- Category: Law, Crime & Judiciary
- Published on Wednesday, 15 August 2012 12:04
- Written by Admin
- Hits: 392
After serving over two decades behind bars, a court sets Olatunji Olaide free
The news report that the Court of Appeal has found one Mr. Olatunji Olaide innocent, after he had spent 24 years in prison, is embarrassing for our criminal justice system; and the experience agonising for the victim. Even more excruciating for Mr. Olaide is that 17 of those difficult years were spent on the death row waiting for the hangman, before the Court of Appeal freed him. Mr. Olaide’s experience in a normal clime would have led to a national outrage and a major public enquiry to find out how a nation’s judicial process can be so unfair to a citizen.
But in Nigeria, Mr. Olaide’s experience is common, as many Nigerians in prison across the country have spent years in custody, on what is commonly referred to as ‘awaiting trial’. This unfortunate experience is despite the existence of chief law officers at the federal and state levels. Indeed, but for the intervention of one Pastor Ariyo Popoola, and the counsel he retained for the condemned prisoner, Mr. Chino Obiagwu, the Executive Director of Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), Mr. Olaide would have been hanged for an offence the appeal court has now found him innocent of.
The heart-rending story of torture by the police, and other inhuman treatments deserve investigation by the nation’s human rights commission. There is also the need to improve capacity to investigate and punish crimes.
It is unfortunate that while discharging and acquitting Mr. Olaide, the Court of Appeal was not in a position to grant him any financial restitution. This scandalous exposure of our criminal justice system, would most likely also receive scant change in future, unless there is a legislative interference providing for financial restitution in similar cases. Also, the Lagos State ombudsman should intervene to get an administrative relief, and if it fails, judicial intervention for Mr. Olaide to receive compensation.
According to Mr. Olaide, he left Lagos in 1988 for Gwari to buy cows, goats and rams to sell, and while in the bush making his choice, he was arrested by some policemen who claimed that he and others they were chasing had abandoned a stolen vehicle on the road, and had ran into the bush. He narrated that after a series of interrogations in Niger State, and despite his claim of innocence and confirmation by the interpreter who was with him when he was arrested, that he was a visiting trader, he was handed over to an anti-terrorism squad from Lagos and transferred to Adeniji Adele Police Station, where, according to him, the real hell began.
After a trial at a Lagos High Court, Justice Da Sliva sentenced him to death, and for 17 years, he was a call away from death. Within that period, his other eight inmates, who shared the same tiny cell with him, were one after the other called out on their individual faithful day and, according to him, they never returned. While in prison, his wife remarried, and interestingly, he bears her no grudge; stating that were his wife a sister, he would have acquiesced to her new marriage, as there was little hope of his ever getting out a free man. Indeed, despite his family’s best effort to free him, no respite came, as the lawyers hired for the purpose merely collected fees and failed to make any headway.
We salute the churches that lightened his ordeal, particularly the Catholic Church, and of course his ultimate benefactor, Pastor Poopola, as well as his counsel, Obiagwu, who collected no money for the services. We commend such magnanimity to other lawyers, particularly those who place money above other considerations.
Olaide scored the police very low, claiming torture and the stealing of the N325,000.00 he had on him when he was arrested in 1988. He also condemned the judicial system, believing that it is ineffective and that he was unjustly condemned for a crime he did not commit. Anybody would. We hope, as he does, that he will now enjoy the rest of his life in freedom. (The Nation)