How Nigerians tried to save Itunnu

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Becky Paul also known as Itunnu Babalola, a Nigerian lady who died in Ivorian prison while serving 10-year jail term for alleged human trafficking, which she was said to have maintained her innocence until her demise, is a sad one for Nigeria.

Itunnu Babalola died at a military hospital in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, at the weekend, after she was diagnosed with diabetes and went into a diabetic coma, according to the Nigerian Embassy in Cote d’Ivoire.

Her ordeal began after she accused and subsequently, filed a case against an Ivorian for burglary. She refused to bow to pressure from the accused relative who is a policeman, to drop the case. Armed with a pseudonym, Itunnu pressed charges against him but surprisingly, it was turned to a case of human trafficking against her.

Contrary to allegations of slow response and corruption making the round against the Nigerian Mission and its consular officer in Abidjan, Chairperson of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, explained that the Nigerian community and Mission in Abidjan did their best towards getting her out of jail before her sudden death. Dabiri-Erewa was on Arise TV yesterday, where she further disclosed what the Nigeria government is doing to ensure Itunnu gets justice.

On the accusation that the Nigerian Mission did not act fast to save Ms Babalola, Dabiri-Erewa said “She did not inform the Mission about the trial. She had spent two years in jail until her father cried for help and reached us. Perhaps if she had reported to the mission when she had issues with the burglar and, policeman who was treating the case, it would have been a different story.

“As soon as the mission; Ambassador Adamu got to know about it, they immediately took action. They raised money within the Nigerian community and the Nigerian mission in Abidjan to pay the first set of fees to the lawyer to even begin the case. The lawyer gave assurance that it was a very good case. In fact, the prosecutor made it clear that she shouldn’t have been in jail; that was in May”.

With a collective effort of the Mission and Nigerian community in Cote d’Ivoire, Dabiri-Erewa explained that the major hurdle which was to ensure the case was transferred from the hinterland to Abidjan, was crossed. “The next thing was how do we transfer the case from hinterland to Abidjan? That was the first thing and we were meant to understand it could take two to three years. But Amb. Adamu and the whole staff of the Mission did not rest on the matter; they paid the lawyer to begin the case, eventually they succeeded in transferring the case from the hinterland to Abidjan which was the major obstacle. But Friday, they said she was ill, Sunday she passed on”.

Speculations are that the young lady may have used a pseudonym to escape the result of the weakened regard for Nigerians all over the world, but Dabiri-Erewa thinks differently. “We wouldn’t know, she is dead now, maybe she was afraid, I don’t want to go into that but maybe she was afraid, but whatever the case, she was not involved in human trafficking”.

READ ALSO: Pastor’s wife and assistant arrested for human trafficking

She appealed to Nigerians to ensure they obey the laws of countries they are resident in and do their best there adding “I don’t think bearing another name is the right thing to do in any circumstances”. When asked her view on the allegation against a certain consular officer who allegedly demanded for a certain amount from late Itunnu to help with the case, Dabiri-Erewa stated that the allegation was malicious. According to her, “The counsellor officer was the contact person when money was being raised to pay the lawyer to begin the case. Any other person with contrary information should come forward. “It’s actually wicked to post the guys picture and a cheque and, this story was since May. The person who put out the story was informed that look, this is not fair. It’s very insensitive because these are people who raised money; it’s their money. Nigerians working there got together and raised that money and there had to be a contact person, and it was that guy”.

Also reacting to the alleged recording of conversation between Itunnu and the consular staff where he was saying the amount she was going to pay, as well as whether it was proper for people to contribute money to get legal representation for Nigerians, when we have consulates there, Dabiri-Erewa said “Unfortunately, that’s the way it is”.”The missions are not properly funded and it’s an open secret. Even the Diasporan Commission is not funded; we get 8 million a month. They contributed money to save Itunnu because they didn’t want to wait for unnecessary protocol. This was an emergency and then I don’t know the conversation but the consular has explained that. “The payment for the lawyer was going into thousands of dollars and they were like what does the family have and the family had nothing and immediately Amb. Adamu got to know the actual amount, he had actually mobilised the lawyer and the case had gone on so, I don’t know what conversation he heard. It was an emergency and I think what they did was the humane thing to do”.

She however pleaded with Nigerians to conduct themselves in their host countries and also ensure they show themselves at the Mission so as to make things easier when they may need to reach out to them. The mission she stated, can only intervene with legal representative when there is a miscarriage of justice, not when one is guilty of the crime.

She also hinted that Itunnu’s “father only requested for his daughter’s corpse but the corpse is not coming immediately as Amb Adamu demanded for an autopsy. So an autopsy is being conducted and we await the result”.

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