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Africa

Global protests move Biafra conflict back into spotlight

It's been decades since the plight of the Igbo people of Biafra was highlighted during the Nigerian Civil War. The movement to resurrect the Republic of Biafra is gaining momentum. Sertan Sanderson reports.

With a court decision due in the case of Pro-Biafra leader Nnamdi Kanu in late September, many Igbo people living in exile took to simultaneous protests across Europe to draw attention to their cause. One of those protests was held in Bonn, Germany, where roughly 100 protesters gathered, chanting slogans and handing out glossy flyers.

"It's not just here in Germany. If you go to Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Australia you will also see protests today. In Germany, we decided to come to Bonn because of the United Nations here. But what we want is peace. We don't want war again," one of the protestors, Solomon Uzochukwo, told DW.

Wanting peace, remembering war

The local police appeared to be impressed by the peaceful display, posing for pictures alongside the demonstrators. Uzochukwo, who lives in Frankfurt, embraced the police officers as if they were old friends.

"Ours is a message of peace," he stressed.

Biafra protests outside UN campus in Bonn, Germany

The group gathering outside the UN facilities in Bonn stressed that they wanted a peaceful path to secession

Mike Okoro, who travelled from the western German city of Dortmund to join the demo, says he is hopeful for the future, but appears to remember the horrors of war more vividly.

"Joining Biafra with Nigeria gave way to many problems. We are Christians, and they don't like that. They have been killing our people since the 1960s. They still kill our people. Like if you protest about the issue in Nigeria, they shoot you," he told DW.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both accused the Nigerian military of using excessive force and carrying out extra-judicial killings - not only of suspected Boko Haram insurgents, who get most of the news coverage, but also of pro-Biafra protestors.

The military has categorically denied the charges.

Resecession?

More than three million civilians died in Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970 - the majority of whom, however, starved to death under the complete isolation the Nigerian military imposed on the breakaway nation. Biafra eventually surrendered and was reincorporated into Nigeria, but relations between the two have never improved.

Biafra protests outside UN campus in Bonn, Germany

Raising the Biafran flag in Nigeria could get you into prison, or worse, cost your life, according to some of the protesters

Many Igbo people opted to leave Africa and to look for a better future in exile. In many parts of the world, their plight and the ensuing UN humanitarian efforts seem to only be remembered as footnotes in history. But the outcome of Nnamdi Kanu's court case may change that, as the movement to secede from Nigeria again grows stronger.

"Our leader will be brought to court again on Monday. We want an unconditional release for him, but the government refuses and continues to hold him even though they have granted bail. The court did not find him guilty. He was only fighting for his rights," Solomon Uzochukwo says. Kanu had broadcast pro-Biafra messages on banned radio waves and was arrested by Nigeria's State Security Service (SSS) after reportedly being abducted.

"We will be very happy if he is released, but there is still work ahead. Because we are not Nigerians; we are Biafrans. There are more than 40 million of us worldwide."

Buhari's dirty war on dissidents

Mike Okoro seconds that view. "We need to separate from Nigeria. Nigeria is not working," he says.

"The court have ordered (Kanu's) release but Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said 'no' because he is a former military major general. And he is still ruling Nigeria in a military way. He tells the military to kill Biafran protestors. He does not want peace with anyone."

With Boko Haram still wreaking havoc in the northeast of Nigeria, and many rural areas on the brink of starvation once more, Buhari has tightened his grip on the nation, singling out dissident and subversive elements with what some call an iron fist.

Solomon Uzochukwo explains, however, that in his view, his homeland is being destroyed under continued clashes:

"We want to go back home. It is time. Today, our children don't know their fatherland anymore. We want to bring a stop to this distance before it is too late."

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