The Federal Government is said to have demanded a full inquiry into the ‘sudden and mysterious’ death of Itunnu Babalola, a Nigerian young woman, sentenced to 20 years in prison for alleged human trafficking in Cote d’Ivoire. Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, is reported to have made the demand on behalf of the Nigerian government.
In a statement by the commission’s spokesman, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, Dabiri-Erewa said Itunnu’s case caught her attention five months ago. For her the death of the lady was a tragic blow that came at a time when the Nigerian mission in Cote d’Ivoire had engaged the services of a lawyer to handle her appeal case. “Unfortunately, Itunnu died abruptly while all hands were on deck to seek both legal and diplomatic intervention for her by Nigeria,” she was quoted as saying in the statement shared on social media on Tuesday.
“Itunnu was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for an offence she did not apparently commit,” the statement read. “Itunnu had accused an Ivorian of a robbery at her residence and insisted on filing a case against him. The accused who happens to be related to an Ivorian police (officer) asked her to drop the case, but she insisted on getting justice. Itunnu went ahead to file charges against him and allegedly used a different name to file the case and somehow, a case of robbery which she filed mysteriously turned to a case of human trafficking against her. She was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment while the Nigerian mission in Côte d’Ivoire, supported by the Nigerian community, got her a lawyer, paid a part of legal fees for the lawyer to appeal the judgment, while at the same time seeking diplomatic intervention.”
According to NIDCOM, staff of the Nigerian mission had visited Itunnu in a prison situated in the hinterland, a distance of over four hours from Abidjan. While the appeal case was ongoing, Itunnu was said to have complications from diabetes and was rushed to hospital. The fee for her treatment, according to the agency, was paid by the Nigerian mission through the lawyer whose services were engaged by the mission. But the lady died after a few days of admission at the hospital. Her death will, however, not stop the appeal in court in order to remove the charges against her”, Dabiri-Erewa said.
This is a case of accuser turned accused, an attempt to thwart the course of justice. The ‘victim’ happened to have been, unfortunately, a Nigerian woman resident in Cote d’Ivoire, a sister ECOWAS state. This is why we commend NIDCOM for taking up Itunnu’s case.
However. that is not enough. Our ministry of foreign affairs needs must call the Ivorian ambassador to Nigeria to answer for the death in detention of the Nigerian woman. If need be, our ambassador in that country should be recalled to register the federal government’s disquiet over Itunnu’s sad fate.