Fellow Nigerians, I’m in one of those foul moods and please don’t blame me if I choose to spoil your day a little. Recent events have made it impossible for me not to be angry. Some ardent readers of this column recently described my apparent frustration with the Nigerian state. They are right in their interpretation and assessment of my intermittent outbursts on this page. Every right-thinking, and truly patriotic, Nigerian should be worried about our state of anomy and abject backwardness and, as a matter of utmost urgency, join others in rescuing what God created to be one of the greatest nations on earth. I believe we were not created to be led by a set of ruthless, recklessly wasteful and incompetent leaders. But the way we have been conducting our affairs seems to suggest otherwise. The manner we allow government to trample on our fundamental human rights calls for general concern.
Let me start with what should have been a simple and straight-forward matter, the arrest and detention of a popular Nigerian actor, Babatunde Omidina, alias
who was booked to fly to Paris, France, when he was stopped for a routine body scan by officers of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. According to reports, the result from the scanner showed very clearly that the talented comedian had buried within his belly many wraps of an illicit substance suspected to be cocaine. The news was as unexpected just as it was most shocking. Until that fateful night, Baba Suwe was a folk hero. He was a god of Yoruba drama who was worshipped at home and abroad. He was supposed to be on his way to Paris and was booked to be the compere at the naming ceremony of the child of an Air France staff in Paris when his ordeal started like a horror movie. That was the beginning of this incredible tragi-comedy.
All hell has broken loose since then. I didn’t know Nigerians were such great fiction writers. The superlative tales that poured out of the decadent Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos made me wonder why we have not produced our own Sidney Sheldon or James Hardley Chase since all these years. I read some incredible pieces on the internet and on Blackberry in particular. A broadcast on Blackberry on October 14, reported: “Just confirmed from NDLEA that as at 3pm, Baba Suwe had excreted 16 wraps of Cocaine. Scanner machine confirms more drug substance in his stomach.” Even Alfred Hitchcock would have marvelled at the delivery of such suspense. There was also a comic side to this report: “Unconfirmed Report from NDLEA Maternity Ward! Cocaine! Celebrate with us Baba Suwe is reported to have excreted 16 pallets of cocaine”
Yet another one wrote: “…Baba Suwe 16 wraps ‘cocaine’ delivery, NDLEA insists cocaine examination results inconclusive. Baba Suwe formerly known as Adimeru would now wish to be addressed as Ajesara. All former documents remain valid.” The same reporter returned later to write that NDLEA said Baba Suwe had excreted only twice in six days and there was a minimum number of excretions a suspect must make to fulfil all righteousness, or fail so woefully, which was three times. After the man had excreted three times, a new theory emerged that he would have to do it six times as some of his predecessors started delivering their babies by the fourth push after falling into labour. It was not stated if they needed any epidural support.
Somewhere in between this melodrama, some newspapers interviewed several Nigerians on their view of Baba Suwe’s tribulation. The responses were as varied as they were instructive. While some sympathised with him, most of the respondents convicted him with automatic alacrity. Some even said Nemesis had caught up with him. Some of the most vociferous voices were those of his actors’ clan. They claimed they had always suspected him of augmenting his income from acting by engaging in such illegal business. The rumour-mongers even linked the earlier death of his wife to this type of hanky-panky. There were those who blew hot and cold air at the same time. They couldn’t make up their minds on whether to support or reject him. Such is the fall of man. Only success breeds many friends and families. Baba’s Suwe’s cataclysmic fall from the pinnacle of the temple to the pit of hell was the classic definition of adversity.
In the midst of this sensational hullabaloo, Baba Suwe was wasting away in detention with no reasonable justification about why the NDLEA should have such monstrous power to hold our citizens, or anyone for that matter, beyond the mandatory time span stipulated by the Nigerian Constitution. If after one week the NDLEA’s investigation has remained inconclusive, the NDLEA should have gone to court to seek permission to detain Baba Suwe further. In fact, the Agency should have done that before attempting to detain the man indefinitely. The manner NDLEA chose to celebrate the arrest so gleefully as if it had a cast-iron proof of his culpability was most unfortunate. For me, this is the crux of the matter.
Fellow Nigerians, I chose to cry out today because it seems we are not ready to do away with the jackboot mentality in our country. In a civilian dispensation, Nigerians continue to be harassed by military and paramilitary agents. I have never seen an airport swarming with all manner of uniformed and plain-clothed agents like it is in ours. It makes a trip to the country very cumbersome and suffocating. In one airport, you are at the mercy of Health protection officers, NDLEA, Quarantine, State Security Service, Immigration, Customs & Excise, etcetera.
The biggest victims of too much protocol at our airports are media practitioners. The moment you fill media or Journalist under the profession column on the immigration form, you are likely to face a barrage of questions from the State Security Service. Your documents would be searched with a toothcomb. On one occasion a female officer was being over-efficient as she looked through my Nigerian passport. She handed me a form and insisted I must fill it. I looked at other passengers to see if they had filled any forms and discovered to my utter consternation none had been handed a form.
The unimpressed lady stood her ground and told me in a very firm voice, “Oga, you are a VIP and must fill a form.” If I thought it was a poor joke, the lady refused to release my passport and I also refused to fill an illegal form. Some senior officers had to step in to rescue my dear old passport from this stubborn officer. I politely reminded the officer that since I’m still a Nigerian, I did not have to fill a form. Depending on who you meet at our hellish airport, a simple journey can be turned into a nightmare.
We’ve witnessed so many instances where some members of the armed forces unleashed terror on fellow citizens in order to settle personal scores. A friend’s wife recently lost her pregnancy in the hands of some Naval officers in Calabar for daring to enter into an argument with them. Instead of showing some remorse these supernatural guys are still carrying on with the intimidation of the hapless lady’s family. Let’s even buy their argument that the lady provoked them to high heavens, is that enough reason to beat her into a pulp and stupor? Have we lost our sense of mercy and compassion?
The essence of my epistle today is to encourage our citizens to rise up vigorously against all manner of kangaroo justice. No matter what you want to say about the Boko Haram sect, we must all admit that the Nigerian state has created a terrible menace by summarily killing their leader. That stupid and erratic decision has put the lives of so many Nigerians and foreigners at risk. It was the same foolishness that gave birth to militancy in the Niger Delta. Ken Saro-Wiwa did not carry a gun when he and others were killed and buried like common criminals. What was our reward? A strange crop of militants who would not speak big grammar and write beautiful prose like Ken descended on our land with a vengeance. Before our very eyes, the Niger-Delta was turned into a theatre of war. And we soon realised that in Nigeria, the gun is mightier than the pen.
The big lesson in it is that the arbitrariness of our leaders must be resisted and curbed. Every Nigerian must be allowed a say. Every Nigerian must be protected under the laws of Nigeria. Even certified criminals must be given access to their lawyers. A situation where a man is arrested on mere suspicion and cannot be allowed to brief his lawyer is totally reprehensible and unacceptable. We cannot continue to pronounce Democracy in words only and not in action.
I’m sure it took the arrest of Baba Suwe to bring our attention to this unfortunate matter. Only God knows how many passengers have gone through this ordeal, how many passed the test, how many failed and how long they spent before they were released. In the cases of those who were heavily scandalised before they were released, as the case at hand about Baba Suwe is likely to turn out, what compensation was awarded to the victims? How would a Baba Suwe be able to clean up his name and image if he’s found to be free of drug trafficking?
I know why I’m asking these questions. It is because I know for a fact that Immigration officers at many advanced airports now have easy access to Google. It is certain that an alarm would flash wherever the passport of Baba Suwe turns up. Those who are laughing at this matter and over-dramatizing it don’t seem to know the big trouble awaiting Baba Suwe whenever he walks out into freedom. If indeed he carried the drug as suspected by NDLEA, then deserves whatever degradation he has suffered. But if he’s innocent, his life would have been damaged beyond redemption. He will carry that heavy Cross forever.
What a pity!
As I was ending this piece reports flew in again that NDLEA has finally done what it should have done since last week. The agency has gone to court to ask for permission to detain Baba Suwe in its custody for another 15 days. But what I find curious is the argument that the man will die if he does not excrete this expensive drug. Is it possible for a man to control this act? If his life is in such danger, are we going to watch the man die? Someone should please educate me…