The unlawful detention of Itunu Babalola in Cote d’lvoire is rooted in xenophobia

Itunu

Today on social media, many Nigerians galvanised to push the #JusticeForItunu hashtag after journalist and political critic David Hundeyin posted a lengthy thread about Itunu Olajumoke Babalola, a 23-year-old woman who was wrongly accused of theft and sentenced to 20 years in prison in Cote d’lvoire.

Itunu is a trader based in Bondoukou, Côte d’Ivoire, who was robbed of her possessions at her residence in 2019 after she took a trip to Nigeria to visit her sick mother. These possessions were worth more than N300,000, according to Hundeyin in the thread. When she reported to the police to report the case. Turns out the thief is the 14-year-old nephew to the Divisional Police Inspector, who offered a settlement worth roughly N100,000 to drop the case.

Long story short, Itunu declined and took the matter to court. Somewhere along, she was arrested by the police and accused for theft, theft of her own property. Since a year and four months, Itunu has been an inmate at the notorious Maison d’arrêt et de Correction Bondoukou (Bondoukou Remand and Correction Facility). The online push on Twitter to have Itunu released got the attention of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), promptly responding that they will investigate and do everything they can to have her released.

This is commendable. But it’s important to highlight that the gross maltreatment of Itunu is rooted in the ongoing xenophobia many Africans have constantly exhibited towards Nigerians. In Hundeyin’s thread, Itunu heard an officer saying “Elle est une Nigériane? Elle mourra ici!“, which means “She’s a Nigerian? She will die here!”

Nigerians are often facing hostility and antagonism in other African countries. South Africa’s xenophobia is well documented, and even on social media, comments directed at Nigerians carry a strain of bias. Some reasons for the prejudice have been how Nigerians take the jobs and women in the African country they reside in, and ultimately depleting its resources.

But in era where pan-Africanism is being pushed through music and other art forms, Africans themselves are doing the opposite of reuniting and seeing themselves as enemies. #JusticeForItunu is just an example of such.

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