I was a young man of 24 years in 1992. That same year, I had the privilege of being the first actor that acted the first movie, Living in Bondage, that started Nollywood, where I played the role of Andy Okeke. The transformation was terrific. It was like going to bed an ordinary person and waking up the next day a super celebrity. People whom I lived with on the same street trooped to my house to take a second look at me. Strangers lined up at the front of my office waiting for me to come out to catch a glimpse. I was ill-prepared for this instant glorious transformation because there were not many movie celebrities before us to teach us how to handle stardom since we were the pioneers. At the initial stage, it was very embarrassing. At a certain point I couldn’t cope with the surge of fans around me and had to resign from my workplace to save the entire building from embarrassment.
I thought I will remain the same after the movie and was determined not to allow the sudden transformation affect my personality. One day I was in a terrible traffic in Lagos and there came one impatient man coming from the opposite side who drove very roughly and scared everybody away from the road. I was angry and was determined to end his madness when he came to my spot. As a typical Lagosian, I drove roughly too and blocked him when he reached me. He looked menacingly towards me and I was ready for a fight. His gaze towards me gradually started giving way to a smile. After a while, he came out of his car and walked towards me. He knocked at the glass of the driver’s side and pleaded with me to wind down my glass. Because of the smile on his face, I wound down my glass but was prepared for any eventuality in case he wanted to trick me with the smile. As if he confirmed something, he screamed “it is Andy ooo!!”. This automatically drew the attention of everybody towards us. He then spewed out these unforgettable words toward me in vernacular, which translated in English meant, “Andy! Andy!! Andy!!!, you didn’t do well. Does it mean that if we are going crazy, you will join us in going crazy too”. I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself. People were watching and all they were seeing were two law breakers standing in front of them. One was their celebrity, they didn’t know the other person. Not many of them knew that I broke the law to stop the other person from continuing his bullying of others. The man in question came out and publicly acknowledged that he was mad but did not expect his role model on TV to stoop low to his level and join him in his madness. He expected to see his celebrity set good examples from which he will learn and change his ways. He expected me to shine my light as a star for him to find his way and I failed. At this stage I was stupefied and didn’t know when I started apologising profusely.
I left that spot with a troubled mind for days. I was taught this lesson in a bitter way and publicly. I chose to be a movie star and I am bound to enjoy not only the privileges but also the prices that come with it. I can no longer live for myself alone, I am now expected to be a model for all if I will enjoy the rest of my life. I accepted the challenge and decided that I will be the first to obey any legitimate and just orders from the government even if my only reason is to set example to others on the need to avoid anarchy and build a better world for all of us. The first thing I teach every younger actor or actress coming after us who meets me on set is to live his/her life in a manner that will set example for others.
You can imagine how sad it made me when I learnt of the travails of a worthy younger colleague of mine, Funke Akindele, worldly known as Jenifa. I have had the privilege of acting together with her in movies. Very hilarious, energetic, respectful and very talented. She is a Lady Boss who loves her business very well. She enjoys the money she makes herself and has confided in me her disdain for ladies who do not work hard for their money but rely on getting cheap money from men who will inevitability take advantage of them. She enjoys setting good examples for the younger ones and even in the wake of the coronavirus, she was one of the first celebrities that appeared in an advert to admonish the public on taking precautions against the coronavirus. Nobody is perfect. As with all human beings, Funke has made a mistake. Celebrating birthday for her husband when the whole world is mourning is unfortunate enough but advertising the breaking of the law is an error of judgement which is very tragic and tragically has she paid the price. Funke is paying the price for being a celebrity. If she were not a celebrity, probably nobody would have taken notice of a birthday party celebrated by few unknown people in their house even if it becomes public. But then the law delights in using celebrities to set examples whether positively or negatively and this should teach every celebrity a lesson.
As a lawyer, let me dwell briefly on the process and the law that brought about the purported conviction of the Akindeles. Firstly, let me commend the couple for pleading guilty to the charge against them despite some obvious legal inadequacies associated with their conviction. Funke is an actress not an activist and I doubt whether she will survive more than one week in a Nigerian Correctional Centre. A guilty plea also confirms that she was really sorry about what she did and was ready to put it behind her and move on. Her guilty plea will not stop her from appealing the judgement if she so wishes but will save her from staying in the correctional centre longer than necessary. Every government has its own tricks to detain somebody longer than necessary using some technicalities of law and the coercive instruments of the state.
The one-count criminal charge against Funke and her husband was filed on the 6th day of April, 2020 before the Lagos State Magistrate Court and it reads thus: That you (1) FUNKE AKINDELE (2) ABDUL RASHEED BELLO on the 4th day of April, 2020 at 9, Gbadamosi Close, Amen Estate, Ibeju Lekki in the Lagos Magisterial District gathered at the aforementioned address with over 20 persons contrary to the 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 Disease (Emergency Prevention) Regulation 2020 and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 58 Public Health Law Cap P16 Vol. 9 Laws of Lagos State, 2015. The position of the law is that you cannot convict a person except the offence and penalty are captured in a written law. The directive of a Governor has been held by the Appellate Court as not constituting a written law and as such the charge is fundamentally faulty. See Section 36(12) CFRN 1999; Aoko v. Fagbemi & Ors. (1961) 1 All NLR 400; Olabode George v. FRN (2014) 5 NWLR (PT.1399) P.129; Faith Okafor v. Gov. of Lagos State & Anor. (2016) LPELR-41066 (CA); Din v. Attorney-General of the Federation (1988) 4 NWLR (PT.87) 147. However, the conviction can still be sustained on appeal despite this obvious lapse in the charge because the Supreme Court has also held that if there be any existing law under which the defendant could have been convicted, the defendant’s conviction could still be sustained, even if the charge does not contain the relevant sections of that existing law. See Adonike v. The State (2015) 7 NWLR (PT. 1458) 237; Yabugbe v. COP (1992) 4 NWLR (PT.234) 152. There is no doubt that by the doctrine of covering the field, the Akindeles could still have been convicted by Section 5 of the Quarantine Act pursuant to the regulations made by the President. However, if the conviction is a bit controversial, the sentencing is completely flawed. Section 58 above recommended either a fine of N100,000.00 or a non-custodial sentence, but the Court imposed both, which is certainly excessive. The Court has no power to impose a punishment more stringent than what the law stated. However, the danger here is that the punishment in Section 5 above is stricter than that in Section 58 because the Court can impose both fine and imprisonment and the Court of Appeal can decide to vary the punishment to the detriment of the defendants. Law is an ass and one cannot accurately predict how it will end. This is why I am appealing to the Lagos State government to pardon the Akindeles and remove the toga of ex-convicts from their lives because of their obvious repentance from their mistake and also the excessiveness of the punishment meted out to them.