Opinion

Biafra: The symbolic language of the one-man protest of Chiwetalu Agu

By Law Mefor

Few days ago, the ace Nollywood actor, Chiwetalu Agu, was arrested by the Nigerian Army at Upper Iweka, Onitsha, where he was sharing bread to his fans and admirers decked in Biafra colours. Following the intervention of the Nigeria Actors Guild, the day after, he was released by the army but rearrested by the Department of State Service (DSS) Enugu office, where he is still being held for the same reason.

The question is: what offence did Chiwetalu Agu commit? Is the problem sharing bread to his fans or wearing the Biafra colours or what exactly? The press statement announcing his arrest stated: “The Nigerian Army(NA) have arrested one Chiwetalu Agu while inciting members of the public and soliciting for support for the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)

. In other words, Chiwetalu Agu was arrested for what he wore and for his personality as a mega star who could stir the people and incite them for a purpose that could worsen the already bad security situation in Anambra state particularly.

When questioned by the soldiers, Chiwetalu Agu maintained that what he was just ‘the rising sun’. He made no mention of Biafra or the proscribed IPOB. But indeed, what he wore is the Biafra colours, not necessarily a uniform of the proscribed IPOB. The dress does not have to bear the word ‘Biafra’ or ‘IPOB’ to be recognised as Biafra colours and the perception of the people who saw him appear in it, first at Enugu and later at Onitsha, hailed him for identifying with the Biafra struggle. Even without uttering a word, Chiwetalu Agu sent his message loud and clear and the security agencies are holding accountable for it.

Many said that Chiwetalu Agu chickened out when he should have told the soldiers to ‘let my people go’ or ‘free Nnamdi Kanu’ or ‘conduct Biafra referendum’. But instead, he said that what he wore was simply ‘rising sun’. His critics say he should have shown fidelity to his conviction by calling for freedom for Biafra and Nnamdi Kanu. But faced by the Nigerian armed soldiers who are in Anambra state to confront the so-called unknown gunmen (UGM), which the security agencies insist are members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) formed by the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra led by Nnamdi Kanu, Chiwetalu Agu chose not talk of Biafra.

Talk of body language; Chiwetalu Agu’s approach of letting his action speak for him may actually be wisdom and not cowardice. Some people talk out of experience and some, out of experience, don’t talk. Calling for freedom for Biafra and release of Nnamdi Kanu is not a crime and nobody can take Chiwetalu Agu to court and prove it against him. What is criminal is taking up arms against the state, which is treason, and the simple definition of armed struggle. That is why nobody can fault any nonviolent struggle.

Possibly, majority of Ndigbo are for restructured Nigeria and may go for a sovereign Biafra if it comes through legal and political methodology if restructuring fails. There is, however, a section that believes that Biafra can be gotten only through violent struggle. Those who believe in nonviolent struggle for Biafra freedom really abhor the violence unleashed on the southeast of late and those who want ‘Biafra now’ see those who do not want violent struggle for Biafra freedom as dogs in the manger, and stumbling blocks who readily condemn those who are willing for action and putting their lives on the line.

Some even talk of the value of “A Common Hate” , a poem by the poet Denise Brutus .In this poem, the poet points out that a common hatred by others should increase the love of a people for themselves and unite them more than ever before. To them therefore, Ndigbo must unite and support the Biafra struggle and defeat the common enemy who is inflicting hatred and marginalisation on Ndigbo in Nigeria. To this type of Biafra agitators, Ndigbo, regardless of their position and political leanings and social statuses, are all casualties of this hatred and marginalisation, as also intoned by the writings of Chinua Achebe.

Truly, there is no doubt that there is wisdom and success in the power of unity but the issue of getting Biafra through violence has been a sharp dividing line between the over 30 Biafra agitation groups, most of whom believe in nonviolent struggle for Biafra liberation.

Some argue that Chiwetalu Agu did not show discretion and ridiculed himself by wearing Biafra colours, yet refusing to defend it when arrested by the army; while others believe Chiwetalu Agu has said enough by adorning the Biafra colours at all, which no Nigerian celebrity has attempted so far. He didn’t have to make his mark any better by demanding a referendum, freedom for his people and calling for the release of Nnamdi Kanu.

Those who argue that he chickened out when he was arrested for denying everything he was fighting for, including even the cloth on his own body, discount language of silence, and symbolism. After all, apart from the colours Agu adorned, Biafra is also known as ‘ the land of rising sun’. The Idea of Language as symbolism and symbolic language, generally, is talking about how symbols can stand for something else, how they can be used to communicate, and how they can be imbued with meaning. The Biafra regalia worn by Chiwetalu Agu is therefore a perfect symbolic language, which has spoken louder than words.

Chiwetalu Agu’s approach is reminiscent of the trial of Jesus Christ, whereupon Pilate asked him: ‘Are you the son of God?’ to which Christ replied “you have said so’. Agu’s case is therefore not to be condemned but seen as a classic civil disobedience action, and demonstration of how nonviolent struggle can be symbolically carried to minimise collateral damages, especially deaths occasioned by violent confrontations with the state agents, who are known to be irrationally brutal in our clime.

Finally, Biafra colours are not proscribed in Nigeria. The Biafra colours worn by Chiwetalu Agu does not belong exclusively to IPOB and the IPOB is not inscribed on the dress. Chiwetalu Agu should therefore be quickly released to save the nation further embarrassment. He committed no offence by protesting using symbolic language. It is part of his inalienable human rights, the rights persons enjoy for being human and upheld in democratic societies.

***Dr. Law Mefor is a Senior Fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; Tel.: +234- 905 642 4375 E-mail: [email protected]; follow him on twitter:@LawMefor1.

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