A court of appeal sitting in Akure, Ondo state, has discharged and acquitted Babatunde Alfa, general overseer of Sotitobire Miracle Centre, Akure, who was accused of kidnapping Gold Kolawole, a one-year-old boy.
The boy had gone missing in November 2019 after his mother dropped him off at the children section of the church during a service.
In December 2019, the church was set ablaze following a rumour that the missing child was buried at the church’s altar.
Alfa and five others were found guilty on a two-count charge of kidnapping, aiding and abetting to kidnap preferred against them.
In October 2020, Olusegun Odusola, judge of an Ondo state high court, sentenced the accused persons to life imprisonment, stating that the prosecution “proved circumstantial evidence” against them.
The others include Omodara Olayinka, Margaret Oyebola, Grace Ogunjobi, Egunjobi Motunrayo and Esther Kayode.
However, delivering judgment on Friday in the appeal filed by the accused persons, the appellate court upturned the lower court’s verdict.
Hammah Barka, the appeal court justice, said the circumstantial evidence upon which the lower court based its judgement was not enough to convict the appellants.
Consequently, he discharged and acquitted the appellants.
Reacting to the judgment, Charles Titiloye, the Ondo attorney-general and commissioner for justice, said the state government would study the judgement before deciding on the next step to take on the matter.
“The court has affirmed that DSS can investigate any case and does not have a jurisdictional problem to investigate a case like this,” he said.
“However, the court has stated that the circumstantial evidence upon which the conviction was based upon at the lower court is not enough to sustain the conviction of the defendants. Our attitude from the state is that we study the judgement and take the proper steps we are supposed to take on the matter.”
Alfa’s counsel, who was represented by Akinyemi Omoware, said the court judgement has proven the appellant is not guilty.
“He is not guilty as pronounced upon by the trial court. We are using this medium to tell the members of the church and the general public that they should rejoice with a conscience. They should not go out causing problems. They should take it that that is the will of God. We are happy about this,” he said.