From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government has assured that the process to ensure that Itunu Babalola, the late 21-year-old Nigerian trader who was wrongfully jailed in Ivory Coast and died in custody late last year, gets justice even in death was still on.
The Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, Zubairu Dada, made the disclosure on Thursday during the 36th Session of the State House Briefing which was held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He explained that right from when she was in jail in that country, staff members of the Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, paid out of their pockets to procure legal services for her.
In November 2021, Itunu who was based in Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire was jailed after her apartment was burgled by an Ivorian in September 2019.
Babalola had reported the incident to the police but the Divisional Police Officer informed her that the suspect was his nephew.
He reportedly offered her a settlement worth roughly N100,000 to drop the case, an amount lesser than the N300,000 worth of stolen effects.
Babalola was subsequently arrested when she refused the settlement, charged to court for human trafficking and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
However, millions of Nigerians were shocked on November 14, 2021, when a journalist David Hundeyin, who had been following the case, gave serial updates that Babalola contracted an infection in the Ivorian prison which led to her eventual death.
The new update came eight months after NIDCOM promised to ensure justice was served on the matter and secure the lady’s freedom. Yet Babalola remained behind bars in the Francophone West African nation.
The development came with widespread criticism with Nigerians blaming the Abike Dabiri-Erewa-led Nigerians in Diaspora Commission for not securing her release early enough.
Responding to a question on Thursday, the Minister of State foreign affairs said: “We’re talking about a sovereign nation and this matter was taken to a court. The only recourse we have as a nation is to go back to that court to appeal.
“We have gone to court to appeal that process. It was in that process that she fell sick and died. We insisted that an autopsy be done on her body which has been done. We are still following the appeal in court. It is their law which we have to respect. Again, diplomacy is the only way to go. We have the tacit supper of the House Committee on Diaspora.
“At the time, the consulate staff of the Nigerian Embassy contributed from their pocket to assist this lady who was in difficulty. They used it to procure legal services for the treatment meted to her. And we know that the case is still in court. The ambassador also paid out of his own money.”
Continuing, Dada said: “Again, we had insisted that an autopsy be done on the corpse, which I guess, was also done. And we’re also raising issues. While we are not fully satisfied, we’re raising issues with appropriate authorities to ensure that justice is done.
“So even in death, we’re not leaving the matter to go, we are still pursuing the appeal in court because that is the only resort that we have. We cannot take the laws into our hands in Ivory Coast. Whether they jailed her wrongly, or rightly? It is the law, which we have to respect, we have no choice over the matter. And, again, diplomacy is the only way to go.
“I mean, it has not got to the level of reciprocity. How do you even set about applying the principle of reciprocity in a matter like this? But like I said, we have made all the noises. And I mean, at the right places, we have a complaint. And we’re still complaining, we are insisting that Justice must be done to this lady who died in detention, and we’re leaving no stone unturned.
“In fact, in this, we have the tacit support of the House of Representatives committee on diaspora and of course NIDCOM. we’re all doing this together.”