It’s been decades since Nigeria’s southeast tried to secede, renaming itself Biafra and sparking a civil war that left nearly 1 million people dead. Biafra is long gone, but some in the southeast are still agitating for separation.
Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has seen periodic conflicts between the country’s many ethnic groups. Perhaps none were as wrenching as the civil war, which started in 1967 when the country’s southeast, which is dominated by the Igbo people, seceded.
Biafra didn’t make it to its third birthday. But 45 years after it was reabsorbed into Nigeria, its name lives on among pressure groups, who say they haven’t benefited as citizens of Nigeria.
“The government of Nigeria, which is always run by the Hausa-Fulanis or the Yorubas, are always using government policies against our people,” said Uchenna Madu, the media coordinator of the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign States of Biafra (MASSOB), referring to two of the other major ethnic groups in Nigeria.
The continued agitation by supporters of Biafra in the southeast has unnerved Nigerian authorities. On Tuesday, the police announced they had arrested 22 people affiliated with MASSOB and another pro-Biafra group for inciting violence.
Ronney Onwuka, a community leader in the town of Oba in the southeastern Anambra state, said despite the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari recently appointed an Igbo to head the state oil company, the agitation for Biafra stems from a feeling the federal government doesn’t care about the southeast or the Igbo people.
“If we can be treated like this, why not we be alone? I call what you see as a result of marginalization,” said Onwuka.
With the Biafran war of the 1960s leaving a huge death toll, however, and much of the southeast ravaged, the question remains: How far are Biafra supporters willing to go for independence?