Republic of Biafra - why didn't it get more support?

In a story I read recently, the Republic of Biafra and some of the atrocities commited upon it by Nigeria was mentioned. I had never heard of it (the only Biafra I had ever heard of was Jello Biafra), and thought maybe it was fictional. I did a quick search on the name, and buried under a few Jello Biafra sites, I found some pages that had some interesting information about this short-lived nation.

I’m surprised that I lived 28 years before finding out about it, it was never mentioned in any of my history books. I’m sure most of the info I have read is biased, but it seems like it was a fairly progressive (by African standards, at least) nation, and I’m surprised that the U.S. did not help them in their war with Nigeria, especially since Nigeria exterminated over a million people there with the aid of the Soviets.

I’m guessing that it had a lot to do with the conflict in Vietnam at the same time, by the time the Igbo people were being exterminated Americans were sick of getting involved in foreign wars, and the fact that the people getting slaughtered were black probably had quite a bit to do with it. Why does this seemingly important bit of African history been ignored?

Can you give some more information? I’ve nver heard of it, either.

Where was it geographically, what were the dates of it’s existence, how exactly was it progressive, what were the politics of its creation/dissolution, etc.? If you don’t feel like typing a lot, just post a link to those sites you mentioned finding.

The Republic of Biafra existed from 1967-1970 in eastern Nigeria. That region’s population was mostly made up of the Igbo (or Ibo) people, who were predominantly Christian, and had a significantly higher literacy rate than the rest of the region. After Nigeria declared independence in 1966 there was a lot of internal conflict, and most of the people massacred were the Igbo (around 30,000 in 1966 alone). They were persecuted by most of their neighbors, who were mostly Moslem, because they were significantly more ‘Westernized’ than the rest of Nigeria (though they were not opposed to throwing off colonial rule). They declared independence, and they were progressive in that from the beginning they stressed the importance of self-rule, property rights, avoiding government corruption (leaders were to keep their financial holdings public), and establishing relations with the U.N. and other international organizations. This started a civil war, and they had some military success initially, but later were driven back as Nigeria got more aid from other Moslem countries and a lot of Soviet hardware (the Biafran air force consisted of 4 converted Cessnas, the Nigerians had Egyptian-piloted Migs). As Nigeria took back the territory all the Igbo left on it were massacred, and more died of starvation as refugees were forced into a smaller and smaller area. Towards the end some charity groups rescued as many Igbo children as they could, not many adults made it out in time.

If this happened today, Biafra probably would have received official aid from the U.S., we’d have a situation like East Timor. Only five other nations recognized Biafra as a sovereign nation though (and I can’t find which five it was right now), the only help they got was from independent charities, and thus they only lasted 3 years.

Hmm, can’t say I know much about this, but I would try to check out some Academic sources. From what I’ve noted, the Ibo seperatists are quite active in promoting their POV. I believe that you might want to check some of these facts before accepting them.

True, there are always different sides to every story. A lot of my info came from various college sites, most of the hits are to pages associated with history classes. I was surprised how hard it was to find info on the situation.


As I recall, the Beatles turned down their honours from the Queen (or at least one of them, John Lennon) over the British policy on Biafra.

Some gut reactions:

(1) Post-colonial fear of changing borders. No one wanted to fuck with the borders of the colonial entities, no matter how fucked up they were for fear of opening a pandora’s box…

(2) Biafra made the wrong friends. South Africa. Apartheid regime. Not a good choice.

(3) I vaguely recall reading some things about the Nigerian civil war --on my own mind you, but I do try to keep a look out for serious scholarship:

I seriously question whether (a) Biafra was truly more progressive (b) that inter-communal violence was one way. (a) Because it was, to my understanding a particularist reaction against sharing resources and power of the South East with the Muslim North, and possibly also the mixed religious practices of the Yoruban South West. Such situations tend to produce nasty violence on both sides (ergo (b)). Also, from my exposure to Nigerians from the South East, I have an awful sensation that they picked up a lot Euro-Xtian superior, others inferior attitudes. (to be more clear, I get a nasty sense that the educated south easterners are snobs. Doesn’t justify violence but sometimes their judgement may be off)

However, these comments are my gut reactions and except for personal interaction not backed up back substantive fact.

All of the Beatles originally accepted their MBEs in 1965. Lennon returned his medal (which had no bearing on the title) in 1969, " . . . in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts."

The West may not have taken a role in it (other than in George Harrison’s “Concert for Biafra”, still probably available on Amazon) due to the need not to anger the government which controlled Nigeria’s oil supply. Anyone else think that might be possible?

Collunsbury has touched on a significant point. Most of the “news” that made it out of Nigeria/Biafra toward the end of the conflict had a very definite air of cultural superiority about it. “Those terrible Muslims are persecuting those educated Christians.” was a refrain I heard rather frequently. (Note the implied value judgments in the sources that Badtz Maru came across.)

At the time there was a fairly spirited debate (at least on college campuses) regarding Biafra’s right to secede. The point made against secession was that the Biafran’s did, indeed, have the bulk of the educated people in the country. (They also sat on one of the pockets of either oil or gas that is there.) The discussion centered on Biafra taking all its education and resource marbles and going home (separating), leaving the Nigerians to slowly wither away without the skills to develop their part of the country (and leaving its oil reserves open to plunder by neo-colonialists).

Interstingly, Britain and the U.S.S.R. wound up on the same side in this fight, for basically the same reason. They each wanted to be remembered by the Nigerians as the guys who helped keep the country together. At the time, Nigeria was expected to be the truly break-out contry in Africa, perhaps surpassing South Africa in industrial development. That never quite happened, of course.

I may very well be wrong, but I don’t believe Nigeria was exporting much oil at this stage.


Also, thanks pldennison for the correction.

The central idea of American foreign policy at that time was the containment of communism. If neither side, Nigeria or Biafra was sufficiently vocal about keeping the reds out, or worse, if both sides were espousing pro-commie ideas, it is likely that this is a big reason why this conflict went below the west’s radar: No clear “good guy” to support, and we had other things on our minds. It sounds as if perhaps the Biafrans realized this towards the end and tried to position themselves such as to get western aid, too late.

I can’t vouch for any of the above; it is all guesswork. Perhaps someone with more access to historical sources than I do can spell it out better? Remember, to answer the OP, we need to know how the rest of the world at the time would have PERCEIVED the two parties’ ideologies (i.e. communism vs. democracy) rather than how the combatants may have perceived it themselves (moslem vs.christian, for instance, or Ibo vs. Whatever).