People supporting the independence of the Biafran territories in south east Nigeria have staged a protest in Central London demanding the release of their UK-based leader Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu, head of the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob) group and director of the London-based radio station Radio Biafra, was arrested in Lagos earlier in October.

According to the Nigeria's state security service (DSS), he was released on bail, but his supporters claim that he is still being detained and has not resumed his activities on Radio Biafra.

Pro-Biafrans call for the independence of territories that constituted the Biafran Republic, established in 1967 and re-annexed to Nigeria in 1970, following a civil war that claimed between one and three million lives. Supporters of the Biafra issue hold regular marches − which they call "evangelisation" − across several states in southern Nigeria, mainly inhabited by the Igbo ethnic group. Protests have increased in the past few days in Nigeria and other states after Kanu was apprehended.

Pro-Biafrans accuse the police of violence. However, police have denied these claims, arguing that people advocating for Biafra hold violent protests disrupting peace.

Amnesty International said in an exclusive report by IBTimes UK that there is "credible evidence that pro-Biafran separatists in Nigeria are targeted by police". Meanwhile, the Nigerian government told IBTimes UK that it does not consider the separatist movement as a threat to the current leadership and defined pro-Biafrans as an "insignificant number of frustrated people who are not a threat to the existence of Nigeria".

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Biafra protests
An Ipob member protests for the release of Nnamdi KanuIpob
Africa Biafra map
A map of Africa in 1827 shows the territories of Biafra before the creation of Nigeria during the British colonisationWikimedia Commons

Biafra history

After the end of the British rule in 1960, Nigeria consisted of territories that were not part of the nation before the colonisation, resulting in escalating tensions among the communities.

People in the Eastern Region − a former federal division of Nigeria with capital Enugu − mainly from the Igbo community, wanted to secede due to ethnic, religious and economic differences with other communities in Nigeria. The Eastern Region gained independence and proclaimed itself the Republic of Biafra following two coup d'etats in 1966 and 1967.

The fact that Nigeria's oil was located in the south of the country played a major role in the eruption of the war, during which medicine and food shortages in Biafra led to the death of millions of people.

Biafra has been commonly divided into four main "tribes" − the Igbos, the Ibibio-Efiks, the Ijaws and the Ogojas. The modern-day states that make up Biafra from the eastern region and midwest are: Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Delta, Bayelsa, Abia, Cross River, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Ebonyi, southern part of Ondo State, Igbanke in Edo State and southern part of Benue State.

Amalgamation contract and birth of Nigeria

Pro-Biafrans cite the expiration of a so-called "amalgamation contract" as one of the reasons to justify their quest to separate from the rest of Nigeria.

The contract was issued by Britain during the colonisation era and was aimed at integrating people from the north and the south within 100 years, since it was issued despite cultural, religious and economic differences among the various ethnic groups.

The contract, now at the National Archive of London, was created in 1914 by Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, the governor general of modern-day Nigeria. The document, opposed by the political class and the media in Lagos, expired in 2014.

The term "Nigeria" was created by Lugard's wife, British journalist Flora Shaw, in 1897 when she suggested to replace the "British protectorate of the Niger River" with a shorter term.