21 July 2019
During the civil war in Nigeria from 1967 to 1970, an estimated one million civilians died in a nationwide famine. Photo: Internet
During the civil war in Nigeria from 1967 to 1970, an estimated one million civilians died in a nationwide famine. Photo: Internet

Roots of the independence movement in Biafra

While the secession movement in Catalonia has continued to grab international headlines, other pro-independence movements elsewhere in the world have largely gone under the radar. Among them is the bid for independence in the region of Biafra located in southeastern Nigeria.

Fifty years ago, the unilateral declaration of independence by Biafra triggered a bloody civil war in Nigeria. During the conflict from 1967 to 1970, an estimated one million civilians died in a nationwide famine.

Despite being a major country in Africa and the biggest oil producer on the continent, Nigeria has been plagued by political instability and ethnic conflicts over the years.

The minority Igbo people, who are native to Biafra, have been constantly at odds with the majority and Islamic Hausa tribe.

After Biafra’s defeat in the civil war, Nigeria sought national reconciliation in a bid to restore peace in the country.

However, the defeated people of Biafra found themselves politically marginalized by the Hausa.

A major source of discontent among the Igbo people of Biafra is the state-owned and highly corrupt Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, which has a controlling stake in the country’s lucrative oil industry.

That’s because around 60 percent of the oil fields in the Gulf of Guinea are located inside Biafra. And the prevailing sentiment among the Igbo people is that their valuable natural resources are being plundered by the invading Hausa tribe.

It is against this background that the pro-independence movement in Biafra has been gaining momentum again in recent years.

The movement is compounded by other external factors such as the sharp decline in oil prices and the rise of regional terrorist groups like the Boko Haram.

These factors have exacerbated the discontent among the Igbo people, who strongly feel that the central government has failed to protect their economic interests and guarantee their security.

However, still haunted by the bloody images of the last civil war, leaders of the pro-independence movement in Biafra have adopted a peaceful and non-violent approach this time around.

The movement suffered a major setback in 2015 when the Nigerian authorities mounted a massive crackdown on its leaders and supporters. But as violence continued to spread, Igbo leaders quickly adjusted their demand.

In 2017, in a bid to prevent the situation from spinning out of control, the Igbo people called for national unity and “a fairer and more equal society”.

Though suppressed at home, the independence movement of Biafra has continued to rage and garner a huge following in the cyber world, particularly among Nigerians living abroad.

And as it turns out, it is now overseas Nigerian netizens, rather than their compatriots inside the country, who are spearheading the pro-independence bid of Biafra.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 10

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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