ABUJA, NIGERIA — The head of the Biafra separatist movement in Nigeria has written an open letter to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. The movement hopes Trump, who backed British voters’ decision to leave the European Union, will also support a push for Biafra to win independence.
The letter, sent by a Nigerian activist named Nnamdi Kanu, contains a forceful appeal to the U.S. president-elect.
It says Trump’s victory placed upon him a “historic and moral burden … to liberate the enslaved nations in Africa,” which it says are trapped in artificial boundaries designed to reinforce colonial domination.
Kanu currently sits in a prison in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, charged with treason for supporting a movement calling for territories in southeastern Nigeria to break away and form a country called Biafra.
Biafra tried to break away once before — in a three-year war starting in 1967 that left at least 1 million people dead, mostly from starvation.
Kanu and other activists hope Trump will be sympathetic to a new push for Biafran independence.
“[Trump] believes in the inalienable right of an indigenous people to self-determination and he has spoken it,” said Clifford Iroanya, a spokesman for the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra organization. “He has written it. He has acted it. We believe he will support indigenous people all over the world to self-determine.”
Disappointed in Obama
Iroanya says he was pleased when Trump expressed support for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union with a tweet on June 24 that said, “Self-determination is the sacred right of all free people.”
Biafra supporters say they too have self-determination, and should be allowed to break away from Nigeria.
The Biafran movement was disappointed with outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama, who they saw as a supporter of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Then we felt that there is no point proceeding with talking to Mr. Obama because it will be like preaching to the choir. He is the backbone of Muhammadu Buhari,” Iroanya said.
Buhari was the one who ordered Kanu to be held in custody.
Buhari, who had a long career in the Nigerian military, fought against Biafran independence when he was a young soldier and maintains a hard line against the Biafra movement.
Kanu remains in custody on instructions from Buhari, despite orders from Nigerian courts and a regional West African court to release him.
Opposition to war
Many Biafra supporters do not want to return to war.
Ifeanyi Nsionu was a 6-year-old boy when the Biafra War broke out in 1967.
“We really suffered,” Nsionu said. “We were in a refugee camp. And then they were feeding us in the camp. It was horrible. We had to eat lizards. All these guys that are agitating for this Biafra thing, a majority of them are those who may not have witnessed this war. They do not understand what it is to be in a civil war.”
Nsionu says reaching out to Trump is not a bad idea, although he doesn’t expect the U.S. president-elect to do much for Nigeria.
“I did support Trump right from the beginning,” he said. “I wanted a complete change from Obama’s policy. Obama’s policy for Africa was not encouraging. I don’t know the ideology of Trump now, but I know that Trump will be after America first. By the time he stays the next four years and he must have done what he wanted to do for America, he may begin to see what else is happening elsewhere.”
Nsionu can only hope that when that time comes, Trump will throw his support behind the Biafra movement.