Biafran government in exile: We want the same right given to UK in Brexit referendumIBTimes UK

Millions of people in southerastern Nigeria and abroad are set to pay homage to those who perished during the 1967-1970 Biafran war, also known as the Nigerian civil war. The commemoration, which takes place on 30 May, aims to remember what many people refer to as the "genocide" or "holocaust of the Biafran people".

The Biafran territories were forcibly annexed to modern-day Nigeria during British colonisation, which ended in 1960. Following two coup d'etats and the 1966 massacres of Igbo people in northern Nigeria, the contested Biafran territories, under the leadership of military officer and politician Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, seceded from Nigeria and declared independence on 30 May 1967.

The establishment of the Republic of Biafra sparked the war. The Nigerian government imposed strict blockades on food and medicines in Biafra and attacked hospitals and facilities run by humanitarian organisations, causing the deaths of between 1-3 million people.

The extent of starvation in the Biafran territories during the war sparked international condemnation and drew strong criticism against the Nigerian government.

During the war, a group of volunteers led by French doctor Bernard Kouchner entered the Biafran territories to assist people living there. When he returned to France, Kouchner openly criticised the Nigerian government and the humanitarian organisation Red Cross for what was perceived as a complicit behaviour that led to the starvation of many.

Moved by the extent of suffering witnessed in Biafra, Kouchner and other doctors created the Comité de Lutte contre le Génocide au Biafra, which became Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in 1971. The Biafran Republic was re-annexed to Nigeria in 1970, but breakaway calls have continued since.

Pro-Biafran movement today

The pro-Biafran movement has gained renewed momentum following the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, one of the leaders of the movement, in October 2015. Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (ipob) and director of Uk-based Radio Biafra, is standing trial on six counts of treasonable felony charges.

Starvation during 1967-1970 Biafran war
View of a starving and emaciated young child from the Biafra region being cradled on the knee of an adult woman in a camp during the civil war in Nigeria in August 1968GGetty Images

Kanu's wife, Uchechi Okwu-Kanu, told IBTimes UK she was concerned following allegations her husband had been harassed in his cell. She also claimed her husband was a prisoner of conscience and urged the international community should intervene to free him.

During a December 2015 presidential media interview, President Muhammadu Buhari said Kanu would not be released amid fears he could jump bail and flee to the UK, as he holds both British and Nigerian passports.

The Nigerian government has always maintained that Nigeria's unity was a priority for the country and that although peaceful pro-Biafran protests were welcome, demanding the breakaway of the Biafran territories went against the constitution.

Nigeria's security forces have also been accused of violent acts against "unarmed" and "peaceful" pro-Biafran protesters, claims authorities strongly deny. In an exclusive report by IBTimes UK, Amnesty International confirmed that Nigerian security forces had used excessive force against pro-Biafran protesters on some occasions.


Nigeria up close: Check out our Flipboard magazine