Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the governor of the Old Eastern Region declared the Republic of Biafra in 1967; a declaration which finally triggered a looming civil war in Nigeria – the first viral war in Africa.
The Republic of Biafra was a state in West Africa, specifically out of Nigeria, which existed between 1967 to 1970, under the leadership of the then Eastern governor, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
After an enduring, strained relationship between the North and the then Old Eastern region, two major regions dominated by two major ethnic groups in Nigeria; the Hausa in the North and the Igbos in the East, the declaration of Biafra was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. A part of the present-day South-South namely Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River, however, were under the territory of the then Old Eastern Region. These states, being part of the old Eastern region, were the oil-producing areas.
Oil was one of the main causes of secession which eventually led to the Nigerian Civil War. After the independence of Nigeria, on October 1, 1960, the problems of a decolonized Nigeria would begin. From the earliest times, the groups showed signs of collision in the competition for taking control of the young Federal State, to the point of costing the life of a prime minister and several of its administrators. To make matters worse, in 1966 the first coup d’etat came and with it great massacres, between comings and goings on the definition of the federal or unitary form of government.
In 1953, three years earlier before the discovery of oil in Nigeria, the North had sought secession from the Nigerian colony which later became a nation. The region felt cheated and had wanted more participation in the colony’s affairs but the literacy level of the then Northern region was awfully low. The Northern region was the country’s cash cow, all thanks to its agriculture and her people knew this.
Nnamdi Azikiwe, a Nigerian statesman who was Governor-General of Nigeria from 1960 to 1963 and the first President of Nigeria from 1963 to 1966 gave a speech before the caucus of his political party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in Yaba, Nigeria on May 12, 1953. The speech, while not disallowing secession, suggested that there would be ‘grave consequences’ if the Northern region became an independent nation.
Ironically, in May 1967, 14 years later, Nnamdi Azikiwe’s region was the one seeking secession from young Nigeria, spearheaded by a charismatic Lieutenant-Colonel, Ojukwu. Below is Ojukwu’s Declaration of Biafra’s Independence:
Declaration of Biafra
“Fellow countrymen and women, you, the people of Eastern Nigeria:
Conscious of the supreme authority of Almighty God over all mankind, of your duty to yourselves and posterity;
Aware that you can no longer be protected in your lives and in your property by any Government based outside Eastern Nigeria;
Believing that you are born free and have certain inalienable rights which can best be preserved by yourselves;
Unwilling to be unfree partners in any association of a political or economical nature;
Rejecting the authority of any person or persons other than the Military Government of Eastern Nigeria to make any imposition of whatever kind or nature upon you;
Determined to dissolve all political and other ties between you and the former Federal Republic of Nigeria;
Prepared to enter into such association, treaty or alliance with any sovereign state within the former Federal Republic of Nigeria and elsewhere on such terms and conditions as best to subserve your common good;
Affirming your trust and confidence in me;
Having mandated me to proclaim on your behalf, and in your name, that Eastern Nigeria be a sovereign independent Republic,
Now, therefore, I, Lieutenant-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, by virtue of the authority, and pursuant to the principles, recited above, do hereby solemnly proclaim that the territory and region known as and called Eastern Nigeria together with her continental shelf and territorial waters shall henceforth be an independent sovereign state of the name and title of “The Republic of Biafra”. And I do declare that-
i. all political ties between us and the Federal Republic of Nigeria are hereby totally dissolved;
ii. all subsisting contractual obligations entered into by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or by any person, authority or organization or government acting on its behalf, with any person, authority or organization operating, or relating to any matter or thing, within the Republic of Biafra, shall henceforth be deemed to be entered into with the Military Governor of the Republic of Biafra for and on behalf of the Government and people of the republic of
Biafra, and the covenants thereof shall, subject to this Declaration, be performed by the parties according to their tenor;
iii. all subsisting international treaties and obligations made on behalf of eastern Nigeria by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, shall be honored and respected;
iv. Eastern Nigeria’s due share of all subsisting international debits and obligations entered into by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on behalf of the Federation of Nigeria shall be honored and respected;
v. steps will be taken to open discussions of the question of Eastern Nigeria’s due share of the assets of the Federation of Nigeria and personal properties of the citizens of Biafra throughout the Federation of Nigeria;
vi. the rights, privileges, pensions, etc. of all personnel of the Public Services, the Armed Forces and the Police now serving in any capacity within the Republic of Biafra, are hereby guaranteed;
vii. we shall keep the door open for association with, and would welcome, any sovereign unit or units in the former Federation of Nigeria or in any other parts of Africa desirous of association with us for the purposes of running a common services organization and for the establishment of economic ties;
viii. we shall protect the lives and property of all foreigners residing in Biafra; we shall extend the hand of friendship to those nations who respect our sovereignty, and shall repel any interference in our internal affairs;
ix. we shall faithfully adhere to the charter of the Organization of African Unity and of the United Nations Organization;
x. It is our intention to remain a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations in our right as a sovereign, independent nation.
Long live the Republic of Biafra! And may God protect all who live in her!”