Chiwetalu Agu has narrated his experience with the army and Department of State Services (DSS) following his arrest in Onitsha.
The movie star was earlier arrested on October 7 by soldiers for wearing an outfit themed after the flag of Biafra.
Locals in the south-eastern state of Anambra who witnessed the incident had said the army publicly manhandled Chiwetalu and fired gunshots to scare off the crowd that gathered.
The army had, however, denied assaulting the comic actor, adding that Chiwetalu was arrested after he allegedly displayed his solidarity for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a proscribed separatist group.
Amid the public outrage, Chiwetalu was released on October 8 after spending nearly 24 hours in detention.
He was then rearrested by the Department of State Service (DSS) for “further questioning” and detained for four days.
Chiwetalu would regain freedom on October 12 and members of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) hosted him.
In an interview with BBC Igbo, the actor said the army opened fire in Onitsha and moved him to Enugu for fear that his influence might embolden the youth to revolt.
Army wanted to incriminate me as an IPOB supporter, says actor
On his ordeal, Chiwetalu said he was questioned for 10 hours and his phone was checked for incriminating content.
“I finished work in Asaba and decided I’d head for Enugu. I got to Onitsha and was approached by less-privileged people. I ordered loaves of bread and started sharing. About five to six soldiers came and opened fire,” he said.
“Why did they fire gunshots? There were no armed robbers. I focused on what I was doing but they came with force. I asked them what I did wrong but, if you observe them, you’d agree their level of education was indeed low.
“Out of anger, I refused to follow them. They dragged me, not minding my age, into their vehicle. They were all armed. They took me to the army barracks to meet their head. I didn’t consider my outfit as signifying Biafra.
“It’s reminiscent of when Ojukwu called for the east to defend itself from federal forces, a revolt against oppression. We need educated people in the army because, if we had such, they would know their limits when hunting citizens.
“I explained but it seemed as though all they wanted was to incriminate me as an IPOB and Biafra supporter. They brought a car, took me to 82 Division in Enugu, and set up a panel of army generals one of whom was professional.”
He said the army in Enugu cut him loose after they couldn’t precisely point out what his crime was.
“They questioned me for nine to 10 hours, from when I arrived till daybreak. At this point, the more educated ones who understood the situation engaged me. They searched my smartphone for incriminating content,” he added.
“They said we’d do photo ops. When they released me and transferred me to the DSS was when the story changed. They didn’t even let me sleep well. By morning, I had yet to bathe when they got me in the vehicle again.
“You’d ask them what’s next and get no reply. I was sandwiched in the vehicle as we traveled from Enugu to Abuja.”
‘Sandwiched’ from Enugu to Abuja; army to DSS custody
In Abuja, Chiwetalu said he was questioned for days and occasionally left hungry despite his dietary imperatives.
“In Abuja, they handed me over and had me put in a room. I met a young man named Yahaya. He was chained and had sores on the head, suggesting he had been tussling with security operatives for a while,” the actor narrated.
“He looked like those unknown gunmen in the north, a young man. The treatment they gave me wasn’t the best because I explained to them I was diabetic and had an ulcer. I had foods I eat and those I abstain from.
“I would stay until the evening before a meal is served because where DSS Abuja is located was far from town where you can get groceries. They also questioned me; perused my phone. I was only fortunate because I’m educated.
“I fielded their questions. At some point, they were exhausted as they couldn’t find any basis to indict me. While I was there, concerned individuals were, already getting involved and calling attention to the case.
“They called one SAN who once worked with Chief Gani Fawehinmi; Chief Mike Ozekhome. AGN sent two executives to Enugu and followed up with two others in Abuja. We slugged it out until I was released.”
Chiwetalu: What the army couldn’t explain to me
Speaking in hindsight, Chiwetalu attributed the drama surrounding his case to a show of panic by the army.
“It was explained that, given my influence, if I asked the youth to attack, they’ll kill. Before I got to Onitsha, soldiers were on patrol in fear. With Onitsha’s population, anything can anger locals to turn against the soldiers,” he said.
“When they saw me and my outfit that bore the same colour as the Biafran flag, they panicked. Information went round that, should I be left alone, the youth could attack and burn down the army barracks.
“They came at the time when they decided they could prevent such from happening. But my outfit bore nothing related to IPOB or any proscribed group. They couldn’t indict me.
“They only feared that my fame could cause the Onitsha people to revolt against the army, especially considering the outfit I wore. They couldn’t explain it this way but I explained it to them.
“Even if Nigeria peaks, the Igbo must rise. The army did not beat me. I’m not intimidated. They wouldn’t try that with me. They tore my cloth, though why forcing me in their vehicle. They couldn’t explain what my crime was.”
Chiwetalu Agu after Release from DSS Custody
‘I was begged to be Enugu governor’ — Chiwetalu on shunning politics
Chiwetalu spoke of his political reservations and the need for south-east governors to protect the interests of Igbo people.
“Why am I not into politics? They loot; share among themselves. It irks my spirit that wealth belonging to citizens is diverted while the masses suffer. I can relate with the masses, those at the grassroots,” the 65-year-old added.
“I don’t want to live a kind of life that leaves me looting the wealth of the masses. God will punish me for it. Most of our politicians go around with an entourage of armed security operatives. Why, if you didn’t wrong the people?
“These are taxpayers’ monies. They begged me to become Enugu state governor. If I were to give an order as a leader in an attempt to overhaul the system, they might gang up against me because I didn’t permit looting.”