Biafra at 50: Historical Lessons, Present Challenges and Future Prospects

Philip Olayoku's picture
July 6, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Ethnic History / Studies, Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, Humanities, Political Science, Social Sciences

The struggle for independence in Nigeria entailed the concession by its elite citizens of local competence in taking over political administration from the colonialists. Nonetheless, the experience within the first republic brought to the fore the complexities of managing such a huge population with multiethnic and multi-religious diversity. The spate of political and economic corruption at the time led to military incursion into political administration, which dovetailed into the Nigerian Civil war, which threatened the survival of the nation then grappling with stabilizing its polity. In discussing the root cause of the Nigerian Civil War, scholars and analysts have reflected the complexity of confining it to a specific context as political struggles, economic imbalance (including class), ethnic based regional rivalry, religion, personal ambitions and colonial legacies have often been adduced by scholars and analysts as probable root causes of the war. For one, the major actors of the war (Generals Aguyi Ironsi, Odumegwu Ojukwu and Yakubu Gowon) had maintained that colonial neglect of the fear of minority groups, who felt politically displaced in newly redefined geographical boundaries, was an albatross that led to the failure of the political class during the first republic. 50 years on, a retrospect reflects that the claims of marginalization and political exclusion that led the Eastern Consultative Forum to the resolution of proclaiming the Republic of Biafra on May 26, 1967 still resonates.

The realities of poverty, displacement and underdevelopment in these regions are contestations to theorizing postmemory as a pictorial transmission of trauma to second generation of war events. Within the Nigerian context, the proliferation of narratives capturing individual and group experiences during the war is often complemented with shared experiences of unemployment, distrust of official judicial remedies and increased threats to human security across different parts of the country.  This is basically because, the political institutions and structures in Nigeria today have maintained the ethnic and religious disconnect among the Nigerian citizenry as mutual fear and suspicion play key roles within the context of ethnic relations at all levels,  including the national, regional, state and individual contexts. Following from this, there have been several agitations for secession in the South East whereby groups have continuously requested for the removal of region from Nigeria. The Biafra Zionist Movement in 2013 had in a press conference announced the sending of 500 people to Israel for military training as engineers and pilots to protect the new republic while giving Nigeria the ultimatum to quit their ‘territory’ by 5th of March, 2013 while proposing to replace the Naira with the Biafra Pound by May 20, 2013. Since 2014, the secessionist agitations has been championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) whose leader, Nnamdi Kanu, had remained in detention since October, 2015 with allegations of being a financier for terrorists against Nigeria; having broken off from The Movement for the Actualization for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). Further South, the renewed proliferation of militancy with the emergence of groups like The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), The Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders (NDRC), The Niger Delta Watchdogs (NDW), Niger Delta Volunteers (NDV) and Niger Delta Strike Force (NDSF) reflects continued discontent with the Nigerian state in the former South Eastern Region. Beyond Southern Nigeria, the continuous agitation for economic empowerment as a condition for restoring sustainable peace to Nigeria’s post-insurgency North East is an indicator of the need to revisit the historical contexts of threats to Nigeria’s nationhood. This is in order to understand the present contexts and chat a course for the future.

Based on this need, the Centre for Democracy and Development is organizing a symposium on situating the current challenges in the South East and South South regions against the background of the Nigerian Civil War and what measures are necessary in transforming relationships to build trust among the diverse ethnic groups in unpacking the Nigerian question. 


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Centre for Democracy & Development- CDD
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