On September 28, I was assigned my first court case reportage, at the Ikeja Special Offences Court. As a rookie journalist, fresh out of university, I was enthusiastic about covering a court story, more so, one that involves a celebrity.
Like every other Lagosian, I knew I had to endure the traffic gridlock from the road that links computer village to Oladipo Bateye road, Ikeja, where the Special Offences court is situated.
I eventually arrived 30 minutes before the court hearing began.
While I was seated in the courtroom awaiting the judge’s arrival, I spotted the popular comedienne; Princess, Yoruba movie star; Iyabo Ojo, and the man at the centre of it all, Olanrewaju Omiyinka, also known as Baba Ijesha.
At this point, we were all equal – there was not one ‘celebrity’ in court, if you get my drift. In the courtroom, everyone is equal.
Prior to this time, I always likened celebrities to demi-gods whom we only get to see on screen, or at fancy events.
The last place I had imagined to meet and sit side-by-side with a Nigerian celebrity was in court, and how much more in an open rape trial that has piqued the interest of Nigerians since June 2021.
Baba Ijesha is being tried for alleged sexual molestation of a minor, the foster daughter of his female colleague, Princess.
He allegedly molested the survivor seven years ago, but arrests were made on April 22, and this have led to a series of investigations and damning revelations.
Having witnessed Baba Ijesha’s five most recent court appearances spanning three months, and the revelations thus far, I believe there are pertinent lessons his colleagues and the general public alike can learn from his celebrated media trial.
Lessons for Nigeria Judiciary
It would be proper to first applaud the Lagos State Judiciary for taking the lead as the first state in the nation to establish a court to attend to special offences such as sexual offences.
However, I have observed that one Special Offence Court is not enough to cater for over 14,862,111 persons living in Lagos.
The increase in various forms of sexual offences and other special cases outweighs the court’s capacity.
As a result of this, not enough time is given to court cases; in a day, at a particular court setting, more than two cases are hurriedly attended to, resulting in adjournments.
This not only makes the average judiciary reporter lose interest in the case, it also makes victims lose hope of getting justice. Whenever a court case is adjourned, the look on the faces of victims tells a lot. You can see disappointment and a general feeling of helplessness.
Since September 28, Baba Ijesha’s rape trial has been adjourned five times.
The reasons include the absence of Baba Ijesha’s principal lawyers, the absence of the prosecution counsel’s witnesses and the numerous cases scheduled by the same court for hearing on the same date.
Isn’t this more than enough reason for anyone to lose interest and the general public to move on to the next biggest celebrity scandal on Instagram?
I understand that the judicial process, especially for criminal offences, requires time. You would agree with me that justice delayed could easily translate to justice denied.
The courtroom is always overcrowded, and sometimes even the lawyers do not have seats in court when they are late.
For instance, during Baba Ijesha’s court trial, on October 21, the doctor who presented the medical reports, was called into the courtroom from outside because the courtroom was crowded.
The courtroom is always at full sitting capacity; there were no seats. I had to stand up at some point because the courtroom had become so stuffy. Isn’t this enough to jeopardise the credibility of the judicial system? Your guess is as good as mine.
A courtroom should be spacious enough to accommodate everyone who wishes to follow the proceedings, live.
Also, after a trial commences, the court should properly attend to cases and do away with time-wasting activities.
The continuous adjournment of court cases would only prolong the case longer than normal, and ultimately, the public gradually loses interest in the case.
Also, some people believe that a prolonged case could make the accused evade justice.
Lesson for Nigerian celebrities
One vital lesson I’ve learnt on the job is that celebrities are humans too, and like every human, they have strengths and weaknesses.
The only difference is that celebrities own and control the spotlight, which could be burdensome in most cases.
All attention is drawn to celebrities, that they can not conveniently live their private life without it making headlines, because people look up to them.
Therefore, as a celebrity, you might not know who you inspire many. Thus, it is pertinent to remain a good role model.
Baba Ijesha’s case has proven that past events could come hunting one’s present and future.
Please note, that I am not inferring that the actor is guilty of the allegations. That is left to the court to decide.
The fact that he has been accused of this crime means that his reputation and brand has been smeared already. If he eventually emerges victorious, it is not enough to earn him all the goodwill he has lost.
Think Bill Cosby, the famous American comedian and actor, known to many as ‘America’s dad’, whose more than a decade-long alleged rape saga, led to his downfall.
Baba Ijesha is being hunted by an incident he allegedly committed in 2014.
He is facing a six-count charge of sexual assault by penetration, indecent treatment of a child, and sexual assault, which contravene sections 259, 135, and 261 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011, as well as 135, 263, and 262 Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015.
The actor, who belongs to the league of Baba Suwe and Mr Latin, opted for a quiet wedding in 2012 and is estranged from his wife.
He earned the moniker, Baba Ijesha, due to his ability to mimic an old unintelligent man in movies.
He shot into the limelight after starring in ‘Omo Orita’, which was written and produced by Saheed Balogun.
After several attempts to break even in his career, he finally found some headway but not before this messy scandal reared its ugly head.
Baba Ijesha’s open trial clearly shows that being in the spotlight does not mean that you are far above the law or ‘untouchable’.
The so-called fans would not hesitate to crucify you at your slightest mistake. This is a major takeaway from the recent scandals that have plagued some Nigerian celebrities lately.
Lessons for parents, guardians
Nigerian parents should learn to introduce body safety concepts and teach their children sex education early enough and make it age-appropriate.
Sex education is usually downplayed and discussed in hush tones in most Nigerian homes.
From the Baba Ijesha’s ongoing trial, we have once again established that most child molestation acts are carried out by trusted individuals to the family and not strangers as widely believed.
The child trusts and feels that this individual is a good person simply because they are close to their parents or around their homes.
Anyone could attempt to take advantage of the vulnerability of a child, but when properly schooled by the parents, it can be averted. Parents should have open lines of communication with their kids and never be too busy for them.
Baba Ijesha’s case, which is still ongoing, has been adjourned to November 19 and December 2, 2021.
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