Not so much has been heard of veteran Nollywood actor, Babatunde Omidina, aka Baba Suwe, for a while now.
Though in this new interview with Tofarati Ige and Joy Marcus, the actor spoke on his career as a thespian, his ordeal in the hands of the NDLEA, his late wife and other issues.
Read excerpts from the interview below:
Can you recall how you started your career?
I started my career when I was in secondary school. I was born in Inabere Street, Lagos Island, and that’s where I began my career. I started in a small way but at a point, I was told to register with the Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners. When I got there, I was told that I was too young to be registered.
They also said I had to join one of the experienced theatre practitioners and learn from them. I then went to (join) the Osumare Theatre Group. I told them that I had a group that I had been performing with prior to joining them and I was asked to bring members of my group. I then took my boys and we always joined them for rehearsals.
After we had spent some time with the group, I decided to leave with my boys and we continued having our rehearsals at the place we often used before joining Osumare. In the course of our rehearsals, more people joined us and we grew. Subsequently, we had our first major stage play titled, Baoku, at Amutan Playing Ground in Lagos Island. There were so many people in attendance, even more than we expected, and we got a lot of acclaim and commendation.
From there, we moved to LTV 8. While at LTV 8, we had gone for a stage play, and after the performance, some people walked up to me and asked if I was the one in costume that just left the stage. I told them I was the one and they asked if I could perform at their station, which was NTA Channel 7.
They also invited me to the National Theatre where we used to have 10-minute performances. We were then told to perform at their station. Their producer then was called Gani Kasumu. They really loved our first performance and we ended up recording 13 episodes of the programme. That was how the ‘world’ got to know about Baba Suwe and we became very popular.
People loved to watch the programme, Erin Keke, at 7pm when it was usually broadcast. My fame spread outside the country and people began calling me from different places in the world for different projects. There is no television station in Lagos I didn’t perform at in those days.
Did your detention by the NDLEA contribute to your illness?
Yes, it did. I believe I was framed up in that particular case. That wasn’t my first time of travelling out of the country and I had never been arrested for something like that. They took me to a lot of big hospitals and laboratories but nothing was found in me. The judge who handled the case later told the NDLEA that if they did not retrieve any illegal substance from me, they should let me go.
On the day I was arraigned in court, the crowd that came to witness it was so massive; you would have thought they came to see a movie. At a point, I couldn’t bear it anymore and I shed tears.
I was made to sleep on a bench in an office at the airport throughout the time I was in NDLEA’s custody. I usually ate three times in a day and I excreted more than 30 times while I was there; yet they couldn’t find anything. I was even taken to a place where they flushed my insides with water and they still came up with nothing.
But it was reported that you refused to eat regularly while you were in NDLEA’s custody.
That’s not true; I always ate three times every day.
A Lagos High Court ordered the NDLEA to pay you the sum of N25m as compensation. Have you received the payment?
I have never gotten a kobo from them. The case has practically been forgotten after my lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, died.
Aturu was determined to see the case to a conclusion. When he first took on the case, he called me aside and asked me to confess to him if I really committed the crime. But I affirmed my innocence to him and he believed me.
The people close to me knew that I was innocent. I had never seen cocaine until I got to NDLEA office. My job as an actor was enough to take care of all my needs, and I didn’t need anything else. Through my job as an actor, I have been blessed by God and I am well loved and respected.
But the NDLEA insists that its scanners detected the illegal substance in you. Some people even said a juju priest must have assisted you, which is why you did not excrete the drug. Is that what happened?
If there was a juju priest that could do that, I’m sure the person would be a millionaire by now. What could I have used that made them not to find anything in me; after all, they apprehend people every time. I have always stuck to what I know how to do best.
Did the NDLEA apologise to you in any way after your ordeal?
I never saw them after I left their custody.
Did your colleagues in the movie industry support you during that time?
We better leave all that to God because He is the only one that can judge. There are people who you think cannot speak ill of you but they are the ones that would be at the forefront of spreading false stories about you.
When you are successful at what you do, some people would think that you have added something else to it. It is people like that who weren’t happy that you were progressing that would capitalise on such an incident to dent your image.
In what specific ways did the incident affect your career?
It really affected my career and that is to be expected. Till this day, a lot of people still believe I ‘trafficked’ cocaine. Meanwhile, I am totally innocent of the allegations.
Did people, who used to work with you, stop associating with you after the incident?
No, that never happened.
Have you considered making a movie of your NDLEA experience?
Yes, it will be out soon. The title will be, Oya’gbe ti.
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