Biafra was a short-lived secessionist state in Southeastern Nigeria that lasted from 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970. A military coup in January 1966 saw the assassinations of Northern Nigerian leaders like Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Northern Premier Ahmadu Bello. Their deaths sparked the killing of thousands of Igbos and members of other ethnic groups from Southern Nigeria in anti-Igbo pogroms across the north of the country. Millions of southerners fled the North, abandoning their homes, businesses and employment. The pogroms led to secession and the Nigerian Civil War, which only ended when Biafra conceded defeat and rejoined the country.
Modern Biafran secessionists believe that the conditions that led to the Nigerian Civil War are still present today. However, unlike the original movement, the secessionists, led by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), feel the people of Southeastern Nigeria are economically and socially marginalized by the state.
Why Donald Trump?
A pro Donald Trump rally held by Biafran activists in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in January 2017, left over 20 people dead at the hands of the police. A lot of my American friends couldn’t understand why any Nigerians would come out in support of Trump when his administration has been charged with xenophobic immigration policies and the appointment of staff who have ties to white supremacist groups.
But from dialogues I have had with many Biafra supporters,the reason for Trump’s overwhelming support is actually multifaceted. They don’t support his immigration policies, xenophobia or his anti-Black racism, but they are willing to overlook them based on his stance on radical Islam, Brexit, and his statements on the self-determination of nations.
After all, the argument Biafran activists have been putting forward is that if European countries can have referendums for independence, then why can’t Nigeria?
On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom held a referendum that saw it break away from the European Union. This has become known as Brexit. The next day, on 24 June, Trump tweeted:
“Self-determination is the sacred right of all free people’s [sic], and the people of the UK have exercised that right for all the world to see.”
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
This statement became a rallying cry for the secessionists who took it as a sign that Trump would support their cause. After all, the argument Biafran activists have been putting forward is that if European countries can have referendums for independence, then why can’t Nigeria?
The other reason for Biafran activists’ support of Trump is his tough stance on radical Islam. The mostly Christian Igbos have long cited cultural incompatibilities with the largely Muslim ethnic groups in Northern Nigeria, and growing Islamic fundamentalism in the North has been a major point of contention for Biafran activists. Many states in the North have implemented strict Sharia laws, which many Christians have seen as a violation of the constitution of what should be a secular country. For Biafrans, Trump is one of the few leaders bold enough to address the issue head on.
Islamic fundamentalism in Northern Nigeria has been a major point of contention for Biafran activists.
What do Biafrans really want?
In November 2016, Amnesty International released a report stating that the Nigerian military has been carrying out a campaign of extrajudicial executions that has resulted in the murder of at least 150 peaceful pro-Biafra protestors. In addition to what they deem as the unlawful imprisonment of IPOB’s leader, Nnamdi Kanu, the findings have bolstered the secessionist group’s claims of persecution and systemic oppression at the hands of the Nigerian government.
While Biafran support for Donald Trump most likely will not amount to much outside of Nigeria, especially if Trump never acknowledges it, the activists feel that supporting him will help their voices be heard on an international scale.
Based on my interactions with many Nigerians from the Southeast, if a Biafra referendum were to happen today, the vast majority of people in the region would vote to secede. If the current administration led by the former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari does not address the long standing grievances of the people of Southeast of Nigeria, the calls for secession will only intensify. And Nigeria certainly does not need more problems.
The Voice of Biafra International (VOBI) wrote a manifesto several years ago, explaining the modern case for Biafra. Click here to read it.