Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Image: Priya Ramrakha/Getty via RFI
French archives show that the ousted president of the self-proclaimed republic of Biafra tried, after the "Nigerian civil war", in 1970, to revive an armed rebellion since his exile in Côte d'Ivoire, provoking the anger of his host, President Houphouët-Boigny and of France, who had supported him until then.
When the Biafran War ended on January 15, 1970, after three years of violent clashes between a federal army supported by the United Kingdom and Biafran separatists armed by France, the separatist leader Emeka Ojukwu was already in Côte d ' Ivory for several days.
A few weeks earlier, the Nigerian army, heavily armed by its British and Soviet allies, won a military victory over exhausted and demoralized Biafres by three years of hostilities and a famine that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. .
General Ojukwu has just been "dropped" by France, who sent him arms and mercenaries from the beginning to the end of the conflict in the hope of weakening Nigeria, an English-speaking "giant" surrounded by former French colonies . The break between Paris and Enugu, capital of independent Biafra, was decided on January 6, 1970 when the French President, Georges Pompidou, agreed with the boss of the "Africa cell" of the Élysée Palace, Jacques Foccart , who no longer believes in a Biafran victory.
But General Ojukwu, the man who embodied Biafra, does not hear it the same way. From his Ivorian exile, he says he wants to " continue the fight " , even if Félix Houphouët-Boigny asked him not to engage in subversive activities and to be discreet. His presence in Côte d'Ivoire will not be revealed to the general public until several weeks after his arrival.
According to doctoral student and documentary maker Joël Calmettes , who is preparing a thesis on the role of France in Nigeria during the Biafra War , the ex-number one Biafran has ignored Ivorian exhortations and tried to mount a military operation in the hope to return to Nigeria. Public and private archives allow him to affirm that General Ojukwu even planned an operation that would have allowed him to take control of a strategic bridge in Makurdi, capital of Benue State.
The fury of Houphouët-Boigny
The ex-Biafran leader was not trying to relaunch hostilities as such, believes Joël Calmettes, but to push the federal authorities to negotiate with him in the hope of reinstalling power in Biafra before 1972. " Ojukwu n ' did not accept the defeat of Biafra nor the fact of no longer being at its head, explains the researcher. He no longer saw reality. He was in exile. "
This project arouses the anger of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who refuses to associate himself with it, all the more since "the Old Man" has come to understand that General Ojukwu and his relatives were corrupt. The former independence leader has already turned into a real investor: since his Ivorian exile, analyzes Joël Calmettes, he is even looking to acquire a factory in Portugal, the colonial power that supported Biafra.
The Ivorian president is shocked, explains Joël Calmettes, because he is not unaware of the origin of his fortune: " It is about the money which was collected for Biafra, not the humanitarian funds, but the money which was donated by Houphouët-Boigny and France for Biafra. "
In secret letters intercepted by French services, General Ojukwu believes that he no longer needs the support of France and Côte d'Ivoire, and that he wants to take refuge in Haiti.
" We have had enough weapons "
This provokes the fury of the chief of his Ivorian host, who therefore seeks to expel him " within three weeks ", specifies Joël Calmettes, towards Portugal and Switzerland, two countries which will refuse to give him asylum.
At a meeting with relatives in February 1970, the ex-Biafran leader made a terrible admission: " Up to three months before the end of the war, we had enough food, weapons and money, but we didn't know how to use it ”. This statement of failure marks his French and Ivorian supporters, who believed that Biafra had not managed to get out of it because the short-lived republic had not received enough weapons. " Difficult to know if this admission is a touch of pride or that it is a reflection of reality, " warns Joël Calmettes, however.
The failure of the independence movement in Biafra will be a snub for the " Africa cell " of the Élysée Palace and the "networks" which, under General de Gaulle, had the upper hand over the African policy of France, according to Joël Calmettes.
By intervening in Biafra, France wanted to weaken Nigeria. Clearly, it was to strengthen the most loyal supporters of Paris in Africa, Ivory Coast and Gabon, facing the English "giant" and secure a privileged position in an independent Biafra called, she believed, to become a major oil producer.