Has the sun set on Biafra?

Chukwunweike Araka
7 min readJul 6, 2023

There’s a popular Igbo saying that goes, so onwu ka ana amaro ife eme. Roughly translated to English it means: death is the only circumstance that’s unchangeable. The Igbos believe that as long as there’s life, there’s hope, and this mettle mindset was what saw them through on the 15th of January, 1970, as the last gunshot was heard ending the 3-year Nigerian civil war. At the end of the war, about 3 million people had died on the Biafran side from the war itself and starvation resulting from a Nigeria government-imposed blockade that isolated Biafra, the secessionists, from receiving aid from Nigeria and international charity alike.

The condition of Biafra, formerly Eastern Nigeria at the end of the war was bleak. Bridges were burnt — literally, homes were destroyed, livelihoods were no more. Nevertheless, the people, albeit grief struck had not lost their pride. After all, this was the land of the rising sun. With the 20 pounds that was given to every Easterner by the Nigerian government at the end of the war, the people rebuilt and stood stronger than before. Aggregately speaking, what was then Eastern Nigeria, that’s Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Abia, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers and Bayelsa are currently better off on several development indexes than Northern Nigeria which barely experienced the war.

The red, black and green of Biafran flag with the signature rising sun in yellow

Anambra, the state which I proudly come from has in years past led in areas of poverty eradication, literacy levels, and human development. It’s no easy feat to rise from the ruins of war to lead the pack in positive development indexes such as these. It takes mettle on not just an individual level, but also on a community-wide level complemented by strong leadership to accomplish this.

However, in going forward it is important to point out that the former Eastern Nigeria is now split into two geo-political zones, that’s South-Eastern Nigeria and South-Southern Nigeria, and our focus shall be on the former. The reason for this dichotomy is attributable to the war itself — Eastern Nigeria which was Igbo-dominated was also made up of minority tribes such as the Efik, Ijaw and Ibibio who clutched onto the opportunity offered by the war to claim a different identity from the Igbos. The shifting tectonic plates saw the downsizing of “Biafra” to just South-Eastern Nigeria which is Igbo-dominated.

In Nigeria’s South-East, the vision of Biafra seceding has been reinvigorated in the minds of certain radical elements such as the IPOB, Indigenous People of Biafra and the ESN, Eastern Security Network who have in their wide arsenal — protests, forceful sit-at-home strikes, destruction of property and murder. Heck, these elements have lobbied the United Nations and foreign powers like the United Kingdom to intervene in their strife against the Nigerian government, but to no avail.

On the 27th of June, 2021, the recognized leader of the movement, Nnamdi Kanu was arrested in Kenya by the Nigerian government on charges of terrorism, treason and other related offences. In retaliation, Simon Ekpa, a resident of Finland and the de facto leader of IPOB declared sit-at-home protests in the South-East. The sit-at-home protest which is forcefully observed every Monday in Nigeria’s South East grinds businesses to a halt and shuts down schools. The 5-day work week has been whittled down to a 4-day work week, occasioning serious damage to the economy of the region despite attempts by state governors to vacate the protest and bring back normalcy.

To worsen things, the violent acts of these radical elements — IPOB and ESN have thrown a blanket of insecurity across the South East. Oftentimes, gunmen are seen enforcing the sit-at-home orders in defiance of the Nigerian federal government. In executing their broader agenda of secessionism and their interim goal of securing the release of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, these groups have resorted to committing acts of terrorism upon the people they intend to “liberate.” They kill anyone that opposes them and burn down police stations and courts across the region. To tag them as terrorists would not only be correct but necessary.

According to my grandma, war isn’t something to experience twice. I didn’t experience the Nigerian civil war and the suffering people had to endure to see the common sense in what she said. The current violent movements by IPOB to resuscitate Biafra is nothing short of a call to arms riddled with cowardice, hypocrisy and naivety. What we are currently experiencing in the South-East is a replay of the bigotry that marked the first rebellion which ended 53 years ago with its leader, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu running away tail-between-legs to Ivory Coast.

Sometimes, all you need to understand the present is to take a little detour to the past, and then you’d see reoccurring patterns. This is true about IPOB and their wanton killings and destruction — if you study the events that transpired on the Biafran side of the Nigerian civil war, things would lay themselves bare. The first lesson we have to learn from history was that Ojukwu fought a battle he knew he was fated to lose. Contrary to the bitter sentiments that still linger in the South East, there was no way in hell Ojukwu could have outgunned an opponent backed by the firepower of the United Kingdom, the former world power. Yes, the Igbo ingenuity created local bombs and guns, but ingenuity alone doesn’t win wars — guns, bombs, planes and intel do.

Moreover, why did Ojukwu abandon the rebellion for a foreign country as the Nigerian army approached? It reeks of cowardice. A true leader who genuinely believed in what he fought for would have stayed back and faced whatever consequence the Nigerian military government dished out. A captain is always the last to jump his ship, but not Ojukwu, he handed over to his second, Phillip Effiong and made a run for it. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that both the legitimate and de facto leaders of IPOB dished out orders for terrorist acts from abroad. Nnamdi Kanu was bundled by the Nigerian government in Kenya, and his successor Simon Ekpa still dishes out orders online on Facebook and Twitter from the safety of his home in Finland.

The truth: the sun has set on the East as it once was. The idea of Biafra was more plausible then than it currently is. The old Biafra had more land mass, large oil and gas reserves, as well as access to the ocean. The new Biafra is only made up of the 5 South-Eastern states, with fewer oil and gas reserves and is landlocked. In the hypothetical scenario that Biafra can secede, it would be commercially dependent on Nigeria. Moreover, the Igbos given their nomadic-like traits have investments all across Nigeria, what would happen to those? These are the questions any well-meaning leader would consider before fanning the embers of war.

My humble opinion is this: instead of seeking to extricate itself from Nigeria, the South-East which often complains of federal government marginalization can cooperate with the South-South states to form a level of cohesiveness that would benefit all the constituents of the former Eastern Nigeria. It’s a fact that removing itself from Nigeria would make the South-East and the remainder of Nigeria considerably weaker. Nigeria would lose its global clout as the most populous and strategically important black nation; also, Biafra would be encircled by a foreign power which it is at odds with.

Alternatively, Biafra can play at its strengths and make magic happen within Nigeria. This wouldn’t be easy — it would take diplomacy, strategic planning, strong leadership and some honesty to work. If you look holistically at Biafra, that’s South-Eastern Nigeria, you’d instantly notice the untapped economic potential that exists in the region especially when paired with their South-South counterparts who possess access to the ocean. The epiphany is this: the link between Aba and Onitsha, the first being the region’s largest industrial hub and the second being the commercial centre, can be deepened by road infrastructure. This is most needed as the current state of roads between the two cities is in a sorry state, thereby hampering commerce and industrialization.

Where the South-South, particularly Rivers State comes in is the much-needed access to the ocean which facilitates export through ports. With the recent rave about the African Continental Free Trade Area, it’s no secret that trade, international trade, is an elixir to several socio-economic problems like poverty and poor standards of living. Nevertheless, there cannot be trade without strategically placed infrastructure and this already exists in the region that was former Eastern Region. The British in their exploitative wisdom saw the need to connect various parts of Nigeria by rail, and this rail infrastructure still exists today, neglected, traversing from Port Harcourt through Aba all the way up north to Maiduguri.

Interestingly, with the Buhari administration’s delegation of the power to deal with rail to state governments, the ball is in the court of the South-East and South-South governors to cooperate and turn their greater region into a bubbling metropolis capable of rivalling Lagos. This arrangement would not only be beneficial to the South-East as industrialization and trade would wean South-South states off their dependence on oil revenue, especially at a time when oil is in murky waters. In conclusion, and as a note of encouragement, I would love to point out the universal truth that the sun which sets today shall rise again tomorrow, unless, of course, you live at the North or South Pole.



Chukwunweike Araka

As a writer I believe I'm actively part of humanity's collective memory and conscience. And as such, I owe the duty of telling the truth at all times.