Olasupo Ojo, a former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR, is the legal adviser of the Ilana Omo Oodua. Ojo is also the Coordinator of Legal Affairs for the Yoruba nation agitator, Chief Sunday Adeyemo, fondly called Sunday Igboho.
In this interview, the lawyer says the authorities in Benin Republic must prove to the international community that it respects rule of law over the moves by the Nigerian government to extradite Igboho from Benin. He calls the court order remanding the activist in prison suspicious but is optimistic that Igboho will get justice.
The court in the Benin Republic decided to remand Sunday Igboho in prison as investigation into his case goes on. What are they investigating and how long will the investigation take?
We are suspicious because there was no documentary evidence of any allegation against him and we are not comfortable with the order made by the court because there was no basis to make the order. Having failed to establish any case against him, it is not the duty of the court to substitute a charge that is not known to the victim himself. The court has done that in spite of his lawyers’ objection to such substitution, but the court appeared powerless, that is, the hand of the court was tied to remand him. You cannot hold somebody against his will under the guise of protecting him. So, we are suspicious of the motive of the court to remand Sunday Igboho and we are doing everything to prevent any unlawful deportation; we are insisting that they should do whatever they have to do according to the rule of law.
The Republic of Benin that we know respects the rule of law and this is an opportunity for that government to prove to the world that it is not a lawless country.
Let’s look at the Benin Republic judicial system. What is it like and how is it different from the Nigerian judicial system?
It is an equatorial system in which when you allege that someone has gone against the law, the police can only arrest and detain the person but they must produce the person before the prosecutor who will now make enquiries about the allegations to confirm the veracity or otherwise. Once the prosecutor has cleared that, he will go before the investigating judge; there is a judge who will investigate those allegations. Investigations usually carried out by the police here in Nigeria are not done by the police in Benin but by a judge and the lawyer of the suspect.
The suspect will be interrogated by the judge and statements will be made. If the investigating judge is satisfied that no offence has been committed, he can free the person at that point to avoid the person from facing the rigors of a trial. But if they feel that there is a semblance of a case, they will transfer the case to what they call liberty judge.
The liberty judge is the one who will determine whether to release the suspect on bail or renew the detention. That will be done after a full hearing, arguments will be canvassed but the judge must deliver a ruling. In the case of Sunday Igboho, there were arguments and all the three allegations against him were nullified. The lawyers were happy that, that was the end of the case expecting that the next order to be made was to free him but it was a somersault when the judge announced that he would not allow Igboho to go yet, but he will be remanded. He is no longer in police custody but in prison. That means he is now under the judicial system of Benin Republic and the power to extradite or to remove somebody cannot be exercised by the executive arm of government without the order of the judiciary. Whoever is under the jurisdiction of the judiciary cannot be removed or transferred anywhere except by the order made by the court, but that is if they want to abide by the order of the judiciary. So, if the Benin Republic government, that is the executive, wants to do anything, they must take approval from the court.
But the recent meeting between Nigeria’s Ambassador to Benin, Tukur Buratai, and the President of that country is raising fears back home that it may be linked to the Federal Government’s extradition moves. Are you bothered?
We are not bothered about that but you know that will be the second trip by Buratai in the last two weeks. The first time, he went there to deliver a letter against Sunday Igboho and that was after INTERPOL was used to prevent him (Igboho) from travelling to Germany. We as lawyers to Igboho demanded a copy of the letter by Buratai but the court refused because such document is incompetent in law, it is either you want extradition or you don’t want it. Extradition has a procedure and you cannot do that with a letter and there are requirements of the law to be satisfied before extradition procedure can even commence. Now, the document delivered by Buratai carries no weight because it does not satisfy the requirements of the law for extradition but, more importantly, Buratai has no locus.
Without prejudice to the court proceedings, are you confident of freedom for Sunday Igbo and prevent his extradition to Nigeria?
We hope to get justice and, you know, justice is dispensed by humans and those humans are not infallible whether for the reason of corruption, compromise and lack of courage to do the right thing or for any other reason. We do not expect a judge who will preside over the Sunday Igboho matter to do less than is required of him. Whatever allegations they have against Sunday Igboho who is clamoring for self-determination for the Yoruba people don’t hold water and nobody can be charged to court for that. It is a right under Article 20 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights.
Let’s talk about his purported bid for asylum in Germany. What is the update?
Sunday Igboho does not require asylum in Germany, he has a residence permit in Germany. His wife and children are there; so he does not require asylum. His wife and children are citizens of Germany and so, he has a right to reside there as long as he has his permit. He is not seeking asylum in Germany.
Under what condition is Sunday Igboho being kept in Benin Republic prison?
Benin prisons are better than police station, and he has the right to visitation by his lawyer, his wife and well-wishers but there is nothing like freedom no matter how comfortable that place may be.
How is his state of health? Have you spoken with him?
I spoke with him on phone. He is in very high spirit. He has not committed any offence and he keeps telling anybody that he has not committed any offence. If anyone has committed any offence, it is the Nigerian government and the Department of State Service, DSS, which raided his residence.