By Abdullah Abdulganiy
As usual, I was going through updates on my Facebook page last week when I bumped into this video uploaded by the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC) News Yoruba. The headline — written in Yoruba, but which could roughly be translated to English as ‘How the recklessness of the Police and a Judge got me death sentence’ — caught my attention, and I decided to watch it.
The 12-minute video clip pictures, in exact terms, the years-long travails of a young man by the name of Adebayo Ojo, who, according to his own narrative, hailed from Ogotun, Ekiti State, and is now in his mid-30s. Ojo’s story is very heartrending. It would evoke sympathies even from the strong-hearted. He was a victim of circumstance whom ‘Nigeria’ happened to, and rather sadly at a very tender age of 18.
My attempt here is just a summary, and may not do much justice to the seriousness of Ojo’s misfortune. Interested readers can also access the video which was posted August 4 on the Facebook page of BBC News Yoruba to get details and firsthand information below.
"Àṣìṣe ọlọ́pàá àti Adájọ́ sọ mí di ẹni tí wọ́n dájọ́ ikú fún, ọpẹ́lọpẹ́ Fayoṣe tí ko buwọ́lùú'' https://www.bbc.com/yoruba/54023711
Posted by BBC News Yoruba on Friday, September 4, 2020
According to Ojo, he was arrested by the Nigerian police, alongside some suspects for a crime he had no hands in. The crime bordered on robbery which occurred in Ekiti State as far back as 2003. Attempts by himself, family members and close associates to convince the police that he didn’t participate in the robbery fell on deaf ears.
He became more ill-fated as he came from a poor home, a condition that reaped him of good legal assistance and representation. In view of this, his framing became easier for the mischievous policemen and their co-travellers. It didn’t stop there, he was also brutally tortured by the police — an action that negates professionalism and global best practices — and this impacted significantly on his physiology and psychology, even after his freedom.
The unfortunate sojourn started in 2003 through to 2005 when he bagged death sentence for a crime he was innocent of, and ended in 2019 after strided efforts by well-meaning individuals. His death sentence was luckily aborted as the then Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose refused to sign his death warrant. Ojo, therefore, became a ‘condemned prisoner’ until his vindication recently under the present Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi who, thankfully, granted him state pardon.
Revelations from him have it that those whom were arrested along with him later got bail due to the deep pockets of their parents and/or guardians. Poor Ojo, however, rotted in jail simply because he didn’t have enough money to secure a lawyer to talk him out of the problem created for him by reckless police officers.
Stories like this are always very painful and further project the abyss in which the Nigerian criminal justice system has sunk over the years. It’s pitiful and most unfortunate. Scores of Ojo are scattered around various correctional facilities in the country. They are being held captive for crimes they have no knowledge of. Their only crime, perhaps, is being poor and hapless.
I recall during one of our classes back in school on ‘Sociology of Crime and Delinquency’. The lecturer emphasised that one of the golden rules in criminal justice system is that, “It is better for hundreds of criminals to evade justice than for an innocent to be punished”. This is why cases must be prosecuted to logical ends and proved beyond reasonable doubt. In fact, suspects are deemed innocent prior to conviction.
What inspires me about Ojo however was his uncommon zeal and enthusiasm for education. In the video, his aged father who also spoke, noted that Ojo used to be a very brilliant boy whose dream was only distorted by the unpleasant incident. Before his journey to the prison yard, he had strived to sponsor his own education by doing menial jobs, since his parents lack the financial wherewithal. His travails did not deter him nonetheless, as he struggled his way through owning a degree in Criminology and Security Studies awarded by the National Open University (NOUN), even while in gulag. This is very audacious and amazing! I salute his courage and doggedness. Uncommon, I would say.
The only way to assist Ojo, who by his admission, has since resigned to fate, is for the government to get him a good job to live with as a means of compensation for his years-long travails. The unscrupulous elements that had hands in this obvious miscarriage of justice should also pay dearly for it. This way the government won’t be doing a great disservice to Ojo. And assuringly, nature has a way of giving these rogues a payback if the system fails.
The Nigerian criminal justice system should also be improved upon. It is not attuned with modernity and does not reflect present realities. Correctional facilities are more of rehabilitative than punitive in present times. Public-spirited individuals should also found and support organisations that offer pro bono legal assistance to suspects without means. Many more are still languishing in prison over issues they know next to nothing about. Let’s spare our thoughts for them. Together we can!
Above all, these are my prayers. Translating them to English will make the flavour lost. Permit me to therefore retain them in Yoruba. Olohun oni fi iya aimodi je wa. Akoba, adaba, Olohun maje a ri. Olohun ma jin wa si koto aiye! I need some resounding Amen!