Staring death in the face: How I spent 18 years on death row — Wasiu Mudasiru

•Meets son first time in 18 years

When 25 years old Wasiu Bababtunde Mudasiru got a job as a driver to Chief John Oladipo Oladiran in 2002 through the chief’s gateman; Mufutau Alaja Tiamiyu, he thought his future was secure as he now has a steady source of income. Little did he know that he was embarking on a journey that would end in 18 years behind bars and on death row. Indeed, his joy was short-lived as he only worked for three months before tragedy struck. His boss who he fondly called Baba died in an unexplainable circumstance and he was accused of being the culprit.

He found it incomprehensible that he would be accused of murdering a man who took him like a son and treated him as one; having even told him that he would buy him a car, volkswagen, to use as a taxi, adding that “Baba’s wife lived in Lagos, she did not live with Baba and one of his sons lived abroad.”

Wasiu and younger sister

Narrating his ordeal, Wasiu stated that on June 17, 2002, he took his boss who lived around Onireke GRA in Ibadan out and they returned around 4pm with Baba’s girlfriend who used to come around to the house, “I dropped him and was outside with the gateman when he called me that I should go and pick the night guard and also, I will drop the woman at Challenge area of Ibadan with a new mattress he bought for her. When we were to leave, the security refused to open the gate until Chief told him to open for me that he was the one that sent me out.

“I came back around 6pm and asked about Chief, the security said he was inside, I knocked but no one answered so I opened the door since it wasn’t locked, I met him on the bed  and called him, he didn’t answer so I called the security man at the gate to come and see, he had not entered before he started saying Baba was dead, I  said I wanted to know what killed Baba  because he was okay when I left. I went and called Baba’s friend, a serving judge who lived around Agodi Secretariat. He followed me and confirmed that he was dead and I and the judge started going about to inform his family till around 9.30 to 10pm when I took him back to his house. He reiterated that I should not go home but sleep in Baba’s house because he was coming early the next day,” Wasiu stated.

Wasiu and his son, Femi

Little did he know that this would turn around the course of his life as he was arrested the next morning alongside the gateman and the house girl. “The next morning, the police came, checked around the house and arrested me, the gateman and the house girl. They took us to Eleyele police station and we were transferred to state CID Iyaganku the next day. They took me home and arrested everyone in my house including tenants and my landlord’s wife on the trumped-up charge that I kept things with them; they all bail themselves with money and thereafter abandoned me to my fate.

“They even broke my younger ones house at Beere and my mother’s house at Opopoyeosa that they wanted to search because I took Baba’s property. They took my mother’s grinding machine which we bought with the money in my late siblings account, television, DVD player, they were asking for property they felt I kept all over the place. A year after I was charged to court, my IPO, brought me out at night and said he would kill me if I don’t confess; I insisted I didn’t kill Chief. He asked for N50, 000 and I told him I would look for it against the next adjourned date but when I informed my lawyer about it, he said if I was sure of my innocence, I should not pay the money because he would do his best and apply the law.

“If I had known I would have paid the N50, 000. It was while in prison that I learnt that the gateman, Mufutau Alaja Tiamiyu had paid 50, 000 and had been released two weeks after we got to prison, the house girl was never brought to prison,” Wasiu stated.

Pasor Olujobi, Wasiu and family after reunion

This marked the beginning of his lone travail to prison and his 18 years behind bars expecting to be killed any moment because on November 29, 2006, Wasiu was sentenced to death by hanging solely on circumstantial evidence. But because he was sure he didn’t commit the crime, he appealed the judgment of the High Court before the Court of Appeal which also reaffirmed the death sentence on May 12, 2011 based on the same circumstantial evidence. This led him to the Supreme Court on June 21, 2013; again, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the two lower courts and convicted him to death based on the circumstantial evidence.

At this point he gave up and accepted that that was what God preordained for him; to die for an offence he didn’t commit. He however kept waiting for death for 18 years but it never came as he was lucky that no government signed his death warrant. His luck was further strengthened when Pastor Hezekiah Olujobi, the founder of Centre for Justice Mercy and Reconciliation (CJMR), a Nigeria faith based organisation focusing on intervention for inmates on death row or serving imprisonment wrongfully or illegal detained in Nigeria Correctional Service, stumbled on his case and took it up.

CJMR worked on his case until the long journey to freedom ended with an amnesty by the State Governor in June, 2020 after years of application and requests from the Olujobi-led CJMR team. But despite the amnesty, Wasiu did not gain his freedom until November when he was finally released to Pastor Olujobi who took him to the organisation’s Halfway Home to get further help and counseling before being reunited with their family.

The focus of CJMR is on people who are wrongfully convicted or illegally detained beyond the time frame considered legal and appropriate. Speaking on the case, Pastor Olujobi  said, “To set the record straight, it was the Ministry of Justice that assigned the case of Wasiu and one Ali Dogo to me for intervention, I was told that the Board of Prerogative of Mercy has granted them amnesty since June along with Olushina Ajayi whom we pleaded on his behalf but they don’t know why they were still in the prison. It was while we were working on the case that we discovered that their continuous stay was due to administrative error, so we had to work on getting another warrant for their release but again by administrative error, the warrant was dispatched to Abeokuta instead of Lagos.

“We were able to trace his warrant to Abeokuta because that was where his location indicated in the record. CJMR sponsored the warrant from Abeokuta to Lagos the following morning and the warrant arrived at 1.30 pm. Another obstacle arose again, there was no covering letter from the office of the Controller of Correctional Service, Oyo State, the officer in charge insisted on due process. I had to contact the Controller of Oyo State to forward the letter through email, we finally left Kirikiri at exactly 5.17 pm and we arrived in Ibadan at 11.05 pm.

“In 2010, I was contacted to look into the case of Wasiu and I travelled along with his mother to see him in Abeokuta while he was on death row to hear from him but there was nothing I could do at that time. His case is another indication that a man can truly be innocent and yet in the face of poor law administration remain guilty and convicted,” Pastor Olujobi said.

To many inmates leaving the prison, there are various obstacles ahead of them; many do not have families to go back to as they can’t find the whereabouts of their families again or find the way home, some families don’t want to be associated with someone that had gone to prison while some come out to learn their wives have died or remarried leaving the children behind with the relatives or on their own. While some families are eager to accept their loved one back home, the stigma from people around them who knew nothing about the story may be another stumbling block because nobody believes their claim of innocence.

Wasiu is however one of the few lucky ones; his mother and relations were eager to see their loved one though his wife left immediately he was taken to prison. His younger sister, Damola was willing to go to Lagos with the CJMR team to bring her brother home not knowing he was already in Ibadan. Damola who was 15 years old at the time the incident happened could not hide her joy at seeing her brother alive, she couldn’t control her tears and started calling other family members to inform them that her brother was already out.

Damola who was staying with her brother before the incident took the CJMR team to meet Wasiu’s mother, who was already on the road to meet her son who she had thought she would never see alive. Narrating her ordeal in the hands of the Investigation Police Officer who handled her son’s case, Inspector Onwe, Mrs. Mogbonjubola Mudashiru while shedding tears said she was arrested and detained in the police cell for almost one week while the police raided her house and carted away her two grinding machines to the police station at State CID Iyaganku.

Also overjoyed is Femi Wasiu Babatunde, the son who had no recollection of his father as he was small when he was taken away and had never seen him in 18 years. He told Nigerian Tribune that, “I don’t know my mother, I can’t recognise her; she left immediately my father got accused of murdering his boss. My paternal grandmother is the one that had been taking care of me since. I was a small child when my father was incarcerated so I couldn’t even recognise him too because I’m just seeing him today, November 12, 2020. When I heard he had been vindicated and released, I said I must see him because I wanted to even know what he looks like. It is indeed a happy period that the truth prevailed,” he stated.

Femi could not hide his tears as he explained how his father’s wrongful incarceration has affected his education. “I did not grow up to know my father, I was abandoned by my mother when I was three years old, I grew up with my grandmother, I did not grow up to know my father, I am setting my eyes on my father today for the first time in my life, when I couldn’t find help from anybody I enrolled myself in apprenticeship on POP work,” he said.

And while the herculean task of rehabilitating Wasiu commences, his is not going to be a difficult one as he is assured of the love of family, a luxury many freed inmates do not enjoy.

Speaking on the situation, Pastor Olujobi said many lives have been wasted behind bars due to shabby investigations and circumstantial evidence, adding that, “what would have been the fate of Wasiu Babatunde if his death warrant had been signed? Many victims of such circumstantial evidence never lived to tell their stories; they keep claiming their innocence, from the point of arrest till conviction but no one takes them serious enough to further investigate their claims. I think someone should take a step further to listen to such victims with due diligence in the approach to his case to see if truly the claim of innocence can be established.

“Many people are suffering from injustice because there is no one to speak for them. Many, after losing their appeal despite the fact that they are innocent lost their voices completely, thus continue suffering in silence and dying silently. Many, after gaining their freedom could not gain their footing back in the society. In Nigeria, there is no coordinating effort to trace the individual victims of wrongful conviction, those serving imprisonment after death sentence have been commuted by the Board of Prerogative of Mercy  are pushed out of the prison without  even transport fare to their various destinations. Some are even ashamed to come out and share their stories of wrongful conviction because of fear of being stigmatised, it is time the laws are reviewed to do things right,” Pastor Olujobi said.

He concluded that “Wasiu Babatunde was sentenced to death solely on circumstantial evidence. A judgment sending a man to the gallows must be seen to be the product of logical thinking based upon admissible evidence in which the facts leading to his conviction are clearly found and deductions therefore carefully made. It cannot be allowed to stand if found upon scraggy reason or perfunctory performance. It is so in all cases and more so in criminal cases and particularly more so in capital offence.  Both the judgment of the lower court and the Supreme were wrong convicting Wasiu Babatunde Mudashiru on murder  of his boss.

The Mudasiru family and the CJMR team however expressed  appreciation to Governor Seyi Makinde and the Board of Mercy for granting their loved one total freedom which translates into freedom to the entire family.

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