The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is a separatist movement that seeks to recreate Biafra as an independent state. From 1967-70, there was a civil war over Biafra’s attempt to secede that left up to two million Nigerians dead. Ever since, the Nigerian government has tried with every means to crack down on Biafra secessionist movements.
IPOB was proscribed and declared as a terrorist organization by an Abuja high court in September 2017. But the United States has said it does not see the movement as a terrorist organisation, as its protests have been largely peaceful, although Washington has maintained that it is committed to a united Nigeria.
The pain of Biafrans is understandable. The government has yet to hold any serious conversation to address growing grievances and some of the fundamental issues that led to the war in the first place. Many in the southeast say they have never received justice for the more than 2 million people killed during the war. Analysts say conversation or dialogue about the war could be a way of healing old wounds and forging reconciliation, building trust and national alliances.
The Biafra agitation, now led by mostly young people, is just getting started. The present government, like most of those before it, has no interest in reconciliatory moves such as holding a roundtable dialogue with the agitators or in leading a national conversation to address the grievances that have left the country still divided five decades later.
A lot of delegations and letters have been sent to the United States concerning the Biafran Issue.
Possibly unknown to US President Donald Trump when he was a candidate for president, he had a near-religious followership among many Igbos from Southeastern Nigeria who were in favour of their region seceding from the rest of the country as a new Republic of Biafra.
Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, wrote to Trump after his election win last year stating that the victory placed on Trump a “historic and moral burden … to liberate the enslaved nations in Africa.” Nnamdi Kanu and his followers fiercely believe that Biafra is trapped in the “artificial” country of Nigeria created by British colonisers.
IPOB and many other pro-Biafrans hoped fervently that a Trump presidency would be sympathetic towards the Biafran cause and this hope was mainly based on comments the billionaire property developer made in relation to the British vote in last year’s referendum to leave the European Union – Brexit. Trump tweeted after the vote:
Self-determination is the sacred right of all free people’s, and the people of the UK have exercised that right for all the world to see.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2016
Pro-Biafrans clung to this as evidence that he would support a referendum for “Biafrexit” from Nigeria.
Some of the separatists used the hashtag #BiafraForTrump to celebrate the Republican’s victory, which they thought had given them renewed hope in their bid to exit from Nigeria. Nnamdi Kanu’s wife told Newsweek magazine: “With Trump coming into power, even though not everyone is happy about it, we are [happy] because hopefully Trump will uphold the self-determination rights of the indigenous people of Biafra.” Other agendas like the plans to ban Muslims from certain countries from visiting the US also endeared him to pro-Biafrans, who view Nigeria and its current president Muhammadu Buhari as an Islamic state that kills and oppresses Biafran Christians.
The first warning sign that Trump had no interest in the Biafran cause came when the killing by Nigerian police of 11 pro-Biafrans celebrating Trump’s inauguration on the 20th of January in the southern city of Port Harcourt was ignored by “their man” in the White House. Despite his Twitter account being bombarded with tweets and pictures of the shooting, there was not a word from Trump. This was hardly surprising since the man had shown little interest in sub-Saharan Africa during his campaign.
The next disappointment for Biafran separatists came in February when Trump called Buhari in his sick bed in London.
The White House readout of the conversation stated: “President Donald J. Trump spoke this week with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to discuss the strong cooperation between the United States and Nigeria, including on shared security, economic, and governance priorities.
“President Trump underscored the importance the United States places on its relationship with Nigeria, and he expressed interest in working with President Buhari to expand the strong partnership. The leaders agreed to continue close coordination and cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria and worldwide.”
The third was when President Trump expressed support for the sale of aircraft from the United States to support Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. President Trump thanked President Buhari for the leadership he has exercised in the region and emphasised the importance of a strong, secure, and prosperous Nigeria that continues to lead in the region and in international forums”.
No mention of Biafran right to self-determination, the release of Nnamdi Kanu, or the killing of hundreds of pro-Biafrans by the security agencies.
The stark reality here was that Trump was the same as or even worse than Obama.
However, even Obama had reservations about selling arms to Nigeria due to the military’s long record of human rights violations. There were no such qualms with Trump. It was announced some months ago that the US was going ahead with the sale of attack aircraft to Nigeria, despite protests.
This would make a long list of arms and ammunition dealings between the United States and Nigeria.
This must have been a “wake up call” moment for Biafran separatists. The reality, that they refused to see all along, is that Trump is and will be no different from any other US president.
The United State’s interest in Nigeria is in relation to the billions of dollars made by he tUnited State’s corporate interests and investments in the country, especially in the oil and gas industry.
Stuff like self-determination and human rights must not get in the way of the business of making money. Nobody knows this more than the billionaire president, whose bungled attempts to ban visitors to the US from several Muslim countries were careful not to include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Azerbaijan where he has business interests.
Since Buhari came into power in 2015, he has been criticised for his Mahjor political and military appointments, which have often favored individuals from the north, further deepening the divide.
Nigeria is still deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines, and this has played into many national and regional engagements. Marginalisation, unequal political appointments, and ethnic and religious tensions are still brewing division.
The best thing for Ndi Igbo, the members of IPOB and other Biafran secessionists is to sue and push for restructuring in Nigeria as that would be a lot more beneficial than the age-long pipe dream of the realization of Biafra.
AFRICA TODAY NEWS, NEW YORK