House party: Funke Akindele, husband’s conviction

Actress, Funke Akindele-Bello, popularly known as Jenifa, and her musician husband, Abdul Rasheed Bello, alias JJC Skillz, were on Monday sentenced to 14 days of community service for violating the Lagos State Government’s lockdown order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

This is just as the governorship candidate of the Action Democratic Party in the state in the 2019 gubernatorial election, Babatunde Gbadamosi, and his wife, who were among the guests at a birthday party for Abdul Rasheed on Saturday, reported at the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Panti, Yaba, and were detained.

Earlier, a musician, Azeez Fashola, aka Naira Marley, who also attended the party, turned himself in at the SCIID and was detained.

The Attorney General of the state, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), vowed that all those, who attended the party, would be prosecuted.

Mrs Aje Afunwa of the Lagos State Magistrates’ Court in Ogba, who pronounced the sentence on the Bellos, also imposed a fine of N100,000 each on the celebrity couple.

The magistrate, who also ordered that they should be placed in isolation, added that they must compile and submit the names and phone numbers of everyone, who attended the party.

The magistrate’s pronouncements followed the arraignment of the couple by the Lagos State Government for holding a birthday party attended by over 20 people in violation of the lockdown and social distancing order.

The one count filed against the couple read, “That you, (1) Funke Akindele and (2) Abdul Rasheed Bello, on April 4, 2020, on Gbadamosi Close, Amen Estate, Ibeju-Lekki in the Lagos Magisterial District,  gathered at the aforementioned with over 20 persons, contrary to the social distancing directive of Mr Governor of Lagos State, made pursuant to Regulation 8(1)(a) and (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.”

When the charge was read to them, the couple told the chief magistrate that they had some clarifications to make.

When told that it was either they admit holding a party as alleged and plead guilty or deny holding a party and plead not guilty, they pleaded guilty.

Onigbanjo, who led the prosecution team, said in view of their guilty plea, the magistrate should sentence them according to the provisions of the law.

However, the defence counsel, Yomi Alagbada, urged the magistrate to temper justice with mercy, saying the celebrity couple were “first-time offenders, respectable members of society and have two little children, one of whom is ill.”

He said, “The first defendant (Funke Akindele) is an ambassador for Lagos State; she advocates that people should pay their taxes and she uses her talent to advance the cause of the state; she used to do it and will continue to do it.

“I urge my Lord to consider this relationship, which will continue after now, and I hope that my Lord will play a role in ensuring that the relationship between the first defendant and Lagos State continues.”

In her judgment, the magistrate scolded the couple, saying it was reckless and irresponsible of them to have organised such a party “when thousands have died or have been infected, and the whole world is mourning.”

Afunwa stated, “It is callous for an individual to throw such a huge party; while governments are paying millions to flatten the curve, the two defendants were strengthening the curve by throwing a party.

“Have the two defendants lived up to the expectations of the public and the teeming youths who look up to them? The answer is no.”

Pronouncing the sentence, the magistrate said, “The defendants shall pay a fine of N100,000 within three days from today (Monday). They are to serve community service for a period of 14 days for three hours, from 9am to 12pm daily, excluding Saturdays and Sundays. The community service shall be done in any public place in Lagos.

“The defendants shall be made to visit 10 important public places in Lagos State to create awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of non-compliance with the laws enacted to curb the spread of the disease.

“Each defendant shall provide the names, addresses and GSM numbers of every person, who attended the party within 24 hours.

“In order to ensure that COVID-19 does not spread, the defendants shall be immediately held in isolation for 14 days in a place only known to the Lagos State Ministry of Health.”

The trial of the couple and their sentencing, have, however, attracted mixed reactions from Nigerians. While some felt the drama surrounding the prosecution was unnecessary, others said the sentencing would serve as a deterrent to others.

A Twitter user, @FestusGreen, called for the arrest of the Imam of the Agege Central Mosque, where over 300 worshippers violated the ban on the gathering of more than 20 people and allegedly attacked enforcement officers.

He tweeted, “Who is the Imam of Agege Central Mosque? Why has he not been arrested for flouting the social distancing directives of @followlasg? Are our laws selective? Is @followlasg afraid? #funkeakindele #funkeakindelebello.”

Gbadamosi had in a video apologised to Nigerians for attending the party.

However, a Twitter user, @LordBenyem, wrote about Gbadamosi before he reported at the SCIID, “You went to greet Mr Bello because he and your wife share same birth month which is April is delusional. You hear social distancing and you are here saying this. Please I don’t want to vex today.”

Another user, @Oluhill, tweeted, “I like that his apologies were unreserved, but he was still wrong, he should also face the wrath of the law; if Funke was arrested, every adult in that party should also be arrested.”

Another Twitter user, @DidiBiggs , wrote, “I would not hold brief for him. He was out of line. Now that he is in self-quarantine, a fine should be given. All of them at the party need to self-isolate.”

@LadyFat59043142 tweeted, “Such a huge disappointment…No excuses whatsoever for visiting at this time. He shouldn’t even have been there no matter what and also should have left when it became a crowd. I haven’t been to my neighbours’ house since 14th of March. We chat on WhatsApp.”

A Twitter user, @Best_bets, wrote, “It would make more sense if his apology comes after a visit to Panti. Very reckless set of people. Whether his story aligns with Funke’s is not my problem, all I’m saying is he should face the full wrath of the law alongside other suspects.”

Another Twitter user, @OndoFirstBorn, however, called for the prosecution of corrupt politicians.

He tweeted, “Charged to court in less than 24 hours. If only the Government can keep the same energy they’ve used to go after Funke Akindele to go after corrupt politicians, Nigeria would be better. #funkeakindelebello.”

@its_Tobiloba, who alleged that the people present at the couples’ arraignment did not observe the social distancing arrangement, called for their arrest and prosecution.

He tweeted, “So I heard Funke Akindele and JJC Skillz were at court today and the number of people present at the sitting/on them entering the court were more than those at her party with zero social distancing; my question now is who will arrest and sue the judiciary?”

Another Twitter user, @dondekojo said, “Funke Akindele must now declare this criminal record before doing anything like Visa applications/political opportunities. What a way to get it.”

The police had on Sunday urged Fashola and others, who attended the couples’ party, to report at the SCIID, or be declared wanted.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, Bala Elkana, confirmed to one of our correspondents on Monday, that Gbadamosi and his wife reported at the SCIID and were promptly arrested.

He also said the couple were being detained and would be arraigned.

“Yes, it is true that Gbadamosi and his wife reported at the SCIID as directed. They are in custody and will be arraigned, but I can’t tell you when they will be in court,” he stated.

The PPRO had earlier confirmed the arrest of Fashola.

He said in a statement, “Azeez Fashola, aka Naira Marley, is now in police custody. He will also be charged for violating the restriction order. The command has launched a manhunt for the other persons, who attended the party.

“The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, Hakeem Odumosu, expressed his profound gratitude to Lagosians and other well-meaning Nigerians, who spoke up against the violation. Together, we can stop the spread of COVID-19.”

<<Punch>>