It is no longer news that leading actress, Funke Akindele popularly called Jenifer and her Husband, Abdul Rasheed Bello popularly called JJC Skillz were arrested on Sunday, the 5th day of April, 2020 sequel to a video that surfaced on the social media showing a ‘seeming momentary’ house party held in honour of the talented Actress’ husband (JJC Skills). By the contents of the said video as uploaded online, some other top celebrities as Naira Marley and several youths could be seen present and engaged in the acts of partying within the private apartment of the duo; hence, suggesting the presence of exceeded limit of permissible crowd already prohibited by the issued regulations of Lagos State Governor in curtailing the Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Truth be told, the upload of such video at this time when the whole world is making efforts to contain and curtail the spread of the deadly corona virus is quite insensitive, unfortunate and condemnable; Yet, caution regarding the constitutionality and procedural issues of law surrounding same cannot be thrown away like baby bath water.
Truth be also told, that our celebrities, particularly in Nigeria are one of the top most exposed persons who though human, are subject to many temptations and fallibilities; most often, they under impression, suppression, emotional distress, psychological imbalances, societal judgement, and unavoidable overwhelming self-impose of their respective followers, fans and/or the people at large; all of which in turn always have a way of influencing their actions and inactions with any of them having very little or no measure of control. Conclusively, It is therefore understandable that the upload of such video is pardonable by whoever, especially when the intention manifested therein is not borne out of mischief or deliberate attempt to break the laws of Lagos State or any other law.
It is a normal routine, that upon the arrest of every suspects, if investigation is concluded, the next thing is arraignment of such suspect before the court of law. Hence, it could be presumed that investigation of the whole Scenario by the concern enforcement agencies was speedily concluded on relevant facts, therefore, on the bases of such presumption, the duo were subsequently arraigned at the Magistrate Court, Ogba Magisterial Division via Charge Information with Number: MIK/A/43/2020, with the following lone count charge / particulars:
That you (1) Funke Akindele (2) Abdul Rasheed Bello on the 4th day of April, 2020 at Gbadamosi Close, Amen Estate, Ibeju Lekki, in the Lagos Magisterial District, gathered at the aforementioned address with over twenty persons contrary to social Distancing Directives of Mr governor of Lagos State made pursuant to Regulation 8(1)(a) & (b) and 17(1)(i) of the Lagos State infectious Diseases (Emergency Prevention Regulation 2020 and thereby committed an offense punishable under section 58 Public Health Law Cap P16 vol. 9 of Lagos State, 2015.
Based on this lone charge set out above, the offenders (Funke Akindele and husband) pleaded guilty the moment the charge was read to them, subsequently, facts were reviewed leading to their conviction and sentencing; hence each of husband and wife were sentenced to 14 days community service, a fine of 100, 000 each and they are to be isolated for 14 days at any place of choice by Lagos State Government.
While I have deep reservations for the law under which this fantastic couple were charged, arraigned, convicted and sentenced; shockingly, it is most sadly observed that the duo, despite being aware of their status and likely momentary imbalance that flows with same, they pleaded guilty to the charge so hurriedly; having just been arrested the previous day and charged to court the following day (a period of about 24 hours interval).
Besides, the fact that section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution gives everyone who subject to the laws of the Federation of Nigeria ‘the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare for his defense’, yet, the law under which the duo were arrested, prosecuted and convicted needed be met and tested with the fiery flagrance of Nigerian Constitutional provisions, to be sure of its consistent with same. by our legal aphorism, Justice rushed is justice crushed.
Without prejudice to the above facts, by the contents of the video explanation made by madam Jenifer shortly after the birthday scenerio, which is video less 4 minutes posted shortly after the saga, she explained the issues thereof and regretted every of their actions and the reactions that greeted same from government and people; owing to facts associated with the posting of such video on the internet; hence, she incessantly, intermittently and most responsively asked for the forgiveness of her followers, fans, Government of Lagos State and people of Nigeria.
Without mincing words, I must deeply observe that by the content of the second video, wherein she narrated facts of whole saga, Funke Akindele and her husband have a very good defense save for lack of adequate time and facility to prepare for their defense before the court they were arraigned; expectedly, same led to their summary conviction and sentencing same day of just about 24 hours upon arrest.
It must be observed that naturally, persons of the status and personal worth of Funke Akindele and husband’s would be nervous, expectant and could easily be misled owing to the overwhelming comments on internet by followers and/or fans, their place of honour as several brand ambassadors and the psychological effect / damages all the confusing scenario may have; which would as well would have influence their acts and conducts within and outside the court at that moment. Yet, Everything seems to have happened so fast.
I am not privy to the facts reviewed before the court before conviction and sentencing was secured; but by the content of the video posted on the internet, which suspectedly was the chief evidence setting out facts of the hosting of such crowd as alleged, the following are deduce-able;
Good defense / Facts by content of the apology video;
By that video viewed online, could it be said and/or taken to have been adequately proven that the number of crowd present at that event were up to 21 or above 20?, which is the maximum un-allowed crowd or gathering by the issued regulation of Lagos State Governor through which the charge against the duo were brought.
By the explanation of Madam Jenifer in subsequent video where she pleaded with his fans and Lagos State Government, she made the following statements:
“My name is Funke Akindele, I will not intentionally mislead people, … I want to explain what happened. Truly yesterday was my husband’s birthday and we both run Scene One Production Studios which is located in the Amen Estate where we live.
“We have studios running to like twelve in there, we have interior/exterior, we built.., we built roads, we built markets, we use them for our Jeniffers diary; all our contents….;
“Before the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic, we all worked together here, we have the strength of a hundred workers, but not all the hundreds are here;
“…So this is where we do the work and do a lot of contents;
“So when the pandemic started we have to stop production; including ‘Omo Ghetto the Saga’ which is our new project meant to start April;
“But before the lockdown was announced by the president, some youths had been in the camp here in this estate rejoicing, singing, dancing; majority of the youths are the one you saw in the video;
“When the lockdown was announced, some of the staff, not all of them lived outside Lagos; borders were closed and they have to stay back;
“Naira Marley is part of the project ‘Omo Gheto the Saga’, that supposed to be a surprise, but I have to speak it loud so that you all can understand me;
“Please note, I am not defending myself, I understand your concerns, so Naira Marley came in here before the lockdown and when lockdown was announced by our president he said he wants to stay back he loves this environment, he said we should lets keep working on the soundtracks, lets keep working on everything, I said ok, fine, we aware all here as a family;
“Then my husband birthday came up and we cooked at home, we all came together as a family, but putting it out on the social media is where I felt bad about it;
“I so much support the government and all works being done to eradicate the pandemic; I am sorry if I have misled you in the video, I appreciate your concerns and I promise to always practice what we preach;
“…All persons in that video had been in the Amen Estate some months before, weeks before, days before.. and not that they came from their houses to party with us. We are all residing in the Amen Estate Same one studio;
“I am sorry once again, I appreciate you all and I promise to always support the government in creating awareness to eradicate this pandemic;
“Thank you so much for your support, thank you so much for the love, God bless us all, god bless Nigeria and God heal the world….”
The law is trite that a man cannot be guilty unless his mind / conscience is guilty; the Acteus reus (guity act/conduct) must correspond with the mens rea (guilty mind/heart) in proving criminal guilt of a suspect. From the above narration of Madam Funke; which in my view is a good defense and which due to time constraint and circumstantial facts, she could not say before the court by manner of hurried arraignment, summary trial and conviction; Yet, the whole issue despite being spontaneous, the narration of the facts shortly before the arraignment were fluid, responsive, responsible, understandable, concise and pregnant of several legal inferences and syllogism which would have been texted with the fiery furnace of law, equity and justice.
In the light of the foregoing, can we truly say; Funke Akindele and her husband, Bello had not hurriedly shut themselves at their legs by hurriedly pleading guilty as charged without minding the implications?
What more in such line of defense / explanation can appeal to the mind of any Judge and/or Magistrate than the above set out facts by Jenifer which should ordinarily constitute their defense before the said court? why pleading guilty without minding the consequence? was the gathered crowd in that video up to 21 and above? Little garnish of law with the above facts would have set them free. Yet, they pleaded guilty a hurry without taking a swipe.
It can be said by factual and hurried manner the conviction was handed down, no due consideration was given relevant provisions of the constitution, the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charge, and the opportunity to the duo to table facts, fluidity of which shows a larger percentage of innocence. Since by our criminal jurisdiction, the proof of guilt is beyond reasonable doubt, it is obvious that the violation of the provision of the 1999 constitutional fundamental right to hearing had been breached, and by relevant facts of this case, the conviction can be appealed against and have same set aside by the appellate court.
Being a convict and/or ex-convict is not to too good a reputation for something your mind is not guilty of; especially to a self-sufficient personalities as Funke Akindele and husband; the few among Nigerian youths who had done a lot to distinguish themselves and stay above all shadows: the cut through thick and tin to lighten their ways and show others the way. The legal implication of being a convict and/or an ex-convict can only be washed away by the Governors pardon clemency.
In view of the above facts and circumstance, I hold that despite pleading guilty and being accordingly convicted, Funke Akindele and JJC Skillz have high chance of success on appeal, if they must fully exercise their right under the law. momentary mistake of facts, circumstances, ignorance of spontaneous pleading of guilty, laws and applications can be remedied under the extant Criminal administration laws if tested on appeal; notwithstanding the fact that they pleaded guilty in a jiffy.
In all, I share my sympathy, empathy and solidarity with the wonderful couple who great inspiration and light, ‘non-twerking before meal’ personalities, jovial, family-inclined, culture-promoting, accommodating, fun-filled Jenifer and JJC Skillz; who at all times are many’s mentors, ambassadors, role model and good Nigerian citizens.
In all, let us remember to stay safe and cooperate with our government / leaders by taking all measures and adhering to all necessary and lawful directives of our leaders.
May God heal our land and bless the effforts of our leaders.
*** Richarmond O. Natha-Alade is a legal Practitioner and Principal Partner at Sun Natha-Alade & Partners (SNATHAP) / email@example.com.