Biafra has, say its supporters, an incontrovertible claim to self-determination. Today it sits within the south-east of modern Nigeria. Previously, it was an independent nation but was subsumed into the Nigerian state when the British amalgamated a number of their West African colonies, largely for administrative convenience. On Nigerian independence in 1960, the British borders remained intact.
Biafrans who seek the right to self-determination argue they have a claim which is as strong as those of the people of East Timor or South Sudan, whose independence has been acknowledged. The right to self-determination remains the most potent human right, which is why it is the first article of the main UN human rights treaties. We hear of independence claims from Catalonia, Quebec and Scotland. Referendums and the democratic process are the accepted way forward for dealing with the right to self-determination.
The Biafran people have been requesting the recognition of their right to self-determination and their right to a referendum, but their calls fall on deaf ears and are little reported. Nigerian territorial integrity provides the counter-argument.
Biafra captured the world’s attention when in 1967 it declared independence and its people were subsequently subjected to a cruel war by the Nigerians. The Biafrans, in truth, didn’t stand a chance, but they sustained their independence for almost three years until they were bombed and starved into submission. The photographs of that conflict, showing the consequences of war and famine, are still among the defining images of post-colonial Africa.