Desperately wanted by the Department of State Services in Nigeria, with an international arrest warrant hanging around his neck, and facing immigration-related offences in Cotonou, the embattled Yoruba Nation agitator, Sunday Adeyemo, aka Sunday Igboho, is seeking asylum in the Republic of Benin, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
It was gathered that the 48-year-old activist resorted to the option after he was arrested on Monday, July 19, 2021, by the International Criminal Police Organisation at the Cadjèhoun Airport in Cotonou, Republic of Benin.
Igboho was arrested with his Germany-based wife, Ropo, at the airport while they reportedly tried to catch a flight to Germany around 8 pm on Monday.
Although the Cour De’appal De Cotonou ruled on Thursday that Ropo should be released unconditionally as there were no charges against her, Igboho is spending his first weekend in a police cell in Cotonou.
He is being tried for migration-related issues after he was allegedly caught with a fake Beninese passport at the point of his departure to Germany through an Air France flight.
“He (Igboho) was already at the airport with a passport. The immigration officers suspected his passport to be fake and so they stopped him. A passport was allegedly forged for Igboho in the Benin Republic for the purpose of the Germany trip. At the airport, they discovered he was the one,” a source familiar with the matter told Saturday PUNCH.
The source, who craved anonymity, however, said although an application had been filed for Igboho as a political refugee in Germany, processes had also been completed to file another application for asylum for him in Benin Republic.
“Igboho has already applied for asylum in Germany and he hopes to file a similar application in Benin Republic in the coming days,” the source said.
The source also said that there was the possibility that the Beninese Government would drop the migration-related offences brought against Igboho over alleged forgery of passport.
The leader of Igboho’s legal team, Yomi Alliyu (SAN), had also in a statement noted that his client could not be extradited because the 1984 Extradition Treaty between Nigeria, Benin and two other countries excluded political refugees like Igboho.
Meanwhile, upon their arrest, Igboho and his wife were detained in police custody in Cotonou but the Cour De’appal De Cotonou ruled on Thursday that Ropo should be released unconditionally as there were no charges against her.
The court session lasted for about six hours with intermittent breaks.
The court, however, ruled that Igboho be remanded in police custody till the next date of adjournment which is likely to be next week.
Although the Cour De’appal De Cotonou, adjourned the hearing of the case against Igboho, till Friday (yesterday), the hearing didn’t hold. The implication of this is that Igboho would spend the weekend in the Beninese cell.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the hearing would hold next week while the umbrella body of Yoruba Self-Determination Groups, Ilana Omo Oodua, said it would hold on Monday. The group, led by ex-Senator Banji Akintoye, was in court to monitor Thursday’s hearing.
The group disclosed this in a statement signed by its Communications Manager, Maxwell Adeleye, and titled, ‘Update on Chief Sunday Adeyemo Igboho’s Case in the Republic of Benin by Ilana Omo Oodua.’
The statement, which was released on Friday, partly read, “Yesterday (Thursday), the court set Mrs Adeyemo, lgboho’s wife, free since it has been found that she has committed no offence and there’s no complaint whatsoever against her. Consequently, her German passport was returned to her.
“The case has been adjourned till Monday, July 26, to allow the Nigerian Government to bring up whatever evidence they may have, and Mr lgboho has been taken back to the police custody.”
Meanwhile, Saturday PUNCH learnt that the Nigerian Government, which has been mum on the issue, sent representatives to court on, Thursday and accused Igboho of importing firearms.
The source told Saturday PUNCH, “The Nigerian Government has made attempts to get him (Igboho) but Benin Republic didn’t release him. The Nigerian Government has requested him but the Beninese Government has not released him because the latter has not even identified him as a Nigerian.
“The only instrument they can use to identify him as a Nigerian is the passport, but that is not what was found on him.”
The source added, “The Nigerian Government was in court on Thursday through its legal representatives. They demanded that Igboho be remanded pending the time the government would file proper documents for his extradition. The Nigerian government told the court that Igboho is a gunrunner and appealed to the court to remand Igboho until further notice.
“Nothing is happening on extradition for now because the priority case for the Benin Republic is that he is alleged to have committed an offence against their law. So, they can’t hold any extradition hearing until they get to the root of the matter on how he got the Benin Republic passport.
“I am suspecting that even if the court orders his release, he will be rearrested because of the Nigerian Government’s accusation that he is a gunrunner.”
Also, the Akintoye-led group in its statement said, “What Nigerian Government came up with were mere allegations against Ighoho such as trafficking in arms and inciting violence that could result in social disturbance without evidence, which the Government of Benin Republic considered spurious and untenable, and insufficient to warrant extradition.”
When contacted, a member of Igboho’s legal team, Pelumi Olajengbesi, declined comments on the case of his client and the details of the court hearing on Thursday. The lawyer, however, told Saturday PUNCH that the team was hopeful that the court would grant Igboho bail and won’t extradite the activist illegally to Nigeria.
When asked whether Igboho would get bail in court, the lawyer simply told our correspondent, “We are hopeful.”
Olajengbesi restated his conviction that Benin Republic had shown itself to be a country that respects the rule of law and due process.
“The disposition of Benin Republic is that it is a country that respects the rule of law. We are making efforts that he is not repatriated wrongly to Nigeria. We are ensuring that everything is done in accordance with the law and we are very hopeful that we would succeed,” he stressed.
Reacting to the forgery allegation against his client, Olajengbesi said, “Igboho is in the spotlight now and people can come up with allegations. There can be issues of facts, or mis-facts anywhere but no charge has been officially brought against Igboho by the court. Until there is charge against him and investigation to prove that he is found guilty or innocent, every other thing anyone is saying is baseless.”
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Salami, a counsel for Igboho, has said that the rights activist was arrested with Nigerian and German passports.
This is contrary to claims that Igboho was tried for possessing a Beninese passport despite not being a citizen of the country.
Salami told BBC Yoruba, “It is not true that the Benin Republic passport was found on Sunday Igboho when he was arrested.
“What was found on him were Nigerian and German passports. His wife had only her German passport on her at the point of arrest.”
Meanwhile, reports have indicated that Igboho may face 21 years’ imprisonment over the Beninese passport he allegedly tendered before his aborted trip.
Although it officially denied it, the Nigeria Immigration Service had reportedly on July 9 placed Igboho on a stop-list.
NIS alerted the Nigeria Police, the DSS and the National Intelligence Agency that he was making efforts to acquire a new Nigerian passport as part of plans to flee the country.
As the authorities uncovered his strategy, Igboho, it was gathered, allegedly made arrangements for a Beninese passport.
Expressing fear over the fate of Igboho, a lawmaker in Benin, identified as Tolulase, in an interview with the BBC Yoruba, said the situation was not looking good for the agitator.
The legislator explained that although Benin is a small country, laws are strictly enforced there.
He said, “On this passport issue, take me for instance, I’m from Benin but married to an Ijebu woman from Nigeria. We have five kids. She gave birth to two in Nigeria, three in Benin.
“Only the three have Beninese passports, the two others and my wife do not have. She can only apply if we married legally in Benin.
“Even after the court wedding, the passport is not issued immediately. She will wait for some years and must go through the processes.
“The first thing you must have is the National Identity Card. Now, if you’re not a citizen, the only way you can get a passport is if you legally marry a Beninoise.
“You can see it’s not easy. So, if you procure a fake one, you’ll be uncovered because you don’t have a National Identity Card. The details are linked.
“The card must have a family name. About three to five of your relatives must confirm to the government that they know you and your early years.
“It is after they testify that the court will issue the card, which can then be used to apply for a passport. If such is doctored, the punishment is 21 years’ imprisonment. It’s a serious offence.
“And it’s not just the owner of the fake passport that will be prosecuted; all those who know about it will be charged to court.
“On Chief Sunday Igboho, the Beninese Government will carry out a detailed investigation that will expose everyone involved in his passport obtainment.”
Fighting against extradition
Meanwhile, Igboho’s lawyers are fighting against his extradition to Nigeria, where he may face treason charges.
The Federal Government, its agencies and South-West governors remain silent on his ordeal, but his supporters within and outside Nigeria are calling for his unconditional release, insisting self-determination is not a crime.
The President, Women Arise and Centre for Change, Joe Okei-Odumakin, has appealed to the Beninese Government not to repatriate Igboho.
She said Igboho could not be assured of safety or justice in Nigeria and “will come to grief if he is extradited under the prevailing circumstances.”
Nigeria’s best interest’ll top our extradition approach-AGF’s aide
Meanwhile, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has explained that the Minister was considering Nigeria’s best interest while exercising his discretion in filing extradition charges against the Yoruba activist, Igboho.
Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations to the AGF, Dr. Jibrilu Gwandu, said this in response to enquiries from Saturday PUNCH, on Friday.
He was responding to a question on why the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, was yet to file extradition charges against the activist.
Gwandu said, the “Attorney General is considering and I believe is not bound by time limitations in exercising that discretion and considering the beneficial approach.”
He explained that Malami, who was conscious about public interest and the interest of justice at all times, would, at the appropriate time, do the needful.
There have been concerns over the seeming delay by the Federal Government to file extradition charges against Igboho who was earlier declared wanted by the DSS after its operatives raided his Soka residence, killing two people and arresting 12 others in the process.