By Ugochimereze Chinedu Asuzu
The news making the headlines in recent times, in national and even international airwaves is the disheartening tell tale of the Nollywood-like brutalization of an ace veteran actor known as Chinwetalu Agu. The Nollywood star was subjected to dehumanizing treatment by personnel of the Nigerian military formation at the very busy and popular Upper Iweka, Onitsha, Anambra State, some days back. Through all the corners of the country, social and news media was agog with this saddening epoch, and some moments later, it was said that the actor has been released by the military authority holding him. The euphoria that comes with this heart lifting news was only short lived, as news of his re-arrest by the men and officers of the Directorate of State Service left many words unsaid. Simply put, the veteran actor is incarcerated in the holding cell of the DSS for days now.
The question which any keen mind will wont to ask is: What is the offence or charge upon which the military brutalized and detained Chinwetalu Agu in the first place, and for which the DSS is now holding him in detention? What seems most obvious is the reason for his arrest and detention which even the military establishment owned up to, and for which there statement has gone viral which is that he choose to adorn a gown made of the insignia of the rising sun, a symbol that’s synonymous with the defunct Biafra flag and identity.
On inquiries, the actor in his defense laid claim to putting on a cloth that has the insignia of the rising sun, though the design was a combination of the colours of the defunct Biafra flag, nevertheless it was only but a fashion design that ought not raise any eyebrows if all is well.
Assuming, but not conceding that the assumptions of the Army and DSS agents that arrested him, after beating him up, denigrating and debasing his personality and dignity was correct, that he was in reality adorning fabrics made of the defunct Biafra flag. To the above assertions, it is apropos to inquire, is it a crime to put on materials with the design of the rising sun? and which law criminalizes it?
Its almost a wise saying that he that lives in a glass house must not throw stones. The military, law enforcement establishments and by extension government is enjoined to ensure peace, security and enjoyment of rights deemed fundamental to the citizens. What now happens when such rights and basic tenets grounding our democracy are trampled on with such recklessness reminiscent of the dark ages or even more recently of the Abacha regime? The law is clear beyond peradventure that where there is no law, there is no crime. Since no law criminalized adorning clothes in what ever shade, then no culpability of any form may be tied to him. To be clear, IPOB as an organization was proscribed by the Nigerian government, but never Biafra, which as a living idea can never be extinguished.
On a lighter note, it is my well thought averment that what Chinwetalu Agu did, and largely succeeded in doing was to subtly protest the inadequacies, inequalities and reprehensible government attitude towards the Igbo by adorning the clothes made of the design of the rising sun, to which the Igbo people are ever conscious of. His choice of sharing bread to the hungry, suffering masses within the always busy Upper Iweka, in the metropolitan city of Onithsa was not only symbolic but hugely dramatic as it subtly depicted the precarious despondency pervading the Igbo nation since the most recent unholy scourge carried out by some fellows who are in a show of conspiracy termed Unknown Gunmen. In this same vein, the singular act offered hope and succour to the indigent, as the rising sun epitomizes assurances of a better tomorrow. As some say, no matter how long it takes the sun will always rise. It is in this assured hope that those traumatized fellows, who have been exposed to all the ills consonant with any failed society find succour.
The unrefined attitude of the army personnel that brutalized Chinwetalagu for putting on a mere gown with the design of the rising sun in essence showcases the brutality that has become the hallmark of the Nigerian security agencies. Is it not acts like this that led to the last nationwide protests codenamed #EndSars? That national outcry of the Nigerian people, especially youths, was against brutality by security agencies and their unedifying and indeed crude applications of obnoxious means of prosecuting their security roles and responsibility.
Chinwetalu Agu therefore has assumed the metaphor of the traumatized Nigerian citizens, that in essence could be said to have been roundly debased and stripped of all trappings of their fundamental rights to own opinion and express same in ways consonant with the letters and spirits of the laws guiding civility in Nigeria. While the attitude and action of the Nigerian security agents caught in the web of this narrative aptly captures what they represent, the present mindset and raison de etre of the Nigerian security agents, which has in turn been showcased to the entire world yet, that one can be brutalized by the military for merely putting on clothes of his or her choice.
Chinwetalu Agu was not armed with any dangerous weapon when accosted by the military men that brutalized him. Neither could it be said that he overawed the Police, if it could ever possibly be said that he contravened any law known to the Nigerian jurisprudence. His only crime (according to them) was that he was putting on a gown with the imprint of the rising sun; what crime is inna piece of clothing? Are the military not throwing stones from their glass abode?
Now, to stretch our assumptions a lot further, even without conceding to it, that adorning such wear were to be a crime, Is it not civilized and according to law that the army personnel who had accosted the movie legend would have simply handed him over to the police, or the relevant agencies, for prosecution, for having violated any known law or laws of the land. Is subjecting him to physical assault the most reasonable thing to do? Without putting too fine a word on the point, ours is most ashamedly a lawless society as that enabled the men in Khaki to, without fear of legal consequences, take laws into their hands and brutalize a Nigerian citizen in a most denigrating manner.
Come to think of it, Chinwetalagu by his action has brought to the fore the very reprehensible behavior of our security agents and agencies, who entertains not even a modicum of regards and respect to the basic fundamental rights of the citizens, brazenly and unabashedly riding roughshod on the citizens, treating them as conquered enemies without rights of existence to be brutalized and debased at will to satisfy their strong urge for ignominious impunity and brutality.
Now that the DSS has arrested and detained him, I wonder for what purpose. Wisdom will direct the government to thread with caution here in order not to be seen as setting a very dangerous precedent that would register in the consciousness of the citizens, particularly from the southeast zone as being endangered species that lack the basic rights of freedom of expressions, or even a conquered territory that is administered under separate laws enacted specifically to suppress them.
Agreed that we have a volatile security challenge in the Eastern part of the country for some time now, but then, it’s not to be compared to the magnitude of insecurity bedevilling the other parts of the country, yet the citizens there aren’t as beseeched and overburdened with brutality in the magnitude that’s become the daily meals of the Igbos, the high- handedness with which the security agents maltreats civilians in the eastern part of the country is alarming and sure calls for immediate stoppage and redress.
Chinwetalu Agu should be released forthwith, or made to have his day in court so that the government will have to establish his guilt or culpability. The law presumes him innocent until proven otherwise, and the chances of such prove ever coming to the fore not feasible. There is no crime in wearing any piece of clothe labelled with the insignia of the rising sun, neither is there any offence in distributing bread to the indigents to inspire hope and quench immediate hunger in an environment that is in dire need of such humanitarian aide and succour which is in very short supply. Chinwetelu Agu as such should be applauded and not victimized.
Ours is supposedly a country governed by laws, the extant laws of the land should be put to use to ascertain culpability or innocence, however brutalizing citizens by security agents over flimsy reasons or for whatever reasons at all is archaic and should be jettisoned, let us act as civilized people at all times for the betterment of our society.
Ugochimereze Chinedu Asuzu, a human rights advocate, socio-political affairs analyst, writes from Owerri, Imo State.