Republic of Biafra was a secessionist state in south-eastern Nigeria.
Biafra was inhabited mostly by the Igbo
(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
Biafra (the Atlantic bay to its
south), was among the complex causes for the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the
recognized by Gabon, Haiti, Côte
d'Ivoire, Tanzania and Zambia.
Other nations did not give official recognition, but provided
assistance to Biafra. Israel, France, Portugal, Rhodesia, South Africa and the Vatican City provided support.
Biafra also received aid
from non-state actors; Joint Church
, Holy Ghost Fathers
, MarkPress and U.S. Catholic Relief Services
1960, Nigeria became independent of the United Kingdom.
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
states, while the southern population was predominantly Christian
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
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
Northern premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello
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
1967, the military leaders and senior police officials of each
region met in Aburi, Ghana 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
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
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 Cross aid to Biafra; two weeks later it allowed medical
supplies through the front line, but restricted food
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
, led by then-Colonel
. Ojukwu fled to the
Coast, 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.
in Biafra's borders were over of land; the land borders were shared
with Nigeria to the north
and Cameroon to the east. Its coast was on the Gulf of
Guinea in the south.
The former country's southeast borders the Benue Hills
and mountains that lead to
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
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
Along with Igbo there were a variety of other different languages,
, 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/-
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
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
, one B-26 Invader
(piloted by Polish pilot Jan Zumbach
known also as John Brown), converted DC-3
. Because of the lack of
official support, the Biafrans manufactured their weapons locally.
the Swedish pilot Carl Gustaf
von Rosen suggested the MiniCOIN project to General
Ojukwu. By the spring of 1969, Biafra had built five
MFI-9B in Gabon, 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
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
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
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
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.
2006 the Center for
World Indigenous Studies reported that government sanctioned
killings were taking place in the southeastern city of Onitsha, 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
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-Bissau. Manuel
(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
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
maps of Africa from the
15th–19th centuries, drawn by European cartographers
from accounts written by
explorers and travellers, reveal some interesting information about
- The original word used by the European travellers was not
Biafra but Biafara, Biafar and
sometimes also Biafares.
- 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
- Biafra on Encyclopædia Britannica.
Retrieved 19 August 2008.
- "The Last Adventurer" by Steiner, Rolf (Boston:, Little, Brown
- Bortolotti, Dan (2004). Hope in Hell: Inside the World of
Doctors Without Borders, Firefly Books. ISBN
- Emerging Genocide in Nigeria
- Chronicles of brutality in Nigeria 2000-2006