A 23-year-old woman, Itunu Babalola, who was wrongly incarcerated in Cote d’Ivoire, is dead.
Babalola died on Sunday after suffering from diabetes.
PUNCH Metro had reported that Babalola, a trader based in Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment after a theft case she reported to the police was turned against her.
Our correspondent learnt that the victim had been in prison since 2019 after she refused to grant the request of a Divisional Police Officer to drop the case.
A journalist, David Hundeyin, who shared Babalola’s story on Twitter, explained that the victim’s flat was burgled and items worth over N300,000 stolen, adding that she reported the matter to the police and later travelled to Nigeria to see her sick mother.
However, upon Babalola’s return to the West African country, she was notified that the thief had been caught.
She was later accused of human trafficking.
Hundeyin, who noted that Babalola spent her savings in trying to clear her name, said she attempted suicide twice.
Nigerians on social media then started a campaign, #JusticeForItunu, calling on the Federal Government to ensure her release from prison as the Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, promised to wade into the case.
However, Babalola was kept in prison from 2019 till last Thursday, when she fell ill and was rushed to hospital.
Hundeyin, in a series of tweets on Sunday, announced her death.
He 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 etc – audio.
“She’s finally dying. She’s so far gone that the guy who reached out was only asking for her parents’ contact details, presumably to inform them about their soon-to-be-dead daughter’s condition.
“Before slipping into unconsciousness, she showed him my name and he found me on Facebook. I think now that she’s finally going to die, Nigeria can rest. @cbngov_akin1, @abikedabiri thank you and God bless all of you with your “help” that has taken 8 months and achieved nothing. Itunu is going home to rest at last. Freedom from this useless continent.
“Itunu is dead. She died this night. Just confirmed.”
Nigerians took to their various social media pages to express their dissatisfaction with how the Nigerian government handled the case.
A Twitter user, Dr Aloy Chife, who described the victim’s death as horrific, said the Nigerian government needed to give an explanation.
He tweeted, “The death of #Itunu is a most horrific but avoidable tragedy. When Hundeyin published the story knowing I could help, I reached out to my Ivorian friend (best man at my wedding) but @abikedabiri assured us govt will handle it. I believe we deserve an official explanation.”
Another user, Ayo Sogunro, questioned the value of a Nigerian in other parts of the world.
He tweeted, “Cote d’Ivoire is a small West African country that Nigeria can easily engage diplomatically yet our govt failed. What then happens in Europe, Asia or other African subregions where Nigeria has zero influence? What is the value of a Nigerian life anywhere?”
Another Twitter user, Demola, in a series of tweets on Monday, bemoaned the Federal Government’s attitude in handling the deceased’s matter with the Ivorian government.
He wrote, “I get angrier each time I consider the fact that Abike Dabiri and her co-travellers had an eight-month timeframe to get that poor girl out of Ivorian prison at least, but then I’m suddenly reminded that there are thousands of Nigerians in Nigerian prisons for no legit reason. Sigh!”
Hundeyin also accused the Nigerian embassy in Ivory Coast of allegedly trying to extort money from the victim’s father, who wanted to convey her corpse to Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has demanded an autopsy for the victim.
The NiDCOM Chairman, Dabiri-Erewa, described the 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.”
The NiDCOM boss, in a statement on Monday by the commission’s Head of Media, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, titled, ‘Death of a Nigerian in Cote D’ivoire: FG demands full investigation,’ lamented that Babalola passed away abruptly while efforts were ongoing to seek both legal and diplomatic interventions for her.
NiDCOM said the Nigerian mission in Cote Divoire, supported by the Nigerian community, got her a lawyer, paid part of the legal fees for the lawyer to appeal the judgment.
The commission stated, “The staff of the Nigerian 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 developed complications from diabetes and was rushed to hospital.
“The fees for the treatment were 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.
“Her death, will, however, not stop the appeal in order to vindicate her of the charges against her.”