Nation profile

Biafra
Bịafra

General information
Population
41,192,745 h. (official estimate 2016)
Area
77,306 km2
Institutions
9 of 36 federated states of Nigeria
Major cities
Enugu, Umuahia, Port Hartcourt, Aba, Uyo
State administration
Federal Republic of Nigeria
Territorial languages
Igbo, Ijaw, Ibibio, Efik, Ekoi, others
Official languages
English
Major religion
Christianity (majority)

Presentation
 
Biafra is the name that Biafran nationalists give to the south-eastern region of the Republic of Nigeria. Biafra lies between the lower reaches of the Niger River and its mouth, the Gulf of Biafra (or Bonny), and the Cameroonian border. It spans over 1/12 of Nigeria’s territory; its population, among which the Igbo are in the majority, is 21% of Nigeria’s total.
 
In pre-colonial times, Biafra was divided into several kingdoms, city-states, and communities that ocasionally made up confederations. The territory was one of the main places where slaves were captured and sold to America. In the 19th century, Biafra was annexed by the British Empire and wasintegrated into the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
 
The boundaries of Biafra, as understood by the Biafran movement, correspond to those of the former Eastern region, which existed between 1954 and 1967 as an administrative division, first of the Federation of Nigeria (British protectorate), and then of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
 
In May 1967, after the federal government decided to split it into several smaller federal states, the government of the Eastern region, headed by Igbo military officer Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, unilaterally declared the country’s independence as the Republic of Biafra. A war between the Nigerian and Biafran armies followed suit, ending in January 1970 with a federal victory and leaving some 2 million Biafran killed, most of them civilians who died of starvation due to the blockade imposed on Biafra by the Nigerian authorities. The defeat meant the end of the Republic of Biafra. The dictatorial regimes that ruled Nigeria until 1999 further centralised power, a situation that subsequent civilian governments have not reversed.
 
Since the end of the war, Biafran nationalism has been fuelled by a deep-rooted feeling among the Igbo people of political, economic, and cultural discrimination by the Nigerian state, and by the memories of crimes committed by state authorities against the Igbo population during the conflict, understood as a genocide.
 
Since 2015, tension has increased in the Igbo-majority areas of Biafra, with mass street protests against the state repressed by federal forces. Since the late 2020s, this tension has escalated into violent conflict between Biafran independence fighters linked to IPOB/ESN and Nigerian security forces.
 
Biafra is rich in natural resources, especially oil and gas extracted off the coast of the Gulf of Biafra and in the Niger Delta.

Language

The territory of Biafra is linguistically diverse, with at least 50 languages spoken. Most of them, with the main exception of Ijaw, belong to the Congo-Atlantic family. Among them, the largest in Biafra is Igbo, its speakers estimated at between 25 and 40 million, depending on the sources, mostly in the central and inland area of Biafra, but also with large communities in various cities in the rest of Africa, America and Europe. Igbo is the only Biafran language, and one of only three languages indigenous to Nigeria along with Hausa and Yoruba, to be recognized for official use in the Nigerian National Assembly.

In Biafra’s coastal area, the two dominant language groups are Ibibio (eastern zone) and Ijaw (western zone, in the Niger Delta), each with several million speakers. Several languages are spoken along the border with Cameroon; the main ones by their number of speakers (2 million at least each) are Efik and Ekoi; the latter also spans south-western Cameroon.

All these languages undergo diglossia in the face of English, which is the official language of Nigeria and is used as the main language of the administration and the education system —although several regional governments have tried, without much success, to introduce school learning in Igbo and Ibibio.

On the other hand, Nigerian Pidgin —an English-based Creole— has become a language of intercommunication between millions of people belonging to different language groups in Nigeria, including in Biafra.

National identity

The Igbo are the largest people group in Biafra; the vast majority of the leaders of the Biafran nationalist movement as well as the people who support it are Igbo. Other peoples in Biafra, especially in peripheral regions, include the Ibibio, the Ijaw, the Efik, and the Ogoni. Some of these peoples have developed their own political movements which do not support, if not directly oppose, the notion that their territories are part of Biafra. In the case of the Ogoni, the MOSOP organisation approved in 1990 an Ogoni Bill of Rights in which it demanded Ogoni autonomy.

According to a 2018 survey commissioned by the Global Igbo Alliance (GIA), an organisation supporting the right to self-determination of the Igbo people, 80.5% of Igbo respondents favoured the establishment of the Republic of Biafra, 18% preferred a regional self-government, and 1.5% wanted a centralized Nigeria instead. Another poll, in 2016, concluded that support among the Igbo for Biafra’s independence in the event that a referendum would be called would stand at 59%.

(Last update October 2021.)