Recently in the bustling city of Onitsha, Anambra state, the veteran Nollywood actor, Chiwetalu Agu (alias Ogwu) was arrested and allegedly manhandled by the military for wearing a flowing robe bearing the colours of the Biafran flag and the rising sun. The military officers that effected the arrest were said to be on a mission. They belong to the newly-formed ‘Operation Golden Dawn’ in the South-east. The Biafran ‘madness’ played out like a movie around Upper Iweka Bridge in Onitsha. And since a famous actor was principally involved some folks going about their normal businesses might have thought that a movie recording scene was in the offing.
The military authorities soon issued a statement declaring that Agu was indeed apprehended for acts capable of inciting the public and causing a breakdown of law and order in a volatile region ruled by ‘unknown gunmen’. Watching the viral video online one came out with the impression that ‘Ogwu’ had deliberately sought to appear provocative if not demonstrative of his IPOB membership or solidarity.
No one knows for sure if Chiwetalu is a member of IPOB or not but the message he sought to deliver by wearing the Biafran colours went beyond showing ordinary support for the Biafran cause.
On the video Agu (65) was made to sit on a bare floor where he sounded defensive arguing that he had broken no known law for wearing what he wore. Of course he was right. Wearing the Biafran regalia anywhere cannot be labelled as a crime but the situation on the ground made it irresponsible for him to appear in such outfit.
According to reports Agu was in Onitsha purely on a charity mission. He is known to be regularly donating food items and money to the less privileged in our society. On that fateful day he was said to be sharing some loaves of bread when suddenly some military elements on patrol sighted him and pounced on him wrestling him to the ground and taking him away forcefully.
Upon his release from the military gaol in Enugu where he was taken from Onitsha Agu was reported to have been re-arrested by the notorious Department of State Services (DSS) and taken to Abuja for more interrogation and possible prosecution. Let the DSS charge him to court if they felt he had committed any offense rather than holding him illegally.
As Nigerians debated online the propriety or otherwise of the military action against the legendary Nollywood actor another video went viral online depicting a scene similar to the Agu episode in Osha. An old woman clad in Biafran colours had resisted arrest by the army shouting that Biafra was her land and that no one could force her out or take her away!
There is an obvious double standards in the way and manner Nigerians of Igbo extraction are treated compared with the rest Nigerians of other ethnic nationalities. Did it not amount to ethnic profiling, for example, arresting and detaining Agu for wearing just a gown whose colours bore resemblance to the Biafran colours whereas the Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, who was seen holding nocturnal meetings with the terrorists and abductors up north is roaming free granting incendiary interviews and advocating for amnesty for the criminal elements?
Whatever took Agu to Upper Iweka where he was cornered and taken into custody dressed like an IPOB fetish priest must have interrogated our collective sense of decency and social etiquette in terms of what we wear and how we comport ourselves in circumstances of creeping anarchy. The action of the popular actor was lacking in circumspection.
What we hold is that either Agu deliberately wanted to create a scene in order to attract undue attention to himself or he sought wittingly or unwittingly to ‘incite’ Biafrans as the Army alleged. Either way he misbehaved! He could have been shot dead by the ‘zombie’ soldiers specially drafted to the east to intimidate and subdue the violent struggle for self-determination of the people.
Many innocent Biafrans had paid the supreme price for demonstrating their commitment to the Biafran nationhood. Many more are languishing in many prisons for being at the ‘wrong’ place at a wrong time. Many had paid millions of Naira for their freedom following police/military blackmail or subtle intimidation. Yet despite these the agitation for Biafra is getting hotter and hotter.
While we acknowledge as a constitutional fact that it is not the duty or role of the military to arrest or detain civilians perhaps Agu’s arrest could be justified by the special powers bestowed on the ‘Golden Dawn’ soldiers. Again, while it is true that the constitution never frowns at any colour of dress one wears to anywhere or at any time the Agu case could be said to be tantamount to civil disobedience if not glorified rebellion.
Chiwetalu Agu knows that the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra is an outlawed organization, one the Buhari regime had declared a ‘terrorist’ organization. (But we know that they are not ‘terrorists’ but freedom fighters!) Therefore, it is irresponsible of him as an elder and senior citizen to want to court controversy unnecessarily.
With the gubernatorial poll slated for November 6 in Anambra State looming and palpable tension pervading the entire atmosphere in the region Agu’s ignorance or defiance beat one’s imagination. He should have been more circumspect in his public engagement or comportment. With suggestions of the imminent declaration of state of emergency in Anambra state still on the Buharian table in the event of chaos envelopping the state prior to the election all hands ought to be on deck to maintain the fragile peace.
While it could be argued that majority of Igbos are for Biafra there are those out there, our brothers and sisters, who are against. Since the establishment of the sovereign state of Biafra would clash with their politico-economic interests they prefer to remain inside a convoluted Nigeria even as executive or legislative or economic ‘slaves’.
I remember watching one of Agu’s comic movies in which he used the word ‘opprobrium’ repeatedly. Now, after his travails are over Agu could hit the studio and come out with a blockbuster movie titled “The Biafran Opprobrium”. Given his talent as a comedian ‘Ogwu’ could pull off yet another thriller (with himself of course as the principal actor) wearing the same ‘offensive’ Biafra-linked dress he wore in Onitsha during his ordeal.
He could win an award for dramatising that opprobrious encounter with the Fulani army of occupation.
We salute Chiwetalu Agu for the Biafran spirit in him. Biafra is an immortal idea. No matter how hard the naysayers might push for the idea to be neutralized it can never die! Long may Biafra, therefore, live!