Pro-Biafran demonstrators gate-crashed the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting today in Marlborough House, the organisation’s headquarters in London. As the Queen of England and Prime Minister Theresa May hosted rulers from the Commonwealth, Biafran separatists staged a protest across the road in the Pall Mall, with a heavy police presence, barricades and a high fence preventing them from entering the venue.
The main target of the protesters was Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari, with one placard declaring him a “criminal”.
Several other protesters lined up further down the road, including one led by well-known LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, whose group was trying to highlight their concerns about the criminalisation of homosexuality in several Commonwealth countries, especially in Africa.
There were also Tamil protesters from Sri Lanka and pro-democracy activists from Swaziland.
But the largest and most boisterous crowd were the pro-Biafrans, even though the media scrum focused on the gay activists.
Watch a clip of the protest below:
The Biafrans are demanding the secession of southeast Nigeria from the rest of the country as an independent republic of Biafra, and see a referendum as the first step. Tatchell gave them a “black power” salute as he walked past, perhaps unaware of how opposition to homosexuality is maybe one thing the secessionists and the Buhari regime can agree upon. While some of the pro-Biafrans cheered as Tatchell walked past, others made less favourable comments about gay people in Igbo – the main language in southeast Nigeria.
Uche Mefor, the deputy leader of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) showed up later and told Naijiant.com that their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who hasn’t been seen since Nigerian soldiers raided his home in Afaraukwu, Abia State, was “kidnapped” by the soldiers. One protester shouted that Nigeria was “an illegal entity” and “expired medicine”.
A spokesman for the protesters said: “The British government is evil and is supporting the evil government of Nigeria because they want to steal oil”. Others said the British can keep the oil in “Biafra Land” and give them their “freedom”. Most of Nigeria’s oil is produced in the Niger Delta, which was part of the Eastern Region that was involved in a doomed attempt at secession as the Republic of Biafra from 1967 to 1970. Even though that attempt was defeated 48 years ago, decades of neglect, poor governance and corruption have meant that the dream of a Biafran “Promised Land” still lives on in the hearts and minds of many.
The banners and placards told the story of Nigeria and its relationship with Britain. “Fantastically corrupt looting machine”, said one. Another declared: “Commonwealth loves wealth more than lives”. And another banner accused the British of training the Nigerian army to kill Biafrans.
The Nigerian government last year declared that IPOB was a “terrorist organisation” – a view not shared by the British. One of the lead protesters asked over his megaphone: “Do we look like terrorists? Would the police officers over there allow us to protest here if we were terrorists?” His audience responded that Buhari and the Nigerian government were the terrorists. What Theresa May and the Queen of England made of all this as they huddled together with Buhari a shouting distance away, was anyone’s guess.