- October 8, 2021
- Posted by: Stephen Azubuike
- Category: Opinions
On 7 October 2021, Nollywood actor, Chiwetalu Agu, was at Upper Iweka, Onitsha, Anambra State. He was not on a movie set. According to him, he was on a charity mission, sharing bread to the hungry.
He was accosted by Nigerian soldiers. But they were not interested in the bread.
The soldiers were interested in Chiwetalu Agu’s outfit. The popular Actor was dressed in a trouser and top (sewed like a native attire). The entire dress was designed in the colours of the Biafran Flag.
The soldiers arrested him.
It was however alleged by the Army that the veteran Actor was arrested for “Inciting members of the public and soliciting support for the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).” Apparently, the only available evidence for the alleged incitement was the dress put on by the Actor.
In the absence of any other evidence, the Nigerian Army cannot reasonably sustain the allegation that Chiwetalu Agu has contravened any law in Nigeria, for compelling reasons. The Nigerian Army is quite aware that the Biafran ideology had existed long before IPOB was found. Aside IPOB, there are other movements established for advancing the quest for self-determination by many people from the South East region in Nigeria – A quest which led to the Civil War known as The Biafran War. For instance, we have the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Biafra Independence Movement (BIM), etc.
IPOB was proscribed in controversial circumstances. IPOB, just like these other Movements, adopted the use of the colours of the Biafran Flag. The Biafran ideology can never be proscribed because the right to press for self-determination is a valid right, universally acclaimed. It is not criminal. Putting on clothes designed in the colours of the Biafran Flag is not criminal.
Was Chiwetalu Agu insensitive?
Chiwetalu Agu might be accused of being insensitive given the level of tension in the South East region presently. Putting on an outfit that represents Biafra may appear like a “trouble ticket.”
The main reason anyone may accuse the Actor of “asking for trouble” is that except you want to risk your life, Nigerian security forces do not particularly enjoy public trust. We have seen too many distasteful cases of police and army brutalities.
So, anyone who understand what it means to reasonably play safe is expected to stay fully out of trouble. Human rights in Nigeria is not always fully guaranteed. Getting compensation for breach of human rights by government security agencies is a wild goose chase. The compensation often ends in court pronouncements as published in the law reports.
If Chiwetalu Agu desired to publicly identify with the Biafran ideology like he seemed to have done, he ought to be more brave. He appeared to deny Biafra when he said:
What I’m wearing is a civil dress. This is not Biafran wear, it is a rising sun and not Eastern Security outfit… This sun on the dress I’m wearing is just a rising sun because I believe I must rise…
What the Army is expected to do
But the valid question remains, what is the Nigerian Army expected to do by their military presence in the region? The answer is simple. The Nigerian Army is expected to pay close attention to every individual or group of individuals parading the streets. If they come out with flags or dress in Biafran colours marching, without any weapon or threat of violence, the Army have no business arresting any one of them or harassing them.
Thus, merely sighting Chiwetalu Agu on his Biafran attire is not sufficient reason for his arrest.
Beyond that, it is equally understandable that there have been several cases of killings and destruction of lives and properties in the South East, attributed to IPOB and the Eastern Security Network (ESN) as well as reported cases of gun battles between ESN and the Nigerian Army. These remain unfortunate.
Undoubtedly, the Nigerian security forces have the mandate to quell any uprising in any part of Nigeria. This is a lawful obligation which must be lawfully executed.
Perhaps, in the heat of the tension, this may not be the most convenient moment for Chiwetalu Agu to appear in Biafran colours. The Biafran agitation is a peaceful agitation. It does not and should not call for tension. Those who truly desire the right to self-determination must demand it peacefully. Wisdom dictates that in demanding the right, any violent conduct must be shunned.
But Chiwetalu Agu was not violent. He was alone. He was not marching in protest. He appeared peaceful. The soldiers have every reason to ignore him but monitor every movement around him to ensure there is no threat of violence or riot. Instead of arresting him like a criminal, the soldiers could have addressed him when they accosted him.
From the reports, the Nigerian Army released him within 24 hours of his arrest. But the Department of Security Services (DSS) have allegedly picked him up. In a decent society, it is better to be picked up by security forces than by kidnappers, bandits, terrorists or Unknown Gun Men. We expect the security forces to be civil in handling Chiwetalu Agu.
The public would be interested in knowing why the Actor was allegedly rearrested. If he committed any crime in the opinion of the security agents, he should be tried. Nobody should be unlawful held. It is against the Nigerian Constitution, the supreme law of the land.
Meanwhile, the amount of energy and resources being spent by the Nigerian Government in an attempt to bury the Biafran ideology could have been directed at ensuring an end to discrimination, sectional favouritism, marginalization; respect for rule of law and human rights, even distribution of resources, economic development, peace, and progress. Upholding these values is the most potent weapon in giving the entire South East region and other regions a great sense of belonging, and Nigeria will be better.