As the world is currently forced to lockdown due to the rampaging Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Nigeria not exempted. In Lagos and elsewhere, there are ongoing subtle politics of supremacy. An interesting scenario appears to be playing out in Nigeria where the Lagos State chapter of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is allegedly hiding behind the situation to tame its perceived main opponent ahead of the 2023 governorship election.
Not many citizens of Lagos would read between the lines the speedy ‘trial and conviction’ of popular Nollywood actress, Funke Akindele-Bello (a.k.a Jenifer) and her husband, Abdul-Rasheed Bello (also known as JJC Skills), which took place two days ago at the Chief Magistrate Court in Ogba, under Chief Magistrate Aje Afunwa. The couple was sentenced to a 14-day community service with a fine of N100, 000 each after they pleaded guilty to a one-count charge preferred against them by the state government.
Prior to their arraignment, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo, who led the prosecution team, told the court that the couple hosted a birthday party at their residence at 9 Gbadamosi Close, Amen Estate, Abijo, Lekki, contrary to the social distancing directives contained in the regulations issued by Governor Babatunde Sanwo-Olu pursuant to the Infectious Diseases Act. Onigbanjo said the defendants flouted Regulations 8(1)(a)(b) and 17(1)(I) of the Lagos State Emergency Regulations 2020 and punishable under Section 58 Public Health Laws of Lagos State 2015.
But beyond what happened in court, there had been a series of attempts by the actress and her husband, along with their close associates, to appease the powers-that-be for the trial not to hold, including reaching out to some influential people they know without success. Such influential persons included APC’s national Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to intervene but to no avail.
One of the alleged intrigues behind the development is the fact that the offence for which the Akindele-Bellos were tried and convicted was committed inside the estate owned by the Action Democratic Party (ADP) governorship candidate in the 2019 election, Mr. Babatunde Gbadamosi, who contested against the incumbent governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, but lost. Badamosi has since defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The former ADP candidate has since been arrested and detained by the police and would be arraigned today for the same offence the couples were convicted. Although he was granted bail yesterday, he would still face trial today in one of the magistrate’s courts in Lagos.
Gbadamosi, whose recent move from ADP to PDP, with the aim to pursue his governorship ambition in 2023, is considered a force the ruling party must silence at whatever cost ahead of the next general election because of the potential threat he poses to the ruling party. It is not in doubt that Lagos State PDP may be counting on the likes of Gbadamosi, who recently returned to the party’s fold, to bear its flag in 2023. After the 2019 general elections the party has been in a state of disarray following the defections of many of its strong members like former Senators Musiliu Obanikoro, Adeseye Ogunlewe and even its erstwhile state chairman, Mr. Moshood El Salvador among others.
While reacting on the issue, a governorship candidate of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) for the 2019 election in Lagos, Mr. Abiodun Dabiri, said the trial of ‘Jenifer’ was a ploy by the state government to get at Gbadamosi, who APC may have seen as a threat if he was allowed to contest the coming 2023 elections.
According to Dabiri, “I am convinced that Gbadamosi is the real target. Funke Akindele and her husband were simply used as a decoy to get at him. While it is true that he (Gbadamosi) committed the offence, because the law says ‘stay-at-home and don’t interact’. Tinubu, who marked his 68th birthday amidst the coronavirus pandemic, should also have been arrested and tried for breaching the social distancing directives because people gathered.”
Dabiri added that the premises and the courtroom, where the Akindele-Bellos were convicted, were also crowded and violated the social distancing order, adding, “it is therefore imperative of the same government to go after all those that were present in the courtroom to put them in isolation” and possibly also try them, arguing that Lagos State Government and the ruling party could not implement selective laws under circumstances like this.
He said if Gbadamosi is convicted, his chances of contesting in 2023 may be difficult as an ex-convict.
The spokesman of PDP, Mr. Taofik Gani, told The Guardian that it was a clear indication that APC was only trying to stop one of the strong forces in PDP ahead of the next governorship election “which we are ready to resist.”
While expressing concerns over the hastiness with which the Akindele-Bellos pleaded guilty to the charge and were arraigned, tried and convicted, “we are not in doubt that the agenda was to get at Gbadamosi, who is the owner of the estate where the party held.”
Gani also added that Gbadamosi did not attend the party, neither did he appear in the video, noting, “his only crime was to have owned up that he was at Akindele-Bello’s house in the morning, which was not enough for the state to arraign him if there are no other motives.
The PD’sP spokesman added that the Akindele-Bellos might have been placed under duress to implicate Gbadamosi, who is APC’s major target.
“We won’t be surprised if the lady is made to provide a doctored video showing Gbadamosi’s presence at the party,” he continued. “We believe this law will die naturally today if the government, for whatever reason or excuse, convicted our member.”
Meanwhile, state’s Publicity Secretary of APC, Mr. Seye Oladejo, dismissed insinuations that Gbadamosi was being held by the ruling party for fear he may constitute problem to the party’s re-election in 2023, noting, “I disagreed with that because he has never been a force to reckon with in the political calculations of Lagos. Gbadamosi himself issued a release apologising for what he did, but there is no sentiment in law. If such a character becomes governor, who knowingly violates laws, what would you expect of him?”
He urged the people to desist from exercising poor judgment over the matter but to think of the larger interest of the society, which the law in question was made to protect.
“I mean, we are talking of COVID-19 that the entire world is battling with,” he said, “how come a personality like Gbadamosi should violate such order?”
But as at yesterday afternoon when Gbadamosi was granted bail, it was not certain if he would be arraigned today, perhaps on grounds that some influential citizens in the state were trying to intervene to douse the political tension and fallout.
When contacted, the Chairman of Lagos PDP, Mr. Ade Doherty, said he would not want to aggravate the situation since he was not sure if the arraignment would hold today or not.
According to him, “I have contacted Gbadamosi, who told me he was granted bail and asked to report back at the station at 10 am today. He is not sure whether he would be arraigned or not; until that happens, I don’t want to aggravate the issue with my comment.”
But the biggest intrigues against Gbadamosi may possibly come from within the PDP’s fold, as some of top members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were nonchalant about his current ordeal.
As one of them said, “This is not about party sentiments, but what the law says that all should stay at home. In the first instance, Gbadamosi ought not to have left his house except he is on essential purpose of going to buy food or for medical purpose.”
He noted that COVID-19 has put the whole world on her kneels and people are dying in droves even in advanced nations, where the lockdown law was in place, adding, “The order therefore does not exempt anybody. We only hope he would be given a soft landing. Perhaps, he is arraigned but to begin to raise sentiment is not acceptable. Coronavirus knows no political party, individuals or whoever. We must face the reality.”
Meanwhile, the lackadaisical disposition of some members of PDP to Gbadamosi’s plight might not be unconnected with fears being associated with his defection to the party, which might displace some bigwigs eyeing the party’s ticket ahead of 2019.