Award-winning Nigerian actor Chiwetalu Agu was arrested on Oct. 7 for allegedly wearing an outfit showing support for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist organization in Nigeria that wants to see the Republic of Biafra re-established. Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, a spokesperson for the Nigerian Army told Nigeria's The Guardian on Oct. 8 that Agu resisted arrest when he was taken into custody but insisted he was not assaulted by the soldiers. Agu faces charges of inciting members of the public and soliciting for support for the IPOB. Agu spent a night in jail before the Actors Guild of Nigeria stepped in to secure his release, reports Sahara Reporters.
The army supports freedom of expression, Nwachukwu said, but he said Agu's outfit was a violation of a law that bans individuals or groups from inciting violence. "It is, therefore, pertinent to state that while exercising such freedoms, it must be done within the confines of the law, bearing in mind the imperative for peace, and national security," Nwachukwu told The Guardian. "For the avoidance of doubt and emphasis, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) remains proscribed. Therefore, any individual or group seen to be projecting and advancing the cause or activities of the group is viewed as brazenly challenging the constitutionality of the Federal Republic of Nigeria." Nwachukwu accused Agu of showing an "uncharitable disposition to negate peace and security in the region," which is why officials took him into custody.
Agu, 65, is a respected Nollywood actor, winning an award in 2012 for Best Actor in an Indigenous Movie. He has appeared in over 150 movies. The actor was reportedly in the middle of a humanitarian mission when the army took him into custody. In an interview with Punch published on Saturday, he accused the military of treating him poorly while he was in custody, adding that he shared a cell with another man who was chained. He described the room as "dirty" with just "torn mattresses" for the two men.
"I decided to manage it because I didn't go there to fight. I went there to be listened to, not to heighten the crisis," Agu told Punch. "This government acts too much like a combatant; why should you be a combatant when the person you are dealing with is a civilian and is not armed? The President should jettison his combatant approach and handle issues like a father because if the situation is allowed to linger, the agitation for secession would continue to grow stronger."
In that same interview, Agu defended wearing the costume that got him arrested but insisted it had nothing to do with the IPOB. "It (the costume) has nothing to do with IPOB. You can talk about the similarity of colors but it doesn't make them the same," he said. "In any case, in the North and everywhere, you have people who wear military camouflage; it is not a civilian dress and you allow them to wear it."
When asked if he supported the group, Agu said he wanted to see freedom for the Igbo people, who are indigenous to Nigeria. "Don't put them in bondage; you have no right to put them in bondage. We all came to fight for project Nigeria like the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, and Tafawa Balewa, but if you don't want the country to be one entity, allow the people to go their (separate) ways," he said.