Secession in Nigeria: the brief history
In May 1967, the former Eastern Region of Nigeria formally seceded from Nigeria and thus was the Republic of Biafra born. To most, that is the extent of the history of Secession in Nigeria. For sure, that is the only act of secession that was carried to its logical conclusion, as opposed to “threats.”
It is a fact that in January 1970, the Republic of Biafra’s army surrendered to the Nigerian army after almost 3 years of a war fought by Biafrans for their own survival, against the combined might of the British, the Soviet Union, Egypt and the United Arab Republics who sided with Nigeria and prosecuted the war on behalf of Nigeria. Nevertheless, the Spirit of Biafra is still very much alive today. The very circumstances which led to the secession of Biafra in 1967 still prevail today, and worse. Biafrans are restive, understandably and justifiably so; and there is only one practical solution.
Now, we bring you a concise article from 1967 from the British Press which reveals more about “Secession” in Nigeria. As will become obvious, the Easterners never engaged in the manipulation of “Secession” then, and left Nigeria only as a last resort, and in self defense—for their own protection and survival. Today, the manipulation of “Secession” is still going on in Nigeria. The power brokers and rulers of Nigeria use and quote the experience of “Biafra” secession to scare people into submission, to intimidate and hold them hostage in a failing, sick and totally corrupt and inept, morally bereft Nigeria. While the usual Nigerian players engage in such manipulations, after Biafrans had gone overboard trying to re-integrate themselves into Nigeria to no avail, Biafrans are now once again actually on the move to leave Nigeria, this time for good, fighting to the last man, woman and child, if need be, if that’s what is called for.
As Biafrans, we never wanted and we never want secession, nor did / do we play the secession-game. As Biafrans, we secede when there is no other way out of a death trap. You can count on that. That’s only naturally human.
Nigeria's coming civil war
Saturday June 3, 1967
The Guardian, London
Having broken apart, Nigeria is now preparing for civil war.
Major-General Gowon, who was promoted from Colonel yesterday, is apparently ready to follow up his blockade of the breakaway east - now called Biafra - with a full-scale invasion. In this he presumably expects the support of Nigeria's partners in
the Commonwealth and her fellow members of the UN and the OAU - at least the tacit support of respecting the blockade and not recognising Biafra.
It will be a futile war. It is unlikely to unseat the embattled government of Colonel Ojukwu, and even if it does, it will not achieve the declared aim of restoring a workable federation. For most of the Ibo, who predominate in the east, last year's massacres in the north - and their implied end to the free movement of Nigerians within their country - meant the effective end of the federation. To follow this up by an invasion would merely be to drive a nail in the coffin.
Biafia's non-Ibo minority is admittedly divided: some supporting Ojukwu's regime and others opposing it. Also, the presence of more than a million refugees - and the possibility of another million now arriving - has stored up a host of social and perhaps political problems for the self-proclaimed republic. But while the threat from Lagos lasts, support for Ojukwu will remain overwhelming. Invasion can only reinforce it further.
In reality it would not be a federal war as much as a northern one. The Yoruba of the western region are divided. Chief Awolowo, hitherto their most popular leader, has said - and apparently confirmed it after Biafra's secession - that the west would not wish to remain in a truncated federation. This section of the Yoruba, at any rate, would hardly support an invasion of Biafra. Similar reservations have been openly expressed in the midwest region.
In so far as it would be a northerners' war, one of its main objects would be revenge against the easterners for having dared to challenge federal, which is primarily northern, authority. One party in the north, at any rate, appears to want to teach the Ibo a lesson without any corresponding desire to keep them as federal partners. But the easterners are not the first to contemplate secession. The north openly threatened it in 1960 unless it was guaranteed half the seats in the federal parliament. It threatened it again last year unless General Ironsi repealed his "unitary decree". It proposed it once more in July and indeed, secession appeared to be Colonel Gowon's original intention when he assumed office. Now it is the easterners who have departed.
A deeper northern motive would be to secure the landlocked region's outlet to the sea. One of the two routes, through the east, is already blocked and the other, through the west, would be threatened if the west were to break away also. But could it be kept open in a federation maintained by force? The violent disorders in the west in 1965, in protest against the northern-backed regime of Chief Akintola, suggest that it could not. If Nigeria does break up, nothing could ensure the evacuation of northern produce more effectively than a Common Services organisation. This is perhaps the best solution to the Nigerian crisis. It is the kind of arrangement the north itself proposed in July last year - and the east has been proposing since then. Now, no region would benefit more from it than the north. By insisting on war the northerners would risk destroying their own vital interests.
Inevitably, outsiders have been drawn, into the conflict. The big shipping and trading companies, who have larger interests in the north and the west than in the east, are observing the blockade. The oil companies, whose exports all originate in the east, are in a different position and may be anxious for Biafra to be recognised. Britain could hardly do this until Colonel Ojukwu's breakaway regime has proved itself firmly in control.
But we should immediately make it clear to General Gowon that our only interest is in a stable solution and that war will bring this no nearer.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003