Sunday, November 28, 2021

Baba Suwe: Comedy king accused many times but never found guilty

Baba Suwe brought laughter to millions of Nigerians through his art; scandals and ill-health, however, did not allow him expend his potential to the fullest.

• November 24, 2021
Babatunde Baba Suwe Omidina
Late Babatunde Omidina popularly known as Baba Suwe

Babatunde Omidina alias Baba Suwe was a Nigerian actor who lit up Nigerian homes via TV screens with exhilarating comedy from the 1970s up until the last decade when his acting career entered its closing stage. 

Baba Suwe is widely known for his ability to create humour in the most tensed and suspense-filled scenes while maintaining the integrity of the plot, an ability which earned him a nation-wide reckoning in Nigeria’s movie industry. 

Early life and career

Mr Omidina was born in Lagos Island on August 22, 1958, but originated from Ikorodu Local Government in Lagos State. He received his primary education at Jamaitul Islamial Primary School in Lagos and Children Boarding School in Osogbo before enrolling at Adekanbi Commercial High School in Mile 12, Lagos State, where he began his acting career. However, he obtained his West African School Certificate from Ifeoluwa Grammar School in Osogbo, Osun state. 

Baba Suwe began his acting career while at Adekanbi Commercial High School in Mile 12, Lagos and had joined a play group called Osumare Threatre Group. The group acted a few stage plays but attained popularity through its stage series titled Baoku which began airing on Lagos Television in 1970. 

By 1971, the group had become an house hold name in TV stage dramas. In an interview with Punch newspapers, Mr Omidina before his death said he was approached by some individuals after one of their performances at Lagos television and he was asked if he could take up a role at Nigerian Television Authority, NTA Channel 7, where he and his group recorded thirteen episode of stage plays and also performed at the National Theatre. 

“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,” Mr Omidina said. 

Baba Suwe hit stardom from NTA channel 7 from where he and his group started producing movies some of which include Ba o ku, Oju Oloju, Baba Londoner, Ko tan si be, Aso Ibora, Obelomo, and Elebolo. 

Apart from his acting skills, Baba Suwe was also a multi-talented film director, and producer. He directed and produced movies such as lfa Nla, Ayedun, Baba Jaiye Jaiye, Baba Londoner, Eku Meji, Ojo Ale, Agbefo, Oju Oloju, and a couple of his other movies and that of colleagues. 

Baba Suwe’s tortuous journey of scandals

Baba Suwe was involved in three major controversies during his career and lifetime some of which left a major impact on his personal life and career. 

In 2009, Baba Suwe was accused of killing his wife, Monsurat Omidina, popularly known as Omoladun Kenkelewu, who was also an actress. This accusation appears to be the greatest scandal that Baba Suwe was reeled into during his lifetime.

The reports surrounding Mrs Omidina’s death was sketchy but the wild rumours tainted Baba Suwe’s image. Some quarters said the late actress had vomited foam-like substance before her death, others said she had bruises around her neck at the time of the death. 

Even though Baba Suwe was not invited for questioning by the police, many people alleged that he was culpable in the “strange” death of his wife. Late Ms Omidina had two daughters from her previous marriage and her eldest, Omolara Kazeem, publicly accused Baba Suwe of killing her mother.  

When Ms Kazeem was questioned about the credibility of her claims, she said she had witnessed Baba Suwe and Ms Omidina fight too many times and concluded that if Baba Suwe did not kill her directly, then she would have died as a result of hypertension from their numerous quarrels.

Baba Suwe denied killing his wife, he argued that they were on good terms the night before her death. He also said the late actress made the food they ate and had planned to take her to passport office the following day.

Baba Suwe had not recovered fully from the allegations of having murdered his wife before another scandal struck him in 2012. He had left his house in Lagos on October 13, 2012 to travel to Paris where he had been invited as Master of Ceremony to the naming ceremony of one of his friends. 

Shortly after arriving the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, he was arrested by officers of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).

Baba Suwe was suspected to be in possession of hard drugs – specifically cocaine. He was arrested and tested severally for signs of hard drug ingestion but the results came back negative. The NDLEA went further to detain him for several days hoping that he would excrete the substance but that did not yield any result. Having not reached any substantial findings about their accusations against the late actor, the NDLEA released Baba Suwe on bail of N500,000. 

Baba Suwe sued the agency at the Lagos state high court over the embarrassment that it had caused him and requested One billion naira in damages. The court awarded him N25 million in damages, a judgement which was later set aside by the appellate court. 

“The judgement was set aside on two grounds, first that the agency acted in constitutional order and did not infringe on any of Mr Omidina’s rights and secondly that the Lagos State High Court from whence the judgement was obtained had no jurisdiction over the matter,” Mr Femi Babafemi, NDLEA spokesman told Peoples Gazette. 

Although Mr Omidina said he would take the matter to the supreme court, it was not clear whether he did so before his demise. 

Later in 2018, another news broke out about how Mr Omidina impregnated one of his junior colleagues, Opeyemi Aiyeola, and how the duo had a baby secretly. Baba Suwe was widely condemned for engaging in unprofessional conduct with his junior colleague before Ms Aiyeola cleared the air on the rumour describing it as false. 

“There is no such thing. He (Baba Suwe) is my boss and a kind man, he used to cast me in a lot of roles when I started. And I am grateful to him,” Ms Aiyeola told BBC Yoruba in 2018. 

A king cut short

Mr Omidina in his last years sought to become the king of his hometown in Ikorodu, Lagos. An attempt he dedicated his strength and resources to before he became critically ill. 

By the time of his illness, he had little or no money left, leaving him in the care of the Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria, TAMPAN, under the then-leadership of veteran actor Dele Odule. TAMPAN cleared his medical bills up until 2020 extending to the tenure of another veteran actor, Bolaji Amusan AKA Mr Latin. He was also flown to the U.S. with the support of Esther Ajayi, General Overseer of Love of Christ Generation Church, Cherubim and Seraphim, who donated N10 million to the actor, and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who also donated N1 million to treat complicated diabetes. 

Mr Omidina was rumoured dead last year shortly after his sixty-second birthday. The rumour was promptly debunked by his son. He was announced dead on Monday, after battling an illness that will not be disclosed. 

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