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The Republic of Biafra was a secessionist state in south-eastern Nigeriamarker. Biafra was inhabited mostly by the Igbo people (or Ibo) and existed from 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970. The secession was led by the Igbo due to economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions among the various peoples of Nigeria. The creation of the new country, named after the Bight of Biaframarker (the Atlanticmarker bay to its south), was among the complex causes for the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War.

Biafra was recognized by Gabonmarker, Haitimarker, Côte d'Ivoiremarker, Tanzania and Zambiamarker. Other nations did not give official recognition, but provided assistance to Biafra. Israelmarker, Francemarker, Portugalmarker, Rhodesia, South Africa and the Vatican Citymarker provided support. Biafra also received aid from non-state actors; Joint Church Aid, Holy Ghost Fathers of Ireland, Caritas International, MarkPress and U.S. Catholic Relief Services all gave support.



During 1960, Nigeria became independent of the United Kingdommarker. Similar to the other new African states, the borders of the country were not drawn according to earlier territories. Hence, the northern desert region of the country contained semi-autonomous feudal Muslim states, while the southern population was predominantly Christian and animist. Furthermore, Nigeria's oil, its primary source of income, was located in the south of the country.

Following independence, Nigeria was divided primarily along ethnic lines with Hausa and Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the south-west, and Igbo in the south-east. In January 1966, a group of primarily eastern Igbo led a military coup during which 30 political leaders including Nigeria's Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the Northern premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello were killed.

In July 1966 northern officers and army units staged a counter-coup. Muslim officers named a Christian from a small ethnic group (the Anga) in central Nigeria, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu "Jack" Gowon, as the head of the Federal Military Government (FMG). The two coups deepened Nigeria's ethnic tensions. In September, 1966, approximately 30,000 Igbo were killed in the north, and some Northerners were killed in backlashes in eastern cities.

In January 1967, the military leaders and senior police officials of each region met in Aburimarker, Ghanamarker and agreed on a loose confederation of regions. The Northerners were at odds with the Aburi Accord; Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the Western Region warned that if the Eastern Region seceded, the Western Region would also, which persuaded the northerners.

The eastern government rejected the plan for reconciliation; on 26 May it voted to secede from Nigeria. On 30 May, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Eastern Region's military governor, announced the Republic of Biafra, citing the Easterners killed in the post-coup violence. The large amount of oil in the region created conflict, as oil was a major component of the Nigerian economy.


The FMG launched "police measures" to annex the Eastern Region. The FMG's initial efforts were unsuccessful; the Biafrans successfully launched their own offensive, taking land in the Mid-Western Region. By 1967, the FMG had regained the land, and by 1968, offensive measures by the FMG shrunk Biafra to one-tenth of its original size.

In September 1968, the federal army planned what Gowon described as the "final offensive." Initially the final offensive was neutralized by Biafran troops. In the latter stages, a Southern FMG offensive managed to break through.

On 30 June 1969, the Nigerian government banned all Red Crossmarker aid to Biafra; two weeks later it allowed medical supplies through the front line, but restricted food supplies. Later in October 1969, Ojukwu appealed to United Nations to mediate a cease-fire. The federal government called for Biafra's surrender. In December, the FMG managed to cut Biafra in half, primarily by the efforts of 3 Marine Commando Division of the Nigerian Army, led by then-Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo. Ojukwu fled to the Ivory Coastmarker, leaving his chief of staff, Philip Effiong, to act as the "officer administering the government". Effiong called for a cease-fire 12 January and submitted to the FMG. More than one million people had died in battle or from starvation.


Enclosed in Biafra's borders were over of land; the land borders were shared with Nigeriamarker to the north and Cameroonmarker to the east. Its coast was on the Gulf of Guineamarker in the south.

The former country's southeast borders the Benue Hills and mountains that lead to Cameroon.

Two rivers flow from Biafra into the Gulf of Guinea: the Cross River and the Niger River.


Biafra has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons, dry and rainy. From April to October the rainy season takes place, with heavy rain and high humidity. The heaviest rain occurs between June and July with up to of rain level. The temperature of the region on a clear day is 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) high and 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit) low. The dry season starts in November and ends in April. The lowest rain level in February. The temperature at night reaches 20 °C (68 °F) and in the day has a peak temperature of 36 °C (96.8 °F).


The predominant language of Biafra was the Igbo language. The Igbo language comprises hundreds of different dialects and Igboid languages, such as Ikwerre and Ekpeye dialects. Along with Igbo there were a variety of other different languages, including Efik, Ibibio, and so on.


An early institution created by the Biafran government was the Bank of Biafra, accomplished under ‘Decree No. 3 of 1967'. The bank carried out all central banking functions including the administration of foreign exchange and the management of the public debt of the Republic. The bank was administered by a Governor and four Directors; the first governor, per the signature on bank notes, was Sylvester U. Ugoh. A second decree, ‘Decree No.4 of 1967’, modified the Banking Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the Republic of Biafra.

The Bank was first located in Enugu, but, due to the ongoing war, the bank was relocated several times.Biafra attempted to finance the war through foreign exchange. After Nigeria announced their currency would no longer be legal tender (to make way for a new currency), this effort increased; after the announcement, tons of Nigerian bank notes were transported in an effort to acquire foreign exchange. The currency of Biafra had been the Nigerian pound, until the Bank of Biafra started printing out its own notes, the Biafran pound. The new currency went public on 28 January 1968, and the Nigerian pound was not accepted as an exchange unit. The first issue of the bank notes included only 5 shillings notes and 1 pound notes. The bank of Nigeria exchanged only 30 pounds for an individual and 300 pounds for Enterprises in the second half of 1968.

In 1969 new Notes were introduced: £10, £5, £1, 10/- and 5/-.

It is estimated that a total of £115-140 million Biafran pounds were in circulation by the end of the conflict. This is a relatively small amount, however, as the Biafran population at the time was 14 million, meaning roughly £10 per person was in circulation.


At the beginning of the war Biafra had 3,000 troops, but at the end of the war the troops totaled 30,000. There was no official support for the Biafran army by another nation throughout the war. The Biafrans had at the beginning two B-25 Mitchells, one B-26 Invader (piloted by Polish pilot Jan Zumbach, known also as John Brown), converted DC-3 and one Dove. Because of the lack of official support, the Biafrans manufactured their weapons locally. In 1968 the Swedishmarker pilot Carl Gustaf von Rosen suggested the MiniCOIN project to General Ojukwu. By the spring of 1969, Biafra had built five MFI-9B in Gabonmarker, calling them "Biafra Babies". They were coloured green, were able to carry six 68 mm anti-armour rockets and had simple sights. The six airplanes were flown by three Swedish pilots and three Biafran pilots.Other Europeans served in the Biafran cause, German born Rolf Steiner was a Lt. Colonel assigned to the 4th Commando Brigade and Welshman Taffy Williams served as a Major until the very end of the conflict.


A child suffering the effects of severe hunger and malnutrition during the Nigerian blockade
The international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières ("Doctors Without Borders") came out of the suffering in Biafra. During the crisis, French medical volunteers, in addition to Biafran health workers and hospitals, were subjected to attacks by the Nigerian army and witnessed civilians being murdered and starved by the blockading forces. French doctor Bernard Kouchner also witnessed these events, particularly the huge number of starving children, and, when he returned to France, he publicly criticised the Nigerian government and the Red Cross for their seemingly complicit behaviour. With the help of other French doctors, Kouchner put Biafra in the media spotlight and called for an international response to the situation. These doctors, led by Kouchner, concluded that a new aid organisation was needed that would ignore political/religious boundaries and prioritise the welfare of victims.

In their book, Smallpox and its Eradication, Fenner and colleagues describe how vaccine supply shortages during the Biafra smallpox campaign led to the development of the focal vaccination technique, later adopted worldwide by the World Health Organization, which led to the early and cost effective interruption of smallpox transmission in west Africa and elsewhere.

On 29 May 2000, the Lagos Guardian newspaper reported that the now ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo commuted to retirement the dismissal of all military persons who fought for the breakaway state of Biafra during Nigeria's 1967–1970 civil war. In a national broadcast, he said the decision was based on the belief that "justice must at all times be tempered with mercy".

Violence between Christians and Muslims (usually Igbo Christians and Hausa or Fulani Muslims) has been incessant since the end of the civil war in 1970.

In July 2006 the Center for World Indigenous Studies reported that government sanctioned killings were taking place in the southeastern city of Onitshamarker, because of a shoot-to-kill policy directed toward Biafran loyalists, particularly members of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).

Movement to re-secede

The "Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra" (MASSOB) advocates a separate country for the Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria. They accuse the state of marginalising the Igbo people. MASSOB says it is a peaceful group and advertises a 25-stage plan to achieve its goal peacefully. The Nigerian government accuses MASSOB of violence; MASSOB's leader, Ralph Uwazuruike, was arrested in 2005 and is being detained on treason charges; MASSOB is calling for his release. MASSOB is also championing the release of oil militant Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who is facing similar charges.

Meaning of the word "Biafra" and location of Biafra

Little is known about the literal meaning of the word Biafra. It is not part of the Igbo language. It is unclear whether the origin of the word Biafra has any relationship to "Bia", the Igbo word for "Come". The word Biafra most likely derives from the subgroup Biafar or Biafada of the Tenda ethnic group who reside primarily in Guinea-Bissaumarker. Manuel Álvares (1526–1583), a portuguese Jesuit Educator, in his work "Ethiopia Minor and a geographical account of the Province of Sierra Leone", writes about the "Biafar heathen" in chapter 13 of the same book. The word Biafar thus appears to have been a common word in the Portuguese language back in the 16th century.

Historical maps of Biafra

Early modern maps of Africa from the 15th–19th centuries, drawn by European cartographers from accounts written by explorers and travellers, reveal some interesting information about Biafra:
  1. The original word used by the European travellers was not Biafra but Biafara, Biafar and sometimes also Biafares.
  2. The exact original region of Biafra is not restricted to Eastern Nigeria alone. According to the maps, the European travelers used the word Biafara to describe the entire region east of River Niger going down to the Mount Cameroon region, thus including Cameroon and a large area around Gabon.

Maps indicating the word Biafara (sometimes also Biafares or Biafar) with corresponding year:

Maps from the 19th century indicating Biafra as the region around today's Cameroon:

See also


  1. Biafra on Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 19 August 2008.
  2. "The Last Adventurer" by Steiner, Rolf (Boston:, Little, Brown 1978)
  3. Bortolotti, Dan (2004). Hope in Hell: Inside the World of Doctors Without Borders, Firefly Books. ISBN 1-55297-865-6.
  4. [1]
  5. Emerging Genocide in Nigeria
  6. Chronicles of brutality in Nigeria 2000-2006

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