Olaolu Femi’s surreal difficulties continue

Halya Coynash

Nigerian student Olaolu Femi learned to his cost about the strange ways of Ukraine’s law enforcement and justice system.  His present difficulties in reinstating himself at the Luhansk University are minor in comparison, but also disturbingly catch-22 like.

As reported, Olaolu Femi spent 18 months in the Luhansk SIZO or pre-trial detention centre after he and a friend were subjected to a racist attack in November 2011. 

Nobody has yet explained what the Ukrainian authorities believe Femi and his Nigerian friend were supposed to do in a situation where they were heavily outnumbered by drunk and racist assailants with nobody around to come to their rescue.  

Both men were knocked to the ground, but Femi managed to get up and grabbed a broken bottle which he waved about in self-defence.  Three young men – V. Gaman, D. Lemenchuk and A. Loboda received cuts to the arms, neck and head, while Iryna Pashkova who also took part in the incident was hit on the face and head.  None of these injuries were in the slightest life-threatening, yet the police decided that the assailants were in fact victims, and that this had been a case of attempted murder.  Olaolu Femi, and not his assailants, was arrested within hours and remained in custody until 17 April 2013. 

Nobody was in any hurry to establish the truth, in fact, quite the contrary.  The Luhansk Prosecutor has consistently failed to find proper interpreters for Femi who was studying in English and does not know Ukrainian or Russian well.  This has on many occasions caused major delays to the trial.  There was also an extraordinary attempt one year after the event to introduce a “witness”,  The man in question was introduced at the court hearing on 8 November 2012 as being the taxi driver who had driven the two young men home.   Denis Yevteyev could provide no information about when he had left the taxi firm in question for whom he supposedly freelanced, without any mention in his work record.  He stated that he had collected three or four “Africans” from the medical institute and couldn’t say definitely that the accused and the main witness were among them, since they all look the same to him, but claimed that they had been drunk and aggressive.  

Nothing at all tallied, and the forensic medical examinations confirmed that it was the assailants who were drunk, not Olaolu Femi. 

This was just one of a number of occasions casting serious doubt over the role of the Prosecutor in this case. 

Several human rights organizations carried out a concentrated campaign earlier this year to obtain Femi’s release on their surety, and were finally successful in getting the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s support.   The court allowed the application endorsed by the Ombudsperson to release Olaolu Femi from custody  and on 17 April 2013 he left the SIZO.  

There is no happy ever after ending yet since the trial is continuing.  On the other hand, the case is manifestly flawed, and the fact that he has been released already a major achievement. 

Unfortunately Femi is now encountering problems with reinstating himself at the university.  There are catch-22 elements, but the suspicion does arise that the obstacles are being presented deliberately. 

The university excluded him for not appearing at lectures.  His non-appearance was hardly surprising given his incarceration, but now that he is free, has the money and would like to continue his studies, the university is causing difficulties.   All third year academic requirements have been fulfilled, and the university only needs to issue Femi with the relevant document so that he can organize a student visa.  They are now refusing to give the go ahead, claiming that he requires some kind of agreement from the State Migration Service, although no such agreement is anywhere envisaged.

Earnings from foreign students are a lifeline for many educational institutions in Ukraine.  Olaolu Femi’s experiences must have made many a student from abroad ask how protected they can feel in Ukraine  It’s about time that all involved, including the Luhansk National University, understand that this is not the message they should be giving and that the travesty of justice must end.


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