THE NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR AGAINST BIAFRAJan 15, 2023 02:00PM ● By Minna Davies
Most Nigerians regard the war over Biafra as a forgotten episode, but for the Igbo people who fought for secession, it remains a life-defining experience. Following two coups and turmoil that led about a million Igbos back to the south-east of Nigeria, the Republic of Biafra seceded under the leadership of 33-year-old Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War, was a three-year conflict that began in 1967 and lasted until 1970. The war was fought between the government of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra. It resulted in over one million deaths, primarily due to famine caused by blockades on food and other supplies to rebel areas. The Nigerian Civil War is often referred to as a “forgotten war” because it did not receive much international attention during its duration.
What was the Nigerian Civil War?
The war arose out of political, ethnic, cultural and economic differences between the Northern and Southern regions of Nigeria, which culminated in a military coup d'état by Northern soldiers led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu on January 15, 1966. In an effort to counter the coup, Eastern soldiers under Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu proclaimed Biafra's independence from Nigeria on May 30, 1967. The ensuing war saw both sides commit atrocities against civilians. An estimated one million people lost their lives during the course of the war; this figure includes those who died as a result of starvation or disease.
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How did the war end?
The Nigerian Civil War ended on January 15, 1970, when General Yakubu Gowon, the head of the Nigerian Federal Military Government, accepted an offer of peace from General Odumegwu Ojukwu, the leader of the breakaway Republic of Biafra. The war had begun on July 6, 1967, when Colonel Ojukwu declared Biafra's independence from Nigeria. Gowon responded by sending troops to crush the rebellion.
The war was characterized by heavy fighting and widespread suffering. An estimated two million people died, mostly from starvation and disease. Biafran troops were outnumbered and outgunned by the Nigerian army, but they put up a brave resistance. In early 1970, however, Nigerian troops finally broke through Biafran defenses, and Ojukwu was forced to seek peace terms.
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What were the consequences of the war?
The war was fought primarily over control of oil resources in the region. Prior to the war, Nigeria had been a major producer of oil, and most of its export earnings came from oil exports. However, due to mismanagement and corruption, Nigeria's economy was in shambles by the time the war broke out. The war further exacerbated Nigeria's economic problems, as both sides engaged in a policy of scorched earth that destroyed much of the country's infrastructure.
Nigeria's defeat in the war also led to a loss of prestige on the international stage. The country had been seen as a rising power in Africa, but its defeat at the hands of a smaller secessionist state damaged its image. Additionally, the war led to an influx of refugees into neighboring countries, further destabilizing the region.
In addition to its political and economic consequences, the Nigerian Civil War also had a significant impact on Nigerian society. The conflict deepened divisions between Nigeria's different ethnic groups, and it is still felt today. The war also traumatized a generation of Nigerians who lived through it.
January 1966 - Nigerian government overthrown in what was seen as an "Igbo coup" led by junior army officers
January 1966 - Lt Col Odumegwu-Ojukwu appointed military governor of Eastern Region
July 1966 - Second coup masterminded by Murtala Muhammed, Lt Col Yakubu Gowon becomes head of state
June to October 1966 - Riots in northern Nigeria targeted at Igbos, killing many and forcing up to a million to return to south-eastern Nigeria
May 1967 - Ojukwu declares independence of the Republic of Biafra
July 1967 - War begins
October 1967 - Biafran capital Enugu falls
May 1968 - Nigeria captures oil-rich Port Harcourt
April 1969 - Umuahia, new Biafran capital falls to Nigerian forces
January 1970 - Ojukwu flees Nigeria
Minna Davies is a creative writer and a thespian with a degree in theatre arts from the University of Lagos. He has been privileged to have some of his works featured on Nigeria's big stages. It is important to dream, but if no one gets to see it, it is as good as dead.
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