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Fans and media follow three weeks of bowel movements, which produce no evidence that comedian smuggled cocaine in stomach.
Monica Mark in Abuja
The Guardian, Fri 4 Nov 2011 14.09 GMT
The scene could have been taken from one of the larger-than-life Nollywood films comedies that made Baba Suwe one of Nigeria’s most popular actors. But a judge was deadly serious when she asked the comedian, who had spent three weeks in jail on suspicion of smuggling drugs in his stomach: “So you’ve been to the toilet how many times?”
Tens of thousands of fans, the national drug enforcement agency and two legal teams have been in thrall to the actor’s next release, so to speak. But Suwe’s failure produce a single bag of cocaine in any of the 18 or so bowel movements detectives have been closely monitoring has turned into an embarrassment for the agency – and a running joke in the local media.
Suwe, 58, real name Babatunde Omidina, is often cast as a goofy security guard in the wildly popular Nigerian film industry, known as Nollywood. But the roles appeared to have been reversed when, apparently acting on a tip-off, anti-narcotics agents arrested the comedian at Lagos airport on 12 October. They said scans revealed “multiple hyper-dense nodular particles in the upper gastro-intestinal tract, consistent with large amount of drug ingestion”.
Alternatively, according to other officers interviewed by a newspaper, Suwe’s bowel movements were consistent with overeating a local grain porridge known as garri.
Either way, prosecutors didn’t get the discharge they were expecting. After three weeks of drug-free stools, an unimpressed judge, Yetunde Idowu, at Lagos high court said on Friday the actor was free to go with 500,000 naira (£2,000) bail.
Nigerians following the saga have been full of helpful advice on TV shows and internet chatrooms, much of it revolving around preferred laxatives.
Others claim Suwe invoked the same powerful juju as the nation’s most famous musician. In 1974, afrobeat musician Fela Kuti immortalised his own experience at the hands of the drug enforcement agency with a now-legendary album. Kuti was hauled into custody as police waited for evidence of a planted joint he’d swallowed to avoid detection. Instead, with the help of his juju abilities – and fellow inmates – Fela went on to produce a clean sample – and the LP Expensive Shit.
Medical experts suggested Suwe’s case was clear-cut. “Assuming they monitored the samples properly, it’s medically impossible for him to have gone to the toilet that many times and somehow kept the drugs in him,” Lagos-based gastroenterologist Shola Molemodile said. “Or if the bags broke and his behaviour somehow wasn’t enough evidence, a blood or urine sample would have been enough.”
The case has cast an unflattering spotlight on the agency tackling drug-smuggling in a nation known as a transit hub for heroin and cocaine to Europe. “This raises the question of how many people, who are less famous, are wrongly imprisoned as I speak,” said Suwe’s defence counsel, Bamidele Aturu.
Traffickers are increasingly using the poorly policed shorelines of west Africa as a transit point to Europe as law agencies crack down hard on drugs rings in Latin America and Asia. In 2008, 3,655kg of cocaine and about 11,000kg of heroin were seized by authorities in Nigeria. Drug gangs also target old or disabled people as recruits less likely to fit traditional profiles of drugs mules, security officers say. In a shocking case in 2002, police in New York apprehended a 12-year-old boy who had swallowed 87 condoms of cocaine before boarding a flight in Lagos.
The agency has said it will offer an apology to Suwe; Aturu says his client may sue for defamation. “You don’t keep a man locked up for three weeks and then pretend an apology is enough. Their officials had better start looking for new jobs,” he added.
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