Her story reads like that of a typical Nigerian left to rot and die by a slow and inept government, which begins to blame-storm and run around in circles only after the death of its citizen.
According to reports, 23-year-old Citizen Itunu Babalola from Oyo State was a trader based in Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire.
Her apartment was allegedly burgled by an Ivorian in September 2019 and she reported the incident to the police, but a police chief informed her that the suspect was his nephew, and reportedly offered her a settlement worth about N100,000 to drop the case, an amount lesser than the N300,000 worth of stolen effects.
Late Babalola, as the story goes, was subsequently arrested when she refused the settlement, charged to court for human trafficking, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
A journalist, David Hundeyin, had shared the story of Babalola on Twitter in March 2021 and the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission had said it was working to prove the innocence of Babalola.
NIDCOM, headed by Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had confirmed that the lady was charged and incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit.
“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.
“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 offence she did not commit,” the commission had promised in a statement.
However, many Nigerians were shocked on Sunday night when Hundeyin, who had been following the case, gave serial updates that Babalola’s contracted an infection in the Ivorian prison. The journalist uploaded photos of the young lady in an emergency situation being attended to on a stretcher by medical personnel.
Some were gutted that eight months after NIDCOM promised to ensure justice was served on the matter and secure the lady’s freedom, Babalola still remained behind bars in the Francophone West African nation.
Many were equally heartbroken when Hundeyin announced hours later that the young lady gave up the ghost.
“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 wrote.
“Itunu is dead. She died this night. Just confirmed,” he later tweeted.
Thousands were aghast!
On social media the umbrage was evident:
@DavidHundeyin stated, “Nigeria does absolutely nothing for the citizens, especially southerners but expects the citizens to love the country and uphold some magical patriotism. RIP Itunu. So sorry to her family.”
@DrOlufunmilayo tweeted, “This same govt that abandoned Itunu to die will suddenly arrange and pay huge money to transport her corpse home. Money they never had to save her from jail. Energy they never had to fight for her. The money they never had to treat her.”
“Someone needs to call out that country’s judicial system! Someone needs to call out Nigerian Govt who can’t help their citizens home or abroad,” @DanielRegha demanded.
“Nowadays, I just feel so sorry for every Nigerian, including those in diaspora! We’re in a lot of trouble! The system failed us!” @Petraandra2 lamented.
Another called out the NIDCOM chair, “@abikedabiri, you once stated this girl is in safe hands. you tweeted the foreign affiars ministry were on deck to Abidjan to save this lady. I’m not quite surprised when even in our own country, we fall prey/victim of circumstance not to talk of needing help when we are away. Damn Broken heart.”
Meanwhile, after her death, knowing for nine full months about her predicament, the government went into a frenzy, knowing that the anger will probably soon die down and her case soon forgotten.
So far, the federal government has demanded for full autopsy on Itunu.
This demand for the autopsy was contained in a statement signed by the Chairman Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa and released by the Commission’s Head of Media, Abdur-Rahman Balogun on Monday.
Dabiri-Erewa, while stating that the attention of NIDCOM was drawn to Itunnu’s case about five months ago, described her death as a tragic blow at a time the Nigerian mission in Côte D’ivoire had paid and engaged the services of a lawyer to handle Itunnu’s appeal case.
She said: “Unfortunately, Itunnu died abruptly while all hands were on deck to seek both legal and diplomatic intervention for her by Nigeria. Itunnu was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for an offence she did not apparently commit…”
It was reported that the Nigerian mission in Cote D’ivoire supported by the Nigerian community, got her a lawyer, paid part payment of legal fees for the lawyer, to appeal the judgment, while at the same time seeking diplomatic intervention from the Nigeria Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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 developed complications from diabetes and was rushed to the hospital.
The fees for the treatment was said to have been 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.
Dabiri-Erewa however assured that: “Her death, will however, not stop the appeal in court in order to vindicate her of the charges against her.”