Behind the scene | 5 July 2008 13:21 CET

I’m not a drug pusher– Baba Suwe

For over a year now Babatunde Omidina, otherwise known as Baba Suwe, has disappeared from the screen, a development which has made many of his fans to wonder where their beloved comedian is. Soon, the news in town is that he had been arrested and jailed in London for alleged drug offences.

But could this be true? It is not impossible going by the recent arrest of one of the popular Yoruba actresses, Taiwo Akinwande, popular called Wunmi, it is difficult to take such a news with a pinch of the salt. Hazeez Balogun and Oseyiza Oogbodo therefore went on his trail. They got him at last. And here is their encounter with the commedy merchant. Excerpts:

It's been a long time we last saw you in the movies. What's been happening to you?
I like your question, and I am very grateful to God.

This work I'm into is a very tough one. In a period of one year, I may travel out of the country twice, but this days, I haven't been travelling out. At least, this year, I haven't travelled out for once.

You see, what I know is that some people can do anything because of money. Atimes when people want to invite me to play a role in a movie, and they meet some people they would tell tem, “Ehn! You want to use Baba Suwe? He will collect all your money.

You won't have any left to do your work.” They were doing this underground. But I've always told them that anything good is often achieved with money.
I always tell them that I am the people's choice, I am a pioneer, I am everything, everyone should keep saying whatever they like about me, it doesn't bother me. When you are good at what you are doing, you shouldn't wait till people tell you that you're no longer hot.

Whenever I am going around in town, many people ask me Why they'd not been seeing me in movies for some time now, they ask me if anything was wrong. I can tell you right now that you will soon begin to see me again.

There are some work that I've done that will soon start coming out again. When you're not in hot demand, you have to sit down and ask yourself the next step in order to come out in a big way; you have to go back to the drawing board and map out your plans.

That is what I've been doing. When I come out people will realise that I'm a comedian that can't be pushed aside; that I know what I'm doing. Talking about comedy, I know what I'm doing. I know about comedy.

Anyone who says his work is good should go to Idumota to know his fate. If you have fans, you will know. When you go out or you travel out, you will get to find out how much people adore you. I know that people like me, and need me, and I know that very soon, they will start seeing my movies again.

It may not be like before. It may take a year before I release another movie once I release one.
The story in town is that you are sick and that you were involved in something shady.

At least you've seen me now. I am the one you met, not my elder brother or younger brother. You didn't meet me covered with a clothes, or lying down sick in a corner, or even overcome with cold. You met me hale and hearty.

There is a season for everything. If things want to take a turn for the worse slightly, it is only normal for me to tell myself that this isn't the way things used to be.

God should be with us. Like my office here, if you came at a certain time in the past, you might not see me because you would meet different sorts of people all wanting to see me. This time though, you came and saw me easily.

It is God's wish. If God so wishes again, he'll reverse things again to the way they were before.

I didn't smuggle cocaine. That they've imprisoned me here or there is all rumours. The little money I see from the CDS our people buy is enough for me.

I'm not rich but I'm not poor. My prayer is that God should always provide for us, and not let suffering be our portion. Since I've been travelling worldwide, I've never been stopped at any point of entry.

If the story in town is true, I would not be here. I pass through Murtala Muhammed International Airport, and the officials just greet me and joke with me warmly.

It's quite possible that someone amongst them called me into his office and inspected me with the camera or an X-ray device installed there. But when the camera sees nothing hidden on me, they tell me to go, as I don't go beyond my limits.

Are you saying that you've never had a problem with the police in London?
I've never had a problem with the police in London.

Everything you've been hearing that Baba Suwe is a drug smuggler is all rumours.

I've never done anything like that in my lifetime. When I go to America, I go to do M.C. at events, such as weddings, and birthdays. That's what they usually engage me for there, and they fly me all the way there from here because of it. And that's the job that I do the most.
some people say the money you're making from being an MC at events is so much that you don't feel the need to act again.

It's not as if I earn so much money from being an MC. You see, I can't abandon acting. I was born into it. Only that my father didn't take it as a profession, but God said that I would. My father is more humorous than I am. Most of the actors know him.

Another issue we would like you to clarify is that of your wife, Moladun Kenkelewu. People say you're no longer together.
If you go to my house now, you will meet her there. It was my wife that they first stopped using in movies.

You see, there's a certain trait in this our movie industry, if they see that a woman is married, she's responsible and OK, and can't be loose in her behaviour, our directors don't want such an actress.

They want someone who has time for them ,who can be on location for four days. Most of our wives can't do that.

They believe if they call my wife for a job, she won't be free, she'll always be making excuses to go and attend to her family.

My wife just shot a movie this past December and it's coming out soon. As well, this script on my desk is owned by her. So, we are not quarreling. It's just a rumour. People are hoping that we would quarrel, but they are just wasting their time.

What you're telling us is that some people are plotting against you in the industry?
They are plotting against themselves. Do you understand? Nobody can make me feel nervous. Anybody plotting against me is just wasting his time because God is watching over me. The industry is extremely different now from the way we met it.

Most people in it are doing things that you wouldn't expect of them. They are really running about unnecessarily, male and female.

I don't believe in running helter-skelter. What God will do, he will certainly do. What God has done for me, I pray doesn't ruin. All I'm looking for now is an addition to what He has done for me. So I don't believe anyone is plotting against me. If he is, he's wasting his time stupidly, and he will know that.

Still talking about the industry, can you tell us if you'll advise people to come into the industry?
It's a good industry. But the profession has been tainted. It always hurts me. Formerly, if I want to release a movie, I would have instructed someone to go and search for me a car that I like in Cotonou, and confirm its price.

Then, you could plan that you want to buy land and build a house because of the money you would make from your film. Everybody involved would make money. My movie once came out and sold 50,000 copies in a day.

Then, movies used to sell, and people could afford to buy ten movies, but now they can't. It's housewives that watch movies.

Those housewives abroad enjoy our movies more than those at home here because they can afford to relax at home over the weekend and watch as many movies as possible. But the video clubs are killing us abroad. They dub our movies in their homes.

Piracy. In Nigeria, there is no copyright. I can't even challenge anyone over my movies because, even right in front of my home, there's a video club.

Will I say the owner shouldn't survive, even though what they are doing is illegal?

How do you get inspiration for your movies?
By going out to record everyday. Some people are nonchalant about their story plots.

But let's be considerate to those who buy movies. Look at that shelf there. It's my films in it. I don't sell the rights of my movies, no matter the situation. I've never collected a Kobo from anyone to do any of my movies.

It's now that they've turned the profession upside down that I sold the film I produced, and I didn't sell it for an amount that pleased me. We used to make millions.

Nobody in the market now can buy a movie for N3m.

Those that have bought films for N3 million are regretting now because it's not selling.

we don't show our movies at cinemas the way they do in the developed world. What do you have to say about this?
That's a good question. Some of us don't know the difference between cinema and home video. If we make a movie, and show it at the cinema for about three times, and instantly put it on home video, it doesn't make sense. I believe any movie that is meant for the cinema, should spend about a year there.

Then, when I shoot my movies, I show them at cinemas all over, how can I quickly release them as home video? Anyway, right now, everything is so destroyed that we don't have both cinema and home video culture.
Some people say you can only act comedy roles, that you can't play different roles as actors should.

We understand our acting profession in different ways. I'm a theater leader to the core. I've been doing this for about thirty years now.

Now, a theater leader must be able to enact all the roles of those under his tutelage. If you want me to play serious role, I'll do so perfectly that you'll be shocked.

But when you've been seeing me as an old man, then you see me as a young boy, wouldn't it be as if I was playing on people's intelligence?

That's why I decided to stick with old man comedy role as I don't see any serious role I will play that people will accept my performance. But one day I will disappoint everybody by playing a serious role.
It is said that you don't read scripts.
How is it possible for me not to read scripts?

Is this not a script on my desk? Some I write their dialogue, some I won't. What I don't usually do is to follow up dialogue written for me. I usualy ad lib. I follow the script when it comes to movement and activities, but during dialogue, I have to use my own words. When I use my own words, they come out funny and sound better than what is on the script. For example, if you give me a script asking me not to let the child leave the room. I will act it exactly as you want it, but the choice of words has to be my own.

Do you see yourself as an actor or a comedian?
This comedy thing you see is in different forms. Someone like Gbenga Adeboye was a stand up comedian. My own comedy is that of acting. It is a different kind of comedy

Is Erin Keke your first show?
Oh no, I have been doing shows on Channel 10, on LTV, and on many television stations like that. It's just that Erin Keke was very popular and it actually won me a lot of fans. I was also doing stage performances all over Lagos State and around the South Western zones.

Then me and my troupe also were touring schools all over the region. I started my act in the times when there was professionalism in the business. Then we used to have tools of trade. How can you have a troupe without shekere, costumes, and all that.

I grew up in Lagos Island, and that was were I started comedy. I did not plan to be an entertainer, its in me to make people happy.

One day I was coming back from work, and I saw a woman selling drums. I bought drums from her, and started performing. Before you know it, people started coming around me. They always want me to perform for them. From then I started my own troupe.

Who did you look up to when you decided to go into comedy full time?
I did not look up to anyone. I just wanted to be an act on my own. I did not want people to say that I was trying to be like so so person. That is why I did my own thing separately. Someone who I can say inspired me was Baba Mero, he was not really a professional entertainer, but I always looked up to him. He was brave and could face any crowd. I never got to meet him or worked under him, yet he was someone I looked up to.

What is this rivalry between you and Baba Latin?
Please do not call it rivalry. There is nothing of such going on. Latin met me in this business, he is my son. Even he will tell you that, there is no rivalry. Anywhere we meet out side or on set, the way he greets me, you will know that he has respect for me. We have been together for a while now and I see him as someone who will grow. He is a son to me. You cannot say that I chased Baba Sala off the scene. So also you will not say that Latin chased me off the scene.

It is turn by turn.
I see that you have won a lot of awards
I will not like to talk much on that. That is just the work of God.
You are refered to as the King Of Comedy, is it a title you gave yourself or the people gave it t o you.

I was duly crowned the 'King Of Comedy' in the Kingdom Of Kosofe. I was crowned by the king there, it is not that I am giving myself a title. That was over five years now. If you look into my shelf, you will see a lot of crowns and awards. Today if any (Yoruba) comedian comes out with a style, believe me, he learnt it from me.

You are called Tinubu's brother, is it true?
Well if they call him my brother, there is nothing wrong with it, we are both Lagosians. Tinubu himself started it. Anytime he sees me, he shouts “brother mi, brother mi”, he's older than mi o. So people thought he is actually my younger brother.

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