Posted by News Express | 28 November 2021 | 684 times
Possibly at the height of his career at the time, comic actor Babatunde Omidina, popularly known as Baba Suwe, was an unwilling participant in a real-life drama that was both comical and critical, and had devastating consequences for his image and vocation.
His death following a protracted illness on November 22, at the age of 63, replayed the dramatic episode. He had made a name for himself in Nollywood’s Yoruba sector. So his arrest by officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, had generated intense public interest.
It was October 12, 2011, and he was travelling from Lagos to Paris, France, which reflected his professional success. Before he could board the Air France plane, NDLEA officials claimed airport scanners had shown he was carrying illegal drugs in his stomach. They said scans revealed “multiple hyper-dense nodular particles in the upper gastro-intestinal tract, consistent with large amounts of drug ingestion.”
It was no laughing matter for the comedian. The anti-drug agency detained him, believing he would eventually excrete the alleged drugs. After nine days in detention, during which the agency’s officials waited for him to defecate, and during which he reportedly did eight times, there was no sign of swallowed drugs.
By this time, the attentive public was captivated by the affair. It was amusing in its seriousness, particularly the wait for the actor to defecate.
The agency then got the permission of the Federal High Court to hold Omidina for 15 more days based on scan results from a consultant radiologist with Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) presented to the court. The agency, which did not initially seek the court’s permission to detain him for a specific period, believed he would excrete the alleged drugs during the extended detention.
“There have been several examinations carried out on him and no banned substances have so far been found,” his lawyer had told the High Court of Lagos State that freed him on bail. This was after about 25 bowel movements and no excreted drugs.
The court later ordered that NDLEA should pay N25 million to Omidina as compensation for the “flagrant abuse and infringement on his fundamental human rights,” and that the agency should also publish a public apology “on conspicuous pages” in two national newspapers.
Interestingly, in May 2013 the Court of Appeal ruled that Baba Suwe’s detention was “not unreasonable,” and overruled the award of N25 million. The actor’s lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, declared that the decision of the Court of Appeal would be challenged at the Supreme Court. “We think this can also encourage the culture of impunity on the part of law enforcement agencies,” he said. He died in July 2014. The death of the lawyer, a human rights champion, dealt a death blow to the pursuit of justice for the comedian.
Baba Suwe was left to lick his wounds. “The way they (NDLEA) treated me actually ruined my image. My career has been dwindling,” he was quoted as saying. He described his ostracism: “A lot of people who once invited me to take part in their movies abandoned me because of the incident. Others who could have assisted me financially don’t want to associate with me again.”
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