A NIGERIAN lawyer, Kingsley Ughe, is behind the viral distribution of the story about Olatunji Olaide, an innocent man who spent 24 years in wrongful detention, with over two-third of that period on death row at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, but who died years ago, an investigation by The ICIR has shown.
Ughe’s intention has been found to be dubious as he recycled the sad story of a man who died in 2014 in order to deceive the public. Olaide’s unfortunate experience was published by The ICIR in September 2013, about a year after he was released from jail.
However, curiously, several years after he died, The ICIR discovered that his story was being widely published again and shared on social media as if it was fresh and as if he were still alive. The resurgence of his story was traced to Ughe who denied having any hand in it, but our investigations showed otherwise.
Ughe’s version was substantially distorted to make readers think he contributed to Olaide’s freedom back in June 2012.
On March 21, shortly before it was republished by numerous blogs, Ughe posted his version of the report on a closed Facebook group belonging to the Joint Legal Action Aids (JLAA), a non-governmental organisation, which he founded.
He, however, falsely claimed to The ICIR he did not personally share the story. He also claimed his organisation “has since retracted” it, though the post is still accessible on the social media group at the time this report was filed.
The suspicious reappearance, dubious revisions
Olaide’s story started to catch on again in March 2019 as it became widely spread on social media platforms as well as over 50 blogs. Judging from comments on the social media, a great number of people who read the story had the impression that Olaide is still alive and in need of support.
“Please if anyone knows Olaide Olatunji (the innocent, condemned but recently released man) please get in touch ASAP. A great injustice has been done to that man,” Osaz Aiho, a Twitter user tweeted.
A tweet from another user reads: “Olaide Olatunji is a victim of miscarriage of justice. He deserves to be helped, immediately, please.”
The ICIR observes that latest version of Olaide’s account contains slight, yet dubious, adjustments. First, some of the sub-headings were reworded: from “Back in 1988” to “How it Started”, from “Pain, Torture & Court Trial” to “Pain, Torture and Trial”, from “What Kept Me Going” to “What Keep Me Going”, from “The Call that Changed My Life” to “The Call to Change and Go Home”, and so on.
Some of the sections in the original interview, such as “Bad Eye” and “Advice to People Who Find Themselves in Similar Situations”, were removed.
But even more damning is the distortion of Olaide’s story to include people who had nothing to do with his release. In the original article, there is a paragraph about how Olaide met Obiagwu through Ariyo Popoola, a pastor who started the process that led to Olaide’s release:
“He introduced me to Chino Obiagwu, the Executive Director of LEDAP. When I met Mr. Obiagwu, the first thing he said to me was ‘My friend, I am taking up your case and I’m going to win that case. Are you ready to sign for me?’ I said I will not sign with biro, I will use thumbprint. Then he said ‘I will give you a warning. Don’t call me, don’t send anybody to me. Are you going to have patience?’ I said, ‘Is it me that you are talking to about patience?'”
In the new version, however, a new character, Ughe, had been added. Ughe is reported to be the “chief lawyer of JLAA”. The same paragraph is now presented as:
“He introduced me to Chino Obiagwu, the Executive Director of LEDAP and Kingsley Ughe, the Chief Lawyer of JLAA. When I met them, the first thing they said to me was “My friend, we am taking up your case and we are going to win that case. Are you ready to sign for us?” I said I will not sign with biro, I will use thumbprint. Then they said “I will give you a warning. Don’t call us, don’t send anybody to us. Are you going to have patience?” I said, “Is it me that you are talking to about patience?”
There is also an introductory paragraph added to the new version, falsely giving credit to the JLAA for obtaining the story from Olaide.
“An innocent man who was sentenced to prison – regained his freedom after spending 24 years. The man identified as Olaide Olatunji narrated how he was wrongly arrested, falsely accused of conspiracy to commit murder and thrown in jail after the torture and beatings by the police,” it stated.
“The man who was condemned to death narrated his story to Joint Legal Action Aids after his release from prison.”
A Naij report published after the story’s recently became popular acknowledged Ughe as part of those involved in Olaide’s good fortune and added that, alongside LEDAP, he “handled his case without collecting a dime”.
Disclaimed by LEDAP, Popoola
LEDAP has released a statement, signed by its national coordinator, to deny any links to Ughe in the case and dissuade people from making cash donations to fraudulent organisations. Obiagwu described as ” a gross misrepresentation of facts” claims that Ughe represented Olaide at the Court of Appeal and confirmed that Olaide died shortly after his release.
“LEDAP solely handled Olatunji’s case on pro bono basis and secured his release on the 5th of June, 2012, after the Court of Appeal discharged and acquitted him of murder after spending twenty-four years on death row,” he said.
“LEDAP has no link whatsoever with the said Mr. Kingsley Ughe, the Chief Lawyer of Joint Legal Action Aid (JLAA). He never represented the late Olatunji Olaide in the Appeal Court.”
Popoola confirmed to The ICIR that Olaide is late and said he encouraged LEDAP to release the disclaimer against those who “infused their names into the story”.
It was a mistake, Ughe responds
Ughe, in a phone conversation, confirmed to our reporter on Friday that the new narrative is wrong and said it was retracted by JLAA as soon as it realised its ‘mistake’.
“LEDAP is correct,” Ughe affirmed. “They [Ughe’s office] were supposed to do a narrative. They put up that story mistakenly. We have already done a retraction on it. The organisation [Joint Legal Action Aids] has since done a retraction on that.
“They put up the story and they said they thought we were working in conjunction with LEDAP. I said it can never be and all that. But we have since done a retraction on that story. Immediately I got back to the country, I ordered them to do a retraction. We don’t take credit for what we have not done. What they should have done is write the story as it is and not include my name at all.”
The lawyer could not explain why it was necessary to repeat the story of the man who in any case had been dead for about five years. He also denied the report that he shared the story before the disclaimer was released.
“The organisation has a handle which everybody has access to. It’s a Facebook handle. So when they wrote it, it came under my name,” he said, though it is not clear how this could have happened given restrictions on the social media website.
Ughe also implied that LEDAP called him while he was out of the country to bring their observation to his notice, but Obiagwu told The ICIR he does not think this ever happened.
Ughe’s claims aren’t true
Though Ughe claimed JLAA has since retracted its story and that he did not personally share it, investigation by The ICIR revealed otherwise. He promised to send a link to the said retraction but has not done so at the time this report was filed. Calls placed to him to remind him were also not answered.
There is hardly any content on the organisation’s website, but JLAA has a group on Facebook whose contents are accessible only to its 18,964 members.
After his request to join was confirmed, our reporter discovered that at 5:34 pm on March 21, Ughe, an administrator on the group, shared the article on the platform. 14 minutes later, he edited the post to include two pictures of Olaide. Having been liked up to 373 times and garnered 262 comments, it is one of the best performing posts on the group.
With the exception of one section, “What Freedom Means to Me”, all other parts of this post are the same as those shared across various blogs.
In the original interview shared by LEDAP, the section is written as:
“Freedom is good. The freedom to be able to walk about, to do the things I want to do by myself. I’m not even used to it yet but it’s very good. I’m breathing different air, eating different food. Just these few days, my system has already changed. I thank God for Pastor Popoola. God will be with him. I thank God for Chino Obiagwu and LEDAP. He didn’t collect one naira from me, up till today.”
But in Ughe’s version, it is written as:
“Freedom is good. The freedom to be able to walk about, to do the things I want to do by myself. I’m not even used to it yet but it’s very good. I’m breathing different air, eating different food. Just these few days, my system has already changed. I thank God for Pastor Popoola. God will be with him. I thank God for Chino Obiagwu, JLAA and LEDAP. Thank God for Pastor Barrister Opeyemi Baderu and Barrister Kingsley Ughe. They didn’t collect one naira from me, up till today.”
Many members who read the post praised on Ughe and JLAA for their contribution to Olaide’s release, some remarking, “Long live Kingsley Ughe”, “God bless you Barr. Kingsley”, “Thank God for JLAA and other bodies and people who assisted him”, and so on.
Following its disclaimer, one of the group’s moderators, Mike Egbune, described LEDAP’s reaction as shameful in a post on March 29.
“It is such a shame that LEDAP choose to toe the line that it has adopted in trying to portray JLAA in bad light,” he said.
“Let me state it emphatically that the case was handled before JLAA was even founded. If Kingsley Ughe, Esq. our own GC1 was a member of the defence team that did the matter, why would he be ashamed of claiming the glory that comes from the victory?” he asked, making an insinuation Ughe himself has denied.
“The jealousy being exhibited by most NGOs in the media calls for serious concerns. The sky is wide enough for all of us to fly. Why adopt the PHD syndrome? LEDAP should watch its ways. A word is enough for the wise.”
Monthly levies and donations?
It is not clear if Ughe or other executives of the group benefit financially from their activities, but our reporter observed from recent updates on the group that JLAA members are required to pay monthly dues and donations. Also, different state chapters organise physical meetings each month.
A welcome message posted by Prince TheSpectacular, the group’s national publicity secretary, stated the first of 12 obligations expected of full members as: “One should be in the Facebook group and also join the JLAA Chapter of one’s state of residence and, partake in activities such as offline and online meetings, interventions, social functions and pay monthly dues and donations.”
In July, there was fundraising on the group for what was stated as the appeal process against the death sentence given three persons in Ogun State. A report by Ughe provided on September 5 disclosed they raised a total sum of N375,100 from 45 members, out of the proposed target of N1.2 million. The donations were paid into the Zenith bank account of Greystone Solicitors, a law chambers run by Ughe.
When The ICIR placed a call to Chukwuka Ikwuazom, chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Lagos Branch, to inquire about the implication’s of Ughe’s actions, he said he is not aware of the matter and cannot discuss it over the phone.
“If you need any reactions from me, you have to write me formally so I can look into the matter,” Ikwuazom said. He also turned down the option of receiving details of the case and questions through email.
The original story
According to the story told by Olaide, in May 1988, he travelled from Lagos to Birnin-Gwari, Kaduna, to buy farm animals, but was arrested by policemen at the Gwari bush market, then accused of stealing a vehicle and abandoning it on the road to hide.
Despite his clarification, he was handed over to an anti-robbery squad from the Lagos Command and transferred to Adeniji Police Station, where he learnt he was being charged for the murder of the vehicle’s owner. He was severely tortured and forced to sign a confessional statement written for him.
He was then sentenced to death after an arraignment before Justice A.O. Silvia of the Lagos High Court. While in prison, his wife left him to remarry. He lost his left eye to negligence on the part of prison authorities, and his right arm was damaged due to torture. He also had no idea where his two children were at the time The ICIR met him.
On June 6, 2012, then 56 years old, he was finally discharged and acquitted by the Court of Appeal, after receiving help from Chino Obiagwu, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and national coordinator of the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP).
Perhaps in commemorating a three-year anniversary of his acquittal, LEDAP, in June 2015, attaching more recent photos of him, published an old account shared by Olaide detailing his experiences in prison and how he was eventually freed through help from non-governmental organisations. LEDAP’s website itself took off that year, with its first blog post on January 29, 2015.
In that narration, he disclosed that Ariyo Popoola, a pastor who frequently paid visits to the prison and RCCG’s national chairman for prison and hospitality ministry, introduced him to Obiagwu who then took up his case.