In early September 2005 Nigeria's security service announced the wanted list of the separatist leader of the Movement for the embodiment of the idea of the State of Biafra, Rolf Uvazurike. He was accused of treason, because he tried to divide Nigeria, issued a call for the separation of the south-eastern parts of the country and the establishment of an independent state of Biafra (country of Biafra) there. This idea has led to a bloody civil war in the late 60-ies of the last century.
Then (on 31 May 1967), the authorities of the Eastern region of Nigeria announced that their area was separated from the federation and became the independent Republic of Biafra. This application was rejected by the Nigerian government, and so the civil war began. The stronger federal army was supplied with weapons and military equipment from England (which was fiercely opposed by a lot of supporters of Biafra, to which the weapon came from France). The situation in Nigeria was even called Biafra genocide.
The role of the facilitator was very desirable for the Organization of African Unity, and some countries of the Black Continent even recognized the independence of this Nigerian area. The war lasted 32 months, but the internal situation has forced the rebels to surrender. In total, that conflict took over a million lives (mainly Biafran people died from hunger and disease).
Separatist sentiments are strong in those parts so far. The idea of ‘Biafra independence’ is supported by the Igbo people - the third largest ethnic group among 250 of them in the 140-million population of Nigeria. According to the independent experts, the activities of the separatist movement were not violent in the last years. However, in early September, there was first fire from automatic weapons patrolled by the security forces. The ideas to create ‘The republic of Biafra map’ could not let the people stay at home.
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In August 2005, MASSOB leader said about his determination to achieve separation of the Igbo people from Nigeria, noting that ‘we need to fight for sovereignty and independence and this is non-negotiable, but we are not talking about the armed struggle’. Despite these assurances, the authorities have recently conducted the arrests of hundreds of MASSOB activists for participating in actions in support of the establishment of the Republic of Biafra. Some of them were accused of treason. This movement is especially popular among the youth, who has not been involved in the civil war. However, the war veterans do not believe that the separation of Biafra republic from the Nigeria is possible at all.
Nigeria, extracting 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, is ranked first in Africa and the eighth in the world in terms of exports of minerals, but more than 70 percent of its population lives below the poverty line, including nations that inhabit the areas of black gold. Nigerians, who live in Biafra, feel as if the government steals something from them. That’s why, among numerous other peoples of Nigeria, there are a lot of such nations, who would not mind to come up with the slogan of independence. In the south, the Niger Delta, where the extracted oil gives 90 percent of revenues to the state budget, has almost nothing left in the local budgets. That’s why such ideas of independence are very strong.
Previously, when Nigeria was a British colony, it was divided into three administrative districts. Each regional government received half of the proceeds from the exploitation of local natural resources. After the independence of the country, which was received in 1960, the export of oil became the main source of its income.
After a failed attempt to proclaim the Republic of Biafra, the military authorities created a large number of states to remove ethnic tensions. At the same time, the areas lost the right to receive revenues from oil production. However, in the late 80-ies of the last century, 11 oil-producing states in the south had been given a three-percent share of revenues from black gold, and later this was increased to 13 percent.
That’s why it is not surprising that in the region there are various radical groups that are armed and ready for the struggle. They are seeking for the greater autonomy for their territories and more control over local natural resources. One of such movements is ‘People's Volunteer Force of Niger Delta’, which actions give a lot of troubles to the federal authorities. In September 2004, the idea of militants to unleash a ‘full-scale war’ in the country and to strike primarily foreign companies, which extracted oil in the delta Niger, according to analysts, was one of the factors that influenced the rise of world prices for black gold to the record (at that time) level of $ 50 per barrel.
Five international companies are currently involved in Nigerian oil extraction: ‘Exxon Mobil’, ‘Shell’, ‘Total’, ‘Chevron Texaco’ and ‘Agip’. Nigeria is the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States. Almost all of it is pumped out of the wells drilled in the marshy forests of the Delta Niger River, from the platforms installed close to the coast of the Gulf of Guinea.
The militants were moving on high-speed motor boats, attacking platforms, at the same time entering in clashes with soldiers of the Nigerian Army. According to a study commissioned by a number of oil companies up to thousands of people die in the course of these battles every year. One of the last operations of the group ‘People's Volunteer Force of Niger Delta’ was the capture of the platform of the American oil company ‘Chevron’. The federal government took an urgent response.
The government sent navy ships Coast Guard to the area of Port Harcourt. The heightened state of readiness of the army was also present in the states of Delta and Rivers. There were the military aircraft and helicopters. As numerous experts said, that emergency measures were likely to be associated with the request of Washington to the Government of Nigeria to prevent the disruption of oil production, which could have destabilized its global market.
The position of other countries
A few countries were for the unity of Nigeria: the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the Arab countries. And how many countries are supporting Biafra? Only a couple of them told that they supported Igbo people: France, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, China, and Israel. The countries that supported Biafra helped with food and sometimes with guns.
Ojukwu established oil extraction sufficient for the purchase of weapons and create a network of offices on the recruitment of mercenaries. The balance of power was not in favor of the Igbo. The UN refused to recognize Biafra. In September 1968, the Organization of African Unity has told Biafra to abandon the idea of independence.
Ojukwu fled, or rather, was taken out by Special Forces of South Africa. At the end of hostilities, the vast majority of his officials and the militants remained on their positions or became a part of the federal Nigerian army. The government has done everything possible to reconcile the two sides of the civil war - but unrest and upheavals were still lasting decades.
It took half a century to stabilize everything – it was a chain of successive federalization and dividing the country into all the smaller autonomous self-governing enclaves.
Even now, more than 60% of Nigerian population in response to the question of their affiliation tell their nationality or religious denomination, but do not say ‘Nigerian’.
Even with the help of the other countries, this struggle can bring nothing but death and sorrow of the people. Biafra nation deserves to get what it wants, but do not forget that it is always better to talk than to fight.