Biafra

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Republic of Biafra

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Biafra was a secessionist state of W Africa, in existence from May 30, 1967, to Jan. 15, 1970. At the outset Biafra comprised, roughly, the East-Central, South-Eastern, and Rivers states of the Federation of Nigeria, where the Igbo people predominated. The country, which took its name from the Bight of Biafra (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean), was established by Igbos who felt they could not develop-or even survive-within Nigeria. In Sept., 1966, numerous Igbos had been killed in N Nigeria, where they had migrated in order to engage in commerce. The secessionist state was led by Lt. Col. Chukumeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and included some non-Igbo persons. Biafra's original capital was Enugu; Aba, Umuahia, and Owerri served successively as provisional capitals after Enugu was captured (Oct., 1967) by Nigerian forces.

Biafra was recognized by a small number of countries during its existence: Gabon, Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire, Tanzania, and Zambia. Despite a lack of official recognition, other nations provided assistance to Biafra. France, Rhodesia and South Africa provided covert military assistance. The aid of Portugal proved to be crucial to the republic's survival. Portugal's São Tomé and Príncipe, a pair of islands south of Biafra, became a center of humanitarian relief efforts; Biafran currency was printed in Lisbon, which was also the location of Biafra's major overseas office. Israel also gave Biafra arms that it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, although that same conflict ruled out further assistance. In contrast, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union provided military support for Nigeria, and the war of Biafran secession ended in a humanitarian catastrophe as Nigerian blockades stopped supplies from entering the region. Hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of people died in the resulting famine.

Seeking to maintain national unity, Nigeria imposed economic sanctions on Biafra from the start of the secession, and fighting between Nigeria and Biafra broke out in July, 1967. After initial Biafran advances, Nigeria attacked Biafra by air, land, and sea and gradually reduced the territory under its control. The breakaway state had insufficient resources at the start of the war-it was a net importer of food and had little industry-and depended heavily on its control of petroleum fields for funds to make purchases abroad. It lost the Oil Fields in the war, and more than one million of its civilian population are thought to have died as a result of severe malnutrition. At the time of its surrender on Jan. 15, 1970, Biafra was greatly reduced in size, its inhabitants were starving, and its leader, Ojukwu, had fled the country. Many people died in the conflict, mostly through starvation and illness. The number of deaths is often cited at one million.

Nigeria later renamed the Bight of Biafra as the Bight of Bonny.

The international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières came out of the suffering in Biafra. During the crisis, French medical volunteers, in addition to Biafran health workers and hospitals, were subjected to attacks by the Nigerian army, and witnessed civilians being murdered and starved by the blockading forces. French doctor Bernard Kouchner also witnessed these events, particularly the huge number of starving children, and when he returned to France, he publicly criticised the Nigerian government and the Red Cross for their seemingly complicit behaviour. With the help of other French doctors, Kouchner put Biafra in the media spotlight and called for an international response to the situation. These doctors, led by Kouchner, concluded that a new aid organisation was needed that would ignore political/religious boundaries and prioritise the welfare of victims.

On 29 May 2000, the Lagos Guardian newspaper reported that President Olusegun Obasanjo commuted to retirement the dismissal of all military persons who fought for the breakaway state of Biafra during Nigeria's 1967-1970 civil war. In a national broadcast, he said the decision was based on the belief that "justice must at all times be tempered with mercy". It is also thought, that during the previous year, there had been a public resurgence of pro-Biafra sentiment among a section of the Igbo, who claimed that in the Nigerian federation, they have been marginalised.

Since the ending of the civil war in 1970, ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria, the reason the civil war took place in 1967, has continued.

Violence between Christians and Muslims (usually Igbo Christians and Hausa or Fulani Muslims) has been incessant since the end of the civil war.

In 2002, organizers of the Miss World Pageant announced that they would move the pageant from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to London in the wake of violent protests that left more than 100 people dead and 100 injured. The rioting erupted after a newspaper suggested that Muhammad would have approved of the Miss World beauty contest because the women looked "beautiful". The death toll in the town of Kaduna was an estimated 105 with a further 521 injured taken to hospital. Angry mobs in the city 600 kilometres (375 miles) northeast of Lagos burnt Christian churches and rampaged through the streets stabbing, bludgeoning and burning bystanders to death.

In 2004, in the city of Kano (Nigeria's largest Muslim city) angry young Muslim men attacked "nonbelievers" with machetes, while others burned cars, stores and apartments. The violence came hours after thousands of Muslim protesters - some carrying daggers, sticks and clubs - marched from the main mosque in the northern city. Muslim Hausa-speaking men armed with sticks, knives, and clubs were searching cars for Christians and animists, asking passengers to recite Muslim prayers.

In February 2006, Muslims in Northern Nigeria city of Maiduguri protesting caricatures of Muhammad, published in Denmark, attacked Christians and burned churches in violence that left dozens dead or injured. A majority of the dead were Igbos of Christian extraction. In retaliation Christians killed dozens of ethnic Hausa and Fulani (Muslims) and burned Muslim sites and mosques in Onitsha. The violence was commented on by the bishop of Abuja, Peter Akinola, who said, "May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation."

In July 2006 the Center for World Indigenous Studies reported that government sanctioned killings were taking place in the southeastern city of Onitsha, because of a shoot-to-kill policy directed toward Biafran loyalists, particularly members of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).


The flag

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The flag of the now-defunct Republic of Biafra consists of a horizontal tricolor of red, black, and green, charged with a golden rising sun over a golden bar; the sun has eleven rays, representing the eleven provinces of Biafra.

It is based on the pan-African flag designed by Marcus Garvey's UNIA.(Znaimerowski, p. 125)


Biafran pound

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The Biafran pound was the currency of the breakaway Republic of Biafra between 1967 and 1970.

The 1967 series of banknotes had no value outside of Biafra. The first issue were denominated at 5 shillings and £1 notes. A series of coins was issued in 1969, 3 pence, 6 pence, 1 shilling and 2.5 shilling coins were minted, all made of aluminium; there were also from 1968 a second issue of banknotes in 5 shilling, 10 shilling, £1, £5 and £10 notes.

The most common note is the 1968 1Pound, with the 10 Pound and all coins being rare.

Bibliography:

A. H. Kirk-Greene, ed., Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria (2 vol., 1971);
Joseph Okpaku, ed., Nigeria, Dilemma of Nationhood (1972);
W. E. Nafziger, The Economics of Political Instability: The Nigerian-Biafran War (1982).