Lawyers say the continued detention of Titilayo Benson without new charges is a gross violation of human rights.
The sullen and distraught 38-year-old woman sat on a bench at the Kirikiri female prison in Lagos. Although the State High Court struck out the criminal case against her four years ago, she has remained in jail despite no new charges brought against her in what experts say highlights the inefficiency in the Lagos judicial system.
Titilayo Benson first stepped into prison in 2010 on the order of an Ebute-Metta magistrate, Olatunji Isaac. She had been charged before his court, in suit number E/30/10, with occasioning the death of another person. She was 28 years old at the time.
“I fought with a lady,” Mrs Benson said as she narrated to PREMIUM TIMES the event that changed her life. “She cut me with a razor then I stabbed her with a bottle.”
That woman died one month later, turning Mrs Benson’s life upside down. She has spent the 10 years since jostling between court and prison.
Mrs Benson was pregnant when she was first remanded in 2010. She had her first child in Kirikiri prison, a baby girl whom she gave to her parents when she was a little above one year. She had her second child in the prison in 2019, having become pregnant again when she was temporarily released on bail by the magistrate.
Narrating her experience to PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter during a visit to the Kirikiri correctional facility, Mrs Benson said her journey to jail began on February 8, 2010. That day, she got into an argument with Blessing Imade, her friend and housemate.
“On that day, I was in my room, I was on the phone with my mother who called me. So, we were speaking our local dialect, because we are from Ondo State. The boyfriend of the girl was around, I think he overheard me speaking my dialect to my mother because he was sitting on a bench close to my room,” Mrs Benson recalled.
“He sent the landlord’s son to call me out and when I got there, we exchanged pleasantries and he explained that he is also from Ondo State and understands our dialect.”
Mrs Benson said another tenant in the house told Blessing she had caught Mrs Benson and her boyfriend hugging.
“That was how the fight started. She poured me water and I was shouting that I don’t like cold water. She rushed inside and brought a razor blade and cut me on my right arm,” Mrs Benson said, pointing to a scar she said was of the injury.
According to her, in retaliation, she took a bottle and stabbed the deceased. They took Blessing to the hospital but she died a month later while still receiving treatment.
Mrs Benson said she regularly went to stay with Blessing at the hospital till she was told her friend was dead.
“The doctor told me to get a police report so that they could do a post-mortem and for her to be taken to the mortuary,” she said, recalling that no family member of the deceased showed up at the hospital.
She said she went to Akodo Police Station, Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos, where her uncle was also a police officer, to get the police report.
“My uncle was not around, but I explained to his friend, another police officer. He took me to the counter, wrote a statement and said I should wait behind the counter.”
Mrs Benson said the officer wrote the statement and he did not read it to her. On the return of her uncle, she explained what had happened but the other officer insisted she had to be prosecuted.
She was detained at the police station for about three weeks before she was transferred to the State Criminal Intelligence Department (SCID) Panti, where she was kept for three to four months before being charged to court.
Mrs Benson was charged before the Ebutte-Metta magistrate’s court in Lagos for occasioning the death of another.
Mr Isaac, the magistrate, gave a holding order that she be remanded in prison, pending the DPP’s advice. She was thereafter taken to the Kirikiri female prison in Lagos, where she is still being held several years after; although she was released on bail for about five years during the period.
Francis Akinlotan, a lawyer at Probitas Partners, who pleaded Mrs Benson’s case before the magistrate, told PREMIUM TIMES that he met her during a prison visit and took up her case.
Mr Akinlotan said when he met Mrs Benson at the Kirikiri prison, she had already spent about two years on the remand order of the magistrate.
“When someone commits an offence and there is a need for her to be detained, she can only be remanded for 30 days, then another remand order sought for another 30 days, then another 30 days. It is between 60 days to 90 days,” he said about the provisions of the Nigerian law on such matters.
Mr Akinlotan said it was on this fact that they asked the magistrate to release Mrs Benson unconditionally.
But the magistrate instead granted her bail, in September 2013, which meant she must continue to appear before the magistrate pending her trial or the DPP’s advice.
But unbeknown to Mrs Benson, her lawyer and the magistrate, while she was appearing before the magistrate at every adjourned date, her matter was already before the Lagos High Court on the DPP’s advice.
Despite knowing the magistrate court had no jurisdiction over the criminal charge levelled against her, Mrs Benson said she continued going to the court, but there was no trial.
She alleged that her prosecutor before the magistrate, Adebayo Oladele, had demanded a bribe of N250,000 for her case to be “deleted.