By Hudson Ororho
AN Urhobo folklore relates the story of how the legendary tortoise (he is always invariably involved in mischievous stories in our folklore) had an amorous relationship with a married woman and was caught red-handed. He was beaten to pulp, and tied to a stick in the village square. The day was a market day, and the women going to the market at dawn, passing through the village square, rained abuses on tortoise. They spat on him and even threw sand on him as a final act of humiliation. Tortoise was finished.
At dusk, the folklore continues, as the women were returning, Brother Tortoise was still tied to the stick, drenched in his own sweat, his head now bowed from exhaustion and shame. He did not even look at the women anymore. Now, the same women who had earlier disparaged Brother Tortoise now took pity on him. “What has he done?” they asked. “Did he kill somebody to deserve all this punishment?”
Osun State High Court Judge finally drew the curtain for Professor Richard Iyiola Akindele with his sentencing on December 17, 2018. He was sentenced to six years behind the bars. Recall that Prof. Akindele, a Professor of Management Accounting at the Obafemi Awolowo University, was accused of sexually harassing a post-graduate female student, Miss Monica Osagie, by demanding for sex in exchange for upgrade of her examination marks. He was arraigned and tried for the offences of abuse of office, etc and convicted accordingly.
Perhaps, I should state from the onset, for those who may be anticipating my drift thus far, that the act of the Professor is most despicable – to say the least. Since the incident went viral, volumes have been published on the moral turpitude of the Prof., so that need not detain us here. He is the villain whose story has captivated us.
The victim, Miss Monica Osagie, whose boldness blew the lid, is the unsung heroine of the whole saga. For a woman of her station and sophistication, she must have anticipated what the impact of her disclosures will be. She knew she will be telling the stories of many Monica Osagies who had suffered sexual harassment in the hands of their male superiors, whether in the Ivory Tower or workspace. She has thus brought to fore the issue of female sexual harassment by their male counterpart as a topical issue and this is the real gain of the Prof. Akindele saga.
Now, back to Prof. Akindele’s ordeal. From the time the news went viral, NGO women groups hyped it, threatening fire and brimstone. The Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC whose main thrust, by the law establishing it, is to investigate and prosecute high-class corrupt financial crimes, took up the investigation and prosecution of a sexual related offence, a matter ordinarily justiciable in Magistrate Court. It went to the High Court. The hype paid off.
Since then, Prof. Akindele has suffered labour and legal dissemination. His employers, the obviously embarrassed Obafemi Awolowo University, promptly dismissed him from the services of the University. He lost all entitlements and perhaps the opportunity of becoming an emeritus professor, if he had been retired honourably. He was also arraigned in court and refused bail. Bail is at the discretion of the court. However, the trial Judge, for a non-capital offence, chose to refuse bail. The stakes were too high. Prof. Akindele was in the Public Court. Like brother Tortoise in our folklore, the women were still going to the market. They are yet to return!
Prof. Akindele was tried speedily. Quick dispensation of justice is what we clamour for. His lawyer, faced with the overwhelming evidence against his client (accused) struck a deal with the ICPC legal team to change his plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” to get some reprieve. Good advocacy. Was it not Oputa who said that there is nothing wrong in counsel accepting the obvious, but that there is everything wrong in taking sides against arithmetic?
In sentencing Prof. Akindele, the trial Judge refused to be persuaded by the plea bargain deal struck by the lawyers. The trial judge said: “We cannot continue like this. Somebody has to be used as an example. Even primary school pupils are complaining. Telling me to suspend sentence does not arise. Plea bargain does not arise. Maybe these kind of cases continue to occur because someone has not been used as an example”. Prof. Akindele became the example.
The lesson of the Prof. Akindele saga should focus on how we can raise and embolden more Monica Osagies. This will be the real deterrent. The deterrent does not lie in the “crucifixion” of the Akindeles. Prof. Akindele has paid far too high a price for his indiscretion. He has lost his name and face. He has lost his job. He has lost his retirement benefits-gratuity/pension. His membership of his accountancy professional body is in jeopardy. I wonder also if he has not lost the respect of his family. Yes, Prof. Akindele may deserve the punishment he got, but his family has equally suffered the punishment. The shame, anguish and odium that the wife and children have vicariously suffered will be unquantifiable. This is the “real” punishment for Prof. Akindele. The rather harsh sentencing of six years imprisonment adds nothing to it.
In sentencing, the trial judge has not only extracted the pound of flesh, as demanded by the law, but has spilled a pint of blood in the process. Ordinarily, a plea of guilty (whether or not by way of plea bargain) is a mitigating factor in sentencing. Perhaps, the trial Judge only heard the echoes of the women humiliating Brother Tortoise on the way to the market in our folklore. The trial judge, from the reasoning given for the rather severe sentence, was not prepared to listen to the voices of the women returning from the market. Perhaps, just perhaps, if the judge had listened, the pain inflicted on Prof. Akindele and his family would have been less excruciating.
However, like the Tortoise folklore, we are enriched by the lesson.