Since 1999, some groups have been seeking the secession of the southeastern region of Nigeria to become the independent Republic of Biafra.
Although the Southeast is not the only region with separatist agitators, these groups have been the most vocal and consistent in their pursuit.
The agitators said they are motivated by feelings of the region’s marginalization in Nigeria’s power-sharing formulas and distribution of resources by successive governments.
Furthermore, President Muhammadu Buhari’s alleged lopsided appointments against the Southeast have been linked to a resurgence of pro-Biafra agitation in the region of late.
People in the region grew increasingly frustrated with their inability to produce Nigeria’s president since the return of democracy in 1999, even though some of the other regions produced at different times.
The region, which had largely supported the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was disappointed that the party, in May, chose its 2023 presidential candidate from outside the region.
This was despite clamor from southeastern leaders that the region should be given a chance to produce the president in 2023.
Like the PDP, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) also chose its presidential candidate from outside the region.
First secession attempt
The region’s first attempt to secede from Nigeria precipitated a 30-month civil war between 1967 and 1970, with an estimated one million to three million dead from fighting, disease, and famine, according to a report by Cable News Network.
Odumegwu Ojukwu, as then Military Governor of the Eastern Region, had declared the independence of the Sovereign State of Biafra on May 30, 1967, drawing the ire of the then Military Government of Nigeria under Yakubu Gowon. The secessionists finally surrendered after Ojukwu fled into exile in January 1970.
More than 52 years later, agitation over Nigeria’s separation continues to rage.
Many believe this is due to a sense of marginalization and historical grievances by the Igbo, who accused the Nigerian government of genocide during the civil war.
The fight for secession continues
Between 1999 and 2022, various separatist groups emerged in the southeast agitating for an independent state of Biafra that would secede from the southeast and some parts of the south-south region.
The Movement for the Updating of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) was the first pro-Biafra group to emerge in 1999 to push for the secession of the region.
MASSOB was founded by Indian-trained lawyer Ralph Uwazurike, after the defeat of a former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, by Olusegun Obasanjo in the PDP presidential primaries. But the group failed to gain ground and virtually disappeared until President Goodluck Jonathan, who enjoyed massive Igbo support, lost his bid for re-election in 2015.
Nnamdi Kanu, a supporter of Mr. Jonathan, later introduced the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
IPOB appears to be more organized and vocal than other pro-Biafra groups that emerged later, some of which have fizzled out.
Peter Obi Factor
Since Peter Obi emerged as the Labor Party (LP) presidential candidate, he has enjoyed growing support across the country.
Mr. Obi, who hails from the southeast, also enjoys a large following in the region.
Although the former governor of Anambra state is not the only presidential candidate from the southeast, many residents of the region believe that he is a powerful instrument in realizing the dream of the Igbo presidency.
The Igbo are banking on Obi’s growing support to try for the Nigerian presidency for the first time in 2023, according to many southeastern residents who spoke to this reporter.
Since emerging as the LP candidate, IPOB has been less active in the southeast, fueling speculation that Obi’s victory in the 2023 election could end the turmoil over Biafra.
However, there are signs that such speculation may be misplaced.
Ohanaeze on the Igbo presidency
An important Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigboand other Igbo leaders have consistently endorsed the Igbo presidential bid, arguing that the southeast is the only region that has yet to produce a Nigerian president.
Since the Fourth Republic began in 1999, four people from three of Nigeria’s six regions have been elected president. They are Mr. Obasanjo from the Southwest, Umar Yar’adua and Mr. Buhari from the Northwest, and Mr. Jonathan from the South-South.
“Ndigbo is ready and hopes that the Igbo presidency will be a national priority. It is also indeed reasonable and logical that before any other area of the country goes for a second round of holding the office of the presidency, that Ndigbo should at least have its first round,” said Ohanaeze President General George Obiozor. said in January.
However, the group has also repeatedly maintained that the Igbo will remain in Nigeria, although it has shown considerable sympathy and clandestine support for IPOB and its agitation.
Position of IPOB
But IPOB has repeatedly insisted that the Republic of Biafra, not the Igbo presidency, is their demand.
An IPOB faction, led by a Finnish-Nigerian citizen, Simon Ekpa, for example, has been threatening to disrupt elections in the southeast, arguing that the Igbo presidency cannot mitigate the Biafra quest.
“There will be no elections in Biafraland until there is the possibility of a referendum,” Ekpa reiterated in a Twitter post-Thursday.
Another IPOB faction led by Nnamdi Kanu has also called for a referendum in the region.
In 2018, Emma Powerful, a spokesperson for the Kanu IPOB faction, was consulted by The wire on whether an Igbo presidency would cause the group to back down from its agitation. He answered:
“Nothing can make IPOB turn back in this divine quest to restore the lost sovereign state of Biafra. Only the will of the people can be clearly expressed during a referendum (can do that). If we lose in a referendum, we will stop the agitation for Biafra on the same day.”
In August 2022, when the group was accused by a Fulani group, Miyetti Allah, of backing Obi’s presidential bid, Mr. Powerful answered: “IPOB is not interested in an Igbo president or a Nigerian president of Biafran extraction. The Igbo people who unite behind Peter Obi are not members of IPOB because IPOB does not want the contraption called Nigeria to continue to exist and we must separate ourselves from the Nigerian company regardless of whether Peter Obi or anyone from the geographic space of Biafra is competing in Nigeria. the farce of an election.”
Once again, some armed men said to be part of the Biafra unrest in the southeast, have been attacking and killing officials from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), maintaining that there would be no elections in the region in 2023.
the thugs, in a viral video clip, threatened to disrupt the elections in the region if the government did not call a referendum.
While the government can work hard to ensure that the region’s 2023 general elections are held, the threats and attacks by pro-Biafra gunmen against INEC officials indicate that they do not support Mr. Obi’s presidential candidacy and do not they are influenced by their prospect of victory at the polls.
What the residents say
Many residents who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES corroborated IPOB’s position that Mr. Obi’s presidency cannot end the turmoil over Biafra in the southeast.
However, they admitted that the victory of the LP candidate at the polls may dampen the agitation as it would give the region a sense of belonging to the Nigerian project.
“The election of Peter Obi is quite different from the turmoil (for Biafra). On that (election) day, I will go to vote, but the turmoil continues,” said Augustus Ike, a resident of Enugu state.
This also implies that Obi’s defeat in the 2023 elections could intensify Biafran turmoil in the southeast, given the widespread belief among residents of the region that only manipulation can stop him.
His defeat will thus be interpreted by many neighbors as part of the alleged conspiracy to deny the Southeast the presidency.
The probable reason for insisting on Biafra
Observers point to one of the main reasons why the Biafran turmoil will continue even if Obi wins the presidential election.
“The feeling of marginalization (of the Southeast) over the years has created a feeling among young people, particularly among those who did not witness the civil war, that in no way will a Southeasterner receive fair treatment under the structure called Nigeria,” Onyebuchi Ezeani, a political science professor, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Ezeani, who teaches at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, stressed that IPOB’s insistence on Biafra must have been informed by the group’s belief that “even if Peter Obi wins, he will be a mere puppet in the hands of those who have been taking the position of owning Nigeria.”
The political scientist said that the separatists believe that Obi’s presidency can only last two terms of eight years at most, after which “the injustice (against the southeast) will continue”.
“Their position is that the Nigerian state, as it is seen today, does not and will never serve the interests of the Igbo. That is why they have continued to show no interest in any Igbo men who are running for political office in Nigeria.”
Credit: Premium Times