Nigerian troops have detained well-known Nollywood actor Chiwetalu Agu for allegedly inciting support for banned separatist movement IPOB in the country’s restive southeast, the army said.
Chiwetalu Agu, a veteran star in scores of movies for Nigeria’s film industry, was detained in Anambra State, according to local media reports.
The army said Agu was arrested while inciting “members of the public and soliciting for support for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)”, a separatist movement that agitates for a breakaway state for the ethnic Igbo people.
“Dressed in a very well known attire of the proscribed group, Chiwetalu Agu was picked up for questioning while inciting members of the public to join,” the army said in a statement on its Facebook page, referring to the Biafra half-sun symbol.
A video widely shared on social media appears to show Agu wearing a green, red and black tunic with a rising sun symbol, telling soldiers he is not inciting violence but only distributing bread.
He was later released, still wearing the attire. His supporters rejoiced online.
The incident comes as security forces are tightening controls in Anambra before a local election for the state governor’s office early next month.
Separatist tensions have been on the rise in Nigeria this year, especially in the southeast where calls for a breakaway state are especially sensitive.
A declaration of independence by Igbo army officers for Biafra in 1967 sparked a three-year civil war that left more than one million people dead from fighting or starvation.
The army said Agu had attempted to resist and was taken into custody, but dismissed claims he was assaulted during the arrest.
“Individuals or groups who fan the embers of violence are warned to desist or face the consequences of their actions,” it said.
Tensions are running high in parts of the southeast after a surge in attacks this year on police stations and government buildings killed dozens of officers in violence authorities blame on IPOB.
The separatist movement denies its armed wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), is involved.
IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu is in detention in Abuja facing terrorism and treason charges after he was brought back to Nigeria from overseas in June.
His lawyers say he was illegally extradited from Kenya, though Nigerian officials have given no details.
An activist for more autonomy for Yoruba people in the southwest was also arrested in July in neighbouring Benin after going on the run from Nigeria.