It now matters which colours you choose to adorn that if it depicts a defunct country; Biafra, it could be termed a symbol of incitement.
It was on October 20, 2020 at Lekki Toll Gate that we came to know that flying a Nigerian flag is not a guarantee for safety, and that singing the national anthem does not make one a patriotic citizen but an insurrectionist – an invitation for bullets from the army.
In the United States of America, where people show their displeasure on the American flag by burning or stomping on it publicly – an act that could be perceived as a disrespect for the country, yet, people are left to carry out these acts because they have the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
A Nigerian actor; Chiwetalu Agu wears a cloth made with the colours that depicts the former Republic of Biafra, got arrested by the Nigerian Army for “inciting members of the public and soliciting for support for the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).” They said he “dressed in a very well known attire of the proscribed group.”
The Nigerian Army under the Buhari administration is not only telling us that human rights to freedom of expression exists only in section 39 of the 1999 constitution – it is not applicable to the citizens’ actual right to freedom of expression. Views seem to be regulated as to what to express and what not to express, if not, the views may be taken “to cause mayhem or break down of law and order…and that it is pertinent 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.”
In a country where a section of Nigerians are allowed to violently express themselves in a brazen attack to the national security, get pats on their backs and ceremoniously welcomed back into the society. The authorities clamp down on the civil rights to self-expression or civil protest as protesting “is viewed as brazenly challenging the constitutionality of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The Army views Chiwetalu Agu as inciting the public with his colourful apparel that to them, challenges the constitution which prompted his arrest but the constitution has not empowered it to arrest him. Section 217 C states that armed forces are for, “suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.” I do not claim to be an expert in the interpretation of the constitution but Chiwetalu has not acted in an unlawful way that can amount to insurrection or causing social unrest that will warrant an Act by the National Assembly empowering the president to invite the army.
If apparels are now determined as incitement of social unrest or in sympathy to a proscribed group, it could also mean that the Nigerian Army will clamp down on many of such use of the combination of such colours and half of the sun emblem. Books, films, products and other history books and museums emblazoned with the colours and emblem may be inciting too.
The Nigerian Army may have forgotten that the proscribed group is not the Republic of Biafra which once existed and that even when the country was defeated in war and brought back into Nigeria, it was not a proscribed defunct country. Therefore, such adornment alluding to history should not be equated as an insurrection or an act of public incitement.
What Chiwetalu Agu did is an expression of political or social belief which is not illegal unless the Nigerian Army claims that those who adorn political party apparels and colours should also be considered inciting too.