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Funke Akindele’s brush with COVID-19 law

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These are unusual times. Social distancing is the norm and is commonsensical to avoid contracting the Coronavirus and avoid its domino effect on the population. The disease is a pandemic hitting hard even the most developed countries struggling to cope with it in spite of their industrial status and capacity. The deadly virus claimed at the weekend Chief of Staff to Nigeria’s president. Therefore, governments at all levels are creating awareness of basic hygienic practices and physical distancing. Both government and private companies have contracted celebrities to reach out to the people with basic information about this scourge. As it turned out, Funke Akindele, a Nollywood actress, who had acted as the face of Dettol informing the public of the importance of observing basic cleanliness and the need for social distancing in this period of COVID 19 emergency occasioning lockdown of major cities in the country, has been caught in the corona-virus law. It is unfortunate.

The awareness is such that even faith-based institutions have chosen to obey secular authorities and workplaces have been shut. As the trite saying goes, prevention is better than cure, even so for a disease that has no certified cure or vaccine. Unfortunately, in a streak of hedonistic indulgence, Funke Akindele, herself a brand ambassador, threw a lavish party ostensibly to mark her husband’s birthday with motley of invitees in clear violation of the norm of social distancing with a consequence of spreading the contagious disease that persons could harbour without being symptomatic.  A heed of the advice of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni could have led to an unnoticed outcome. The latter had advised in his presidential broadcast on COVID-19 what he called scientific conviviality involving only the key celebrants. This is certainly not for this couple.

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As expected, Lagos State authorities superintending the state most hit by the Coronavirus moved into action to arrest and arraign the couple before an Ogba Magistrate Court, Ikeja Magistrate District, Lagos, where they pleaded guilty and were accordingly sentenced to 14-day of community service and a fine of N100, 000 apiece for violating COVID-19 lockdown regulations. This incident, however, raises a number of questions about the moral characters of celebrated Nigerians. One, can they actually serve as role models for the younger ones? Two, are they committed to ennobling values of societal development? And three, can they be trusted to lead? Unfortunately, as the late Commonwealth literature laureate, Festus Iyayi, once observed, there are no heroes and heroines in Nigeria that too little good makes one. Iyayi’s assertion could be qualified to say that in a country with a vast moral deficit, little showmanship makes you a hero or heroine. Nobody cares to vet the character of the individual celebrity and so often those genuinely looking up to them for norms of national rebirth end up hugely disappointed as we are here in this medium.

Akindele went to school and perhaps forgot the certificate, which essentially emphasises worthiness in character and learning. In her conduct, she betrayed the absence of those two twin values that education ingrains in those who went through the process without question mark. Yet, we acknowledge that Akindele and her husband, Abdulrasheed Bello, have done well for themselves and the entertainment industry and that they have the right to private life. Nevertheless, in times of emergency, some rights are moderated for the common good of the community. Needless to say for a lethal global pandemic, moderation becomes imperative.

Again, we acknowledge that Akindele is an influencer not a politician; given our national context, societal expectations of the two categories differ. Akindele being a campaigner for social distancing ought to have been more circumspect and discretional. By a stretch of imagination, we could predict that very soon celebrities will take after some politicians who visit toyshops to slap women with impunity.

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However, we are disappointed and saddened by this unspeakable goof of a well and widely admired couple. It is the height of inanity and arrogance to have held a party under the prevailing situation. They were perhaps goaded out of the supposition that she and her acolytes, were above the law. The couple’s insensitivity and extremely poor judgment were overstretched to the point of imprudence. No sense of sober reflection in these times of COVID-19, which has paralysed the world. Many are dead; others are in hospital and living in palpable fear of the unknown. Then, a brand ambassador broke the norm and celebrating irresponsibly is hardly unforgettable.

All said, we believe we are all fallible mortals.  The sanction of the court is in order and should serve as perpetual reminder that being a celebrity carries a moral burden and not merely for ludicrous pleasure-seeking exactions. They should serve the condign punishment melted out by the Lagos judiciary. The effect is to the extent that the law is no respecter of anybody, at least within the Lagos State jurisdiction.

As a public relations messenger delivering public service message to educate the public on social distancing, she broke public confidence and of those who engaged her. Although Dettol disowned and noted that she acted in her own private capacity and not as a brand Ambassador of the company, this event should serve as a lesson to brand and marketing managers and modeling agencies to put on the table, a number of criteria that look beyond celebrities to choose the face of their brands. These times call for sober reflection and commitment to common good.

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