The Right to Self-Determination and the Pro-Biafra Movement.




Authors: Favour Kalu-Whyte and Chizulu (‘Zulu) Uwolloh, 

Students (LL.B), Faculty of Law, University of Lagos.


The Right to Self-Determination, one of the primal principles in international law, can be traced back to the Atlantic Charter of 1941, which was signed by Former President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill. This right also gained popularity after World War One (WW1) where new nations were formed and dissolved empires were rebuilt. This right is enshrined in a number of international principles, documents and declarations.

The right to self-determination is protected under the United States Charter in Chapter 1, Article 1, Part 2 which states ‘To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace’.

It is also provided in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic and Socio-Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The two covenants, which have identical provisions, state, ‘All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’

The right to self-determination was first averred during the mid-1770s by the revolt of new world British colonists in North America. They were inspired by the writings of John Locke.

Biafra, officially known as the Republic of Biafra, a secessionist state in Eastern Nigeria came into being in May, 1967 and dissolved in January, 1970. The Nigerian Civil War was fought between The Nigerian Central Government and The Republic of Biafra. The fight for the secession of Biafra has continued to brew. Presently, the Biafra movement has gained a strong backing, an organization known as the Bilie Human Rights Initiative has been created in Nigeria and in the United Nations as a voice for their independence and their right to self-determination through the rule of law. Also, many groups have been created such as the IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra.), MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra).

Overtime, it had been a struggle on the part of the propagators of the state of Biafra to achieve their purpose. This brings into question the balancing of the right of the people to determine their political leadership and otherwise as against the Government’s law against secession and treason.

The state of Biafra has the right to self-determination as provided for in the UN CHARTER which clearly provides that states have the right to choose freely what government to rule them.  Furthermore, Art. 76 (b) UN Charter provides that one of the basic objectives of the trusteeship system is to promote the ‘progressive development’ of the inhabitants of the trust territories towards ‘self-government or independence’, taking into account, inter alia, ‘the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned’. Similarly, the original memorandum of the Western region specified, inter alia, “each state should have a right unilaterally to secede from the Commonwealth at any time of its own choice.” Self-determination encompasses five basic characteristics:

  • Government according to the will of the people;
  • The absence of internal or external domination;
  • The free pursuit of economic, social, and cultural development;
  • The enjoyment of fundamental human rights; and
  • The absence of discrimination on grounds of race, color, or political conviction.

Also, the right to self-determination under the International Covenants is a continuing right that does not end with achieving independence. States are under an obligation to comply with Article 1 of the International Covenants at all times by respecting the peoples’ right to self-determination.

From this, it can be seen that the state of Biafra has legal backing to secede from the state of Nigeria and should be allowed this right. The Eastern states, most especially the Igbos, have been marginalized and have been the least on priority when it comes to politics. This, inter alia, led to the civil war which ran from 1967 to 1970. These issues would have been resolved if Nigeria actually practiced Federalism. True federalism does not exist as there can either be federalism or not. The government, with its heavy political dominance in the northern and western states, only introduces federalism when it would favor these parts of the country, when it does not; they bring in the quota system or Federal character still favoring the northern and western states. It is rather ridiculous that after 60 years of independence and being a republic, the state of origin of a person determines whether or not the person gets a particular entitlement e.g. admission, jobs etc. instead of concentrating on merit or place of residence.

The lack of equality in the government is the major reason for the clamor of Biafra’s secession from Nigeria.

However, on the other hand, Nigeria as one country frowns against secession as can be seen in its fight against Biafra, The Niger Delta Avengers etc. The Constitution also provides against treason in Section 7 of the Criminal Code Act. It is the duty of the government to preserve the conglomeration of ethnic groups into a single entity now known as Nigeria.

The plan to secede would affect the country in various ways. Economically, there would be a disruption of trade and the economy would suffer. Politically, the movement would incite a division. Also, lives have been lost because of politically motivated violence. The social impact is that it would raise old wounds and the more the people clamor for the actualization of Biafra, the more the people would see themselves as not belonging to Nigeria; therefore bringing a social barrier between the Pro-Biafra’s and the rest of the country.

In conclusion, the cost of the actualization of Biafra outweighs any reason for a split. Biafra would never solve the problem unless these issues are addressed and sorted out. Trying to secede is not nationalist and patriotic on the part of the Pro-Biafra movement. Although there seems to be a cause, this cause is not genuine as any plan to secede would lead to the disintegration of Nigeria. The strength of Nigeria lies in its size and population and what makes this possible is the fact that though tribes and tongues may differ, these different units in the country can unite.

It is therefore submitted that Biafra should not be supported or encouraged, but instead; the citizens in addition to the Government should cooperate in the advancement of Nigeria in a way to favor all tribes, regardless of whether they are a majority or minority.


Favour Kalu-Whyte is a 400 Level Student  of Law , University of Lagos. Her interests are; Corporate law and Human Rights. She has worked with various law firms and has experience in Public and Corporate law.

Chizulu (‘Zulu) Uwolloh, a 300 Level student of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. Zulu graduated as a Valedictorian, the best in the Arts Class of the Chrisland High School. She started the TEENS FOR CHANGE Group, an advocacy group for teenagers in 2014. As a teenager, she felt that teenagers could help change society. Zulu wrote her first book, ‘ A Not So Wishy-Washy Story’ in 2014. Thereafter, she started the A-Z library for teenagers at the Makoko; the largest slum in Lagos.

Published by


The Mooting Society, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s