Status: Secessionist Republic in eastern Nigeria
Population: 14,000,000 (est 1967)
Area: Approx. 30,000 sq miles
Currency: 12 pence = 1 shilling, 20 shillings = 1 Biafran Pound
Biafra Scott 1
The British created Nigeria in 1914 by merging their possessions of Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria. The merger created Africa’s most populous nation, with more than a hundred different ethnic groups. The Northern region was predominantly Muslim, dominated by the Hausas and Fulanis. The largely Christian South was divided into the Western and Eastern regions, dominated by the Yorubas and Igbos (or Ibos) respectively.
Stanley Gibbons 20
The majority of the people lived in the North. The British hoped that western democratic institutions at the national level coupled with relatively autonomous local government would moderate regional differences. The Igbos took advantage of the good education available from the missionary schools and became the shopkeepers and minor civil servants of Nigeria. Meanwhile the Igbo population was growing more than twice as fast as that of the North. Resentment of the Igbo’s economic success rose. In 1945 anti-eastern riots in the northern town of Jos resulted in 300 Igbo deaths. The Northerners also felt their electoral majority threatened, especially after Nigeria’s independence in 1960. In 1966, anti-Eastern riots in Kano sparked the massacre of an estimated 30,000 Igbos and 1.3 million fled the North. A conference of regional leaders in 1967 agreed to increased local autonomy. When Northern leaders abrogated the agreement, tensions heightened and on May 30, 1967, the Eastern region declared its independence as “The Republic of Biafra.”
Overprint “Sovereign Biafra,” Scott 14, on Nigeria Scott 195.
The North responded immediately with an economic blockade, which the British joined. All mail service to Biafra was suspended on June 5. Since Nigerian stamps were no longer available, Biafra introduced “Post Paid” hand stamps. In July, the Northern army attacked. The Biafrans counterattacked in the Midwest and their army came within 40 miles of Lagos. But they were pushed back and by 1968, Biafra was a land-locked enclave. The blockade took a heavy toll. An estimated two million Biafrans died, mostly from starvation and disease. The airport in Uli was kept open for external relief supplies until 1970. The Biafran leader fled on January 11, 1970, just before the airport fell. The next day the Biafran forces surrendered.
Biafra Scott 25
On February 5, 1968 the first Biafran stamps were issued — a 3-value independence issue. When the Biafrans advanced into the West, a quantity of Nigerian stamps was captured. The government printer in Enugu overprinted thirteen values “Sovereign Biafra.” This set went on sale on April 1, 1968. Three more sets were released in 1968–69. The Biafran postal system operated surprisingly well under very difficult conditions. When a town fell, postal officials would often move to a different location, carrying their cancelling devices with them. International mail left Biafra on relief flights to Cameroun and the Ivory Coast. From 1968 to 1970, additional stamps were sold through philatelic channels in Europe, but were not available in Biafra itself. Biafra was reincorporated into Nigeria with its political power and financial resources greatly reduced.
Unissued Stamps (left to right): 1970 Save Biafra, 1969 Christmas Issue, 1968 Mexico Olympics
Editor's Note: This article was published in the March 2020 issue of The American Philatelist. Read the full issue online at stamps.org/the-american-philatelist