Funke Akindele: Did the Lagos Government shoot itself with this trial?

Nollywood actress, Funke Akindele has been to court and sentenced for the misdemeanor charge of breaking social distancing guidelines by the Lagos State Government. But a nagging question remains hours after the sentencing, is the action by the government self-defeatist?

In a move many are now beginning to question the logic behind, the actress is arraigned at the Magistrate Court of Lagos State in the Ikeja magisterial district for gathering at her home address over 20 individuals, contrary to the state government directive against such gatherings. Ironically, over 20 people appear to have been at the court proceedings, if not inside the court itself.

The State Government had weeks prior, in a bid to slow the spread of Coronavirus enforced an emergency directive, passed a state legislation, against gathering of 50 or more people, which it later reviewed to 20 or more. Defaulters are to be fined, jailed, or both. What was not clear as at the time of passing these laws was how they would be enforced if the ultimate goal is to prevent the commingling of people which has the potential to result in more COVID-19 infections.

The Funke Akindele case is instructive if for nothing else other than to show how in the State Government’s attempt to punish defaulters, the instrument of state deployed to do that is carelessly defaulting as well. Videos emerging from the arraignment show a throng of people in the darkened corridors of the court; uniformed personnel accompanying the actress and her husband – who was also arraigned for the same offence, and journalists forcing their way through the throng to get a good picture, presumably for the publications they work for.

The distressed family is to pay a fine of 100,000 Naira each and perform community service for 14 days, among other sentencing requirements. It is not unlikely that their matter was overblown by online outrage especially on Twitter following an IG story post by Husband, Abdulrasheed Bello showing attendees at the birthday bash, which is what brought the matter into public knowledge.

An overwhelming number of Twitter users called for immediate quarantine of everyone at the party, however even more people called for arrest and arraignment. The Government it appears favours the latter and now we are here. The irony of here is of course that, if in fact Mrs. and Mr. Bello exposed themselves and attendees at the gathering in their house to Coronavirus, it follows then that all the security personnel that have since come in contact with the couple, the journalists that have done likewise, and everyone else at the proceedings, run the risk of exposure as well.

While the Bellos serve their time and pay for their misdemeanour, the question remains, who is in charge of enforcing this law? Everyone involved in the proceedings might need to self-isolate. In the meantime, the Lagos State Government may need to look, and quickly, into figuring out a better way to go about the process of punishing defaulters.

A fully-kitted security personnel – that only shows up to take defaulters to a forced isolation center, once they are proven guilty, is a good idea for the Government to consider starting with. Whatever we do going forward must ensure the lockdown serves the purpose for which it was enforced in the long run. The existing process certainly doesn’t appear to help with that.

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