The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) has said it is in the process of engaging a lawyer to prove the innocence of Itunu Olajumoke Babalola, a Nigerian woman, sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for house theft in Cote d’ Ivoire.
This was disclosed in a statement signed by Gabriel Odu of NIDCOM’s Media, Public Relations and Protocols Unit and published on its Twitter handle on Friday.
Itunu, who is a trader, was arrested in 2019 over the incident, despite being the victim as her house in Bondoukou, a city in the North-East region of Cote d’ Ivoire, was burgled and her properties stolen.
According to David Hundeyin, a Nigerian journalist, who publicised the issue in a series of Twitter posts on 14 March, the Nigerian trader was wrongly accused and prosecuted after refusing to co-operate with a Divisional Police Officer in Cote d’ Ivoire to quash the case, as the suspect was his nephew.
Reacting to the journalist’s expose, NIDCOM said investigations it conducted revealed that Itunu, who is 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 noted that the case has now moved to the Ivorian Court of Appeal, adding that the prosecutor has been changed and promised the Nigerian delegation a fair review of the case.
NIGERIAN WRONGFULLY INCACERATED IN COTE D'IVOIRE'S PRISON, ITUNU BABALOLA: FACTS OF THE MATTER.
ABUJA, MARCH 19, 2021.
Following painstaking investigations by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission and the Nigeria Mission in Abidjan, Cote D'ivoire,#Thread pic.twitter.com/w3aI9QZrnl
— Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (@nidcom_gov) March 19, 2021
“It is now confirmed that Itunu Babalola, a Nigerian living in Abidjan was wrongfully charged and incarcerated for a crime she did not commit.
“According to the Chairman/CEO Nigerians in Diaspora Commission Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Charge D’Affaires of the Nigerian Mission in Côte D’Ivoire, Mr Mohammed Gana, sent officials of the mission to Bondoukou, a city eight hours outside Abidjan when the case was brought to his attention.
“Plans are underway to engage the services of a legal Luminary to prove the innocence of Itunu Babalola at the Court of Appeal after the accused had spent two years out of a ten-year jail term for an offense she did not commit.
“Reports indicate that the new Prosecutor assigned to the case has given assurances of a fair and unbiased review and retrial of the case to secure the release of Itunu Babalola.”
NIDCOM stated 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.
The agency said it will continue to monitor the case as it unfolds.
Itunu was sentenced to 20 years in jail but was reduced to 10 years. She has already spent one year and four months behind bars.
The matter trended on Twitter as the hashtag: #JusticeForItunu, was used to further publicise the case and appeal for her release.
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