The Federal Government has demanded an investigation and autopsy following the death of Itunu Olajumoke Babalola, a Nigerian trader, who died in a Cote d’ Ivoire prison on Sunday for a crime she did not commit.
This was disclosed in a statement issued by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) on Monday.
Itunu, who was a trader, was arrested in 2019 after refusing to co-operate with a Divisional Police Officer in Cote d’ Ivoire to quash a theft case involving his nephew.
Her plight was brought to the fore by David Hundeyin, a Nigerian investigative journalist, on Twitter in March 2021.
It was Hundeyin who also announced the report of her demise in a Twitter post on Sunday.
“I have just received a message from Cote d’Ivoire about Itunu Babalola. She is still in prison in Abidjan where she has contracted a serious infection and apparently she is dying. All those promises by NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri, OYSG etc – audio. She’s finally dying,” Hundeyin had written on the microblogging site on Saturday.
The journalist then confirmed the heartbreaking news on Sunday, writing: “Itunu is dead. She died this night. Just confirmed.”
The news led to an output of outage by Nigerians, who accused the Federal Government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NIDCOM of abandoning a Nigerian citizen which it had confirmed was unjustly languishing in a foreign prison.
Reacting to the development, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman of NIDCOM, denied the allegations that Itunu was abandoned by the Nigerian government in Cote d’ Ivoire.
According to a statement signed by NIDCOM’s Head of Media, Dabiri-Erewa said the government followed up on the case even though she was convicted and sentenced by the host country’s judiciary.
She stated that it was Nigeria’s diplomatic mission in the country that paid for Itunu’s medical bill when she contracted an illness, which she said was diabetes.
The NIDCOM boss added that the Nigerian mission made part payment to a lawyer it engaged to appeal her conviction.
The statement partly read: “The staff of the Nigeria mission had also visited Itunu in prison, a distance of over four hours from Abidjan.
“While the appeal case was on , Itunu was said to have complications from diabetes and was rushed to the hospital.
“The fees for the treatment was paid by the Nigerian mission through the lawyer whose services were engaged by the mission; unfortunately, she died suddenly after a few days of admission at the Hospital.
“The Federal government of Nigeria has demanded for full autopsy on the sudden and mysterious death of Ìtùnú Babalola, a Nigerian, sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in Côte Divoire for alleged human trafficking.
“Her death, will, however, not stop the appeal in court in order to vindicate her of the charges against her.”
Itunu was sentenced to 20 years in jail but was eventually reduced to 10 years. She had already spent one year and four months behind bars before her predicament came into the limelight.
The matter trended on Twitter as the hashtag: #JusticeForItunu, was used to further publicise the case and appeal for her release.
NIDCOM had on 19 March, while reacting to Hundeyin’s expose, said investigations it conducted revealed that Itunu, who was from Oyo State, was wrongly accused and prosecuted for a crime she did not commit.
According to the agency, its officials went to Bondoukou and uncovered the fact, noting that “reports also allegedly indicate that the former prosecutor in collaboration with the police twisted the case and accused Itunu Babalolo of human trafficking, hence her conviction”.
It added that it tried to secure bail for Itunu but was told by the prosecutor that only the court can grant such a request as she has already been convicted.