The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Diaspora Commission, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, and the family of Mr. Olufolajimi Ayodeji Abegunde, a United States-based Nigerian, who was arrested and detained in the United States since February this year, are locked in fierce disagreement over a purported letter seeking the quick intervention of the Federal Government.
It would be recalled that PRNigeria, an on-line media outfit, had on Sunday, published a news report titled, “Family of US detained Nigerian man cries out, seeks FG’s intervention”, on the continued detention of Olufolajimi Ayodeji at the Dyton Detention Facility in Mason, Tennessee, by US Marshalls.
But Abike Dabiri, in a press release on Tuesday, denied receiving any correspondence from the family.
In the statement signed by her Special Adviser on Media, Abdul-Rahman Balogun, Dabiri-Erewa maintained that she didn’t receive any petition or letter about Mr. Olufolajimi’s travail in the US, saying: “This is a complete falsehood as no correspondence was received in our office with respect to the issue.
“We have checked our records and there is no such letter ever received in our office as the Commission has not even been set up as at the time the said petition was reportedly submitted.”
She noted that all the line of communication are opened for any public complaint, which her Commission responds to as soon as practicable.
“The complainant or any other aggrieved Nigerian is advised to officially channel the communication to the Secretary or Secretariat of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, as we cannot treat such issue based on online report,” Dabiri added.
In the wake of the rebuttal by the Diaspora Commission’s CEO, PRNigeria obtained a scanned copy of the family’s correspondence received by a staff of the Commission on November 19, 2018, and was acknowledged with the signature and phone number of the staff in her office, as 08174383962.
This is coming after the family strongly insisted that they had dropped a letter seeking her urgent intervention.
The dispatch reads: “Honorable Madam, PASSIONATE APPEAL FOR ASSISTANCE RE: OLUFOLAJIMI AYODEJI ABEGUNDE. I hereby appeal for your kind assistance and intervention in the matter involving my son, Mr. Olufolajimi Ayodeji Abegunde and the judicial system of the United States of America.
“The travail has been on-going since February 7, 2018, when he was arrested at the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Atlanta, United States of America. From Information available to me, he was arrested at the airport when he went to make a date change for a proposed trip to the Dominican Republic.
“At the point of arrest, it was alleged that he attempted to flee the country on account on a Federal Indictment charge dated in August 2017. Olufolajimi stated that he was completely unaware of the charges, as he was never invited for questioning on the charges listed as follows; 1. Conspiracy to commit fraud; 2. Money laundering; 3. Aggravated Identity theft.
“From his own account, the only thing that connected him to issues raised was the fact that a friend who happened to be his classmate in the Babcock University, Mr. Ayodeji Ojo, visited from Nigeria with his family and stayed with him. Within the period of his stay, Mr. Ayodeji Ojo opened an account using Olufolajimi’s residential address in Atlanta Georgia. This was stated as the main offence, which is the basis for the alleged conspiracy charges.
“He was initially detained in Atlanta while his bond application came up. Bond was however denied, and he was moved to Tennessee, where he has been held at the Dyton Detention Facility in Mason.
“Efforts made to appeal the earlier bond application dragged on from February until June 25, 2018 when it was again denied. Trial was fixed for October 9, 2018. In the intervening period between June and the proposed trial date, a superseding Indictment came up with offences listed as follows; 1. Conspiracy to commit wire fraud; 2. Money laundering conspiracy; 3. Marriage Fraud conspiracy; and 4. Witness Tampering.
“The new charges are due for hearing on December 10, 2018. The earlier charge of aggravated identity theft has however been dropped, as it is not contained in the superseding indictment.
“The whole issue has been rather traumatic for the entire family. It has been especially hard on me in view of the fact that I have had to raise Olufolajimi from age 6 when he lost his father in 1992.
“My family has had to endure the traumatic experience of long-drawn appearances in court, coupled with the unfortunate experience with pick and drop legal representations on whom we have spent all our resources on, in Atlanta and Memphis in the persons of: 1. Ms. Meg Strickler – Atlanta; 2. Mr. William Massey – Memphis; and 3. Mr. Claiborne Ferguson – Memphis. The issues with the above attorneys on whom we have expended unthinkable resources on, have resulted in Olufolajimi being declared indigent by the court and he has since been assigned a court appointed attorney in the person of John Keith Perry Jr. who is an attorney based in Mississippi.
“I wish to make a passionate appeal, that the National Diaspora Commission would make contact with Olufolajimi Abegunde to render assistance in any way possible, towards when he is due to appear in court on December 10, 2018, and ultimately, to secure his freedom.
“Your kind intervention and assistance would be very much appreciated, considering the fact that he has been detained for over 9 months now. A way out of this quagmire would be most welcome.
“Yours faithfully, OKA (Mrs.). Mrs. Oluseyi Abegunde (mother of subject of appeal).”
Aside the November correspondence, PR Nigeria also gathered that Barrister Anjolaoluwa Abegunde, a lawyer-son of Mrs. Oluseyi Abegunde, had in September, also wrote and personally dropped a letter for Mrs. Abike Dabiri, then a Senior Special Adviser to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora (SSAFD), at her Abuja Office.
The correspondence, which was also acknowledged, reads: “Madam, THE CONTINUED DETENTION OF MR OLUFOLAJIMI ABEGUNDE (MBA) IN THE UNITED STATES (MASON TENNESSEE) DETENTION FACILITY FOR UNFOUNDED CHARGES (CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT FRAUD; MONEY LAUNDERING; AGGRAVATED IDENTITY THEFT; MARRIAGE FRAUD& WITNESS TAMPERING/INTIMIDATION)
“We write to your esteemed office, seeking your kind assistance and intervention in the matter involving our son and brother Mr. Olufolajimi Abegunde (MBA), who is currently being held in a United States detention facility on the above unsubstantiated allegations.
“Since the February 7, 2018, our son and brother has been held by US Marshalls and also denied bail for these unfounded allegations. He travelled to the United States in 2014 on a study visa and bagged a master’s Degree in business administration from the May’s Business School of Texas A&M.
“Further to the conclusion of his master’s programme, he founded a start up in the money remittances business (FJ Williams INC doing business as TranzAlert INC) which is duly licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Georgia State Department of Banking. In addition to the above, he was submitted to a rigorous background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and all other relevant financial regulatory authorities in the United States.
“In a bid to prove his innocence, Mr. Olufolajimi Abegunde (MBA) has caused several letters to be written to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC and also the Nigerian Consulate office in Atlanta GA. His letters have however not been responded to.
“It is our humble plea that you help use your good office to intervene in this matter. Our son and brother has lost a significant part of this year, being held behind bars for offences he has no connection to. This is coming at a time when all the effort he had put into his business was about to yield fruit.
“We thank you in anticipation of your kind intervention, even as we extend the assurances of our highest regards.
“Yours sincerely, Anjolaoluwa Abegunde, Esq. For and on behalf of Mrs. Oluseyi Kehinde Abegunde (Director, Federal Ministry of Information, Retired).”
However, Mrs. Abegunde told PRNigeria, that though they submitted correspondences, it is possible that Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa did not receive them herself.
“It is my fervent belief that Mrs. Dabiri, as the Diaspora Commission’s CEO, will still look into our case, with a view to intervening and getting my son quickly released. That she didn’t personally get the letters may obviously be due to one reason or the other,” she said. (PRNigeria)