Tuesday, 25 January 2011

NIGERIA: Sentenced to death, Niyi Emiola spent 17yrs in prison

By sheer luck, Niyi Emiola escaped death penalty for a sin he never committed. However, he spent 17 years in prison, in an interview with Taiwo Olanrewaju, Niyi shares his experience.

THE atmosphere was charged. It suddenly became tensed and the trio of Pastor Hezekiah Olujobi, the executive director, Centre for Justice, Mercy and Reconciliation (CJMR), Ibadan; the newly released Niyi Emiola and his mother-in-law, Madam Sulatu Salami burst into tears, weeping like newborn babies.
Tears of joy you may call it. But for providence, the relentless efforts of the director and members of board of CJMR, the total support of his wife, Lateefat and her parents, and the good will of the Oyo State Commissioner for Justice and State Attorney General, Abdesalam Abdullah and Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala of Oyo state, Niyi Emiola would have died in  prison.
“What becomes of Niyi now that he has been released? Who compensates him for the 17 years of his life wasted just like that?”, Pastor Olujobi asked.
If only Lateefat realised that she was courting trouble that Sunday morning, she would have kept to washing her baby’s feeding bowls and not inform her neighbours, two females, who were asking after one, Niyi, knowing that her husband bore Niyi.
Popularly called Omo Abija or Baba Tunde, Niyi Emiola was barely 22 years old when trouble strolled into his single room apartment at Gbelekale, Orita Aperin, Ibadan on December 18, 1994.
Thinking that it was his friend, Eric, Niyi opened his curtain to welcome Eric, but alas! It was about six men who entered his room and started shouting “thief, thief, thief.”
His words: “While I was trying to ascertain from them what I stole, they beat me up and dragged me to a vehicle outside and took me to Idi-Aro Police Station. There, they showed me to one man (Ganiyu Adeniyi) who told them that he did not know me. He said he had told my neighbours that the leader of the gang who robbed in our area about a week earlier was one Niyi Omojoyinbo who lived at Beyerunka. And that he had taken my neighbours to his house.
“Anyway, I was locked up for about three days at Idi-Aro police station. The buyers of the stolen goods even corroborated Ganiyu Adeniyi that they did not know me. I was charged to a magistrate court where I was bailed and the case adjourned to March,1995.
“I was receiving treatment in a hospital when my wife, Lateefat, came to inform me that our room had been sealed up by the police. Through her, the lawyer handling my case told me that the case had been changed to that of armed robbery and advised that I stay away from court as the offence was not bailable.
“But I said no, why should I run away because of a crime I did not commit. So, I went to court in March and the case was struck out but as I was coming out of the court room, men of the State Investigation Bureau (SIB), Iyaganku, Ibadan re-arrested me. The arrest, I later learnt was based on a petition forwarded to them by a soldier, who was one of my neighbours at Gbelekale.”
However, Niyi Emiola, who is his parents only son, said he was remanded at Agodi Prisons in Ibadan and that on March 17, 1998, Justice Jimoh sentenced him to death.
“That day was the saddest in my life. I never believed I could be sentenced to jail for a crime I did not commit, not to talk of being sentenced to death,” exclaimed the third of the nine children.
He was transferred to Abeokuta Prisons. In 1999, Ganiyu Adeniyi called his attention to some new inmates in the prison, who he said were the people who actually perpetrated the crime for which Niyi Emiola was being punished.
Emiola called the attention of the prisons authority to the development and in spite of two different letters jointly written by him and Ganiyu Adeniyi to the then Governor of Oyo State, Lam Adesina and the then Attorney-General, stating Emiola’s innocence, nothing positive came out of their efforts.
Meanwhile, Lateefat and her children, Tunde and Sade, moved to her parents’ house, where she concentrated on her business, taking care of her children and seeking for ways to help her husband out.

From left, Lateefat, Tunde, Niyi and Madam Sulatu Salami.
So, on one of her visits to him, she quizzed him again, trying to force facts out of him. Still sure of his innocence, Niyi told her that he was very certain that he would not die in prison because he did not commit the crime for which he was convicted.

“That had been the hope that had kept me going and the reason why I have decided to stay by him. Since I married him, he has not kept me in the dark about his activities. I trust him. He is not violent. He is not dubious. Moreso, we were together at home on the day of the armed-robbery in question.
“Our landlord can testify to the fact that we were at home on that day,” explained Lateefat.
“If he was a robber, he would have money, but we had nothing in our room — only one bed, no chair, no table, no radio, no television,” she said.
Corroborating her daughter, Madam Sulatu Salami claimed to have bought the bedsheet on their bed when Lateefat put to bed . “And every Friday, one of my children, Bayonle, takes fish, pepper and soup ingredients to them.
“They had no knife at home. They used to borrow from their landlord’s wife whenever they needed one to slice yam or onion. So, I wondered where they would get a gun from?”, asked the middle-aged woman.
It was not only Lateefat who was stigmatised by some of her friends, Tunde, who was, barely three years old when the incident took place and knew nothing about it, was told by a playmate when he turned  five, that his father was in prison.
That situation forced Grandma (Madam Salami) and Lateefat to explain what actually happened to Tunde.
“Today (Saturday, January 22, 2011) is my happiest day. I am very proud of my father. Although he went to jail but I am happy that he is not an armed-robber,” volunteered Tunde Emiola, ‘a SS3 student of Mount Olivet Grammar School, Ibadan.
Going down memory lane, Pastor Hezekiah Olujobi, told Nigerian Tribune that he went to the Maximum Prison, Kirikiri to pursue another case when he met Olaniyi Emiola on February 14, 2008. The fact that Ganiyu Adeniyi buttressed Niyi’s claims further encouraged him.
Together with his CJMR team, Olujobi met the actual perpetrators of the crime for which Emiola was detained at the Abeokuta Prison. After questioning them and going through the court proceedings by which Emiola was sentenced to death, Olujobi discovered that, it was not likely that the leader of a robbery gang would operate in his neighbourhood, about five houses away from where he lived.

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