THE NAME ‘BIAFRA’ USED TO BE USED AS A DEROGATORY NAME BY CAMEROUNESE CITIZENS AGAINST AMBAZONIANS

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“May 30th 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the Biafra declaration and I could not help but remember the day I met the legendary Odumegwu Ojukwu, the man who declared the Eastern region of Nigeria a sovereign state. What most Igbos/Nigerians do not know is that Anglophone Cameroonians are derogatorily referred to as Biafrans in Cameroon. It is an insult that marks us as the “other” with no right of belonging. It is an insult that declares us “unpatriotic” and “not to be trusted.” The first time I was insulted with the label was during my first year at the University of Yaoundé. As a group of us, English majors tried to rush into an amphi theater that was being evacuated by a science class mostly made up of francophone students, there were shouts of, “Les Biafren” accompanied by provocative giggles. I was stunned. By the time the 1990’s rolled in with the rebirth of Southern Cameroon nationalism, the insult had been woven into the national fabric. Anglophone Cameroonians were not just “Biafrans” we were “L’ennemie dans la maison” (the enemy in the house). This is why when I found out the legendary Ojukwu was going to be at the 2009 Achebe Colloquium focused on the 2010 Nigerian elections, I knew I wanted to meet him. I wanted to see the man whose actions ended up intersecting with the way I was defined in my country. And so we met. I could not believe that I was face to face with the same Oxford trained Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the cult figure in my childhood memory! The bushy beard was gone and of course he wore no military fatigues. All he could do was smile weakly at what I told him. And so we posed for a photograph, our smiles masking the conflicting feelings the name “Biafra” had evoked.

Today, I remember all those who died or were maimed during the civil war that ensued including Bruce Mayrock, the 20 year old Colombia University student who set himself on fire in front of the UN to protest the Biafran war. “You must stop the genocide--please save 9 million Biafrans” his card board sign proclaimed. The other side of the sign read, “PEACE IS WHERE THERE IS AN ABSENCE OF FEAR OF ANY KIND." Bruce eventually died in hospital but his story like Biafra haunts us still.

Unfortunately the conditions that created Biafra continue to exist not just in Nigeria and Cameroon, but in other parts of the world. Have we learned anything? I wonder pensively on this historic day.”

Professor Joyce Ashuntantang

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