Anxiety as Cotonou court adjourns till today, returns Igboho to cell
All eyes were on Cour De’appal De Cotonou, Benin Republic, yesterday, for the arraignment of Yoruba Nation agitator, Chief Sunday Adeyemo, fondly called Sunday Igboho, since his arrest on Monday night.
Hordes of his supporters had since morning trooped to the court in anticipation of his appearance. The environment got tension-soaked as the hours dragged on, awaiting commencement of proceedings. Those at the court included supporters from Lagos, Yoruba-speaking indigenes in Benin Republic and some monarchs.
Speaking on phone, one of the supporters said Igboho and his wife, Ropo looked pale as they arrived in court. “Oosa (Igboho) is here. We are about to start the hearing. His case has been called. Everywhere is peaceful but there is tension here,” he said in hushed tones.
This was confirmed by the National Chairman of Ilana Omo Oodua, Prof. Wale Adeniran, who around 3:00p.m. said: “He is in court with his wife. Hearing will commence shortly.”
As at yesterday evening, the trial judge expected to hear his case was yet to arrive. But by 8:00 p.m., hearing started. Media aide to Prof. Banji Akintoye, Maxwell Adeleye, in a message last night, told The Guardian that Igboho’s hearing was still on but there was no decision yet. “This is because Benin is running a French system of judiciary, as the case may last till 2:00 a.m.”
But after a few hours of proceedings, Igboho was returned to cell in Benin Republic as the Court D’Appeal in Cotouno adjourned the case till today.
Igboho and his wife have been in custody since their arrest at the Cardinal Bernardin International airport, Cotonou, as they attempted to board a flight to Germany on Monday.
The Federal Government, it was gathered, had asked the government of Benin Republic to further detain the Yoruba Nation agitator after a three-point complaint was tabled before the Beninoise court.
A source had disclosed that Igboho is accused of trafficking in arms and ammunition into Nigeria. “Those arms and ammunition are meant to cause violence in the country. He is also accused of planning and engaging in acts intended to divide Nigeria.”
The source further said the Nigerian government has not made a request for Igboho’s extradition but has urged the court to further detain him. The court was yet to make any order last night but the source said the request for further detention may be to enable government finalise the extradition process.
“The ongoing case in Cotonou is not a formal charge yet, but government will likely apply all possible strategies to secure the return of Igboho to the country. He is being arraigned for immigration-related offences,” the source said.
Igboho had been declared wanted by the Department of State Services (DSS) after his residence in Soka area of Ibadan was raided on July 1. Two persons were killed and 13 others arrested by the DSS in the raid.
However, Olayomi Koiki, media aide to Igboho, yesterday said lawyers are fighting hard to defend his principal in court.
Speaking during a live session on his Facebook page, Koiki said Igboho’s defence counsel are putting up a good fight at the hearing.
He said: “We thank those who have joined us from all over the world to know what is happening in Cotonou. The case is still ongoing, that is what we can say for now. Our legal representatives are working so we should entertain no fear.
“Benin Republic respects its laws and we have to appreciate that instead of listening to distractions. We all know that Igboho is not a criminal or terrorist. Let us, therefore, allow the lawyers to do their work. We all want to know the outcome of the case, but let us be patient for now. Maybe, there will be more updates later today or tomorrow. Whatever happens will be in our favour.”
One of Igboho’s supporters at the court, Alabi Mojeed Ajeleye, said Igboho’s bravery is a morale booster for many Yoruba rights activists. He said: “We are here because of Sunday Igboho. We don’t want him to be extradited to Nigeria. He has been the one fighting for the rights of Yoruba people in Nigeria from killer herdsmen.
“They already attacked his home and killed his people. What is the Nigerian government looking for again? They have not released those arrested and we have not heard anything and you expect us to allow Benin Republic to leave this one again.
“Those of us in Benin that are Yoruba indigenes feel relieved hearing his name. He is a form of encouragement for us. Please let him remain in Benin or allow him to go to Germany. He will be killed in Nigeria and nobody will be encouraged to fight for the people again. We don’t want him to be killed like MKO Abiola.”
Sources hinted that the charge may not be related to extradition as widely expected. “It may be for immigration-related offences. He was said to be in possession of a forged Beninoise passport. The authorities in Benin Republic said they would dock him for the alleged forgery, though Nigerian government, through its Ambassador in Benin, Tukur Buratai, has been pushing for his extradition to Nigeria.”
By sheer coincidence, the Republic of Benin is considering at the moment the extradition request by Burkinabe government for Francois Compaore, brother of former leader, Blaise Compaore. The case came up on July 14 at the Litigation room of the Council of State in Cotonou.
Actubenin.com, which reported the case, said Francois Compaore and his wife witnessed the hearing. The arguments by his lawyers are similar to what Igboho’s lawyer, Chief Yomi Alliyu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), has been giving on why Igboho should not be extradited to Nigeria.
However, Igboho’s case is different from Compaore’s, who is wanted in Ouagadougou for the 1998 murder of a journalist, Norbert Zongo. His extradition has been fought up to France’s Supreme Court. He lost the case in June 2019. In February last year, the French government authorised his extradition.
Francois Compaoré was one of the most disliked figures in his brother’s former regime. François Henri Briard, Compaoré’s lawyer, then said he expected to fight any extradition attempt before Benin’s Council of State and even taking the case to European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.