On April 19, 2021, a video clip showing popular Nollywood actor Olanrewaju James (alias Baba Ijesha) sexually assaulting a minor went viral on social media.
The 14-year-old is a foster daughter of actress and comedienne Damilola Adekoya (alias Princess).
On the same date, Princess reported a case of sexual assault of a minor to the Sabo Police Station, Yaba, Lagos State.
She told the police that the crime took place at her residence.
The case was transferred to the Gender Unit of the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Yaba, for investigation. Baba Ijesha was, thus, arrested on April 22, 2021.
The case attracted public attention from the time of his arraignment on June 24, 2021, until Thursday, July 14, 2022, when Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo of an Ikeja Special Offences Court delivered judgment in the case, convicting Baba Ijesha and sentencing him to 16 consecutive years in jail which will, however, run concurrently for five years.
The criminal trial had the prosecution team presenting six witnesses.
It is worthy to note that prosecution team was initially led by Mrs Olayinka Adeyemi, the then Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). She was replaced by Dr Babajide Martins, following her appointment as a judge in the Lagos State Judiciary.
Defence team presented four witnesses including Baba Ijesha. The actor’s defence team of over 10 lawyers was led by two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), Messrs Babatunde Ogala and Dada Awosika.
Below is a timeline of the trial which lasted for a year and three weeks and culminated in a guilty verdict in a courtroom filled with lawyers, Nollywood actors and actresses, fans and other sympathisers, and members of the public.
JUNE 16, 2021:
Lagos State Government arraigned Baba Ijesha before a Yaba Magistrates’ Court on charges of indecent treatment of a child, defilement of a child, sexual assault by penetration, attempted sexual assault by penetration and sexual assault.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge but was remanded in custody by Magistrate P.E. Nwaka due to indications that the matter was before a Lagos High Court.
Magistrate Nwaka ruled: “Since there are indications that the matter is before the high court and the defendant will appear before the court, no bail can be given.
“The defendant must be accorded full medical attention by the authorities pending his arraignment at the high court.”
JUNE 24, 2021
The Lagos State Government arraigned Baba Ijesha on a six-count charge bordering on indecent treatment of a child, sexual assault, attempted sexual assault by penetration and sexual assault by penetration.
Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo granted the actor bail in the sum of two million Naira with two sureties in like sum. She ordered that the actor should perfect his bail within seven days.
Baba Ijesha was, however, released to the custody of his counsel, Ogala, pending perfection of his bail.
The case was adjourned until July 26, 2021, for trial.
JULY 26, 2021
The prosecution presented its first witness, Princess, the foster mother of the defiled minor.
Led in evidence by Adeyemi, the then DPP, Princess narrated how Baba Ijesha first defiled her foster daughter in 2013 when the minor was seven years old. The witness said the first defilement occurred when Baba Ijesha paid her a visit while she was recuperating from an illness.
She said that the first defilement occurred when she left her apartment for approximately seven minutes to see off a visitor while the actor was alone with her then seven-year-old daughter who was watching cartoons.
Princess told the court that the minor told her about the sexual molestation seven years after.
She testified that in order to gather evidence and possibly catch the defendant in the act, she set up a ‘sting operation’ in her home.
She narrated further how Baba Ijesha was caught in her home with the aid of Close Circuit Television (CCTV) on April 19, 2021, molesting her daughter.
JULY 27, 2021
Cross-examining Princess, defence counsel, Awosika, submitted that the actor did not sexually assault the minor in the CCTV footage. He argued that the footage was scripted.
“The defendant did not at any time move his hand toward any sensitive part of your daughter’s body. Nowhere did he touch her boobs, slip his hands into her private part or caress any sensitive part,” Awosika said.
Responding, Princess said: “If you call her breasts, her laps, her ears and her tongue not sensitive, then I do not agree with you.” Princess also denied releasing the viral CCTV footage of Baba Ijesha molesting her daughter to the public.
After Princess’s cross-examination, her 14-year-old daughter gave evidence. In order to protect her identity, members of the public and press were ordered by Taiwo to vacate the courtroom.
SEPTEMBER 28, 2021
The third prosecution witness, a childcare expert, Mrs Olabisi Ajayi-Kayode, narrated how the actor defiled the minor. She told the court that Baba Ijesha’s interactions with the minor were the typical dynamics of child sexual abuse and the modus operandi of perpetrators.
She said that the actor used the weapons of inculcation of secrecy, intimidation, threat or coercion.
OCTOBER 20, 2021
During the cross-examination of Ajayi-Kayode by Ogala, a tape recording of child forensic interview conducted on the minor by the expert on May 15, 2021, was played in court. In the video, the minor told Ajayi-Kayode that Baba Ijesha told her he was her boyfriend.
The witness told the court that during the forensic interview, the minor gave a “free narrative recall” of events that transpired seven years ago, adding that she had asked her neutral, open-ended questions to determine whether she was lying or coached.
OCTOBER 21, 2021
A medical doctor, Dr Aniekan Makanjuola, testified that medical examinations revealed that the minor had been defiled. “Our findings were that there was a blunt penetration of the vagina which was consistent with the client’s history,” she said.
On cross-examination by Ogala, she said she said, “The lacerations found in the genitalia were not recent, my lord,” Makanjuola said.
NOVEMBER 5, 2021
ASP Wahab Kareem told the court that Baba Ijesha was facing another allegation of defilement of a minor.
“During our investigation, another girl (name withheld) came forward and said that the defendant assaulted her when she was 12 years old,” he said.
During cross-examination by Ogala, the police officer admitted that a lawyer was not present when the actor gave an initial statement to the police.
NOVEMBER 12, 2021
Prosecution counsel, Mr Yusuf Sule, told the court that one of the remaining two prosecution witnesses was scared to testify in court.
“My lord, the first witness is a police officer but could not come to court today because he has been transferred and needs to get permission from where he is posted.
“The second witness could not come to court. He is jittery, he is scared to come to court,” he said.
Yusuf, however, assured the court that the witnesses will be available by the next adjourned date.
NOVEMBER 19, 2022
During evidence by the sixth prosecution witness, Insp Abigail Omane, defence team led by Ogala alleged that Baba Ijesha’s confessional statement to the police was made under duress. The judge consequently ordered a trial-within-trial to determine the voluntariness of the defendant’s statement to the police.
DECEMBER 2, 2021
Following adoption of written addresses in the trial-within-trial by the prosecution and defence, the judge scheduled ruling on the admissibility of the actor’s confessional statement for Dec. 15.
DECEMBER 15, 2021
The judge ruled that Baba Ijesha’s confessional statement to the police was admissible. Taiwo said that there was no evidence before the court which showed that the actor was tortured into giving the statement to the police.
Following the ruling, the then DPP, Adeyemi, told the court that Lagos State Government had closed its case against the defendant.
A member of defence team, Mr Kayode Olabiran, informed the court that defence intended to file a no-case submission. The case was adjourned until Jan. 26 for adoption of the no-case submission by defence.
JANUARY 26, 2022
Baba Ijesha made a U-turn, ditched plans to make a no-case submission. A member of the defence team, Mr A.O Alo, said, “The defendant has decided to put in his defence, and we have decided not to file a no-case submission again.”
FEBRUARY 17, 2022
The first defence witness, Mr Lawrence Ayeni, a graduate of mechanical engineering with experience in video production and CCTV installation and maintenance, testified that portions of the CCTV footage were edited. The witness claimed that the minor and the actor were both acting out a script in the footage.
During cross-examination by Martins, the new DPP, the witness admitted that tampering with the recording or using various devices to record the footage could not change the content.
MARCH 4, 2022
Baba Ijesha took the witness stand. He told the court that Princess, the foster mother of the defiled minor, was his former lover. He added that he was acting a script in the viral video and that he and Princess were both the directors of the production. He denied defiling the minor at Princess’s home seven years earlier.
Under cross-examination, Martins asked the actor that since he claimed that the CCTV footage was part of a movie, whether it was appropriate for him to mimic the act or actually sexual assault an underage as part of acting. Baba Ijesha, in his response, said the scenes he acted with the minor were appropriate.
MARCH 11, 2022
The third defence witness, a Clinical Psychologist, Dr Olukayode Olugbemi, told the court that the minor appeared to have been tutored in her narration of what transpired. Under cross-examination by Martins, the witness admitted that he could not be absolutely certain that the defilement did not happen.
APRIL 1, 2022
The fourth and final defence witness, a Nollywood actor, Mr Olukayode Ogunbanjo alias ‘Pastor Jerosi’, told the court that Baba Ijesha and Princess were in a relationship.
Defence closed its case and Taiwo adjourned the case until June 6 for the adoption of final written address.
JUNE 6, 2022
Prosecution and the defence adopted their final written addresses. Defence counsel, Awosika, in adopting his final written address dated May 12, urged the court to dismiss the suit and discharge the actor. Awosika argued that the CCTV footage was illegally obtained, adding that the alleged defilement seven years earlier was never reported to authorities. He also said that Baba Ijesha’s confessional statement was made under duress.
In the prosecution’s written address dated May 31, Martins urged the court to convict the defendant. He argued that the first defence witness admitted under cross-examination that content of a CCTV could not be manipulated. He noted that the actor admitted during the trial that he never mentioned that he was acting a script when he was detained by the police.
JULY 14, 2022
Taiwo convicted Baba Ijesha and sentenced him to 16 years imprisonment consecutively for sexually assaulting a minor. She found him guilty on four of the six counts he faced.
The judge did not find the actor guilty on count one (sexual assault by penetration) and count six (attempted sexual assault by penetration).
The judge sentenced Baba Ijesha to five years imprisonment on count two (indecent treatment of a child), three years on count three (sexual assault), five years on count four (indecent treatment of a child) and three years on count five (sexual assault).
Baba Ijesha will however serve five years in prison because the sentences are to run concurrently.
“The defendant took his acting too far. The is very sad. The behaviour of the defendant is appalling, as this shows the length people can go in exhibiting the animalistic urge in them,” the judge said while convicting Baba Ijesha.
On hearing the verdict, the actor broke down in tears. He was surrounded and comforted by his colleagues in the movie industry.