Biafra, Republic of

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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 NigeriaNigeria
, officially Federal Republic of Nigeria, republic (2006 provisional pop. 140,003,542), 356,667 sq mi (923,768 sq km), W Africa. It borders on the Gulf of Guinea (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean) in the south, on Benin in the west, on Niger in the northwest and north, on
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, where the IgboIgbo
or Ibo
, one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, deriving mainly from SE Nigeria, numbering around 15 million. Originally settled in many autonomous villages, the Igbo nevertheless had a sense of cultural unity and the ability to unite for political action.
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 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 OjukwuOjukwu, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu
, 1933–2011, Nigerian general and secessionist. Of Igbo background, he joined (1957) the Nigerian army and rose to become (1966–67) military governor of E Nigeria.
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 and included some non-Igbos. Biafra's original capital was EnuguEnugu
, city (1991 est. pop. 279,000), SE Nigeria. It is a diversified industrial center and a road and rail hub. Furniture, ceramics, textiles, shoes, asbestos, cement, oxygen and acetylene gases, and steel are the chief products.
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; 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).