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Give The Legends Their Flowers: A Tribute To Baba Suwe.

A tribute to Baba Suwe nee Babatunde Omindina, one of the most influential and prolific actor/comedian that graced our screens.

A recurring theme in 2021 has been the loss of many beloved entertainers, locally and globally. For every emerging crop of talent, there almost seems to be a recall of a different class. Three weeks ago, Baba Suwe, one of Nigeria’s most prolific indigenous actors/comedians passed away. Reports suggest his death came as a result of injuries suffered at the hands of the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency 10 years ago. He died from a stroke and diabetic complications in his family home, Ikorodu, Lagos. He was 63.

Babatunde Omidina found the acting bug at 18 when a comedy troupe performed at his secondary school St. Claire’s Catholic in Osogbo. After this performance, he was convinced he wanted to act. He dropped out of school and moved back to Lagos to kick start his acting career. Along with a few other guys in his neighbourhood, (Mufitau Ilumoka, Sola Taiwo) he formed a theater company. Their first performance was at Amuto playground, Lagos Island. At a time when few other Nigerian actors were pushing boundaries as far as deep three-dimensional characterization, he created ubiquitous characters that would go on to appear in various sitcoms and in film. Perhaps this acting technique spoke more about his persona than most people perceived. Lauded as a bit of a square off-camera, the juxtaposition of the clowns he played behind it gives a slightly different meaning to his work. Forever the jester while maintaining a firm disposition.

For all the great that Babatunde Omidina did on the silver screen, the unfortunate details about his end reportedly began with the death of his wife, Moladun, in 2009. Mired in controversy due to the nature of her exit, he had become unenamored with the prospects of continuing life without her, around impertinent questions. His career had taken a bit of a stall like most senior actors and he looked forward to an early retirement in the U.S. He never got past the airport.

His year-long battle with the NDLEA began. A routine stop at the airport for a Customs search snowballed into a major national news story. Reports of Nollywood actors (who were notoriously poorly paid) leveraging their celebrity to smuggle drugs in and out of the country for some extra income were common. Certain schools of thought immediately set up camp there. Family, friends and die-hard fans naturally disagreed. More schools of thought popped up, some said he had employed traditional herbs and spiritual assistance to keep the drugs up his colon. The news cycle was enthralled. Photos of an X-ray came to light, clearly showing an obstruction in a man’s colon.

In typical Nigerian fashion, the NDLEA played up the humiliation to force him to submit. He had been subjected to cavity searches that proved unsuccessful and they were running out of patience. Their next tactic was the feed him then force him to excrete the drugs, stories about Baba Suwe’s poop made the news. After this method gave no results, the NDLEA was forced to release Baba Suwe on a technicality, but the case had barely even begun. With the help of his lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, Baba Suwe sued the NDLEA for 50-100 million naira in 2011. After going through the courts, an order was handed out by the Lagos High Court of Law, stating that Baba Suwe be paid the sum of 25 million naira. They never did.

Coupled with the death of his first wife, the ordeal left him in a less than optimum state. After several bouts of treatment, he suffered a stroke in 2017, rendering him disabled towards the end of his life. For a larger percentage of his younger audience, the story of Baba Suwe will always be clouded by the unceremonious series of events that plagued his personal life and career that began in 2011. This should not be the case.

Nigeria’s ability to besmirch is unparalleled, yet many hope that achieving acclaim and success can insulate them from the ignominy of being Nigerian and subject to our methods of operation. To have dined with socialites, politicians and performers for decades, and to have little to no support towards the end of one’s life is something we have witnessed. Whether it involves a fall from grace or a recession from the limelight, it appears that value is firmly placed on what individuals can offer and never their achievements. This is a narrative that needs to change. The phrase “give people their flowers while they are here” is thrown around often by our generation. Unfortunately, this sentiment is not always extended beyond our idols, even though it should be. For every forward step towards the development of each sector, there are countless lives we will be eternally grateful for, whether we realise so or not. Whether or not we touch base with the art they are responsible for should never diminish the respect or reverence we grant them when they expire.



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