Almost fifty years after the war that nearly broke up Nigeria, Biafra is rising again out of the dust and it is bringing to life some dead and forgotten truths and facts about the war. Some theories of secession emphasize a general right of secession for any reason (“Choice Theory”) while others emphasize that secession should be considered only to rectify grave injustices (“Just Cause Theory”). It is therefore on the basis of one or both of these theories that some nations decided to break out from being under one rule. Pakistan and Bangladesh broke out of India, Sudan separated into South Sudan and Sudan, the Kingdom of Malaya too had its own issues leading to the division of the country into different countries called Singapore and Malaysia. Having fought and lost the first time, Biafra is citing grave injustice as its major reason for resurrecting its agenda of breakout and preparing to fight for succession.
Who are Biafrans?
when you talk about Biafrans you are referring to the inhabitants of the South-East Nigeria who were mostly the Igbos. The group pursued their desire for secession due to economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions among the various people of Nigeria. Biafra as a territory existed long before the amalgamation and independence of Nigeria as a republic but it will be said that the group fully came to lime light in May 30 1967 when it publicly declared her secession from the binding forces of the federal Republic of Nigeria. The Biafran nation had a total number of 25 provinces covering the following Nigerian States: Abia, Anambara, Delta, Ebonyi, Imo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River with Enugu state serving as its capital.
Little is known about the literal meaning of the word Biafra. But it is widely believed that the word Biafra is likely derived from the subgroup Biafar or Biafada of the Tenda ethnic group who reside primarily in Guinea-Bissau. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who was then the military governor of the Eastern Region and also seen by the Igbo People as “the man in power”, was mandated by the consultative Assembly of the Biafrans, to declare the Eastern Nigeria a free sovereign and independent state by the name and tittle “the Republic of Biafra”. As a nation that is ready for independence, the new group had its flag whose colors are Red, Black and Green. The color combination is sometimes called Panafrican colors. Red stands for the enthusiasm and sacrifice-willingness of the people and for the struggle for independence and giving blood, black stands for the people and its endurance, and green for the fruitfulness of the land. It also has a currency of its own called the Biafran Pounds and Shilling, a National Anthem and Pledge.
The Biafran War: A Brief Description
The Biafran war which convulsed the country for a period of 30 months was a collective tragedy that brought the Nigerian Nation on the brink of disintegration and also left in a trail of reckless destruction of millions of lives and property in Nigeria. As earlier stated, the war sparked off as a result of economic, ethnic,cultural and religious crises mainly between Northern and Eastern Nigeria. In an attempt to seize power in January 15 1966, some group of military officers who were mainly Igbos conspired and assassinated 30 leading political figures who on the other hand were mainly Northerners. Among those assassinated were Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who was then the country’s Prime Minister and Sir Ahmadu Bello who was at that time the Northern Premier. Others include Chief S.I. Akintola, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh among other military officers.
This coup, though Poorly carried out, was seen as a plot against the Northern region and hence the urge for retaliation became eminent. By July 29, 1966, a counter coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Murtala Muhammed and several other Northern officers saw the deadly destruction of the Igbo people. It was gathered that not less than 30,000 Igbos were killed. People like Major-General J.T.U. Aguyi-Ironsi who was then the Head of State, Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi who was the Military Governor of the Western region and other military officers saw their end during the counter coup.
Having recounted series of killings of her people by the Northerners, first in the 1945 and 1953 massacres at Jos and Kano respectively, the second in July 1966, Biafrans finally chose the part of independence from their mother country Nigeria. The federal government under the newly sworn in military leader Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Yakubu ‘Jack’ Gowon chose not to give room for secession of any group because it may stir up other groups to fight for independence hence leading to the total destruction of the nation’s unity, and so came the war which started from the 6th of July 1967 and lasted until 15th January 1970.
The Biafran War: Lesser known Facts
The following is the list of Lesser known facts about Biafra and the Biafran war.
- The Biafrans viewed Nigeria then under Military dictatorship as a neocolonial state under the “Iron grasp of its former Colonial master – Britain”
- The summit of military leaders at Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967 which was aimed at resolving the disagreements and recommended the establishment of a base confederation of regions turned out to be a source of contention between the government of Nigeria and the Biafrans
- In order to weaken the strength of the East and to keep to a unified Nigerian country, 12 states were created in May 27, 1967
- One of the immediate reasons for the first-coup was nationwide disillusionment with the corrupt and selfish politicians, as well as their inability to maintain law and order and guarantee the safety of lives and property.
- During the course of the war, the Federal Government received military aide from Britain USA and partly from Israel while the Biafrans gained support from France and later Israel. Other equipment like the Red Devil and other war ships used by the Biafrans in the war were produced through the ingenuity of Biafran engineers and soldiers.
- The Biafrans went through the 30 months war on hunger and starvation while the Nigerian soldiers enjoyed rapid promotion and pay increase throughout the war.
- The capture of the provincial capital of Owerri, (one of the last Biafran strongholds) by the Nigerian forces and the disappearance of Ojukwu to Ivory Coast, led to the total surrender the Biafran Nation on January 11, 1970.
- Several Nigerians took great steps in ensuring that the war was suspended. One of them is Wole Soyinka who visited the Eastern Region Military Governor Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in Enugu in August 1967 to try to avert war and as a result, he was put in solitary confinement for about two years.
- The end of the war saw the death of 1-3 million civilians and over 50,000 casualties of military soldiers from both the Nigerian military and the Biafran warriors.
With the war ending 45 years ago, and all thoughts of the foundering country forgotten, it seems the Biafran group is not dead after all seeing the sudden rise of some of these groups both in Nigeria and abroad. Today, the fight may have ended but Radio Biafra still reminds the people of what they lost and the things they gave up. This only makes one wonder how long it will be before the people of Biafra rise to arms again and take what they feel they were unjustly deprived of.