WANJURAH: Why a convicted EPL Sex Pest would have loved to be tried in Kenya
The jury’s cross-examination of the witness veered into details that would leave a man praying for the deafness of his mother-in-law.
Had he worn his belt? What was the colour of his underwear on that occasion? Had he shaved? If not, what was the length, estimated in centimetres, of his private hair? What did his breath smell like? What did he say immediately after the act?
When it was all over and the jury had returned a guilty verdict, he sat hunched on the back seat of his Range Rover Sport, his black briefcase lying forlornly next to him. By looking down, he studiously avoided eye contact with the posse of journalists milling around the car like vultures waiting to pick him apart with irritating questions.
They still shouted loud enough for the questions to sneak past the rolled up windows. How did he feel having to sign the sex offenders’ register for the rest of his life? Did he nurse hopes of a comeback to professional football someday? Would he seek reunion with his humiliated ex-spouse?
He looked up long enough to see a journalist holding his father’s arm as he led the old man to the family car. The son thought he saw tears at the corners of his dad’s sunken eyes. Guilt overwhelmed him and he briefly weighed the idea of rushing to his dad’s support. He rolled down the window a wee bit to hear the Sky TV reporter signing off that Adam Johnson’s next game, if he ever plays again, will be for a prison football team.
That Johnson will be spending time in jail is a given. The only unknown that will be confirmed in three weeks time is how long. But addressing the Sunderland footballer after the jury found him guilty of sexual contact with a minor and of grooming her for sex, the trial judge warned it will be “substantial.” The law prescribes a minimum of four and a maximum of 10 years!
A country’s prisons tend to mirror its culture. In Kenya for instance, if you are rich enough, you can replicate the comforts of your house in Kamiti Maximum Security prison by bribing the right people. Or, like with Kamlesh Pattni, have your prison cell literally trans-located to a private wing of the best hospital in the country.
In El Salvador, public anger is threatening to bring down the government after a video of inmates enjoying a lap dance from professional strippers sneaked in by compromised prison authorities went viral. Don’t even mention El Chapo Guzman and his soap-opera-like prison escape antics in Mexico!
I haven’t checked which of the British prisons have well-formed football teams. I imagine in a soccer-crazy country, the madness extends to its jails. There probably exists a football league exclusive to prisoners that perhaps even allows for transfer windows. Thus, Johnson might still play his game and enjoy some attention as he cools his heels and his lust. But even the best prison will be a painful departure from his hitherto opulence.
As a Barclays Premier League club, Sunderland has perhaps as many supporters in Kenya as Sisi kwa Sisi party members. Few Kenyans knew of Sunderland existence until 2005 when the then Baringo Central MP Gideon Moi- now Baringo Senator- ridiculed the then Eldoret North MP- now Deputy President- William Ruto’s chances of becoming president as equaling those of Sunderland winning the English Premier League. Although on a good day Sunderland may beat Arsenal, then, as now, Sunderland was battling relegation!
Before his slide to ignominy, Johnson had everything going for him. After honing his skills in the Middleborough football academy, the talented winger dazzled his way to Manchester City club and a £80,000 (Ksh12m) weekly pay cheque. But after getting bored with warming the benches as an unused substitute in many games, he moved to his boyhood club, Sunderland, after agreeing to a pay cut. He was only taking home £60,00 (Ksh9m) a week!
With the money, came the usual celebrity vainglory. Johnson was living in a £2m (Ksh300m) house with his spouse and their one-year-old daughter. He once bet £12,000 (Ksh1.8m) for a lunch date with Katie Price, a busty former Page 3 model. Friends described him as a party animal and a serial cheat. He started flirting with the 15-year-old high school girl when his spouse was expectant!
Were Johnson a famous Kenyan, he would almost certainly get away with it. His money would likely mean the case never made it to court. Even if it were monumentally scandalous, the police would have found a way to exhaust the public interest in it amid make-believe investigations.
In any case, a vocal social media sharply divided along ethnic vault lines would have viewed his guilt through us-versus-them lenses depending on the accused and the accuser tribe. I doubt one could ever find a sober jury of nine Kenyans not hopelessly polarised by ethnic and political leanings.
Some, by invoking cultural practices, would trivialise the crime with arguments that a 15-year-old girl is big and old enough for marriage, leave alone sexual liaisons. A Kenyan MP facing rape charges once insinuated to a cheering crowd that his victim asked for it by visiting his private office “after working hours.” In the same breath, I imagine Kenyans would argue that voluntarily entering Johnson’s car, that was, of itself, the girl’s consent to whatever happened; that by exchanging over 800 messages, including explicitly flirty ones, she was anything but an innocent victim.
But as Johnson’s prosecutor persuasively argued, there are good reasons why Britain sets the age of sexual consent at 16. Below that, minors’ mind are insufficiently developed for decisions on the emotional whirlwind that is sex. The footballer’s guilt was predicated on his preying on the adoring girl’s vulnerability.
Yet as a member of the national team, Johnson was not just another 28-year-old testosterone-driven footballer but a role model with the unwritten obligation to behave appropriately.
To whom much is given, much is expected. As Johnson is realising belatedly, the higher you rise, the harder you are likely to fall if you slip. The British media and the general public have been united in unequivocal condemnation of Johnson. The country will adore you as long as you are doing the right things. But once you get it wrong, there are few sympathisers.
His humbling is a good statement on the ideal equality of all before the law. Unlike in Kenya where prominence apparently confers immunity for the most obnoxious crime, Britons seem to regale in cutting down to size the mighty for their transgressions. As one journalist quipped, Johnson now has a chance to recall how to be ordinary!
The net of choice and consequences is likely to be cast even further. Pressure is mounting for Margaret Byrne, Sunderland’s CEO, resignation as evidence emerged that the club retained him for 10 months despite knowing of his acts. In the process, he earned more than £3m (Ksh 450m).
That feels more like a Kenyan script of protecting one of the boys – and a few girls. I doubt Margaret will outride the tempest. This lesson would be well served in the unfolding Youth Fund saga where a suspect named by EACC as warranting investigation was nevertheless appointed the CEO of the Youth Fund.
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