Nigerian Civil War: 10 Things You Should Know


Conflicts and tensions in a country may result in clashes and war. Nigeria experienced the effects of such tensions through the Nigerian Civil war. The War, also known as the Biafran War, 6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970, was an ethnic and political conflict caused by the attempted secession of the southeastern provinces of Nigeria as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra. The conflict was the result of economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions mainly between the Hausas of north and the Igbo of the southeast of Nigeria. Over the two and half years of the war, 1 million civilians died from famine and fighting. The ensuing battles and well-publicized human suffering prompted international outrage and intervention.

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1. Background Of The War.

Also known as the Biafran War, the Nigerian civil war began in July 1967 and ended in January 1970. The war was a political and ethnic conflict that occurred when the Nigerian southeastern provinces tried to proclaim themselves as the Republic of Biafra.

2. Causes Of Conflict.

The main causes of the conflict were religious, cultural, economic and ethnic tensions between the Igbos who are from the southeastern part of Nigeria and the Hausas who are from the northern part of Nigeria. Through the time of the war, many civilians died either by fighting or through starvation.

3. Secession Of The Republic Of Biafra.

On 30th May 1967, Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu who was the military governor of the southeast part of Nigeria proclaimed the secession of that part of the country as an independent nation to be called, The Republic of Biafra. However, this new nation was considered weak as it had a great shortage of weapons for war. In addition, the new republic was not recognized around the world say for only five countries among them, Gabon, Haiti, Zambia, Tanzania and Cote d’Ivoire. Peace accords such as the Aburi Accord collapsed and the war followed.

4. Police Action By The Nigerian Government and Formation Of The First Infantry Division.

The government of Nigeria launched a police action which was to take back the secessionist territory. On 6th July 1967, federal troops from Nigeria advanced into Biafra in two columns. Colonel Shuwa led the Nigerian army through the north of Biafra. There, the first infantry division was formed by the local military units. The left-hand column went after the town of Garkem and captured it on July 12th while the right-hand column made for Nsukka town that fell on July 14th. At this point, the other parts of Nigeria considered the war to be a confrontation between the Eastern region and the Northern region.

5. Response From Biafran Forces.

On 9th August, Biafran forces led by Colonel Banjo responded and moved west to the mid-west part of Nigeria crossing the Niger River and passed through the city of Benin. On 21st August, the Biafran forces were stopped when they reached Ore which is presently the state of Ondo. The mid-western region was easily taken over due to the little resistance they met.

6. Second Infantry Division.

In response to this attack, General Gowon asked Colonel Murtala Mohammed to form the second infantry division whose aim was to rid the mid-west region of the biafrans and defend the western side. On 22nd September, the city of Benin was retaken by Nigerians.

7. Third Infantry Division.

The third infantry division was formed under Colonel Benjamin Adekunle. Through it, an offensive was launched into Biafra south by General Gowon. Throughout the war, thousands of lives were lost for instance, when the Nigerian soldiers who were under Colonel Murtala Mohammed captured Asaba, a mass killing of seven hundred civilians was carried out. Calabar town was invaded on 17th October 1967 by Nigerians led by Colonel Benjamin Adekunle while on the other hand, Biafrans were led by Colonel Ogbu Ogi who controlled the Lyyn Garrison and the areas between Opobo and Calabar. The biafrans were under heavy attack and eventually withdrew from battle and Colonel Ogbu Ogi surrendered to General Benjamin Adekunle.

8. Stalemate State Of  The War.

In 1968 and thereafter, the war was in a stalemate state since the Nigerian forces could not make advances that were significant into the areas that were still under Biafran control since they faced strong resistance and had gone through major defeats in areas such as Arochukwu, Umuahia, Onne, Oguta, Abagana and Ikot Ekpene. Between April and June 1968, another offensive from Nigeria surrounded the Biafrans and the Port of Harcourt was captured on 19th May 1968. This led to a wide-spread civilian starvation within the besieged areas. With the claim by the Biafran government that the Nigerians were using genocide and hunger to win the war, they pleaded for aid from other countries around the world.

9. Surrender Of Biafrans and Victory Of Nigerians.

On 23rd December 1969, a final offensive was launched against the Biafrans by the federal forces of Nigeria who had an increased support from the British. Owerri and Uli which were both Biafran owns fell on 9th and 11th January 1970 respectively. The Biafrian leaders surrendered to General Yakubu Gowon on January 13th, 1970. Few days later, the war came to an end as the Nigerian forces advanced to the Biafrian territories that remained.

10. Effects Of The War.

It is approximated that close to three million people lost their lives as a result of the conflict with most of them having died from diseases and hunger. Despite of the effort to reconstruct the nation, religious and ethnic tensions are still present in the politics of Nigeria. For many years in Nigeria, the military government was in power.