Monday, December 10, 2007
from allincluded and www.ngrguardiannews.com
By Justin Akpovi-Esade
The Guardian (Nigera)
BARELY two months after the local media lambasted comedian Bright Okpocha a.k.a Basket Mouth for trying to fan the embers of hate between Nigeria and Austria with his alleged accusation of the former as racists in their land, Nollywood actor Nkem Owoh popularly called Osoufia, may have reaped the 'gains' of that seemingly careless joke.
Osoufia at a press briefing in Lagos last week alleged he was a victim of racist attack in faraway Holland where he went for a show with fellow comic Maleke. A celebrity magazine had reported that the comedy actor was deported back to the country in chains after The Netherlands police invaded the Grand Cafe venue of the show at about midnight, midway into the sold out event. "I am here to clarify some reports in the newspapers that have made the rounds recently. Some of the reports either got it all wrong or had some of the facts, but the reason for this gathering is to let the world know what I went through in Holland. Some said I was arrested, that is not correct," the actor began.
He told of how the owner of Grand Cafe, a spot he described as the hangout "of Nigerians, Africans and lovers of Africa in Amsterdam," got in touch with him to come over to do a show which eventually was eventually slated for June 15. All was well, the venue filled to capacity and the show was well on the way "when at about midnight, I was on stage when the police invaded the place. They came in large numbers, over 150 of them. They ordered the show stopped and asked all of us to move to a corner of the hall. I came down from the stage and told the officer that I was the main performer and if there was a problem we could talk about; I was shoved violently to the corner and ordered to leave the hall to the other side of the street. Before then, the officers had distributed leaflets which claimed that Grand Cafe was being used for criminal activities and they were there to fish out the criminals." The actor who addressed the press in company of his legal adviser said he had no objection with police trying to do their duties such as finding a criminal, but "I believe they should go about it in a dignified manner without trampling on the rights of others. My papers were in perfect order, same for Maleke who I contracted for the show. But the way and manner The Netherlands police went about the whole charade that day smacked of racism. The were so unfriendly, they were pushing and shoving people, including a diplomat from Zambia who came for the show. It was pure racism in action."
At first, the comedian thought his controversial song entitled I Go Chop Your Dollar, which many believed glorified Advance Fee Fraud otherwise called 419, was responsible for his ordeal. The song has gained world popularity especially in the United States and Europe where it is often use as signature tunes for talk shows on 419 as allegedly being perpetrated by Nigerians. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the nation's anti graft agency, was reportedly not comfortable with the actor's debut album. Rumours had it that the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC placed a Not To Be Broadcast seal on it. So, naturally, Owoh felt it was the same song that "has made the The Netherlands police feel that the King of 419 in Africa is in Amsterdam. But it was not to be, they (police) just needed an excuse to invade the Grand Cafe."
From across the street, the actor watched as Nigerians and others of African descent, about 500, were being frisked and sniffed at by giant police dogs, and were later loaded in trucks and driven away to various detention centres. "What got me mad was the way they manhandled Maleke. I felt bad and helpless as I watched from across the street the way they wrestled Maleke to the floor, cuffed his hands and took him a away like a common criminal simply because he sought for an explanation for the police action."
Osoufia became convinced it was a racist attack when "they started letting go the whites among the crowd. A woman who is from The Netherlands challenged them but she was just ignored and asked to just go. She was really mad from the way she was speaking."
The task of looking for Maleke fell on Osoufia who was further impeded by his lack of knowledge of the language and terrain. "It was a big ordeal to find Maleke as every police precinct we went to, there was no record of his arrest. I could not speak the language and I just must find Maleke because I took him to Amsterdam. It was later in the afternoon that he managed to get a telephone and called my number. He described his location and told us he was simply taken on a ride and abandoned in the middle of nowhere. You see what I mean that the raid was just planned to harass Nigerians and Africans leaving in Amsterdam?"
He immediately lodged a complaint with the Nigerian Consulate General at the Hague, who according to him was not too happy with the development and promised to take it up officially with The Netherlands government. Nkem Owoh had instituted a legal action against the Amsterdam police for what he described as a "gross infringement on his rights". Legal moves are on to free the over 300 people still being held in various detention centres in the city, he said. "The Nigerian community felt really insulted by the affront. They told me that the police there are fond of harassing Nigerians after the claim that former president Olusegun Obasanjo said during one of his visits that the authorities should send Nigerians home as he had jobs for them. I don't know if actually Chief Obasanjo made that statement, I would not want to believe that he did said that anyway. It was after television stations started condemning the action of the police that they started releasing some of the detained people. We also staged peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Amsterdam, which the television stations widely reported, the newspapers too. But there are still about 300 of them in detention as I speak with you who the police said they would deport, for which reason I do not know. It is a pathetic situation.
" The Nollywood actor, after his experience, has started a pet project aimed at laundering the image of Nigerians especially in the Diaspora. "The fact that I played I Go Chop Your Dollars does not mean that I support fraud in any way. That song was the sound track of a movie I did. Entitled, The Masters where I outlined the evils of fraud, it was so revealing that I started getting threat letters from fraudsters who claimed I revealed their trade secrets. I am caught in the middle, people are hounding me that I glorified 419 and the fraudsters on their part are angry with me! We are starting a project both here and in Amsterdam that would bring to the fore Nigerians doing great things in various fields of human endeavours worldwide, so that the world would see that Nigerians are good people who are doing great in other fields aside the one the world believes that we are only good at."
President Musa Yar' Adua would soon get the proposal from the actor on how to use Nollywood to launder the image of the country. "We are sending the proposal to the president and other relevant agencies. It is now time to tell the world that Nigerians are not all fraudsters, yes, there are some bad people just like you would find in every society, but the idea of saying that we are all bad, should stop. That is my present mission," he submitted.