At least two million souls perished during the Biafra war – some put the figure as high as six million. But for Biafrans, their independence is as important now as it was 50 years ago.
Biafra has, say its supporters, an incontrovertible claim to self-determination. Today it sits within the south-east of modern Nigeria. Previously, it was an independent nation but was subsumed into the Nigerian state when the British amalgamated a number of their West African colonies, largely for administrative convenience. On Nigerian independence in 1960, the British borders remained intact.
Biafrans who seek the right to self-determination argue they have a claim which is as strong as those of the people of East Timor or South Sudan, whose independence has been acknowledged. The right to self-determination remains the most potent human right, which is why it is the first article of the main UN human rights treaties. We hear of independence claims from Catalonia, Quebec and Scotland. Referendums and the democratic process are the accepted way forward for dealing with the right to self-determination.
The Biafran people have been requesting the recognition of their right to self-determination and their right to a referendum, but their calls fall on deaf ears and are little reported. Nigerian territorial integrity provides the counter-argument.
Biafra captured the world’s attention when in 1967 it declared independence and its people were subsequently subjected to a cruel war by the Nigerians. The Biafrans, in truth, didn’t stand a chance, but they sustained their independence for almost three years until they were bombed and starved into submission. The photographs of that conflict, showing the consequences of war and famine, are still among the defining images of post-colonial Africa.
We publish today a powerful letter to President Buhari of Nigeria written by Solomon Egbo, a Biafran now living in the UK, renouncing his Nigerian citizenship. Whether that renunciation is accepted is in the gift of the president. Solomon, now part of the Biafran diaspora, works for the main independence organisation seeking to achieve Biafran self-determination, the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob), which has its headquarters in Germany.
Their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, was also a UK citizen. He “disappeared” in 2017 following a military operation against his parents’ home. The Nigerian authorities seek to label both Kanu and Ipob as “terrorists”. The international community rejects that characterisation.
Dear President Buhari
I am writing to inform you that I am renouncing my Nigerian citizenship.
I am not Nigerian. I am Biafran. I lived in the country called “Nigeria” for 40 years. Nigeria, as you know, is a country that was created for the administrative convenience of our colonial power, Britain, in 1914. Nigeria is the forced amalgamation of different peoples, different religious groups, different customs and beliefs. Nigeria may have worked for the British but it doesn’t work for the peoples forced to be Nigerians. It does not, and never has, worked for the people of Biafra.
The crimes of Empire are multiple, but surely the biggest crime of all was that, on independence, Africa was forced to retain those colonial boundaries imposed by Europeans. By accepting this post-Colonial settlement, African leaders became complicit in the oppression of Africa. Your determination to maintain the borders of Nigeria imposed by the British simply reinforces their dominion over us.
As you know, Biafra existed before the British turned up. Biafra is that landmass that nestles around the Niger Delta. To all intents and purposes, Biafra is the south east corner of modern day Nigeria. Despite colonisation and being forcibly absorbed into Nigeria, we Biafrans retained our common values and a shared sense of identity. Biafrans are made up of different people, but we are all Biafrans.
We don’t all speak the same language. I am an Igbo speaker. Other Biafrans speak Urhobo-Isoko, Ijaw-Epie-Ogbia, Ogoni, Efik, Annang, Eket-, Oron-Ibibio, Ogoja, Ejagham, Igala, Idoma, Ibani and Igbanke among others. Biafra is made up of the following provinces: Rivers Province, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Imo, Anambra, Abia, Enugu, Bayelsa, Delta. I am an Igbo from Biafra. Being Igbo and Biafran is synonymous.