On Friday, the Court of Appeal in Akure, the state capital of Ondo, quashed the Ondo State High Court’s decision and freed Prophet Babatunde Alfa, the founder of the Sotitobire Praising Chapel in Akure.
The lower court sentenced Prophet Alfa to life in prison for the December 2019 disappearance of a 13-month-old toddler in his church.
The Presiding Judge, Justice Hammah Barka, read the one-hour-long judgment in which she ruled that the High Court’s circumstantial evidence was insufficient to convict the 43-year-old Prophet.
Justice Barka dismissed the appellant’s counsel, Gboyega Awomolo (SAN), who was represented by Akinyemi Omoware, who claimed that the Department of State Security, DSS, could not investigate crime.
It will be recalled that on October 6, 2020, the lower court, through Justice Olusegun Odusola of the Ondo State High Court, sentenced Prophet Alfa to life in prison for his role in the mysterious disappearance of 13-month-old Gold Kolawole from his church.
Along with five other members of his church, the prophet was sentenced on a two-count charge of conspiracy and aiding and abetting kidnapping.
Omodara Olayinka, Margaret Oyebola, Grace Ogunjobi, Egunjobi Motunrayo, and Esther Kayode were among those convicted alongside Alfa in the children’s department.
Alfa approached the Appeal Court, angered by the lower court’s decision, requesting that the lower court’s decision be overturned.
During the last hearing in September 2021, counsel for the appellant, Awomolo, questioned the validity of the DSS investigation while the police were already on the case, telling the court that the case had been ‘hijacked’ by the secret service.
According to Awomolo, the DSS should not have arrested or investigated the case because it was a criminal matter, invalidating other actions such as the Prophet’s prosecution and eventual conviction.
He went on to say that the circumstantial evidence used to imprison the defendant was flawed, and he asked the appellate court to overturn the High Court’s lower decision and free Prophet Alfa.
In response to the decision, Titiloye Charles, Commissioner Justice and Attorney General of State, stated that the state government will study the decision before deciding on the next course of action.
“This matter has been decided by the Court of Appeal,” he said. The court ruled that the DSS has the authority to investigate any case. However, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the lower court’s reliance on circumstantial evidence was insufficient to support the defendant’s conviction, and the defendant has been discharged.
“The state’s position is that we will study the judgment and take the proper steps that we are required to take.”
“Truth must triumph over falsehood,” said counsel for the appellant. The Prophet was found guilty of kidnapping conspiracy and aiding and abetting. That decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal.
“It was decided that the appellant was not guilty of the alleged crime.” As determined by the trial court, he is not guilty.
“We’re using this platform to tell church members and the general public that they should rejoice with a clear conscience.” They should not go out and cause a ruckus. They should accept it because it is God’s will. This makes us very happy.
“Motunrayo Ogunjobi, one of the defendants, has also been released.” The court stated, similarly to the Prophet, that there is no evidence against her and that they are unaware of the crime.
“The basis was that the prosecution had failed to prove the element of the alleged offence in its entirety.” The implication is that the lower court made a mistake in convicting them. The Court of Appeal found them to be justified.
“We are grateful to God for vindicating him. That, I believe, should suffice. He is the God of Prophets. It was written in the stars that he would walk this path and overcome this obstacle. Whatever compensation anyone believes he is entitled to will not be sufficient to justify.”
Gold, a 13-month-old toddler, was reported missing after his mother, Mrs. Modupe Kolawole, dropped him off at the church’s children’s department.
Prophet Alfa was arrested by DSS officials a month later, following a petition by the missing boy’s parent regarding the Nigerian Police’s alleged failure to intervene in the situation.
This sparked a protest in Akure on December 18, 2019, when enraged youths attacked and burned down the church over rumors that the missing baby’s body had been exhumed from the altar.