It's been two days since the Uganda Police arrested fast-rising Nigerian artistes Omah Lay and Tems in Kampala following their performance in a concert on Saturday night. Omah Lay in a series of tweets expressed sadness for being in cuffs for just trying to entertain his teeming fans. Worse still, he declared that he's not being given a fair trail.
In what appears to be a web of conspiracies rather than strict adherence to the law, the two artistes alongside others were arrested for indulging in actions likely to spread infectious diseases. As it is known by all that most countries have cemented restrictions on public gatherings due to the spread of Covid-19, Uganda's case seems to be different. Not only are nightclubs opening, there have been crowded political rallies by the incumbent President Museveni and his contender, Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine.
"Truth is #OmahLay's arrest isn't about COVID. No! It's an act of shame by a corrupt regime that operates on double standards. He obtained a work permit & performed under police protection! Why arrest him? This as pro-Museveni artists stage street concerts unmolested! #FreeOmahLay," Bobi Wine tweeted.
Luk Owoyesigyire, the Assistant Superintendent of Police and Deputy Police Spokesperson in Kampala, confirmed their arrest in a thread of tweets on Sunday. He made it known that organizers of the concert were among the arrested people being tried.
Following the circulation of Omah Lay and Tems' pictures in a court trial, Nigerians and some Ugandans took to their Twitter handles to demand their release. #FreeOmahLay, #FreeTems have been trending with Nigerian artistes including Davido, Wizkid, Patoranking, Don Jazzy, Olamide lending their voices in the consolidated call for their immediate release. A PASS, a Ugandan musician, has called for the trial of the organizers, and not the performing artistes who got cleared to perform without the knowledge of the law against their actions.
Though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria has said it's doing everything possible to facilitate their release, the artistes and the other arrested persons risk a seven-year jail term.
Analysis by Abolade Akinkunmi, The Scribe Post Legal Analyst
Many Nigerians have condemned the arrest and have berated the Ugandan authorities for proceeding with the criminal prosecution. Many consider it a political move, rather an attempt to enforce compliance with the law in light of the current state of affairs in Uganda. While that may be true, it doesn’t make the prosecution illegal. A government can decide to prosecute whomsoever they desire and make a scapegoat out of someone even though they make no attempt to enforce it against other. That does not invalidate an arrest and cannot be entered as a defence by Omah Lay and Tems.
Can they be prosecuted?
Surely, Omah Lay and Tems can be prosecuted for their act of violating the covid-19 regulations in Uganda. A foreigner that violates a law of a country can be prosecuted in that country. Being a foreigner is not a defence to a criminal charge especially when you commit the crime in the country and the law that was breached is the law of the country. Hence, the answer is yes. Omah Lay and Tems can be prosecuted before a Ugandan court.
Also, Omah Lay and Tems cannot reasonably argue that they were not aware of the covid-19 regulations which forbade gatherings of such magnitude. Almost every country of the world has those rules in place at the moment. It is a separate question whether the rules are being enforced. As has being said, the fact that the Ugandan government is making a political move to make a scapegoat out of Tems and Omah Lay is not a defence before the court. Even if Omah Lay and Tems didn’t know that the act is a crime, it is still not a competent defence. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. A person cannot argue before the court that they didn’t know that their act was forbidden by law.
Can the Nigerian government intervene in the matter?
Many have called for the Nigerian government to intervene and request that the artistes be sent back home. Some have suggested that the Nigerian government should request their extradition. However, it is doubtful if it would work out. The Ugandan government certainly has the right to prosecute whomsoever breaches their law. Also, an extradition usually happens when the country requesting them to be sent over is the one who wants them for prosecution. In this case, Nigeria does not want them for prosecution and the Ugandan government has the right to refuse to grant an extradition if requested by the Nigerian government.
What legal options are available to Omah Lay and Tems?
There are some options available to Omah Lay and Tems. They could argue that there was adequate provision to comply with covid-19 protocols during the show or they believed so, at least. They could argue the attendants of the show were required to wear masks and maintain social distancing among several other covid-19 protocols. If those protocols were not complied with, they could argue that it was not their fault as that was not within the purview of their duty. The organisers could be blamed for that.
They could also negotiate with the Ugandan authorities and make a plea-bargain. They could make a deal to plead guilty and be fined without jail time. This would be beneficial to both sides as it is doubtful if the Ugandan government seriously intends to convict them. In the end, Omah Lay and Tems’ fan can all pray and hope that their star artistes are not jailed for trying to entertain foreigners.
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