Nigerians jailed for over 20 years say they were wrongfully detained, convicted

BY ALLAFRICA.COM - Nov 01, 2019 at 1:38pm 100

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Up until an afternoon in March 1991, Jide Odusanya led a normal life, he told Premium Times.

Though many Nigerians were suffering from the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced by the then military government, Mr Odusanya said he managed to get by with his pharmaceutical sales representative's salary.

In August this year, Mr Odusanya narrated how he spent 26 years in prison for an offence he claimed he did not commit.

He said a stranger came to fetch water in the house at Ebute Meta, in Lagos, where he lived at the time. The stranger left the faucet running. Soon Mr Odusanya's room which was nearby the faucet got flooded. He told PREMIUM TIMES that he confronted the stranger and a fight soon ensued. The stranger sustained a bad injury in his head and later returned with policemen from Iponri Police Station, who arrested Mr Odusanya.

From that point onwards, Mr Odusanya's life entered a dark tunnel that took 26 years to emerge from.

Charged with robbery

From Iponri Police Station. he was transferred to the state's police criminal investigation department at Panti, where he was held for three months without trial.

"It was at Panti that I discovered that I was linked with robbery case, I was later arraigned at Ogba Elefo Magistrate Court, Ebute Meta, where I was ordered to be remanded," he said.

"I later was taken to Igbosere Court 18 but it used to be called tribunal then because it was military regime".

From there, he spent seven years in Kirikiri Maximum Prison waiting for trial. In 1998, he was sentenced to death by hanging, for an offence he claimed he did not commit.

Premium Times spoke to many people like Mr Odusanya who said they were wrongfully convicted

Asked if he appealed the judgement, he said it was not possible then as it was during the military era.

"My mother died in this struggle and even till today, I don't know where my mother was buried. I've been trying to locate her grave for me to pray for her but nobody to take me there."

Having been on death row for several years, Mr Odusanya's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2001 by then governor of Lagos, Bola Tinubu. And in 2017, he was granted complete amnesty and released from prison. He was 31 when he was arrested. By the time he was released, he was 57 years old.

Mr Odusanya now works as a security guard where he earns N15,000 a month.

He said he relies on the magnanimity of others to get by most times.

"My friend gives me N100 or N200 to eat depending on his purse. Sometimes, I eat in the morning and wait until the next morning. In prison, I ate beans a lot but not again this time as I hardly find food."

Abuse of Law

If the police had charged Mr Odusanya for the exact offence he said he was arrested for, he would have been sentenced to a maximum of three years.

Section 355 of the criminal code act, laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 provides that "any person who unlawfully assaults another and thereby does him harm is guilty of felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years."

Despite being charged for robbery, Mr Odunsanya should still have spent fewer years in prison, if he was found guilty. The laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 provides that any one charged for robbery would be imprisoned for not less than 14 years but not more than 20 years. If the offender used firearms (armed robbery) to assault others, he would upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life or death in a case of murder.

'Left in jail'

While Mr Odusanya had no problems sharing his heartbreaking story with this newspaper, another person who was convicted for murder, also in 1991, but freed in 2016, told this reporter he is scared of the stigma, if he granted this reporter an interview.

"I would not want to talk about my predicament. It makes me cry often. Over 500 persons were executed in my presence at Kirikiri. It was God that spared my life."

The 72-year-old man, who asked not to be named,later spoke to our correspondent. He was arrested in Ibadan for "pick pocket" but eventually when police took him to Lagos, he was charged for murder after the police allegedly forced him to make a confessional statement, he claimed.

"I spent over 20 years in prison," he said. "I don't want to talk about this because nobody knows me here. The moment I grant an interview and make myself known, many may not be willing to associate with an ex-convict," he said then began to cry profusely.

He was also granted amnesty by Mr Ambode in 2016.

Asked how best these victims can get justice, Inihebe Effiong, a lawyer said the only step they can take is to sue for malicious prosecution and it is often against private citizens who instigated the police. He, however, said there could be an action for the enforcement of the fundamental human right.

Oladotun Hassan, another lawyer, said "action for malicious prosecution can still be brought up now that the man has regained freedom".

Another freed inmate, Olatunji Olaide, also spent 24 years in prison, for a crime he also claimed he did not commit.

He was arrested in 1988 at the Gwari bush market in Kaduna where he went to purchase animal feed and was accused of stealing a vehicle and killing its owner.

He was forced to sign a confessional statement written for him. While in prison, he lost his eyes.

He was in 2012 finally discharged and acquitted by the Court of Appeal, after receiving help from Chino Obiagwu, the national coordinator of the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP). He died few years after his release.

Why miscarriage occurs

A lawyer, Idowu Abdulsalam, said that miscarriage of justice is often caused by inexperienced magistrates and judges.

"For me, it is the capacity of the presiding officer (judge) that caused a miscarriage of justice. If you go to court very well, you will realise that many magistrates don't even understand the basic knowledge of law.

"The law is fair, but the greatest disaster is when the presiding officer is not even experienced. There's nothing you can do than to say "as the court pleases". If you don't have money to go to appeal - there's problem. That's the problem of litigation," he said.

He said judges and magistrates should be constantly trained on the application of the law.

"You see, when the law says at the discretion of the court, it is not talking about the will of the judge, but also judicious application of the discretion. I also believe that there should be review of some judgement."

"For example, order or judgements of a newly appointed magistrate should be reviewed by senior judges to know whether the judgements are intact" to avoid having the innocent rot in prison."

Ademola Owolabi, another lawyer, told PREMIUM TIMES that the absence of legal representation accounts for miscarriage of justice.

"The issue is that many of these people (wrongfully convicted victims') are illiterate and some are made to sign what they did not do. However, people who roam the street to claim innocence may also simply put a face so that people don't condemn or ignore them. They may also not be victims."

No compensation nor rehabilitation programme for victims

Ezekiah Olujobi, the founder of Centre for Justice Mercy and Reconciliation (CJMR); a grass root organisation working to protect the rights of citizens, said that many of the wrongfully convicted persons should be compensated by the government.

He however said when he asks for compensation for people that have been wrongfully convicted, he is often told that the Nigerian constitution does not make provision for it.

Mr Effiong, the lawyer, corroborated Mr Olujobi's claim that there is no constitutional provision for compensation on wrongful conviction. He simply told PREMIUM TIMES that the only means of getting justice is to sue for malicious persecution.

"The sad thing is that even a case of malicious persecution can only come up against individuals not government agency or the judiciary. It is a sad case," he said.