On Monday, November 22, Nigerians were thrown into mourning as Babatunde Omidina, the comic Yoruba actor popularly known as Baba Suwe, passed away.
Before his eventual death, Baba Suwe had battled with an undisclosed illness.
Born on August 22, 1958, in Lagos, the actor was a force to reckon with in the film industry for years, starring in several movies and winning many awards.
The NDLEA ordeal
After years of limelight and goodwill, Baba Suwe's troubles began in 2011 when he was arrested by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, on his way to Paris, France.
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He was arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking after a body scanner at the airport identified suspected drugs in his stomach.
However, after more than three weeks in detention, and 25 bowel movements, the NDLEA admitted the late actor did not excrete any drugs, BBC reported. He was eventually granted bail after no drugs were found on him.
How I became crippled after my NDLEA encounter - Baba Suwe
Though the NDLEA denied it, there were allegations that Baba Suwe was tortured while in detention. In an interview with The Punch in June 2021, the late actor said he was rendered crippled due to his experience in the hands of the NDLEA.
“I have not forgotten about my issue with the NDLEA and I will never forget because I am still bearing the pains and suffering from that encounter. I am still affected by the inflictions they meted on me at that time."
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Speaking after Baba Suwe's death, Adebowale Omidina, the late actor’s son, also said his father never recovered from his ordeal with the drug agency, according to The Cable.
Similarly, Yomi Fabiyi, one of the Nollywood actors close to Baba Suwe, laid curses on those “who inflicted and supported the pains and torture” on Baba Suwe.
“Those fellow citizens who inflicted and supported the pains, torture done on you Baba Suwe because they have the tools of public service power are cursed and will never know peace," Fabiyi said.
He added in a post on his verified Instagram page:
“Using torture or unlawful, excessive force for investigation is the purest evil and wickedness to mankind. A gross human rights violation."
Baba Suwe drags NDLEA to court
After his release, Baba Suwe dragged the NDLEA to court.
In 2012, an Ikeja high court asked the NDLEA to pay Baba Suwe N25 million damages. The court held that the detention of the actor was a flagrant abuse and infringement of his rights, BBC further stated.
The court also ordered the agency to tender a public apology to the actor in two national newspapers.
However, the NDLEA refused to pay the money and went back to court asking for the suspension of the payment pending the determination of its appeal case at the Court of Appeal.
Justice Yetunde Idowu rejected the agency's application and ordered that the N25 million should be paid into an interest yielding account within 21 days, according to a report by PM News.
Yet, the NDLEA did not pay the money but waited for the appeal court's verdict.
Appeal Court dashed Baba Suwe’s hope of N25mn damages
In May 2013, the NDLEA secured a favourable judgement at the Court of Appeal in Lagos.
Premium Times reported that the appellate court quashed the N25 million damages awarded to Baba Suwe.
In a judgment by a three man judges’ panel, the court held that the award of N25 million to the late actor as damages for the violation of his fundamental human rights was “pervasive” and “wrong.”
Justice Rita Pemu read the judgement:
“The detention was not up to a year, what then informs the award of N25 million?”
“There was simply no basis for that; he was held for nine days. There was no evidence to attract such punitive damages. The judgment is not proper and therefore set aside.
The appellate court said Baba Suwe's detention “is not unreasonable.”
The court further held that the NDLEA was right in seeking an order from the Federal High Court for Baba Suwe’s continued detention after a computed tomography (CT) and body scan revealed drug deposits in his system.
It submitted that the order of the Federal High Court absolves the NDLEA of any culpability in the violation of the respondent’s fundamental human rights.
Baba Suwe heads to Supreme Court
Baba Suwe, through his lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, disagreed with the appeal court's verdict and said he would appeal it at the Supreme Court.
In a seven ground appeal, Aturu urged the Supreme Court to set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal.
He said that the matter before the court was a violation of his fundamental rights and a criminal matter.
The lawyer stated:
“As every arrest and detention is ‘based on something,’ if the decision of the Court of Appeal were right or sound then there can no longer be a substantive fundamental right matter based on arrest and detention."
While the deceased was hoping to get a favourable verdict at the apex court, his dependable lawyer, Aturu died.
Lamenting the failure to get the N25 million damages, Baba Suwe said in The Punch's interview:
“If my lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, was still alive, I will have got my compensation a long time ago because he is a good lawyer. He is also a compassionate person. The man was nice. When we were in court, he really tried. If he was alive, I would have been compensated.”
Baba Suwe: Touching video shows moment actor’s body is lowered into the ground
On Thursday, November 25, the veteran Nigerian actor was finally laid to rest at his Ikorodu residence in Lagos state.
Videos spotted online show that the actor was eventually laid to rest according to Islamic burial rites.
One of the videos showed the moment Baba Suwe’s corpse was lowered into the ground.