5 November 2011 will forever remain evergreen in the heart of Olaolu Sunkanmi Femi a Nigerian student studying in Ukraine. On that unfortunate day, Olaolu and his yet to be identified Nigerian friend (also a student) were physically molested and attacked in front of their apartment by a gang of Ukrainian racists.
Eye witness accounts say Olaolu and his friend who were hurled to the ground and racially abused all this while, was able to get up and grab hold of a piece of glass from a broken bottle to use in self-defense. According to a Nigerian Embassy staff in Ukraine who is aware of the case said “it was while he was defending himself that police arrived at the scene and the Nigerian was subsequently arrested and charged with attempted murder of five people thus becoming an accused in a case that has gone on to be one of the most celebrated in Ukraine”.
Olaolu has since been remanded in detention by the Ukrainian police who refused to take the case to court citing unavailability of the police to get an interpreter for him. However, Nigerian students in the Ukraine are not taking this lying low as they have been protesting his arrest calling it an act of racism. The Nigerian students’ community in Ukraine under the leadership of Osarumen David-Izevbokun, a Phd student in international relations has been working tirelessly to ensure justice for the Nigerian by organizing protests as well as drawing the attention of the human rights groups in Ukraine to the plight of Femi who has spent almost seven months in jail without trial.
David-Izevbokun told African Outlook that he alongside other Nigerian students in conjunctions with some members of the Ukrainian human right groups staged a protest on April, 9 outside the Leninsky District Court in Luhanski demanding the release of Olasunkanmi.
The actions, according to David-Izevbokun has put the Ukraine police on the spot as the case came up for hearing on May 3. “We had a lot of media coverage on the protest ” David-Izevbokun said, noting that he was sure the attention given the case may have prompted the May 3 court appearance of the suspect.
David-Izevbokun who was at the May 3, court hearing told African Outlook that Olasunkanmi appeared depressed when he showed up in court.
In almost typical fashion, the Nigerian embassy sent a representative to visit Olasunkanmi in jail once and thereafter, never returned.
But an embassy spokesperson who pleaded anonymity (because he is not authorized to comment on the case) told African Outlook that the Nigerian consulate had not abandoned the Nigerian to his fate “We are in torch with the Ukrainian authority and we have been doing everything to ensure the boy is released unconditionally using diplomatic channel” he said, adding that the Olasunkanmi was being charged for attempted murder, an offense which under Ukrainian law is not bailable.
“There are ways in which we handle cases like this so that we would not appear to be hostile or criticizing our host countries’ laws” the embassy staff said while assuring that he was confident Olasunkanmi would be released soon.
When asked if the embassy has been able to secure the service of an attorney for the Nigerian student, the embassy staff said: “It is not within our mandate to pay for attorney’s fees for any Nigerian in distress, you may check this out with other Nigerian embassies abroad, but we have been working with the Nigerian community leaders here to ensure that we do everything within our means to help Olasunkanmi in time of his need” the staff added hinting that the representative of the embassy was at the May 3 hearing.
This is one case too many of Nigerians facing jail terms in various European countries over phantom allegations and even more disheartening is the role of the Nigerian government via its embassies in such countries. Please, if you can, visit the “Free Olaolu” page on facebook and show your support at facebook.com/FreeOlaolu