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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
Spotlight on Biafra
More than one million died in the Biafra war
By Elizabeth Blunt in Lagos

The Oputa panel, a body modelled on South Africa's Truth Commission, is due to begin hearings in the south-eastern city of Enugu on Wednesday.

The panel has already held sessions in the capital, Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt.

Biafra war
Starts 1967 after Igbos in eastern Nigeria secede
One million deaths
Biafrans defeated 1970 by federal Nigerian forces
Secessionist leader Ojukwu exiled, later pardoned
Among the petitions to be presented in Enugu is one from the main Igbo cultural and political association claiming damages for the sufferings of the people of the former Biafra during the Nigerian civil war in the 1960s.

The file is weighty, the claim for damages enormous.


The Ohanaeze Ndigbo Association has compiled a dossier detailing all the sufferings of the Igbo people before, during and after the Biafran war.

Igbo groups say a damages award would be a healing balm
This includes the pograms against them in the north of the country which led to Biafra's attempt at secession, the death and destruction during the war itself and what they claim is the marginalisation of Igbo people in post-civil war Nigeria.

The signatories of the petition are a roll call of prominent Igbos in Nigerian public life, including a former vice president, Alex Ekwueme.

The petition, down to be heard during the panel's second week in Enugu, will be the highlight of the hearings in the south-east but other petitions listed include cases of unlawful arrest and torture, disappearances and unlawful killings, many of them dating from the more recent period of oppression under General Sani Abacha.

For many years after the civil war, the defeated former Biafrans nursed their grievances in silence but now there is a new assertiveness in south-eastern Nigerian, a new willingness to talk about the war and even to justify the Biafran cause.

The Igbo association presenting the petition are claiming damages of more than $60bn, saying that reparations and appropriate restitution would be a healing balm not just to Igbos but to the whole Nigerian nation.

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