By Evans Nwankwo, chairman of the board of Ambassadors for Self-determination
This week, scores of African leaders will convene in Washington at the behest of the State Department for its Africa Leaders Summit. The summit’s purpose is to strengthen U.S.-Africa ties on various local and global issues.
While this summit represents a fantastic opportunity for African leaders to voice their needs, concerns and hopes for the continent, as well as rub shoulders with American and international political and policy leaders, we call on the summit not to forget the interests of Africans who will not have a voice there, especially the Biafran community in Nigeria.
In particular, we wish to shine a spotlight on the ongoing and relentless persecution of Biafrans that is being purposely overlooked at best, and supported at worst, by the Nigerian government; on the presence at the Africa Leaders Summit of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, whose human rights record is atrocious; and finally on the case of Biafran leader Nnamdi Kanu, whose rights have been violated, and who wallows in a prison cell simply for calling for a referendum on Biafran independence and freedom.
Recognized in 19th-century treaties with the British, Biafran sovereignty was extinguished in 1914 under the threat of British machine guns enforcing the colonial policy of divide and conquer. A short-lived republic in the late 1960s, Biafra was conquered by the Nigerian government in violation of decolonization obligations, as enshrined in the United Nations Decolonization Treaty of 1960, for Asian and African nations.
Now, the Fulani-controlled Nigerian government is carrying out an open and grisly persecution of Biafrans, and the mayhem is turning Nigeria into a terrorist haven — destabilizing West Africa with repercussions for international peace and security.
By international law, all peoples have the right to self-determination, meaning distinct peoples have the right to separate sovereignties to pursue their economic, cultural and social interests. They have a right to self-defense against persecution by governments who categorically exclude them from the quarters of power.
Freedom is participation in power. When governments violate the rights to self-defense and self-preservation, international law provides redress: a self-determination referendum to shield themselves from the grim realpolitik principle that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
The Biafran people are suffering immensely for these ideals. The world has seen numerous instances of the savagery inflicted on the Biafran people, including a recent massacre by terrorists of more than 50 Christians as they worshipped. In many instances, the Nigerian government has actively assisted this campaign or turned a blind eye. These human rights atrocities have long been noted by the U.S. State Department.
No one is more responsible for this situation than Mr. Buhari. As former President Donald Trump observed at a joint press conference with Mr. Buhari himself, “We are deeply concerned by religious violence in Nigeria, including the burning of churches and the killing and persecution of Christians. … We encourage Nigeria … to do everything in their power to immediately secure the affected communities and to protect innocent civilians of all faiths, including Muslims and Christians.”
On numerous occasions, we have attempted a peaceful and constructive dialogue with Mr. Buhari to address our grievances related to Christian persecution, the suppression of religious freedom, the treatment of political prisoners (including torture), and the freeing of Mr. Kanu. He has been languishing in Nigerian torture cells for well over a year, denied both medical attention and legal counsel. This has been done despite the fact that the U.N. Human Rights Council has called for his release, and the Federal High Court of Nigeria in fact ordered his immediate and unconditional release this past October.
Therefore, we, the voiceless Biafran community, make the following plea to those who can speak and act in our defense:
First, we ask that American and African leaders publicly denounce the presence of Mr. Buhari at the Africa Leaders Summit.
Second, we request that President Biden rescind his invitation to Mr. Buhari unless and until he releases Mr. Kanu and publicly declares that he will work to stop all forms of Christian persecution in Nigeria.
Finally, we implore the African Leaders Summit to remember the voiceless of our continent, who lack representation — especially the Biafran community.
Here’s what we are sure of: As Americans, we pride ourselves in being the voice of the voiceless, and millions will soon lend their voices in defense of the Biafran community, pleading its just cause before American and international leaders until justice has been achieved.
Evans Nwankwo is chairman of the board of Ambassadors for Self-determination, which advocates for the rights of politically vulnerable peoples.