Chiwetalu Agu’s arrest: Much ado about nothing

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Azuka Onwuka

Last week, the Nigerian Army created another talking point with the arrest of Nigerian actor, Chiwetalu Agu, for wearing clothes whose colours were interpreted by them as those of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra. He was detained by the Army for a day. On Friday, it was announced that he had been released. He was seen in pictures with some fellow actors who confirmed his release. Some hours later, it was disclosed that he had been rearrested by the Department of State Services, which is the security and counter-intelligence agency of Nigeria.

In a chat with a PUNCH correspondent, the President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Emeka Rollas, said: “We are aware that the DSS has picked up Chiwetalu Agu shortly after the Nigerian Army released him.” In another report, The PUNCH quoted the DSS as saying that the actor was brought to its custody by the Nigerian Army. The spokesman for the DSS, Peter Afunanya, added: “Justice will take its course.”

I have been searching news websites and listening to legal professions on TV and radio to find out the exact crime of Chiwetalu Agu, but have not found anything of substance. He wore clothes of red, black and green with the rising sun. The colours are related to those of the Indigenous People of Biafra. The Federal Government of Nigeria has proscribed IPOB, which is being challenged in court, but it has never proscribed red, black, and green with the rising sun.

The Nigerian Army spokesman alleged that Chiwetalu Agu was “dressed in a very well-known attire of the proscribed group IPOB.” Those colours don’t “belong” to IPOB. Those are the colours of the defunct Republic of Biafra, and they are not banned. Those same colours are used by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State MASSOB, the Biafra Zionist Movement, etc.

The Army also said that Chiwetalu Agu was “inciting members of the public and soliciting for support for the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra.” The actor said he was embarking on a humanitarian mission of sharing loaves of bread to people at the Upper Iweka area of Onitsha in Anambra State. He said in a video while soldiers were taking him away: “I was sharing bread, ten thousand naira bread, sharing them one by one. No campaign. Nothing! I was sharing bread when they came.”

The treatment meted out to Chiwetalu Agu has been condemned by many individuals and groups. In its reaction, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria described it as injustice and ethnic profiling. The group said:

“The military and the DSS have clearly shown their inclinations towards ethnic profiling because on more than one occasion, the Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, was seen holding nocturnal meetings with the terrorists who kidnapped many schoolchildren and held them hostage for months in the forests but despite the obvious evidence that the said Ahmad Gumi made many television and newspaper appearances and granted extensive interviews including the one that he accused the military of helping to weaponise terrorists in the North-West, there was never any attempt on the part of the DSS or Army to invite him or arrest him for these treasonous acts of fraternising and colluding with terrorists.

“But the Igbo actor, Chiwetalu Agu, wore just a cloth with the flag of the defunct Biafra Republic which is not unlawful, the Army tortured him and thereafter handed him over to the DSS and the DSS is now saying that justice would be done and we ask, which justice? This is pure ethnic profiling and vendetta which is unconstitutional.

“We demand the immediate release of Mr Chiwetalu Agu by the DSS or they charge him to court so the world will see how low the country Nigeria has degenerated in the practice of apartheid policies by the current administration that releases and reintegrates Boko Haram Islamic terrorists.”

The reaction of the two security bodies to the actor has helped to further worsen the image of the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) as that which treats its citizens unequally. There have been instances when members of the various cattle-rearing organisations will threaten violence or even acknowledge that they carried out particular attacks on certain communities as revenge, yet such people will not even be invited by the police, the DSS or the army for questioning let alone being arrested. Under the regime of Buhari, Nigerians have been repeatedly made to see that although all animals are said to be equal, some are more equal than the others. This is one reason that has suppressed the patriotism in Nigerians.

Another point is that the regime of Buhari has used this attitude of trying to crush a fly with a sledgehammer to make separatist organisations stronger in Nigeria. In 2012, Nnamdi Kanu began to run the Indigenous People of Biafra as a splinter group from MASSOB. He also used Radio Biafra to try to win members. For three years, most Nigerians did not know about IPOB or Radio Biafra. The administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan did not pay him any attention to them or try to crush them. Then, Buhari came in on May 29, 2015 and started responding to comments made by Kanu as well as trying to shut down the radio station. All those actions as well as Buhari’s clear discrimination against the Igbo people made Kanu and his group to become popular within three months. The arrest of Kanu was the icing on the cake of the free publicity Buhari was giving to IPOB.

Chiwetalu Agu is a full-fledged adult. He is mentally balanced. He is fully aware of what he did by wearing the colours associated with Biafra. He knew it is his right to do so. He knew he could be harassed or even killed by over-zealous security operatives. Yet, he did what he did.

When Chinua Achebe travelled to Zimbabwe in his early days as a novelist (1960), he sat in front of a segregated bus but was told by the Northern Rhodesian authorities that he should go to the back of the bus as a Black man. He told them that he would not do such thing, that in Nigeria when we pay for a seat in the bus, we sit wherever we find a space. They let him be. He was exercising his right. He knew there could be consequences. He would not have minded if he was arrested and detained.

Similarly, human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehimi, regularly disobeyed military decrees that were against human rights. He always had his bag packed for detention in case he was arrested. And many times he got arrested and detained.

Those who blame Chiwetalu Agu for allegedly endangering his life and the lives of other youths who gathered around him miss the point. We should be telling our security operatives to stop acting like brutes, instead of always blaming the victims as we do in Nigeria. Their duty in the South-East is to ensure that there is security, not to be creating more tension.

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