Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Revisiting the Nigeria-Biafra War: The Intangibles of Post-War Reconciliation

Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Revisiting the Nigeria-Biafra War: The Intangibles of Post-War Reconciliation

Article excerpt


In February 2016, a video footage of Nigerian security forces shooting unarmed protesters in the south-eastern city of Aba-Abia state-went viral. Thirteen of the protesters died on the spot as a result of gunshot wounds. The protesters were members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)-an international organization that unites many Igbo communities, particularly on the issue of seceding from the Nigerian state.1 IPOB became a prominent force of Igbo nationalism under the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu, who also serves as director of Radio Biafra, a pro-Biafra radio station based in the United Kingdom.2 While on a visit to Nigeria, Nnamdi Kanu was arrested by the security forces on 15 October 2015, and charged with crimes against the Nigerian state.3 His arrest triggered widespread local and international protestations among some section of the Igbo population in Nigeria and abroad.

Speaking to Aljazeera news channel in response to the protests and the alleged killings of unarmed Igbo protesters by the Nigerian security forces in Abia, the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, says:

We fought a 30-month civil war, where at least 2 million Nigerians were killed. For somebody to wake up and says he wants Biafra again. Let them organize themselves and vote for a state within a state. But to try and interfere with movements of troops, with economy, looking for Biafra, after losing 2 million people, I think they are joking with Nigeria's security, and Nigeria will not tolerate it.4

When prodded by the Aljazeera interviewer to consider holding talks with the Igbo protesters, the Nigerian President retorts: "Why should we invite them? They didn't know what happened."5 The President's response may variously be interpreted as either his denial of "transgenerational trauma" or his inability or unwillingness to engage with it. Gabriele Schwab has rightly noted that it is impossible to completely silence trauma, and that "the silence intended to cover up a traumatic event or history only leads to its unconscious transmission that spans generations."6

Prior to the revival of the campaign for the creation of Biafra by IPOB, claims of the marginalization of Igbos by the Nigerian state have been championed by the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB ), which was established after Nigeria's return to democratic rule in 1999 by a Nigerian Indian-trained lawyer, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike.78 Another mechanism for the transmission of pro-Biafra messages is the Voice of Biafra International (VOBI), a radio station managed and financed by Igbo diasporas.9

While agitation for self-determination and secession are rife among some section of young Igbo people, several ethnic groups in Nigeria have also contemplated secession.10 For example, Isaac Shaahu fought for Tiv independence in the 1960s, and Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro and the Delta Volunteer Service led similar moves for the sovereign Republic of the Niger Delta in 1966.11 A new group known as the Adaka Boro Avengers (ABA) also threatened to declare the Independent Republic of Niger Delta on 1 August 2016.12 There is also the Oodua People's Congress (OPC), representing Yoruba nationalism in the southwest.13 At the state level in Nigeria, dissatisfied groups and ethnic minorities have also sought for self-rule and separate states.14 The proliferation of these platforms for self-determination by several ethnic groups in Nigeria is inextricably "connected to the resolution of the national question and definitely ties into the crisis of state legitimacy and citizenship in Nigeria."15

Two insights could be deduced from IPOB's protestations for the release of Nnamdi Kanu and, by extension, the creation of Biafra. First, Ho Wong Jeong posits that "ethnic politics can be characterized by the assertion on the part of 'others' protesting their subordination or exclusion by the state," with the goal to emancipate themselves from the domination of the state. …

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