•Family petitions Osinbajo, AGF, Foreign Affairs Ministry
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
His story is pathetic. It evokes empathy. It is such that has ebbed his personality and completely dehumanized him. His family is shattered, living on handouts from relatives and friends.
From his native Ogun State to Lagos State, down to the United Kingdom, he had lived in affluence which family members said was a product of hard work. But within a twinkle of an eye, his world came crashing like a pack of cards. Now, according to the family, he does not only feed from the dustbins in a foreign land, he is also stuck there as his freedom has since been taken away from him by Moroccan authorities who confiscated his travel documents under controversial stances.
That’s the present state of Mr. Yunusa Owolabi, an Ogun State-born cargo and shipping agent who lived and practiced his profession in London with his family prior to his ordeals.
The family believes Owolabi is being held on the account of injustice perpetrated against his person with the connivance of a certain businessman, incidentally from the same Ogun.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice in Nigeria, the family claimed, has not helped matters as it has refused to communicate appropriately to its Moroccan counterpart of the vacation of an extradition request made by the Nigerian INTERPOL on Owolabi.
Owolabi’s travails began in 2016 when he visited Nigeria to encourage the said businessman to return to the United Kingdom [UK] and exercise his right by reporting to the British Police the disappearance of his cargoes within the premises of a company.
He had been contracted by the businessman to handle the shipping of some items he bought to Nigeria. But on the day Owolabi went to take the delivery of the equipment at the seller’s premises, he was stopped from moving the container to the port of departure for reasons that were not discernible.
The following day when he went back to the company, the Managing Director, a Lebanese, told him that the container had been stolen at night prompting him (Owolabi) to inform the buyer (businessman) of the development, asking for his immediate physical presence at the company.
With no sight of the machine in the premises after a thorough inspection, all the parties involved reported the matter to the British Police. But rather than following up the case, the buyer (businessman) jetted out to Nigeria, leaving others behind without any information of his movement.
Months later, Owolabi visited Nigeria and deemed it necessary to reach out to his client to urge him to come back to the UK and pursue his matter to a logical conclusion so as to get his claims.
But the businessman asked him to return after three days for both of them to work out the modalities on how to proceed.
Unknown to Owolabi, his client had arranged with the local police to get him arrested and so, consequent upon his arrival for the meeting, officers from Surulere police station whisked him away.
He arrived the station into the waiting hands of INTERPOL from Alagbon. He was picked up from there and was detained in Ikoyi prisons for three nights on the charge that he stole the missing items in London. On the strength of the alleged charges, the police confiscated his travel documents.
He was later released on bail, but on the day he was told to come and collect his travel documents, he was rearrested and flown to Abuja where he was detained again.
A lawyer, Oladapo Olalekan Idowu, intervened and took the matter to the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court which declined jurisdiction to hear the matter. As a matter of law, the court declared that courts in Nigeria have no jurisdiction to entertain an event that occurred in the UK and under investigation by the British Police.
On the strength of the judgement, Owolabi was released by INTERPOL but without his travel documents.
Going back to collect his documents on an agreed date, the police rearrested him on a presumption that the case was treated as a civil one by the FCT court. They argued that he ought to be tried on criminal charges. The police than charged him at the Magistrate Court, Wuse Zone 2, Abuja.
Owolabi later got a surety which enabled him to secure his travel papers and left Nigeria for UK for medical attention.
Subsequently, the police placed a red alert on him on Interpol watch-list without the knowledge of the magistrate court trying the matter.
The family got wind of the red alert and petitioned the FCT Chief Judge and copied the magistrate court to intimate the judge of the goings-on including the previous judgement of the High court.
On the strength of the petition, the trial magistrate, Mrs. Achegbulu Olubunmi, withdrew from the matter on May 7, 2019, claiming credibility problems.
It was on his way back to Nigeria via Morocco for the continuation of his case at the magistrate court that Owolabi was arrested by the Moroccan INTERPOL since June, 2018 and sent to prison of Aarjat 1 in Casablanca.
Owolabi cried to the high heavens for help. He later got a lawyer in Morocco that assisted him.
But his family did not relent. On getting the latest information, they wrote to the Ministry of Justice in Abuja, giving a chronology of the matter and the court rulings.
The Ministry studied the submissions and other relevant documents and directed the Inspector General of Police, via a letter on August 30, 2018 which was received on September 3, 2018 by the police top hierarchy, to remove the red alert on Owolabi.
The IGP removed the red alert and the Moroccan authorities released him to his lawyer. But his travel documents were not released. This is why Owolabi has remained in Casablanca till today.
The family again petitioned the Ministry of Justice that Owolabi’s travel documents were yet to be released to him.
Alarmed by this development, the Ministry, through the Directorate of Public Prosecution, DPP, handling the matter then wrote to the Attorney General, Ministry of Justice of Morocco on January 9, 2019, requesting that Owolabi’s travel documents be released because investigations had proven he had no case to answer in Nigeria.
But the Moroccan authorities refused to release the travel documents, claiming there was an extradition request by Nigerian INTERPOL on Owolabi through Central Authority Unit, CAU, of the Ministry of Justice which sought and obtained the order of a Federal High Court in Nigeria to effect the request.
The family headed to the same Federal High Court where INTERPOL got the extradition order and filed a no-case-to-answer brief, praying the court to vacate the extradition request.
On April 10, 2019, Justice O.E. Abang of the Federal Court struck out the extradition request.
The judgement of the court was served on the Federal Ministry of Justice to carry out the necessary action with its Moroccan counterpart to enable them give Owolabi his papers and let him go.
But as of the time of filing this report, the Ministry, according to the family, was yet to communicate to the Moroccan authorities to release Owolabi’s travel documents.
Consequently, Owolabi is still being held in Morocco.
The family has petitioned Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, OAGF, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a letter dated July 29, 2019 to beg for their intervention. The petition, signed by Mr. Farouk Oshipitan on behalf of Owolabi’s family, was received at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on July 30, 2019 at 1140hours.
The family begged that the Interpol Department in Nigeria be investigated as “our son, Yinusa Owolabi, is of the observation that he is a prey for fraudulent insurance claims in Britain, and this may be behind his travails”.
The family went on: “[Letter from his counsel in UK addressed to the businessman dated 12th October 2016 is hereto attached. By this letter attached, the businessman is also wanted in United Kingdom having sneaked out of UK immediately he lost his phantom consignment at the premises of a company in UK and laid wait for his prey [Yinusa Owolabi] in Nigeria.
“That a government delegation led by the Solicitor-General be sent to Morocco to apologise to the person of Yinusa Owolabi who has been dehumanized thoroughly and rendered penniless due to long hunt by his tormentors.
“That the Ministry of Justice should explain their reasons for turning the table against the family of Owolabi through a conspiracy of silence”.