Biafra, Republic of

Biafra, Republic of, 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. Chukuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and included some non-Igbos. Biafra's original capital was Enugu; Aba, Umuahia, and Owerri served successively as provisional capitals after Enugu was captured (Oct., 1967) by Nigerian forces. 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. During its existence Biafra was recognized by only five nations, although other countries gave moral or material support.

See A. H. Kirk-Greene, ed., Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria (2 vol., 1971); J. Okpaku, ed., Nigeria, Dilemma of Nationhood (1972); W. E. Nafziger, The Economics of Political Instability: The Nigerian-Biafran War (1982); C. Achebe, There Was a Country (2012).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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