It has been estimated that over a million people were killed during the bloodiest war Nigeria as a nation has ever experienced. The Biafran war as it is popularly called, was the war fought between the secessionist republic of Biafra and Nigeria. Basically, Nigerians from the south eastern part of Nigeria decided to split from the rest of Nigeria. They did this for reasons that will be discussed later in this article. However, many years have passed since this civil war took place, but some Igbo’s today are still agitating for a new Biafra. Is this a good Idea? well I’ll leave you to answer that question, but first, lets look a bit more into what caused all this tension in the first place. Here are the top ten facts about the Nigerian civil war I think you should know about.
THE NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR
1.Sir Hugh Clifford a British colonial administrator, once described Nigeria as ” a collection of Independent native states, separated from one another by great distances, difference of history and traditions. Difference in ethnological, racial, tribal, political , social and religious barriers”. Some may say that Sir Hugh Clifford was right.
In the year 1914 ,the British amalgamated two regions in an area that they named “Nigeria“. It was divided into two parts; the northern and southern protectorates. They did this for better ease of administration. However ,they disregarded the fact that these regions had different customs, religions, values and political systems. Maybe they knew the conflict this would cause and just didn’t care. One could speculate that they were more vested in their personal interests.
2. By the time Nigeria got her independence from Britain, Igbo’s made up 60-70% of the population in the south east region. Yorubas made up 75% in the south west. Hausa-Fulani made up 65% in the northern part of Nigeria. You see, these three predominant groups had different systems both religious, political and cultural. The Yorubas had a political system run by their Obas. This system allowed for the social mobility of the yorubas. The yorubas were among the first to open themselves up to western values and education. They made up the first classes of Civil servants, Lawyers, Doctors and a myriad of other professions at that time.
The Igbo’s as well had a political system where the Eze’s and Obi’s allowed for both men and women to participate in decision making. The Igbo’s welcomed western missionaries and values with open arms. They embraced the Christian religion and western education in droves. The most wealthy Igbo’s would send their sons to Britain to get a higher education. The Hausa- Fulani on the other hand were more conservative. They had an authoritarian system of Emirs who ruled them. They didn’t embrace British imperialism, religion or education but stuck to their conservative values.
3. By 1960 it was estimated that the northern part of Nigeria was the most underdeveloped compared to the south east and south western states. There was a 2% literacy rate in the North, compared to the east which had a 19.2% literacy rate. The south west had a higher literacy rate out of the other two, because they were the first to embrace western education and values. Some Igbo’s looking for more wages and opportunities left their homeland and settled in other parts of Nigeria. They made up the tradesmen,civil servants etc in the north and south.
The political landscape after Nigeria’s independence was riddled with all sorts of things like; malpractices, corruption and unfair elections by the ruling elites . The northerners also had a sweet spot in the political landscape at that time. In order to maintain law and order, the first coup was initiated. This coup was headed by Major Nzeogwu. Most if not all of the senior military and political officers killed were from the northern and western regions. This and other factors led to the collapse of the first republic. The northerners enraged, saw this as a conspiracy of the easterners to take away the leadership role from them and eliminate northern leaders.
4. Aguiyi Ironsi took over power from the senate president of the first republic, Nwafor Orizu. this made Aguiyi the first acting military president of Nigeria. However, Aguiyi failed to punish those who were involved in the coup. This further incited hatred and resentment from the northerners. So it was no surprise when a counter coup was staged by military officers from the north on the 29th of July, 1966. The aim of this was to met out vengeance on the easterners and the break up of the country. This coup saw to the death of Aguiyi Ironsi and other senior officers of eastern origin. Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon the then chief of staff of the Nigerian army became the new military head of state.
5. This coup however gave rise to even worse and horrific killings. Easterners who lived in the north were killed, their goods and properties looted. It was estimated that a hundred thousand Igbo’s were murdered on northern soil. Most Igbo’s were killed in their houses, offices, schools,etc. Lt col. Yakubu Gowon addressed this issue in a national broadcast saying, “I receive complaints daily that up till now Easterners living in the North are being killed and molested and their property looted. It appears that it is going beyond reason and is now at a point of recklessness and irresponsibility.”
Easterners started fleeing back to their homelands for safety. Attempts were made to lighten the situation, but the Igbo’s felt more and more marginalised. This all got to its peak when finally General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu announced the break away of the eastern region from the rest of Nigeria.
6. When Biafra was declared on May 30, 1967 only five other nations recognised it as an independent nation. These countries were; Haiti, Tanzania, Zambia, Gabon and Cote d’ Ivoire. Biafra also established its own bank, the bank of Biafra. The Biafran currency became accessible on the 25th of January, 1968. Not only that, they also had their own national anthem called “The land of the rising sun”. This national anthem was written by Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Biafra was made up of mostly Igbo’s, but it also included other tribes like; Efik, Ibibio, Eket, Annang, Ijaw and Ejagham tribes.
7. The areas that made up Biafra had the most oil which prior had been a source of revenue for the Nigerian government. The federal government unwilling to lose this resource, declared war on Biafra without warning. On the 6th of July, 1967 Nigerian federal troops made their way into Biafra in two columns. They first and foremost occupied oil blocs in port- Harcourt. They also went ahead to place a shipping ban of oil from the Biafran territory. Biafra was trading oil with shell bp using oil tankers and were collecting royalties worth 250,000 pounds. The federal government got whim of this and included oil tankers in the ban. The federal government asked shell-Bp to stop their operations in Biafra.
8. As the war progressed, the biafran coastline was also completely surrounded by Nigerian federal troops. Goods and services couldn’t enter into Biafra. This made it difficult for the Biafran populace to feed themselves. Famine was the order of the day coupled with malnutrition. Prior to the blockade placed by the Nigerian government, the main source of protein for easterners was dried fish which was imported from Norway. This was supplemented with local poultry and livestock. However, these local sources were rapidly becoming scarce in supply and the national diet was now almost 100% starch based. This led to a condition known as kwashiorkor among the malnourished and starving populace.
This sad case led to an outcry within the international communities especially from the year 1968. Christian networks and organisations spread awareness of the situation. Non governmental organisations rose up to support and send relief materials and food to the starving Biafran populace.
9. Biafran forces made some progress initially in the war, but Nigerian military gradually took over the biafran territory. Also the Nigerian government had more backing from powerful allies; The British wishing to maintain their hold on the oil being exported from Nigeria, took sides with the federal government. This decision was made after the blockade was placed on shipping lines by the federal government in Biafra. Not only that, shell-bp was advised by the British government to give in to the pressures of the Nigerian government when they were ordered to stop doing business with the Biafrans.
The British had predicted that the federal government had a greater chance of winning the war, and taking sides with the losing team didn’t seem to be to their advantage in the long run. So, Britain supplied arms and intelligence to the Nigerian military. Russia was also an ally,United States, Egypt, Syria and Algeria. Biafran republic also had their allies which included; France, Israel, Portugal, Spain, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
10. On January 11, 1970, Owerri the provincial capital of Biafra was captured by the Nigerian military. Odumegwu Ojukwu on seeing the biafran dream coming to an end fled to the Ivory Coast with his immediate family. He handed over the administration of Biafra to the commander of the biafran army, Major General Phillip Effiong. Few days later Biafra surrendered to Nigeria and ceased to exist as an independent nation.
History has a funny way of teaching us lessons and also if not checked we may repeat its mistakes. Looking through the genesis and root of the biafran war, it makes me wonder if Nigeria should have even been formed in the first place. Were the Igbo’s only paying a price for the careless coup carried out by Major Nzeogwu? A coup where it seemed like the northerners were a prime target and the easterners in political office at the time spared? Could the hate killings of the easterners in the north be justified? Years after the war are we as Nigerians stronger together or are the tensions still the same? I will leave you to ponder and answer these questions. I look forward to your comments and contributions on all you have just read in the comment section below.
STRANGE FACT: Did you know? That a 20 year old student called Bruce Mayork stood in front of the United Nations on the 3rd of June, 1969 and set himself on fire? This was his own way of protesting against the war. No surprise he died while carrying out this act. Would you say he was brave or stupid to do this?
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