The arrest and detention of Alhaji King Babatunde Ayinla Nurudeen Olasunkanmi Omidina, aka Baba Suwe, on October 12 2011, has continued to generate headlines. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) arrested Baba Suwe, who was on his way to Paris, after its scanner at the Ikeja airport allegedly showed that the popular Yoruba actor had ingested a large quantity of a substance suspected to be narcotics. Though Baba Suwe is said to have defecated several times since his arrest, he has reportedly not excreted any hard drugs. NDLEA said it remained convinced that Baba Suwe would eventually do so. An Ikeja High Court has ordered that Baba Suwe must be released on November 4 2011 if no drug is found in his body.
The Baba Suwe saga is a clear demonstration of how an issue that would, in other climes, be simple and straightforward, could become extremely complicated, even intractable, when it interfaces with what is often called the ‘Nigerian factor’. Both Baba Suwe and the NDLEA have questions to answer: For Baba Suwe, how come the scanning machine, whose reliability appeared to have been established beyond doubt over the years, found traces of substances suspected to be hard drugs in his stomach? Is it true that another scanner at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital confirmed that substances suspected to be hard drugs were actually lodged in the actor’s stomach? Is it true, as claimed by NDLEA and confirmed by the Vanguard of October 26 2011, that the anti-narcotics agency’s offer for the comedian to be released to his family and lawyers for an independent scanning was not taken up? And for the NDLEA, is there really no other way in this modern age to prove that a substance suspected to be hard drugs was lodged in the actor’s stomach than to wait for him for over two weeks to excrete it out? How would a similar case have been resolved in say the United Kingdom or the USA?
The tales surrounding the arrest and detention of Baba Suwe confirm what we already know about Nigerians – that we may lack everything but never a fertile imagination. Nigerians, no matter their vocations and stations in life, seem to have ready explanations for any issue – be it nuclear physics, landing in the moon or why Okada riders do not want to wear helmets. Problem is that some of these opinions, usually presented as facts obtained from authoritative sources, when repeated often enough through the grapevines and occasionally in the broadsheets, begin to sound like truth, or at best make the search for the truth more arduous. In the Baba Suwe saga there are those who swear that the actor had since defecated out the hard drugs but had bribed his way out of trouble. Others swear that he had used a powerful juju to hide the drug in his system. Yet others allege that he was a victim of a frame-up gone awry, and that the NDLEA is bidding an opportune moment to plant hard drugs it will claim was excreted by the actor. An additional twist was added to the competing tales when an online weblog (saharareporters.com) reported that Dr. Subhash Vijayvargiya, the consultant radiologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital who carried out the CT-scan for NDLEA, is an ex-convict in India who was “sentenced to three years in prison and fined 5,000 Rupees in 2007 after Indian authorities found out his centre had no records of any kind regarding existence and maintenance records of ultrasound machine.”
One of the consequences of these tales is that no matter how the saga ends, many people will remain sceptical. ThisDay’s editorial of October 24 2011 captured the cynicism that will certainly accompany whichever way the saga ends: “If at the end of this show of shame, NDLEA comes forward with some substances allegedly excreted by Baba Suwe, we will recommend a second opinion. Indeed a DNA test should be conducted to confirm that whatever the NDLEA brings forth actually came from inside Baba Suwe as it is most likely that some unscrupulous, overzealous Agency officials in a face-saving move could ‘manufacture’ evidence to prove their case.”
Another issue that the Baba Suwe saga revealed is that while in most parts of the world, the State increases its legitimacy any time it punishes members of the elite or high profile individuals like Baba Suwe, the same rule may not apply in Nigeria. In fact, in a polarised, multi-ethnic and low trust society like ours, while everyone agrees that the State should be firm, any attempt by the State to be as firm as theoretically demanded by the citizens paradoxically increases the suspicion with which it is viewed by some people. This means in essence that some of the incompetence we see in public officials may be deliberate ‘self-censorship’ as doing their jobs as they ought to may have unpalatable consequences for them.