Posted: Wed, September 16, 2015 | By: Africa
by Hank Pellissier
The Biafra Civil War from 1967-1970 resulted when the small West African region – primarily populated by the Igbo tribe – attempted to secede from Nigeria, a former British colony. An estimated 1-2 million people were killed in the conflict; 40% were Igbo children who died of starvation and malnutrition. The Igbo thought the global community would support them, but they gained little assistance, whereas Nigeria was massively armed by the British and Russians. Biafra was invaded and the Igbo were eventually subdued.
How are the Igbo doing today? Have they survived economically? Are they participating in Nigerian political affairs? Have enmities been forgiven?
To find out, I interviewed Kelechi Anyanwu (pen name Kelechi Deca) an Igbo journalist with special focus on Africa’s development, and accreditations from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank Group, African Development Bank Group and African Union. A graduate of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, he has worked extensively on the history, culture, and traditions of the Igbo people.
Can you tell me how your own family, friends, and village or city was involved with the war?
I am from Ezinihitte Mbaise, Local Government area of Imo State, my family lost two members during the war. One was conscripted as a soldier at the age of 21; the other was a lady who died as a result of shrapnel from shelling by the Nigerian artillery. I have not heard of a family that came out of the war fully intact without losing one or two members. The famine as a result of the food blockade affected my family too, three young people suffered from Kwashiokor, one never recovered fully - she developed mental problems after the war as a result of the after effects.
What were the main reasons for Biafra’s attempt at secession in 1967-1970?
Igbo people believed that their continued existence in Nigeria was threatened - that their lives and property were not protected, as exemplified by killings of Igbo people in other parts of Nigeria while the government did nothing. Igbo people lost trust in Nigeria, and the sincerity of Nigeria to protect them and other ethnicities in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. Also, the people of the Eastern Region felt that the resources being used to run Nigeria was majorly oil from their region, with other regions not contributing enough to the commonwealth.
Are the Igbo still angry at nations that helped Nigeria, like Britain, Russia, Egypt, the USA?
I wouldn’t say they are still angry but they have not stopped asking questions as to why the whole world seems to have conspired to obliterate the Igbo from the face of the earth. For example the Biafra War was in the thick of the Cold War, yet Britain worked seamlessly with Russia with the connivance of the United States government to destroy a relatively unarmed people whose only sin was that they tried to defend themselves against a blood-thirsty aggressor. The feeling among the Igbo was that the world conspired to stop the birth of a nation that was set to challenge the evils of colonialism and liberate the African continent. This also refers to the sitting-on-the-fence approach that France adopted. Igbo people believe that if France gave them full support, instead of piecemeal support, they would have won.
Do the Igbo have affection for the nations that recognized or helped them? Tanzania, Gabon? Cote d’Ivoire? Haiti?
Extremely. The majority of Igbo still see those countries as friendly nations. During the Haiti Earthquake, Igbo people felt very concerned. Many of the relief campaigns carried out for that cause were promoted by Igbo people. Aside from seeing Haiti as their kith and Kin, they see them as kindred nation. Gabon is like a second home to the Igbo, same affection is extended to Cote d’Ivoire and Tanzania.
I just read the novel Half a Yellow Sun - by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Is it a popular book in Igbo-Land?
It is a very popular book, but there are hundreds of other books about Biafra that have been written, what made Half of a Yellow Sun so popular was that it was published at a time when there is massive resurgence of pro-Biafran consciousness.
Is there freedom of speech to talk about the Biafra War today?
Yes, there is, especially among the young. Most of whom were not even born at the time. But it has not always been so; 20 to 30 years ago no one dared mention the name Biafra. All that has changed. There are various online groups, talk shows, lectures, and books on Biafra, even a guerrilla radio, called Radio Biafra.
Have opposing sides forgiven each other? Is there still tension between Igbo and Hausa (a Northern Nigerian tribe)? Between Igbo and other groups?
Biafra is like a scar on the palm. Other ethnic nationalities prefer it is just forgotten, but the Igbo still feel the pain of Biafra because they believe Nigeria has not done enough to assimilate the Igbo people. I do not think it has healed.
The Igbo want other ethnic nationalities to stop acts that delegitimize their pains and sufferings. They call for justice, especially for some acts that could pass as genocidal, and above all an apology from Nigeria. They believe that until these issues are looked into the pains of Biafra may not heal.
Igbo also do not feel included in Nigerian politics. They have been singing the marginalization song.
Do many Igbo still wish to have a separate nation? Are there Igbo who still wish for secession?
Yes there are, mostly the younger people. They feel frustrated by Nigeria and strongly believe that Nigeria is holding them down. They openly call for secession, and in some Igbo villages, you easily see flags of Biafra hanging from tall structures, and young people wearing T-shirts with the Biafra emblem on it.