Biafrans: A People in Diaspora Longing for a Home to Call Their Own

For hundreds and even thousands of years, Africa has borne witness to huge moments in human history. Current scientific evidence points to Africa as the cradle of humankind, and while there is debate on where exactly in Africa humans first emerged, the continent still plays a central role in the origin of the human race. Africa is also a land of turmoil, with the West and East African slave trades unleashing huge devastation on the continent’s people. Various colonial empires partitioned Africa among themselves, while the remaining local kingdoms waged war against each other. Ethnic and religious conflict persist even in the post-colonial era.

What is currently known as Nigeria was a British colonial project, having amalgamated its holdings in West Africa in 1914. By 1960, with the British Empire in decline, Nigeria gained its independence. Due to the fact that Nigeria was an arbitrary creation of the British, lumping together more than 250 ethnic groups speaking over 500 languages, ethnic and religious tensions persisted throughout the post-independence era. Northern Nigeria is mostly Muslim, with the Hausa people as the largest ethnic group. The South is mostly Christian, with some traditional religions. The Yoruba people are found mostly in the Southwest, while the Igbo people are mostly in the Southeast, particularly in a region called Biafra.

In the 1960s, anti-Igbo sentiment in the north and west forced many of them to flee towards the Southeast regions, where they were safer due to the larger number of Igbo. However, tensions remained and violence flared up multiple times, and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, governor of Nigeria’s Eastern region, declared the region as an independent state, known as the Republic of Biafra. This kicked off the Nigerian Civil War, which lasted from 1967 to 1970.

Biafra, which was recognized by several African countries and supported by allies in Africa and Europe, was gripped by famine due to a near-total military blockade, causing millions of deaths. In 1970, the Biafran government surrendered and the republic was reabsorbed into Nigeria.

While the Nigerian government promised that there would be “no victor” and “no vanquished” at the end of the civil war, many Biafrans feel that the government has not followed through on this promise. Ever since the end of the war, the Igbo people were mostly excluded from power in the federal Nigerian government, with no Igbo becoming Nigerian head of state since 1966. Development projects were much scarcer in the Biafran region, despite the rich natural resources provided by the Niger River Delta, significant oil deposits, and the major city of Port Harcourt.

More than 50 years since the end of the Nigerian Civil War, the continuing ethno-religious tensions and underdevelopment in the region have resulted in a Biafran diaspora, with millions of Biafrans leaving Nigeria for a better life overseas. In the United States alone, there are 4 million Biafrans. Despite the country no longer existing for over five decades, the dream for an independent state still remains, with a Biafra Republic Government in Exile(BRGIE) declared in 2023, with Finland-based Simon Njoku Ekpa as its Prime Minister, along with 200 Cabinet ministers and liaison offices in many different countries, especially those with significant Biafran populations. Back in Nigeria, Biafrans have been holding civil disobedience campaigns in protest.

According to Ekpa, the BRGIE has organized a referendum, which began on February 1, 2024, to gain the consent of the Biafran people to work towards Biafra’s independence from Nigeria. A Biafran convention will also be held in Finland later this year. He adds that once Biafra has obtained independence, the government in exile will be dissolved, and elections will be held for a new government.

In an independent Biafra, Ekpa envisions a democratic form of government where people are treated equally and no ethnic group is marginalized. He also proposes a digital national identification system and database, which he believes can help control the rampant crime rate that is plaguing virtually the entirety of Nigeria. Digital technology can also help minimize fraud in areas such as voting and educational credentials.

Ekpa believes that a large portion of the Biafran diaspora will be encouraged to return to their homeland once it becomes independent, bringing the education, skills, and resources they obtained abroad to Biafra and help in the country’s development. Having seen the advanced public welfare and governance system in Finland, Ekpa hopes to emulate that system in Biafra.

“Just as Africa is the birthplace of human civilization, we want to help create a better civilization in Africa with Biafra,” Ekpa says. “The country we are looking for is a country that every Biafran will be proud of. I have not been to Nigeria for the past 15 years, and there are many members of the Biafran diaspora who have not set foot in our homeland for even longer, out of fear for their safety. However, our hearts are always present there, perhaps even more so than many Nigerians who travel back to their country every year.”

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