More than 45 years ago, Nigeria was nearly divided by a bloody civil war that led to the deaths of over a million people. Now, a revival in secessionist sentiment in southeastern Nigeria, among supporters of the historical state of Biafra, threatens to undermine President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision of a united Nigeria and spill over into regional violence.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of southern Nigeria in recent weeks following the arrest of a prominent pro-Biafran activist, who has been accused by Nigerian authorities of hate speech and treason. As well as demanding their colleague’s release, some protesters are calling for the establishment of an independent Biafra once again.
The protests have resulted in several deaths and Nigerian authorities have warned that anyone sowing discontent or inciting public disorder will be dealt with firmly. As tensions continue to flare, Newsweek looks at the demands of the protesters and the response of the Nigerian government.
What is Biafra?
In 1967, Nigerian military officer Odumegwu Ojukwu declared the republic of Biafra, an area mainly populated by the Igbo ethnic group, as independent in southeastern Nigeria. The Nigerian military consequently entered into civil war with the Biafrans, encircling the region and blockading supplies from reaching the population. As a result, more than one million people died, many due to starvation.