The tragic story of Itunu Olajumoke Babalola, a 23-year-old Nigerian lady, imprisoned in Ivory Coast on false charges, has seen even more tragic end.
Babalola was pronounced dead yesterday, after battling disease she contracted while in detention.
This was made known by investigative journalist, David Hundeyin on Sunday night in a thread on his Twitter page.
Hundeyin, who had travelled to Ivory Coast as an undercover reporter to investigate and report on Babalola’s case, said the the young lady contracted an infection in prison which led to her death on Sunday night.
Sharing videos s attached to the thread showed Babalola writhing in pain on the hospital bed after which she gave up the ghost.
In a series of tweets, David Hundeyin wrote: “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 (Oyo State Government) etc – audio.
“She’s finally dying. She’s finally dying. Well done to the Nigerian government. Well done to NIDCOM (Nigerians in Diaspora Commission) and everyone responsible for this, another young Nigerian is biting the dust. Round of applause for all of you.
“Write a federal petition, do a thread with 15,000 retweets, Engage with government, do an investigative story. Even travelled illegally to Cote d’Ivoire in a canoe to gather facts.
“Nothing we have not done to try to save this girl’s life but we come from Nigeria. Eight months of effort, 8 months of ‘Uncle David God bless you, eight months of hoping for Nigeria to prove me wrong FOR ONCE’.
“It’s all over Itunu is dead. She died this night, just confirmed.”
Hundeyin had on March 14, posted a thread via his Twitter handle, @DavidHundeyin, narrating Babalola’s ordeal in the hands of Ivorian authorities, while appealing to Nigerian government to attend to her case, to no avail.
“In September 2019, 21 year-old Itunu, a trader based in Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire traveled to Nigeria to visit her sick mom in Ibadan. Unknown to her, her return to Cote d’Ivoire would mark the start of a harrowing ordeal in a notorious Ivorian prison, which is still ongoing,” Hundeyin had narrated.
“Shortly before Itunu was due to travel, her flat was burgled and items worth more than N300,000 were stolen including her TV and gas cooker.
“Despite the blow, she decided to travel anyway after reporting the incident to the police. She returned from her trip in October 2019.
“Upon returning, she was informed by a lodger she left in her flat that the thief had been identified.
“The thief turned out to be a 14 year-old boy who lived nearby. His embarrassed dad apologised and admitted that his son was a habitual thief. The items had already been sold.
“Itunu reported this to the police who told her to return on Tuesday Nov 5, 2019. The appointment held on Wednesday Nov 6.
“There she says, the DPO informed her that the suspect was in fact his nephew. He then offered her a settlement worth roughly N100,000 to drop the case.
“She refused the settlement, citing the disparity between the value of the stolen items and what was offered. Next she says, the visibly enraged DPO tried everything to frustrate her into dropping the case, including making her travel to Abidjan for a police appointment.
‘In Abidjan, she hired a lawyer to attend the appointment with her, all to no avail as the police refused to cooperate. Frustrated, she returned home to Bondoukou.
“Around 5PM the following day, a convoy of police vehicles showed up outside her house and publicly arrested her. On getting to the station, she was charged with theft – the theft of her own items in her own apartment.
“She spent the next 4 days in police custody, after which she was taken out of the cell and offered her freedom if she agreed to sign papers dropping her case.
“For whatever reason despite the clear bad faith displayed by the Ivorian police, Itunu says she rejected the offer and chose to go to court instead.
“She says she then overheard an officer saying “Elle est une Nigériane? Elle mourra ici!” (“She’s a Nigerian? She will die here!”)
“The decision to go to court turned out to be a monumental error of judgment compounded by her own naivety about the Ivorian justice system.
“The (French-speaking) court did not allow her adequate legal representation or give her a chance to properly state her case.
“She was speedily convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Further complicating this was her decision to identify herself to the court as “Becky Paul”.
“She says she did this to avoid getting her family name mixed up in bad news and potentially upsetting her aged mom.
‘As a result, for the past one year and 4 months since her conviction, Itunu alias “Becky Paul” has become, to all intents and purposes, a forgotten inmate at the notorious Maison d’arrêt et de Correction Bondoukou (Bondoukou Remand and Correction Facility).
“When her Nigerian friends in Cote d’Ivoire approached the Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan to provide consular assistance for her case, officials reportedly asked for N400,000 to get her a passport before anything can be done.
“She says she has exhausted all her savings over the past year, spending well over N1m to try to clear her name while the Ivorian justice system as well as individual prison officials collude to frustrate all her efforts.
“She has lost hope and she has attempted suicide twice. This is an appeal for the sake of an innocent Nigerian women stuck in a hostile foreign prison after being set up by corrupt officials to cover up a crime committed by an Ivorian DPO’s nephew.”
Following Hundeyin’s thread, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NODICOM), headed by Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said on March 15, that it would investigate the matter and that the Nigerian mission to Abidjan will also help out.
“The Commission has been to several countries such as Togo, Benin Republic, Brazil, South-Africa, etc to facilitate the release of some Nigerians wrongfully arrested and incarcerated,” had assured in tweet via its handle @nidcom_gov
Subsequently on the same March 15, Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa noted that “Our mission in Côte d’Ivoire is handling . The place in question is about 8 hours drive from Abidjan so they hope to be there tomorrow.”
Days later on March 19, NODICOM released a statement saying it has established some facts in the matter.
The statement signed by Gabriel Odu, the commission’s spokesperson, had said, “Following painstaking investigations by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission and the Nigeria Mission in Abidjan, Cote D’ivoire,
“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. 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 for 20yrs although the sentence was reduced to 10yrs from which she served 2yrs so far. Itunu Babalola whose family is from Oyo State, Nigeria has been living in Bondoukou, Cote d’ivoire for a long time but got entangled in a legal battle.when she reported the burglary of her house to the Police
“On efforts made to secure her bail, the prosecutor said it is only the Court that can grant her bail as she has already been convicted We will continue to monitor the case as it unfolds.”
The case however, failed to proceed as expected, and Miss Babalola eventually died after contracting a disease at the detention facility.