On Thursday, a Lagos High Court judge put an end, at least for a while, to the charade led by the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to pin a drug conviction on Babatunde Omidina, the indigenous-language comic actor popularly known as Baba Suwe.
First, the court rescued him from the endless loop of forced excretion that had become a national punch line. And then after a few weeks off, evidently to ponder the ludicrousness of the affair, the judge was back and with a clear verdict: the NDLEA was wrong on all counts.
Justice Yetunde Idowu ordered the drug agency to pay Mr Omidina N25 million as compensation and to make a public apology to the actor in two widely read national newspapers. The reasons for her judgement: “the drugs agency had acted in clear violation of the actor’s human rights”.
We might not join Mr. Omidina’s many fans and family in wild jubilation, but we cannot resist a sigh of quiet relief.
In case you are unaware of the case’s details, repeated attempts to get Mr Omidina to excrete the “scanned” contents of his stomach were futile after several tortuous days. While the agency claims to have found proof of illegal substances through their airport machines and via their official testing clinic, nothing was in fact found on the actor.
We are therefore very worried that Ofoyeji Mitchell, a representative of the agency, went on to state that the same machines had caught seven suspects who had defecated drugs at the same time as Mr Omidina. Unfortunately, we are unable to assess the veracity of these ill-timed claims – the one test of the agency’s efficiency was Baba Suwe; and on it they failed on every important count, and colossally did they fail.
Evidently, it was all too easy. With a string of actors docked and jailed for drug offences, a particular rumour following Yoruba actors like a bad stench and repeated questions about the source of Baba Suwe’s impressive wealth in an industry defined by poverty, someone somewhere decided there was a wolf where it turns out there was none.
That is the most logical truth of the matter – and that is the shameful reality the NDLEA must now face. It has accused a man without any proof, and that flies in the face of fairness and justice. It has soiled the man’s reputation, wasted time and resources, put his family through untold agony and called its own reputation into question – when it should have done the honourable thing and let the man go the first time it found nothing.
“We hasten to plead with the drug agency to spare Nigerians the tomfoolery. It’s not a lawyer you need now guys; it’s an image consultant.”
Indeed, unconfirmed reports have it that the NDLEA has launched a whisper campaign pointing to the influence of voodoo on the part of Mr Omidina. If this is indeed true – and it is not beyond an agency that has wasted the time of a collective audience of Nigerians so comically over the past many weeks -then perhaps it is time for the government to commission one of its famous inquiries into the modus of the agency. How many more, without the benefit of Baba Suwe’s awe-inspiring name recognition have been put behind bars on suspicions of superior voodoo?
We thought Nigeria’s laws were clear? A man is innocent until proven guilty. The burden to prove guilt lies on the accuser. You cannot keep a man in prison beyond 24 hours as bail is his right. You cannot hold a man indefinitely in the hope that the facts will eventually lie in your favour.
We worried for a while, that things had changed – we thank the courts for putting our minds at rest. ‘’It is a very bold statement to all law enforcement agencies, that in Nigeria, our rights as citizens are inviolable and they must do their duties within the confines of the law,’’ said Bamidele Atutu, lawyer to the accused.
We join him in hailing this judgement as “a bold statement that will strengthen the resolve of Nigerians to constantly challenge any infringement on their rights.’’
Maybe Baba Suwe was guilty; and maybe he was not. Maybe he only outsmarted the NDLEA, and they are smarting from the hurt to their egos, and again, maybe not. That however, is not the issue. The arrogance and ineptitude of the drug agency is in sharp focus here, and henceforth. It has shown that in the face of incompetence, it would rather hold on to a suspect than admit that it made costly mistakes. This, in a free and democratic society is beyond deplorable. It is shameful. And it is completely unacceptable.
It is better for 10 guilty men to be set free than for an innocent man to go to jail.
The NDLEA has stated that it will appeal this judgement – convinced as it still is in its quixotic “proof” of Mr Omidina’s culpability. We hasten to
plead with the drug agency to spare Nigerians the tomfoolery. It’s not a lawyer you need now guys; it’s an image consultant.