Education Politics and Policy

Feature: Why do Igbo communities in Diaspora commemorate Biafra?

Did you know that in some countries, the Igbo community commemorates the anniversaries of Biafra?

First, there is a fair account of this in the 2000 Nordic Journal of African studies, which reflected on the 30th anniversary of Biafra in 1997. The author based his work on interactions with members of an Igbo online forum known as Igbo–net (you can still find the e-mail chain here). Then, there are lines from a google book on “Nigeria’s diverse peoples” where it is stated that the Biafran issue continues to link Igbos in diaspora to groups back home “that continue to favour a Biafran state separate from Nigeria.”

But if you are looking for a vivid and historical backdrop on the matter, narrated in today’s atmosphere of  the rise of the IPOB and the subsequent detention of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, here it comes.

In a series of tweets, the very out-spoken poet and speaker, Juliet ‘Kego, may have lent us some insight. Chronicling the origins of the Igbo way of life, from the saying that “Igbo enwe eze” (the Igbos do not believe in a central leader), she goes on to thread in histories of the ancient Nri Kingdom as it relates leadership, refusal of slavery and women’s rights.

In her opinion, a proper understanding of these contexts would better shape an appreciation of what today’s movements appear to stand for.

Some excerpts from the thread are published here:

All across the Caribbean, historical books about republican nature of Igbos who rather than bow to slavery choose to commit mass suicide [exist]. Historical books/lectures/symbosia in schools abroad talk of republican/free/just/egalitarian societies of the old Nri Kingdom (948–1911).

Important also to study the sustained/strategic uprising of Igbo women of Oloko against warrant chiefs/British colonialists over taxation. The ideological/political/cultural axiom of MERITOCRACY-“IGBO ENWE EZE” is important in understanding the current desire/agitation by youths.

Without a nuanced backdrop of history that shapes a culture it is easy to erroneously see expressions of rights as ‘defiance’ or disrespect. In all regions, our concepts of accountability can be harnessed if we understood the under-pinning cultural/religious contexts of each group.

Read up on history of these Igbos – King Jaja of Opobo and Olaudah Equiano, to grasp the ideological mindset of Ndigbo wrt [with respect to] concept of slavery.

One of the books recommended by Ms ‘Kego, an autobiography on the life of an Igbo slave, Olaudah Equiano. (Screenshot from

In USA, the Igbo slaves were known for being rebellious. In some states such as Georgia, Igbo had a high suicide rate (Source-D.B Chambers)

Scholars have juxtaposed egalitarian culture of Nri which had no room for slavery to the high defiance of Igbos who were subjected to slavery

The concept of individual/societal FREEDOM among the Igbos was/is sacrosanct & ties into a pre-disposition to agitate any contrary systems.

I’ve been studying the Igbo women riot let by the women of Oloko for years and the exact same formations/strategies/principles run through..

From standpoint of slavery, 10,000+ women of Oloko in 1929, led by Ikonnia, Nwannedia & Nwugo saw British taxation as ‘slavery’ & protested!

So from a behavioural psychology/sociologically standpoint, the effects civil war were damaging to the core psyche of the average Igbos

Today, many psycho-social factors were not addressed – ask any Igbo youth today; they grew up seeing survivors of war live in mental ‘fear’.

So behaviourally, we’re existing with multiple generations who have vastly different world views/interact with the bigger nation differently

Related: 10 Political Anniversaries you should know about this year

Ms ‘Kego, who lives in Canada, challenges the assumption that the mass of the IPOB youths are merely charlatans, describing those whom are most visible in street protests as just the “foot soldiers”. They are not entirely representative of the “financially independent, educated” who work or run legal businesses and collaborate across nations.

Flowing from the tweets and tied to the “Igbo enwe eze” axiom is some kind of warning to the elite of the South East. As long as the youths do not perceive a conscious effort to ensure “EQUITY 4 all”, she describes that the youth would only perceive them as adopting a “warrant chiefs/house slaves” relationship.

As though to drive home her point, the Whole Woman Network founder, made it clear that there was such as thing as a Biafran holiday, with a banner of an upcoming commemoration in June, something that obviously is shied away from in Nigeria.

It is instructive to note that, while she may be a passionate advocate for open discussions on the Nigeria of the past and the reality of a future, she is as passionate about getting the right aspects to work today. She decries the poor appreciation of history in the current education system, and believes that only a better appreciation of our past can help understand the present and plan the future – if there is one.

So, just as the Americans celebrate Black History month, despite the not-so-savoury history, and commemorate other sensitive aspects of their democracy like the MLK day and the March to Selma, should Igbos and Nigeria as a whole, have some form of commemoration for Biafra?

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