citizen or foreigner would.
Upon lodging the complaint of burglary it was later discovered that the suspected burglar, a teenager, was said to be a top police officer’s close relative. It was gathered that instead of charging the suspected burglar to court, the police perfected a plot to bribe Babalola to collect N100,000 for her stolen items, something she refused arguing that what she lost to the burglary was thrice that amount.
Irked by her refusal to play ball the top police officer and his friends had another sinister plan to nail sister Itunu. Noticing that she was adamant and demanding justice they prepared trumped-up charges against her and sent her to detention. She was judged and convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison for ‘organizing’ her own burglary!
Thus far she has spent two years wrongfully in prison! And reports online had it that she had attempted to commit suicide twice! Faced with such glaring injustice and lack of assistance from home and abroad who would not want to take their own lives?
However, we must bemoan lady Itunu’s naivety about the justice system. She was said to have complicated her case by identifying herself to the court as “Becky Paul”. She reportedly claimed she did this to avoid getting her family name mixed up in bad news and potentially upsetting her aged sick mom. But identity theft is itself a crime punishable by imprisonment! She should not have done such a thing.
It is instructive to note here that when some Nigerian friends of Itunu approached the Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan to provide consular assistance for her case officials reportedly asked for N400,000 to get her a passport before anything could be done! Imagine such imbecilic demand from someone unjustly incarcerated?
Following painstaking investigations by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) and the Nigerian Mission in Abidjan, it has now been confirmed officially by the Nigerian government that lady Itunu was wrongfully charged and incarcerated for a crime she did not commit.
We must appreciate the efforts of the Chairperson of the NIDCOM, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, in this matter. Now that Ms Itunu Babalola, 23, has been proven to be a prisoner of conscience in another people’s country the Nigerian government must intensify efforts to have her freed.
It is not only in Cote d’Ivoire that Nigerians suffer injustice or xenophobia or both. In neighbouring Ghana Nigerians are hated and feared. Hundreds of shops belonging to them had been locked up for months by the authorities demanding one million Dollars for business registration! When Nigeria was good and thriving in the early 80s Ghanaians flooded Nigeria — cobblers, gatekeepers, bread-sellers, artisans.
Today under Buharism we are flooding to Ghana, South Africa, Ivory Coast for ‘greener pastures’!
A Pastor I know once told me how he was detained and jailed unjustly in Libreville, Gabon, some years ago. A rich Nigerian member of the church had donated a parcel of land for the construction of another branch of the church in the city. But a Gabonese member of the same church had wanted to use his name to register the land, something the Pastor refused.
Before the Pastor could know what was going on he had been arrested and framed up. He would have died in prison if not for God’s intervention. A state prosecutor had visited the detention facility to ascertain the situation on the ground. The man professionally went round asking everyone their crime and evaluating their sentencing or judicial situation.
When he got to the Pastor’s turn to narrate his experience the prosecutor was shocked to discover that a man of God was among the presumed criminals rotting away in jail! He immediately ordered his release there and then. Yet nothing happened to his Gabonese accuser.
Xenophobia against Nigerians is almost a global phenomenon. The Gabonese hate foreigners and they never hid their disdain for Nigerians and other nationals working and living in their oil-rich underpopulated francophone country. Traders are often molested on the streets and others without the resident permit papers are summarily detained or made to pay money for their freedom.
In South Africa Nigerians and other African nationals had been killed with impunity and their business interests attacked. It had happened often and often and no one had ever been punished for the murders, arson or vandalism and looting. What we heard from our government and that of South Africa was that things would normalise. They put the blame on black unemployment and poverty!
But the truth is that Ivorians tolerate foreigners more than Ghanaians, South Africans or Gabonese. Though you hear about injustice here and there including illegal detentions and unjust condemnations in Abidjan and elsewhere in the Ivory Coast these incidents cannot be compared with what obtains in Gabon or South Africa.
The francophone justice system is swift and harsh. And it hardly represents equitable dispensation of justice. While they inherited it from France it is not the same in France. When an accused is presented before a Judge they could be sentenced within five minutes whether they are represented by a lawyer or not. Or whether they understand French language or not. What you hear after each pronouncement of sentence is that appeal would follow.
The crux of the matter here remains that the Nigerian embassies abroad offer little or no assistance to Nigerians in the diaspora. The Ambassadors and the embassy staff in general display crass irresponsibility whenever issues crop up involving Nigerians abroad. They can neither defend you nor assist you in any way possible. Even a visit to the embassies reveal certain demonstration of disdain with which they hold Nigerians seeking services.
Nigerians abroad must know that they are on their own. No one is watching their back anywhere. Like those found at home suffering from ubiquitous insecurity, banditry, kidnapping and state terrorism under the Buharian muddle those of us living abroad must embrace our fate by respecting the laws of our host countries and being good ambassadors of our rotten country.