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REPUBLIC OF BIAFRA: A PROFILE

republic of biafra map, the map of biafra  

On May 30, 1967, a new nation was born. Fourteen million people had taken their destiny into their own hands and embarked on the task of building a nation free from fear, bitterness and hate. Their sole aim is to develop their innate capabilities and rear their children in an atmosphere of peace and security. They stretch their hands of fellowship to all nations and appeal for understanding, friendship and co-operation.

We, Biafrans, opted for self-determination after a long period of heart-searching and after making desperate efforts to save the Federation of Nigeria from disintegration. More than any other people in the former Federation, Biafrans contributed their human and material resources to the cause of national unity. From 1914, when the British amalgamated Northern and Southern Nigeria, Biafrans began to leave their homeland in large numbers to settle in several places among the Fulani-Hausa in the North and the Yoruba in the West. In those areas they opened up new avenues of commerce and industry and at the same time built new homes and erected places of worship and institutions of learning. By so doing they came to acquire a real stake in the progress and well-being of ALL parts of the country. They regarded themselves as citizens of Nigeria to an extent that no other group in the country ever did.

Wherever Biafrans sojourned their industry, resourcefulness and drive marked them out from their neighbours. In the North, particularly, the distinction was enhanced by religion; for while the majority of the Fulani-Hausa population were Muslims the Biafrans were and still remain mostly Christians. In addition, the progress and dynamism of Biafrans contrasted with the tardiness and conservatism of their neighbours who were generally unable to achieve the same standards of efficiency and prosperity. The envy and animosity the Biafrans excited were manifested periodically, such as in the massacre of Biafrans by Northern Nigerians at Jos in 1945 and at Kano in 1953.

While Biafrans abroad were thrusting ahead and setting the pace for the economic development of Nigeria, those in Biafra itself were diligently exploiting the human and material resources of their homeland. Their ready acceptance of modern ideas and techniques brought them to the forefront of economic and political activities. Democratic by tradition, they championed democratic ideals and at the same time advocated the concept of a united country. They resolutely opposed the reactionary ideas of the Fulani-Hausa ruling elite which controlled the North and dominated the Federal Government. They also resisted the vicious and unscrupulous methods by which the Northerners sought to perpetuate their hold on the political strings of Nigeria. It was largely this confrontation between the forces of progress, represented by Biafrans, and those of reaction, represented by the Fulani-Hausa which culminated in the Nigerian census crisis of 1963-64, the Federal election crisis of 1964 and the Western Nigeria election crisis of 1965 which brought the military to power in January 1966.

During the massacre of 29 May 1966, which was the reaction of the Fulani-Hausa to Unification Decree No. 34 of the Supreme Military Council, Biafrans were the sole victims and there was no discrimination with regard to their individual ethnic origin. The massacre of Biafran army officers and men by their Northern "comrades-in-arms" on 29 July 1966, and of Biafran civilians later, followed the same pattern: they were killed only because they were Biafrans.

Those who survived the pogrom fled back to their homeland disillusioned and embittered. Their investments in other parts of the Federation had been destroyed and those whom they held dear had been killed or maimed. The families in Biafra who received them back shared their grief, and hardly any family in Biafra escaped the loss of a member or the return of a destitute relative needing relief. The Northern Assailants showed no sign of remorse. On the contrary they were jubilant over the expulsion of the Biafrans in their midst. The Biafrans themselves would never think of going back to expose themselves to the risk of a repeat of their previous harrowing experience. Thus the pogrom of 1966 resulted in an irreversible movement of population.

In spite of all they had suffered during earlier massacres and during the more recent pogrom, the people of Biafra sought no revenge but strove strenuously to find a peaceful solution which would keep Nigeria together. The Northerners, on the contrary, rejected every overture, ignored the implementation of agreements which had been mutually arrived at, and relied on their military occupation of Lagos and Western Nigeria to humiliate Biafrans even further.

Two of these agreements stand out clearly. As far back as 9 August 1966 representatives of the Military Governors and Lt.-Col. Gowon agreed in Lagos that, inter alia "Immediate steps should be taken to post military personnel to barracks within their respective regions of origin". It was generally recognized that tension would be reduced and Biafrans would have less fear of attending meetings elsewhere in Southern Nigeria if this measure was taken. The implementation of this agreement was pressed on numerous occasions from August 1966 until the collapse of the Federation, but was totally ignored by the Northern "conquerors". Again, after long persuasion, the military rulers of Northern Nigeria agreed to attend a conference at Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967. Far-reaching decisions aimed at restoring the Federation to normalcy were taken at this meeting. As is now well-known, the Northern military rulers at first repudiated the decisions as soon as they returned to Lagos but, following further persuasion both from within and outside Nigeria, proceeded to implement only a portion of the Aburi decisions. At the same time the Federal Government contrary to an Aburi decision stopped paying its staff serving in Biafra, and withheld the Biafran share of Federal revenues.

The protests of Biafrans against the attitude of the North were met with threats of military subjugation. The proposal that Nigerian military leaders should meet in the presence of named African heads of States was spurned. The stoppage of salaries of Biafrans in the Federal public Service and Corporations compelled the Government of Biafra to pay these salaries in addition to bearing the financial burden of rehabilitating other refugees and displaced persons. Then the Lagos Government continued to withhold the periodic payments and remittances from Federal funds due to the Government of Biafra, the Biafran Government was forced to take steps to stop the continued accumulation of debt by the Lagos Government by promulgating the Revenue Collection Edict. Thereafter, the Lagos Government mounted a blockade aimed at the economic strangulation of Biafra.

It is this calculated and systematic persecution of Biafrans in the former Federation of Nigeria that has driven us to seek justice and salvation in independence. Molested, taunted, hounded, murdered and finally driven away from other parts of Nigeria, Biafrans have been compelled to acknowledge that close association with Fulani-Hausa is fraught with disaster. We have therefore taken up the challenge to our liberty and dedicated ourselves to the struggle for our survival.

But the federal government of Nigeria had not finished with the Biafrans. On July 6, 1967, barely five weeks after Biafra’s declaration of independence, Nigeria declared a genocidal war against the people of Biafra. With the military and diplomatic backing of Britain, the former Soviet Union, Spain and other western countries and employing the most unconventional means of warfare including starvation, Nigeria had the upper hand after thirty months of intense combats. Biafra was left with no other choice but to surrender to Federal Nigeria.

Despite the promise of “no victor no vanquished” treatment at the end of the war in January 1970, Biafrans have consistently and systematically been subjected to economic, political and social strangulation by the rest of Nigeria. The mindless killings of Biafrans which compelled Biafrans to seek their independence in 1967, have resumed with greater intensity. Gatherings of Biafrans and places of Christian worship in the Northern part of the country are regular targets of Islamic terror, spearheaded today by the Boko Haram. In 2013 Biafrans resident in the western part of Nigeria were subjected to mass deportations back to their homeland.

The one hundred year amalgamation contract for Nigeria ended on December 31, 2013. This means that the component parts of what was Nigeria can now go their ways. Meanwhile, the ethnic cleansing against Biafrans in Nigeria has not abetted. For us, nothing short of the restoration of the sovereign state of Biafra will guarantee security to our lives, our liberty, and our God-given right to pursue happiness in order to make the world a better place.

In the following pages the reader will discover the real Biafra, a country which has through the ages undergone a political as well as an economic transformation resulting in the emergence of a virile and united nation that is capable of sustaining itself in the committee of nations.

2. THE COUNTRY

The country, Biafra, is an almost rhomboid shaped territory which is demarcated to the west by the lower reaches of the River Niger and its Delta, to the East by the Obudu plateau and the Highlands of Oban and Ikom, to the south by the Bight of Biafra and to the North by an administrative boundary following, approximately, the 7 deg. N. latitude. The total area is over 29,400 square miles. Thus Biafra, almost as big as Gambia and Sierra Leone put together, is bigger than Togo or Rwanda and Burundi combined, and is four times the size of the Republic of Israel.

The territory is well-watered throughout the year, lying to a large extent in the basins of the Niger River, the Cross River, the Kwa River and the Imo River. Three quarters of these river basins are lowland less than 400 feet above sea-level. The well-known Niger Delta which extends through two of the twenty provinces of Biafra, occupies about one-fifth of the lowland. North of the lowland the country rises gradually through open flat land to the Oban hills and Obudu plateau in the east and the Nsukka and Udi hills in the west. The Obudu plateau rises to over 6,300 feet and is one of the coolest and mast delightful parts of West Africa. There are also beautiful uplands in the provinces of Okigwi, Orlu and Nsukka.

Biafra is wholly located within the tropics, being only a few degrees north of the equator. But the climate, although humid at some periods of the year, is on the whole not too hot. Monthly average temperatures range between 70 deg. F and 90 deg. F, and average rainfall from about 60 inches in the north to about 140 inches in the Niger Delta. Like the rest of West Africa, the territory has two main seasons, namely a rainy and a dry season. The former generally begins towards the end of April but remains mild until the period June to September when the rains become heavy though intermittent. There is usually a short break in the rains during the first two weeks of August. The dry season which, in most parts of Biafra, lasts from November to March is characterized by relatively light rainfall. A Prominent feature of this season is the dry, bracing Harmattan wind that blows from the Sahara southwards between the months of December and February.

The tropical climate of the country favours the growth of luxuriant vegetation. Mangrove forest covers a depth of between 10 and 40 miles of the coastal lowlands, including the Niger Delta. Beyond this belt is the rain forest which extends northwards for approximately 80 miles. In the few places where the forest is still virgin are to be found many species of giant and medium-size trees with a thick evergreen canopy of broad leaves which restrict the penetration of sunlight. Except in the forest reserves, which are located especially in parts of the Cross River basin, much of the rain forest has been cleared and is honey-combed with villages, farms and oil-palm groves. North of the rain forest, as far as the Northern boundary of Biafra, the vegetation thins out into rich grassland or Guinea Savannah which is characterized by tall grasses and medium size trees.

However, the new Biafra will include our neighbors with whom we have strong historical and cultural ties as well as those who cherish peace and freedom. These include Anioma people (Ika Ibo) from Asaba to Igbanke, the Ijaws to the west of the River Niger, the Itshekiri and the Urhobo. Others are the Idoma and the Igala.

3. THE PEOPLE

According to the census conducted in November 1963, the population of the Republic of Biafra was 12.4 million. The figure rose to over 14 million following the crisis of 1966 in the former Federation of Nigeria. The present population of Biafra, therefore, equals the total number of people inhibiting the West African states of Togo, Dahomey, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gambia put together. In the whole of Africa, Biafra is now the fourth largest in population, exceeded only by Nigeria, the U.A.R. and Ethiopia, and equaling Congo Kinshasa. However, her population density of about 500 persons per square mile is the highest in the whole of Africa. The significance of this factor in terms of economic development arid potentialities is obvious.

A tradition that has become generally accepted divides the population of Biafra into four main "tribes"; a division which accounts for ninety-eight per cent of the total population inhabiting the country, namely, the Ibos, the Ibibio-Efiks, the Ijaws and the Ogojas. But, in fact this is an over-simplification introduced by people foreign to Biafra. Until the above classification, the people of the territory did not live or regard themselves as homogenous "tribes" differing one from another; rather, they lived in towns and villages each of which regarded itself as distinct although in many cases linked to its neighbours by a mythical or real ancestor. Thus the people now known as Ibos thought of themselves as Awka, Bende, Aro, Ngwa, etc.; the Ibibio-Efiks as Uyo, Itu, etc.; the Ijaw as Okrika, Ibani, Kalabari, Nembe etc.; and the Ogojas as Ekoi, Akunakuna, Boki, etc.

In other words, the present Ibos, Ibibio-Efiks, Ogojas and Ijaws did not regard themselves as such until they were so classified by foreigners. For example, the word "Ibo" was probably derived from "Heebo" which, according to some European trader of the 19th century, was the name given by Biafran traders on the coast to the hinterland area where they traded. Subsequent European traders slightly changed the word to "Eboe" from which "Ibo" was derived. It should be noted, also, that the same Biafran traders on the coast differentiated between the "Ibo" in the hinterland and the "Kwa Ibo", that is, Ibos living on the Kwa river. The latter are now known as Ibibios. The traders, of course, were merely using the word "Ibo" as a general term for people living in the hinterland rather than for a tribe in the modern sense of the word. The term "Ibo" was applied by all the inhabitants of the Eastern Delta to those of the Western Delta and never to themselves. It is interesting to note also that the riverine groups on the banks of the lower Niger, Onitsha, Osomari, Oguta etc., refer to their hinterland neighbours as "Igbo", a term which they do not apply to themselves. Thus it would seem that modern tribal consciousness, represented by the application of the term Ibo, Ibibio, Ijo or Ogoja in Biafra, was fostered not by the people themselves but by foreigners who were ignorant of the intricate bonds which held the country together and who classified Biafrans according to their own linguistic and other criteria.

These bonds were woven from the earliest times when the territory was peopled. Archaeological evidence reveals that Biafra has been under continuous human occupation for at least 5,000 years and, as is now being discovered, that her people developed an ancient civilization a thousand years ago, that is about half a millennium before the emergence of the Kingdom of Benin.

It was not only trade that contributed towards the evolution of a homogenous Biafra in the precolonial era; there was also the contribution of the prevalent division of labour within the territory. Individual communities were noted and relied upon for specific skills. This encouraged their movement from one place to another during which the inter-dependence of all the communities was enhanced and emphasized. For example, the people of Awka were famed throughout the centre and north of Biafra as wood-carvers, while the Nri people supplied the priestly class so essential for the religious welfare of the surrounding communities. Southwards, there were the blacksmiths, of Nkwerre, the wood-carvers of Annang, the Item and Ibibio doctors, the warriors or mercenaries of Ohafia and Abam and the priests of Arochukwu. Thus it came to be generally accepted that one community supplied the wants of another and the tradition of mutual reliance and support, now characteristic of Biafrans became established.

4 POLITICAL AND SOCIAL SYSTEM

The extent of acculturation in Biafra is clearly demonstrated by the similarity in the political and social systems of all groups. Although the account which follows largely refers to the Period preceding colonial rule, it must be borne in mind that much of the political and social system discussed is still in vogue.

Each of the groups possessed central administrative and judicial institutions, and power as well as authority was based not on birth but on wealth, status and age of the individual or individuals wielding them. Ultimate power, however, did not reside in the central authority, which consisted essentially of a federation of politically equivalent segments, but in the segments themselves.

Usually the government of the community was entrusted to a Council of Elders who were heads of the component segments known either as compound, hamlet or ward. The council was presided over by a head who must be acceptable to all and who was, in a political sense, a first among equals. The Council of Elders was not really a legislative body but an informal body which met as the occasion arose. Its primary function was to take decisions on weighty matters affecting the whole community, such as the declaration of war and peace, the settlement of serious internal disputes which otherwise might wreck the solidarity of the community, and the regulation and performance of rituals aimed at safeguarding the welfare of members of the group.

The day-to-day affairs of the segment rested with the Elder (variously called Okpara, Etubom, Ete Ekpuk etc.). He wields political, judicial and religious authority, arbitrated in internal disputes and represented the group in its external relations with others. His authority was generally accorded chiefly because he was recognized as the intermediary between the group and its ancestors,

Throughout Biafra there has always been an identical attitude to law and custom. Both were inextricably bound together and were believed to have been handed down to the people's ancestors by the gods. Thus anyone who violated those laws not only incurred the displeasure of the living but also the anger of the ancestors as well as of the gods. This attitude towards law helped in minimizing anti-social behaviour. Sometimes it was necessary to make a new law, and for that the consent of the entire community had to be sought; a practice which was relatively easy on account of the small size of each group. This traditional process of general participation in the act of law-making provided, for the young and old alike, vital education in the principles of the existing social order. Subsequently, the law was ratified by the Elders and given divine sanction by sacrifice and by invoking the approval of the ancestors. It is this element of popular consent and direct participation in the enactment of laws which attracted the attention of foreign visitors to Biafra and led them to conclude rightly that Biafrans were ultra-democratic, highly individualistic and disliked or suspected any form of external government and authority.

In the sphere of social relations, Biafrans had a common attitude to marriage. Marriage was not regarded in any part of the country as an affair between two individuals, a man and a woman, but between the whole family of the man and that of his prospective spouse. Betrothed girls in most parts of the territory usually went into a period of seclusion sometimes known as the "fattening" period. Custom encouraged the man to look for a bride outside his lineage (exogamy) not only because this increased the population of the lineage but because it created an external alliance, sealed in blood relationship, which widened the contacts of relatives on both sides. By this means a member of a, lineage became connected with the lineage of his of his mother or wife or sisters, and vice versa. He could thus traverse in peace vast distances merely by passing through areas inhabited by his in-laws. If he was a trader the advantage of this arrangement was obvious and in this sense it could be said for Biafrans that trade followed the wife. The system of marriage also had political implications because, although in the pre-colonial era them was no single political authority recognized throughout Biafra, the ties of marriage ensured relative peace and a sense of common belonging.

There were three other social institutions prevalent in Biafra which demonstrated the extent of her cultural homogeneity. Firstly, there was the institution known as the "Age-set" or "Age-grade". Males born in the same year or within a specified number of years were grouped together to form one ago-set. These sets were organized on village bases but each unit could, and often did, maintain close ties with an identical unit in neighbouring villages. The status of the age-set in the community increased with ago. Often when the members attained the age of between 12 and 15 it was formally recognized, took a name and appointed a leader. Age-sets rendered such services to the community as the clearing of paths, cutting of forests, and the defence of the village. They imposed self-discipline on their members and could punish them for any laxity in behaviour. In many cases women were also organized in age-sets and these might contribute to a common fund for mutual assistance and usually acted as pressure groups within the community.

The second institution was the title society. Membership of these societies was secured not by birth but through age and individual merit as represented by the ability to make the appropriate payments in cash and in kind. Usually these societies were open only to the free born, but among the Delta communities slaves who were able to afford the initiation expenses could readily become members. It was common for such societies to be graded in an ascending order of seniority which also conferred increasing privileges and status. Membership could only be gained according to the stipulated order and after the requisite rites had been performed.

Lastly, there were the secret societies, a large number of which still exist. In many cases title-holders were associated with specific secret societies, and the two institutions thus tended to coincide. In other cases, however, the two were separate, with secret societies constituting a larger group to which every full member of the community could be admitted. One of the most common of these societies was the Ekpe (also known as Egbo, Akang, Ekpo etc.) which also corresponded to the Owuogbo of the Delta in its functions. These secret societies were used to uphold the legal decisions of the Council of Elders or of the community as a whole, they also ensured conformity in certain rituals and in social behaviour and undertook certain public works for the community. Membership of some secret societies and knowledge of their signs (for example Okonko) served as a passport for the initiate while travelling in distant places where a lodge of the society existed. This, in a way, helped to foster social integration within the country.

In the religious sphere, there has always been an element of homogeneity in Biafra. As already stated, Islam never touched even the borders of the territory. The result has been that until the advent of Christianity in the nineteenth century all Biafrans followed the religion of their ancestors. There existed a universal belief in a Supreme Deity (variously called Chukwu, Chineke, Abasi, Tamuno, Oghene etc.) which resided above and was the source of creation, life and fertility. Apart from the Supreme Deity, it was also believed that there were other lesser gods of thunder, sun, wood etc., as well as spirits which were divided into the good and the evil depending on their supposed attitude towards the individual or the community as a whole. The cult of the "Earth" spirit was one of the most important in Biafra. This deity was regarded as the mistress of the underworld and the cult of the ancestors was closely associated with it. Some of the more serious crimes such as murder, adultery, poisoning and stealing farm products were regarded as offences committed against the Earth deity. Laws were enacted and oaths sworn in her name so that reverence for the Earth Spirit became one of the integrative forces for most communities.

With the introduction and spread of Christianity most of the traditional deities have been abandoned and Christian beliefs have supervened. The change has also advanced the integrative effects of indigenous religion by providing a basically uniform system of beliefs which pervades social and political thought and practice throughout Biafra.

CONCLUSION

Enough, it is hoped, has been said above to introduce the reader to Biafra and its people. It is a country inhabited from very early times by much the same people as live there today. The people evolved a political system which for hundreds of years allowed each of the small component groups to manage its own affairs but at the same time to regain certain cultural and economic links that bound the country into a relatively peaceful and homogeneous unit. With the advent of Europeans and the imposition of colonial rule those links were ignored in the search for labels so that Biafrans soon began to be regarded as members of four main "tribes" called "Ibo", "Ibibio-Efik", "Ogoja", and "Ijo". Subsequently, the formation of political parties and the exploitation of these labels by unscrupulous politicians led to popularization of the tribal label. But, on the whole, something of the old spirit of common identity remained and was reinforced by the fact that the whole country was administered throughout the period of colonial rule and after as single political unit.

Earlier, the creation of an artificial geographical unit called Nigeria by the colonial power induced Biafrans to settle in large numbers outside their home. The pogrom planned against them by the Fulani-Hausa of the North in 1966 has forced the survivors to seek refuge in their original homeland. Consequently, an irreversible movement of population has taken place which has revived the spirit of nationalism in Biafra and raised it higher than ever before. There is everywhere a feeling of common purpose and common destiny comparable to the anti-colonial movement of the past. Having lost over 3.5 million of their nationals and seen the dispossessed survivors hounded out of the rest of Nigeria they have been left with no alternative but either to succumb to the domination of the Fulani-Hausa or to stand on their own. They intensely feel that the path of survival and the path of honour lies in the restoration of the sovereign state of Biafra.

Biafrans have all the attributes of a nation. With a population of over 30 million living in contiguous and compact territory, they have an undisputed homeland of their own. They possess a well-trained man-power reserve second to none in Black Africa. Their country is rich in agricultural and mineral resources which are capable of sustaining them and enabling them to stand on their own. They already have well-developed industries producing a wide range of manufactures, and many more are either under construction or at the planning stage. They are capable of defending the integrity of their country and playing an effective role in the counsels of Africa and the world. Above all they possess an abundance of energy and an indomitable will to succeed.

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