Missing Child: A’Court upturns life imprisonment, frees Sotitobire
• Truth Has Prevailed Over Falsehood – Appellant’s Counsel
• We’ll Study Judgment Before Taking Action –Govt
The Court of Appeal, Akure Division, has upturned the life imprisonment sentence against the Founder of Sotitobire Praising Chapel, Akure, Prophet Babatunde Alfa, over the mysterious disappearance of a child in his church.
Following his conviction last year by the lower court, Prophet Alfa approached the Court of Appeal to nullify the life imprisonment judgment.
It will be recalled that a toddler and 13 months old boy, Master Gold Kolawole, was declared missing after his mother, Mrs. Modupe Kolawole, dropped him off at the church’s children department on November 10, 2019.
About 30 days after, Prophet Alfa was arrested by officials of the Department of State Services (DSS), following a petition by the missing boy’s parent over the alleged failure by the Nigerian Police Force to intervene in the situation.
The situation aggravated on December 18, 2019, as angry youths attacked and razed the church over rumours that the corpse of the missing baby was exhumed from the church altar.
Meanwhile, the Ondo State High Court presided over by Justice Olusegun Odusola, on October 6, 2020, had sentenced Prophet Alfa to life imprisonment over what he described as his complicity in the mysterious disappearance of little Kolawole from his church.
The lower court on a two-count charge of conspiracy and aiding and abetting kidnapping sentenced the prophet, alongside five other workers of his church.
Other convicted church workers, who were teachers in the Children Department of the church, were: Omodara Olayinka, Margaret Oyebola, Grace Ogunjobi, Egunjobi Motunrayo and Esther Kayode.
But in the Court of Appeal judgment yesterday, which lasted about one hour, the Presiding Judge, Justice Hammah Barka, ruled that the circumstantial evidence the High Court based its judgement was not enough to convict the 43-year-old Prophet, Alfa.
Justice Barka knocked out the prayer of the counsel to the appellant, Gboyega Awomolo (SAN), who was represented by Akinyemi Omoware, that the DSS cannot investigate crime.
While arguing his briefs for the appellant during the last hearing in September 2021, Awomolo had questioned the validity of the investigation by DSS as the police was already on the case. He said the case was ‘hijacked’ by the secret service.
Awomolo added that the DSS should not have arrested or investigated the case since it was a criminal matter thus nullifying other actions including the prosecution and eventual conviction of the Prophet.
He added that the circumstantial evidence upon which the defendant was jailed was faulty, praying that the appellate court should quash the lower judgement of the High Court and set Prophet Alfa free.
Speaking to journalists after the court set the Prophet free, he said: “Truth must prevail over falsehood. The Prophet was convicted of conspiracy, aiding and abetting kidnapping. The Court of Appeal has overturned that judgement.
“It was held that the appellant was not found culpable of the alleged offence. He is not guilty as pronounced upon by the trial court.
“We are using this medium to tell the members of the church and the general public that they should rejoice with conscience. They should not go out causing problem. They should take it that, that is the will of God. We are happy for this.”
He added that one of the defendants, Motunrayo Ogunjobi, has equally been discharged, saying that the court insisted that there is no iota of evidence against her, just like the Prophet that they don’t know about the commission of the offence.
He said, “The basis was that the prosecution has failed in its entirety to prove the element of the alleged offence. The implication of that is that there were convicted wrongly by the lower court but they have been justified by the Court of Appeal.
“We are happy that God has vindicated him. I think that should be enough. He is a Prophet of God. It has been destined that he will walk this way and pass through this challenge. Whatever compensation that anybody may think he is entitled to, that will not be enough to justify.”
Reacting to the judgment, the Attorney General of State, Charles Titiloye, disclosed that the state government would study the judgement before taking next line of action.
“The Court of Appeal has decided this matter. The court has affirmed that the DSS can as a matter of fact investigate any case. However, the Court of Appeal has stated that circumstantial evidence upon which was based upon by the lower court is not enough to sustain conviction of the defendant and has discharged the defendant.
“Our attitude from the state is that we will study the judgement and take proper step we are suppose to take.”