Baba Suwe awarded N25 million naira damages for unlawful arrest

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Baba Suwe

Baba Suwe

BY the time you are reading this, the last may not have been heard about the Baba Suwe’s comedy of errors or what may be described the melodrama of anti-drug pushing crusade. Set in a robust and beautiful plot and with a rib-cracking and equally confusing storyline, the two-man drama involving ace comedian, Babatunde Omidina, popularly called Baba Suwe and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) seems to be coming to a head but not yet, many episodes will still play out.

But for lack of an apt title to capture the play, it would have been on sale, with millions of Nigerians and people from without trooping to take a dive in the pleasure-laden comic play that nearly buried Baba Suwe’s, and has successfully cast a blight on the image of the NDLEA.

O yagbe ti, Igbe Gbigbona, Su’mi didun, Igbe D’owo or Shit Money are some of the tantalising titles which potential viewers will suggest to the victorious Baba Suwe, who on Thursday, 24 November, was awarded a N25 million naira damage for the unlawful arrest, detention and defamation done to his character and career by the NDLEA. The agency was also asked to tender a public apology to the actor in two national newspapers in 21 days, alongside the monetary compensation. Although the NDLEA has maintained its readiness to file an appeal against the judgement, it is believed that the compensation may be worthy given the huge damage that was done to the career of the humour merchant within a few weeks.

In a case that has been dramatic and well-followed by Nigerians since the first day when Baba Suwe and his lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, dragged the drug enforcement agency to court for N100 million for the unlawful detention of the actor which led to public humiliation, the outcome was simply not a case of no victor no vanquish. It was a case of winner takes all.

Baba Suwe, in the crescendo of the weeks-long play, would smile to the bank courtesy of a deux ex machina in the regalia of a judge, Justice Yetunde Idowu, who had since the first time of Baba Suwe’s appearance at the Ikeja High Court been granting reprieve to the man who drugs detection machines and millions of Nigerians have nailed for allegedly carrying hard drugs in his big belly.

Justice Idowu, standing on the point of law, had not been merely swerved by the public hate and solidarity that greeted Baba Suwe’s arrest and subsequent detention in expectation of a drug-laden pooh that never came, she ordered the release of the comedian after 24 days and in a judgement that has become first of its kind and an icing on the comic cake of Mr. Omidina, she has ordered a N25 million compensation and a public apology.

In the first scene of the act, played out on 12 October, 2011, when news hit the society that the popular actor had been nabbed at the International Wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja Lagos, having been detected to allegedly carry substances suspected to be drugs. The United States-donated scanning machine, Soter RS, was said to have seen ‘some Jonah of drugs in the belly of the fish,’ for Baba Suwe was a big catch for the NDLEA. He was said to be heading to Paris where he was billed to act as a Master of Ceremony, and in a development unprecedented in the country, he swiftly became a slave to public humiliation.

What began like a mild drama soon turned to a full-blown episode of humiliation as the entire country stood still awaiting the ace Yoruba comedian’s defecation. Two days later, on 14 October, the much-awaited super-star shit came but it had no trace of drug. It was followed by two more ‘shitting sessions’ which also had no drug and this marked the point where public clamour and doubt began to rise against the NDLEA, which many have said is not known for mistakes in their arrests.

At a point in the highly hilarious drama of the absurd, certain section of the media reported that Baba Suwe had allegedly defecated with 16 pellets of drugs found in his shit but this turned out to be one of the comic reliefs and the drama continued even as the dramatis personae remained unflinching in their resolve. Baba Suwe would shit no drug, the NDLEA would not let go, and the hoopla hoop continued from different directions. Many Nigerians began to demand for the actor’s release while the NDLEA, through its spokesperson, Mitchell Ofoyeju, also insisted that it was doing its job by still keeping the comedian under observation, saying some detainees pass out the drugs at fourth excretions.

Notable among the Nigerians that rose for Baba Suwe’s release were people from his constituency, the Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners (ANTP) led by its former president, Jide Kosoko. They demanded for the immediate release of their colleague.

While a group rose in defence of the actor, there were many Nigerians including his colleagues in the industry who chose silence as a way out of the quandary, this group along with several Nigerians eagerly awaited the justification for the agency’s allegation.

It was reported that the comedian refused to eat often, and different insinuations did the round in the NDLEA shit saga until the agency reportedly took Baba Suwe to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), where a CT Scan was said to have revealed a large quantity of drug in the comedian’s body. The agency had more grounds to hold on to Baba Suwe but that grip was not to last as the court ordered his release.

With more than six ‘shits’ behind him and 24 days of detention record under his comic belt, Baba Suwe shall be free, a scene acted by Bamidele Aturu and some theatre practitioners became the high point of the drama on 4 November, 2011, when the man was finally set free by the court.

The play, call it a NDLEA’s comedy of errors or NDLEA’s wobbling in a forest of drugs, has reached the peak, where the purgation of emotion will include parting with N25 million and where the comic relief will remain boisterous and hilarious, as many Nigerians await what Baba Suwe would do with the unexpected largesse which though huge, would have amounted to nothing if he had lost in the “Battle of Shit.”

Some of the actor’s colleagues in the industry have lauded the landmark judgement, while also declining to give much attention to the huge compensation and what the comedian could do with money.

According to Saheed Balogun, “the court has proved the actor’s innocence. I am happy for him and his family, they all stood by him.” On how the comedian should spend the money, Balogun stated that “it is his money; let him do justice to it. The victory has not only made him a hero, it has also proved that we are not drug peddlers in ANTP, as against what is being rumoured by some people.”

Muyiwa Ademola while speaking with Sunday Tribune, noted that “Baba Suwe has done well for himself in the industry, the melodrama has ended and the man should be allowed to decide what he intends to do with the money.”

On his part, a senior actor and one of the leading figures in ANTP, Chief Adebayo Salami, popularly called Oga Bello said: “I am happy for him and I don’t believe that the issue will affect his career. He’s old enough to decide on what he wants to do. The whole saga nearly caused him his career, but we thank God that he was able to prove his critics wrong.”

Yinka Quadri, also had this to say: “The judgement is a welcome development, not only for him but for the association at large. The court has ordered the NDLEA to pay him damages, whatever amount they pay him in the long run, I trust him to spend it wisely and plan ahead. There is a cause for celebration for him, I am very sure of that.”

Undoubtedly, Nigerians know that soon enough, a version of the man’s real life comedy is bound to be released, what they now await is no longer Baba Suwe’s excretion but the decision of the Appeal Court on the amount awarded in damages and a rib-cracking, hilarious and lampooning play on his travail. Nigerians also await a solid plan on how the money would be explored by the ace comedian to improve his act and if possible the industry where some people stood by him.

Anyway things play out, for it is not the end yet, as the NDLEA’s appeal could either lead to the upholding or turning around of the verdict, there is no doubt that this drama will be the biggest that NDLEA will act in years, as the searchlight of the nation has come to centre on the agency, leading to endless questions about its competence and functionality. With Baba Suwe’s arrest, detention, humiliation and release, a plethora of questions have been raised about who was in the right in the entire saga, could the scanner, which Barrister Femi Falana called second-hand have detected lies? What about the LASUTH scan result, could that have been manipulated? Can the agency ever wash itself clean of this great error and disservice done to Baba Suwe, who the court has declared innocent? Could the grapevines’ baseless insinuations of African powers at play hold any water?

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