Monday, March 7, 2011

Jessica Tata is a 22 year old American who was born to Nigerian parents and lived in Houston, TX. There, she ran a daycare center from her home and took care of several children while their parents worked. She received her license on March 1, 2010 and was once cited for not having a working carbon monoxide detector. On February 24th, Jessica Tata left seven children in her home and went to the supermarket. While gone, the children were left alone in a house with a pan of oil that was on the fire. Tata returned to a house full of smoke, with babies in it. Four innocent children lost their lives in the blaze.

Although she showed much grief and concern immediately after the incident, Tata is now missing. She is believed to have fled to Nigeria and apparently left the United States on February 26th. Since then, Interpol issued a notice to Nigeria an other countries seeking her capture and extradition if found. Additionally, Tata was included on the FBI's '15 Most Wanted' fugitive list*. A distinction reserved for the worst of the worst bad guys, including Osama bin Laden. And complicating matters even further are unconfirmed allegations that she set fire to her high school twice.

And, as can be expected, many have taken to Facebook to express their feelings about the fire and the circumstances that have resulted from Tata's disappearance. At least two anti-Tata pages exist. The ''Against Jessica Tata page has a calm tone with many expressing their condolences to the parents and families of the four young victims of the fire. Then there is the 'Jessica Tata Should Be Burned Alive' page, which, as evident from its title, is much more aggressive in the language used by some commenters.

Although American authorities reveal that they think Tata is in Nigeria, Nigerian officials are yet to publicly comment on the matter and have not revealed whether or not Tata did in fact enter the country. Even if she did enter Nigeria, there are other complications. Nigeria is a huge country that makes it easy for almost anyone to hide away there. Also, its borders are incredibly porous, meaning that a fugitive can enter into a neighboring country such as Benin or Cameroon.

The most significant problem, however, is that Nigeria has a horrible track record of finding and returning fugitives. This, despite an extradition treaty with the U.S. that has been on the books since the 1930s. In fact, the U.S. has made various extradition requests over the years, all of which are pending. And in this specific case, the extradition treaty with Nigeria may not even apply. That is because the treaty specifically delineates what offenses are covered. Tata is charged with four counts of manslaughter, but also reckless injury to a child. reckless injury is not included in the treaty, though manslaughter is. And if Tata were found in Nigeria, she could opt to engage in a drawn out legal battle that could take up to a year before she would eventually return to face trial in the U.S.

The truth is that the quickest way to find Tata would be for the FBI and other American authorities to simply offer a reward in Nigeria. If advertising is purchased on television channels, radio stations and newspapers or magazines, someone will definitely produce Tata for arrest. In fact, the average police officer in Nigeria would likely go out of his way to find this fugitive. Her own family members would produce her quickly. As long as she is taken to the U.S. embassy and not Nigerian authorities, Tata could be on U.S. soil in no time.

The loss of four children and the injury of other toddlers is not a situation to be taken lightly. But while it is understandable that Tata would flee in fear, her decision to avoid justice is inexcusable. It might take a while to find her, but hopefully, she will do the right thing and simply turn herself in to face justice. In the meantime, may the souls of those lost rest in peace.
* A quick search of the FBI website did not reveal Tata to be  included on any lists. (March 6, 2011).

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