Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu in Abuja
Amnesty International (AI) and Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) have appealed to the House of Representatives and the federal government to intervene and call on the Saudi Arabian authorities to release Suleiman Olufemi, a Nigerian sentenced to death in the country at a closed trial in 2005.
Olufemi was among the 13 Nigerian men arrested in September 2002 in Saudi Arabia in connection with murder, and was sentenced to death.
They made the appeal yesterday during an interactive session organised by the House Committee on Diaspora in Abuja.
The Country Director Amnesty International Nigeria, Mrs. Osai Ojigho, said Olufemi is innocent and was tortured and made to put his finger prints on the confessional statement in Arabic.
She said the defendant only realised what the statement was about when he got to court, and unfortunately for him at that time, he wasn’t given access to legal representation or consular assistance.
Ojigho lamented that there’s lack of transparency on the part of Saudi authorities, saying Saudi Arabia doesn’t repent when they want to carry out an execution.
According to Ojigho, “Amnesty International has been working on this case since 2002 and we are aware of the issues around this case, and particularly, among all the defendants who were released in 2017, one of them died in prison. The 13 Nigerians were tortured; unfortunately, Olufemi, who was the youngest among them, was the first person to crack under torture, and was the first person to put his finger prints on the confessional statement in Arabic. It was only when he got to court that he realised the statement he admitted to having hit the police officer on the head, and unfortunately they were not provided with any legal representation.
“We are grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs especially for the piece of information that the daughter of the deceased police officer will turn 18 in October. We have engaged with them a number of times, and I think the last we heard from them was when they wrote to AI in 2007 that the death sentence has been ratified by the highest court in Saudi Arabia.”
Contributing, the Chairman of NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri, said with the intervention of the chairman of Diaspora Committee and the Attorney General, Olufemi would be saved.
Dabiri expressed optimism that the daughter of the deceased, when she turns 18 in October, will see reason to say: ‘pay the blood money and go’.
She, however, warned Nigerian citizens to be careful and avoid being where they shouldn’t be.
While responding, the Chairman of House Committee on Diaspora, Tolulope Akande Sadipe, promised that the lawmakers would implore the Saudi Arabian Government to look at the case again with an unbiased eye, adding that if the young man is innocent and still executed, it is a sin against humanity and before Allah.