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ICC NOTE: The Ibo are Nigeria ’s third largest ethnic group in the Southeast, and one of the most marginalized groups in the country. They are also largely a Christian population, which faces opposition from Muslim groups.

Dream of free Biafra revives in southeast Nigeria

By Estelle Shirbon

For the full article go to Reuters

ONITSHA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Down a dark, narrow alley in the heart of West Africa’s biggest market, sheltered in his tiny wooden stall, a trader draws out a wad of crisp bank notes printed with the words “One Biafran Pound”.

Manchikah can’t buy anything with the currency because it was only accepted from 1967 to 1970 in a chunk of southeastern Nigeria that tried and failed to secede under the name of Biafra . He risks arrest for keeping a stash of it.

Yet for him, the worthless money represents the hope of a better future for the Ibo, Nigeria ‘s third-largest ethnic group whose home region is the southeast.

“We want Biafra . We need Biafra . We are suffering in this Nigeria !” he adds, raising his voice as he warms to his subject.

Dozens of others gather around, shouting their agreement, and within minutes they burst into song in the Ibo language.

These young men, like many Ibo, are angry because they feel that their people have been marginalised by successive Nigerian governments ever since the Biafran forces surrendered to the Nigerian army in 1970 after a war that killed a million Ibo.

They are bitter at the fact that no Ibo has ruled Nigeria since 1966 and they accuse the two bigger tribes, the Hausa in the north and the Yoruba in the southwest, of monopolising power and the riches of Nigeria ‘s multibillion-dollar oil industry.

Traders in Onitsha see decades of neglect in their city, a sprawling maze of slums and muddy alleyways strewn with rubbish, with scarce electricity and no clean water. That other parts of Nigeria are equally derelict offers little comfort.

Authorities accuse MASSOB members of numerous acts of violence, which the group denies. Its leader, arrested last October, is facing trial for treason and hundreds of other activists have been arrested, but the group is defiant.

“If the Nigerian government intimidates us, it makes us more popular,” said a member who gave his name as Moshe Ben Israel.

The Ibo, who have the reputation of being brilliant traders, see themselves as the victims of persecution by other tribes jealous of their business success. Many draw comparisons with anti-Semitism and consider themselves “the Jews of Nigeria”.

One of the events that precipitated the Biafran war was a series of massacres of Ibo in the north in 1966, mostly committed by Hausa who were angry over a failed coup in January that year that was perceived as being Ibo-led.

“A GLASS CAGE”

The rivalry between the Ibo and the Hausa has religious undertones. The Hausa are predominantly Muslim while the Ibo are almost all Christians. But like most ethnic violence in Nigeria , the clashes between them are often fuelled by politicians.

The latest example was in February, when Hausa killed dozens of Ibo in northern cities. In Onitsha , Ibo retaliated by killing about 100 Hausa and driving hundreds of other from the city.

Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who as military governor of the southeast declared Biafran independence and then led the Biafran forces, says the Ibo have to struggle to break out of “a glass cage” hindering their progress within Nigerian society.

“I look at the MASSOB experiment and I say it might have a chance,” Ojukwu, a charismatic figure now in his 70s, said in an interview at his home in Enugu , the old capital of Biafra .

“What is the alternative? Do you allow Nigeria to trample on the freedoms of about one third of the population? Do you accept the humiliation of being second class citizens and having enforced limits on your progress?”

For a group of veterans who were crippled in the war and now live by the side of the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, waiting in wheelchairs for motorists to stop and give them money, the young radicals offer hope that their struggle was not in vain.