Ten years after, young man awaits trial at Kirikiri

27th April 2024

Chidozie Ajokuji

Behind the iron bars of the Kirikiri Correctional Centre in Lagos, 29-year-old Chidozie Ajokujie was lost in his thoughts of hopelessness as life in the outside world has become a mirage, drifting far from his reach.

Chidozie was 19 years old when he was wrongfully jailed for robbery in 2014. Now grown into a man, each day he has spent behind bars feels like an eternity, with no end in sight.

Saturday PUNCH learnt that since his detention, the distraught man has been in court over 50 times, trying to regain his freedom, but the justice he sought has been evasive, compounding his despair as he languishes in jail.

Our correspondent gathered that Chidozie (also known as Junior) was arrested along with three other suspects – Abass Oyeniyi, Peter Oloyede, and Prosper Odijeh – who were subsequently charged with robbery and conspiracy.

According to his mother, Mrs Modupe Ajokuji, who was interviewed by The PUNCH in July 2020, Chidozie had gone to charge his laptop in his friend’s landlord’s apartment in the Abati area of Egbeda, in 2014, when policemen from the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad stormed the house and arrested him and others.

The SARS operatives accused the four suspects of dispossessing a lawyer, identified as Yemi Omodele, of his 2010 model Lexus SUV on December 23, 2013.

Although Omodele later absolved Chidozie and his friend, Prosper, claiming that someone else was the culprit, the policemen refused to release the duo.

Modupe further disclosed that the security agents demanded N5m to release Chidozie and Prosper, but their families could not afford the bail.

She explained, “Hakeem allegedly attacked one Mr Omodele at gunpoint and snatched his car; he took the car to a mechanic to sell for him, but the police saw it at the mechanic’s workshop and when they asked the mechanic who the owner of the car was, he told them that he was the owner and he was arrested.

“When he discovered that the car was stolen, he confessed that it was Hakeem, who brought it to his workshop to sell, so the police came to arrest Hakeem; unfortunately, my son was inside his apartment charging his laptop when the police came and he and Prosper were arrested alongside with Hakeem.”

She said the police also accused her son of Internet fraud.

 “Mr Omodele told the police that Chidozie and Prosper were not the ones who robbed him, but the police refused to release them; even Hakeem told the police that Chidozie and Prosper knew nothing about the robbery.

“My son is a graphic artist and when the police checked his laptop and saw some designs, they labelled him an Internet fraudster and asked us to bail him with N5m, but when we could not raise the money, he was charged alongside others for armed robbery,” she added.

Mrs Ajokuji lamented that since 2014 when her son and others were arraigned, nothing had been done on the matter except in 2015 when the complainant came to testify at the Igbosere High Court that Chidozie and Prosper were not among those who robbed him.

“The case has been adjourned several times and my son has been languishing in prison for six years for a sin he did not commit. I want justice; my son has spent the better part of his life in prison and we want all relevant authorities to come to our aid,” she added.

Decade of legal frustration

Over the years, the co-founder of Ray of Hope Prison Outreach, Hassana Kehinde, has been painstakingly advocating for Chidozie’s release from detention.

In a post she made on October 18, 2020, she stated, “Chidozie Ajokuji, also known as Junior, would be appearing in court on the second of November 2020, exactly two weeks from now, after spending six years in medium prison Kirikiri since 2014 for a crime that he knows absolutely nothing about.

“He only went to charge his laptop in a friend’s house and was raided by SARS alongside the criminal they were looking for. His father, Mr John Ajokuji, was a security man and his mother, Mrs Modupe Ajokuji, sells animal feeds by the roadside in Agege. They couldn’t afford a good lawyer to fight for their child. His father passed away a few years later without seeing his son as a free man.”

But replying to one of Kehinde’s tweets, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice in a post made on July 1, 2020, via its official X handle, said the defendant had been represented by a lawyer.

It wrote, “The defendant is charged alongside four others for the offence of conspiracy to commit robbery and armed robbery. The matter is being prosecuted by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the trial is ongoing at the High Court.

“Contrary to the claim, the defendant has at all material time in these proceedings been represented by a lawyer and has been present in court. The last adjourned date is February 2020. The matter was adjourned for the continuation of the trial. We assure the public of our commitment to serving the people of Lagos State and promoting access to justice.”

Providing more context to the circumstances that led to the robbery charge, a human rights activist, Segun Awosanya, in a series of tweets posted on July 2, 2020, stated that Chidozie was not only detained but also tortured and denied representation by SARS.

 “The officers knew Precious and Chidozie were not armed robbers but as a culture, no suspect walks free with SARS. Chidozie’s laptop was perused after no success was made in pinning armed robbery on him. Eventually, they claimed he was a Yahoo boy which he (Chidozie) accepted as a lesser sin and tried to get bail,” he wrote.

However, despite the assurance given by the Ministry of Justice in 2020, Ajokuji’s access to justice has become dim without a ray of hope on the horizon.

Sharing an update about the case on March 30, 2022, Kehinde disclosed that the case had been stalled because the Investigating Police Officer was transferred to Abuja.

Culprit found, justice still elusive

On December 19, 2023, Kehinde, in a series of tweets, maintained Chidozie’s innocence, noting that the real culprit of the robbery, one Hakeem, had been convicted and sentenced to prison.

She wrote, “Three years later, he (Chidozie) is still incarcerated. A total of nine years of his life was wasted. How can the innocent continue to rot away in prison? The main culprit is serving life imprisonment in maximum prison. Junior, Peter, Prosper, and Abass are innocent for God’s sake.

“Look at how young he looked in this picture! Junior has grown into a man in prison. They’ve all lost something they can never recover. I would be less concerned if they were guilty of the crime (they were) accused (of), but these guys are innocent. Do you know how many innocent lives are languishing?

“The car that was robbed was given back to him (the lawyer), he even exonerated him in court that he didn’t see Junior and the other guys the day he was robbed but he saw Hakeem. These guys are about to go for a plea bargain.”

Another X user JaggedRose, pointed out that the culprit had been a nuisance to the residents of Akowonjo and Egbeda areas until he stole the lawyer’s car.

“I know this boy, know his mum, his sister, and I know this story well. The main culprit was a nuisance to the entirety of Akowonjo, Egbeda area, and these same policemen knew of his atrocities but never handled him until he stole the lawyer’s car. It is quite sad to see,” she wrote in a reply to Kehinde’s tweet.

The Nigerian Correctional Service has revealed that no fewer than 53,836 inmates in the 253 correctional centres nationwide are awaiting trial as of December 18, 2023.

Chidozie should be released, compensated – Lawyer

A human rights lawyer, Kabir Akingbolu, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, condemned Chidozie’s detainment, which he described as unconstitutional, and called for his immediate release.

Akingbolu added that a bail application should be filed for Chidozie, noting that he could do that for him freely if he could have his particulars for him to be discharged.

He stated, “If somebody was arrested wrongly or found in the company of some criminals or suspects and the victim has identified the real suspect and the real suspect has been sentenced to prison, you can bring a bail application.

“The law says that if you don’t charge somebody to court within three months, you have to release him unconditionally and this is what the Constitution says. There are no two ways about it. You can’t keep somebody in detention in perpetuity. Section 35(4)(a) of the Constitution says he is entitled to be released pending the time he is ready to be charged to court.”

The lawyer further explained that the Constitution says if anyone is arrested and not brought before a court, they must not be detained for more than two months before they are released unconditionally.

“It also says anyone unjustly arrested shall be entitled to compensation and public apology. As it is, even if they release Chidozie, under the law, he should be compensated. Keeping him in detention in perpetuity is not done anywhere.

“They have detained him for 10 years. It’s not done. We are not in a military era. If we say we are in a democracy then the rule of law must not be tampered with. Keeping him there is illegal! If he had started his PhD, he would have completed it since. He needs to be released, compensated by the state, and receive a public apology,” he added.

Attempts to reach the Office of the Chief Judge of Lagos State were futile as calls made to the phone number provided on their official platform indicated that it was unavailable and a text message sent to it was not replied to as of the time of filing this report.

Efforts made by our correspondent to reach the state Ministry of Justice for an update on Chidozie’s case were also not successful as the public affairs and social media handles of the ministry did not respond to enquiries.

Our correspondent also contacted the Director of Public Affairs, state Ministry of Justice, Mrs Alo, but she did not respond when she took the call and the text message sent to her was not responded to as of the time the report was filed.

Another human rights lawyer who declined to have her name in print due to the details of the case which she stated had not been carefully studied, told our correspondent that Chigozie’s detainment for a decade sounded strange.

“This issue sounds strange for a suspect to be detained that long even when the actual convict has been sentenced to prison. However, I would suggest that they apply for bail,” she stated.

Contacted, the spokesman for the Nigeria Correctional Service in Lagos State, Mr Rotimi Oladokun, told our correspondent to send Chidozie’s details to him and he would check their records.

However, he was yet to respond to the text message containing these details as of Friday evening.

SOURCE:PUNCH

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *