IBINABO’S GUILT VERDICT VICTIM’S FAMILY REJECTS FINE OPTION
Respite appears far-fetched yet for former beauty queen, Ibinabo Fiberesima, who was on Friday last week sentenced to seven years imprisonment after standing trial for about one and half years.
Ibinabo had made the headlines after her boyfriend's car, which she was driving along Lekki-Epe expressway, skidded off and ran over the road divider, before it rammed into the car of a medical doctor who was coming from the opposite direction and killed him instantly.
For 17 months, the case pended at the Igbosere Magistrate's Court in Lagos. It was a case that attracted public interest because the victim, Suraj Giwa, was until his death a consultant with General Hospital, Lagos. Besides, Ibinabo was alleged to be under the influence of alcohol at the time the accident occurred.
During the trial, Ibinabo's counsel, Lanre Lambo, had urged the court to temper justice with mercy, especially since the ex-beauty queen was a first time offender who did not have any past record of crime. The lawyer also prayed the court to consider the social status of Ibinabo in the society.
Delivering judgment in the case on Friday, last week, the presiding judge, Femi Isaac, declared Ibinabo guilty of careless driving and wilful damage to property. She was therefore sentenced to seven years imprisonment, with an option of N100,000 fine.
But the relations of the medical doctor have since faulted the judgment as being too mild for the cited offence.
Saturday Punch gathered that shortly after the judgment was delivered, relations of the late doctor held a meeting with their lawyer and asked him to take necessary remedial steps.
A female member of the family, who prefered anonymity because she noted that only the family's lawyer was competent to speak on the matter, said, ”We believe that the judgment is ridiculous. It is a public ridicule because the sentence is not commensurate with the offence. How can you find someone guilty of an accident that led to another man's death and sentence her to seven years imprisonment with an option of N100,000 fine? It gives the outside world the impression that life is very cheap here.
“Perhaps they feel that her social standing should shield her from the wrath of the law. Even an actress who was found guilty of drug trafficking was fined N1 million, not to talk of where the life of a human being, not that of a chicken, was involved. Nl00,000 would not even cover the loss of the car, not to talk of the life.
“This family believes that this is a country that has law, and justice must be done. She is still subject to litigation. We have left everything in the hands of our lawyer.”
Some legal practitioners have also criticised the judgment. The Executive Director of Lawyers' League for Human Rights, Jiti Ogunye said, “If all it takes to kill a human being and escape is N100,000, people would be seizing the opportunity to get rid of their enemies. If life is worth only N100,000, then where is justice?”
The human rights lawyer believes there are other channels open to Suraj's family. “The family can petition the Attorney-General of Lagos State, addressing his mind to the injustice, or they could file civil litigation against her. Since she pleaded guilty, it is easy for them to get compensation,” he said.
Mr Babatunde Fashanu, the lawyer hired by the family to prosecute the case, told Saturday Punch that the sentence in the first place vindicated the family that the actress caused the untimely death of their illustrious son. He added that the N100,000 fine option was spurious considering the nature of the offence.
He said, “The family has briefed us, and what they asked us to do is to urge the state government, the prosecutors, to appeal against the portion of that judgment that has to do with N100,000 option of fine, so that she would be given seven years imprisonment without option of fine. That is the position of the family.”
Efforts made during the week to get Ibinabo's reaction to the family proved abortive as a female voice that answered calls made to her phone said she had travelled out of the country. “She is not around. She has travelled out of the country,” the voice said.
Asked when Ibinabo would return, the respondent, who identified herself as Ibinabo's younger sister said, “I don't know.”
But the counsel to the family of the deceased said they would not be deterred by Ibinabo's absence because she would not remain outside Nigeria forever. ”It does not matter. She is a Nigerian. She cannot stay outside the country forever. We know how to get her back. She can go anywhere, but she can't run away from justice,” Fashanu said.