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Meet The Nigerian Separatists Who Have Been Inspired By Brexit

"After Brexit, why not Biafrexit?"

Posted on June 27, 2016, at 5:30 p.m. ET

It’s a fair bet most people aren’t looking to Britain for political mentorship right now – after all, even leading supporters of the so-called "Brexit" are now backpedaling on key pledges.

Justin Tallis / AFP / Getty Images

But as the “Leave” camp racked up votes last week, it had fans cheering in an unusual place: In Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, pockets of separatists hoped the results rolling in from its former colonizer could be replicated at home.

Allow self-determination universal right. #FreeNnamdiKanu #BiafraExit #FreeBiafra #Biafra @hrw @un @UNGeneva "

Twitter: @Oceandew / Via Twitter: @Oceandew

Among them was Chris Nnoli, who identifies as part of a movement which wants to carve an independent state called Biafra in Nigeria's southeast.

If a referendum on Biafra is held today, which of the two will carry the day?

Twitter: @iamtenseven / Via Twitter: @iamtenseven

“After Brexit, why not Biafrexit? What the British people have done is a symbol of democracy. They’ve taken control of their country, so we want that for us Igbos too,” Nnoli told BuzzFeed News by phone from the capital, Abuja. (Igbos are one of the ethnic groups that make up Nigeria's population.)

From 1967 – 1970, secessionists' doomed attempt to carve a sovereign state of Biafra left almost 1 million dead, largely through starvation after the rebel leaders closed the borders.

Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP / Getty Images

The novel and film Half of A Yellow Sun recently dealt with that period, but the war remains a contentious topic in a country where history was recently removed from the standard secondary school curriculum.

The Biafran movement has largely simmered in the background since the 70s, but flared up again recently under President Muhammadu Buhari.

Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

The new president has cracked down – sometimes with lethal force – on peaceful demonstrations, and arrested a prominent agitator since coming into power last April.

Brexit has sparked calls for similar referendums from other European countries, but most probably didn’t imagine a group of west Africans latching on, too.

Stefan Heunis / AFP / Getty Images

Unlike the European Union, with its 28 countries who still are mostly independent of each other and bound together via treaty, Nigeria didn't have a choice about its founding — its 200-plus ethnicities were roped together by the British in 1914.

The Biafrans who want to split with Nigeria have even launched a new campaign pushing for a referendum of their own:

#BIAFRAEXIT_VOTE: IPOB Officially Launches Campaign Slogan

“The British Government, which is the closest ally of the Nigerian Government, must, as a mark of exemplary leadership, guide [Nigeria]…to organize a BIAFREXIT akin to the recently organized BREXIT,” the Indigenous People of Biafra movement said in a statement.

And the Brexit celebrations weren’t just in Nigeria. In Maryland, in his home cluttered with rare surviving memorabilia from Biafra, including stamps and currency, Ukaegbu Ukaegbu’s phone started ringing as the results came in.

Str / Reuters

“My phone rang off the hook. I’m feeling so motivated. We actually have hope now! Everybody can now see that anything is possible,” said Ukaegbu, who runs a popular pro-Biafra blog.

For now, despite a set of extremely vocal supporters, the movement remains on the fringe.

The #BiafraExit leaders cannot sell a well thought out plan to enlightened "Biafrans". They resort to sentiments

And as for following the U.K.’s move, there’s still some confusion over the official name – was it #BiafrExit or #BiaExit or even #BiafraExit?

Why #Biafexit? Why not #Bye-Afra? It would have been more original

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.