Few issues in the history of Nigeria are as controversial as the Nigerian Civil War that lasted for 30 months from 6 July 1967-15 January 1970.
The war is often called the Biafran war because it is believed that the war was caused by the attempted secession of the south-eastern provinces of Nigeria to become a sovereign entity known as “The Republic of Biafra”.
However, the civil war did not just start. A number of factors ignited the war that pitched compatriots against each other and led to mindless bloodletting that exacted millions of casualties from both camps (with heaviest casualties coming from the Biafran Camp).
The ghost of the war still haunts the country until today.
It is a subject that always turns people to impassioned and impatient debaters once it finds its way to the public square.
It is now 52 years after the outbreak of the war. Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra had ordered a sit-at-home to commemorate the Biafra war and honor their fallen heroes.
Here we take a look at events that happened during the civil war, focusing on the Biafrans.
BEFORE THE WAR
THE ABURI ACCORD
In a last-ditch effort to stop the war from happening, on 4th and 5th, January 1967 a few military officers from Nigeria dragged one another to a location in Ghana named Aburi.
They left the meeting with a consensus agreement now historically known as the Aburi Accord. It is however well known today that the much-touted meeting turned out to be futile.
DURING THE WAR
NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
The south-easterners, having been killed in their thousands, showed their ingenuity and inventiveness by coming up with various contraptions of warfare to repel the Federal army.
Some of the contraptions, called various names based on what they were deployed to do, include Ogbunigwe (mass killer when roughly translated in English), Grenader Launcher, Biafra Armoured Personnel Troop Carrier, Biafran Armour Vehicles Known as Red Devils, there were type A, B, C, and D.
These contraptions, especially the Ogbunigwe, became so fearsome that they sent shivers down the spines of most Nigerian soldiers and most of them would rather feign illness than face these powerful contraptions.
OVER THREE MILLIONS BIAFRANS DIED
In what has been called various names from pogrom to genocide and even ethnic cleansing. The Nigerian Army killed over a million Biafrans, chunks of whom were children, and women.
IS EVERYTHING FAIR IN WAR?
The innovative Biafrans and their intrepid soldiers repelled the Nigerian forces for months. In fact, around 1968, the war was in a stalemate state. The Nigerian Forces could not make significant advances into the Biafran strongholds.
The Nigerian troops had suffered serious defeat in areas such as Arochukwu, Umuahia, Onne, Oguta, Abagana, and Ikene Ekpene and this forced the Federal government to change tack in their execution of the war: The government stopped supplying food to the Biafrans.
Biafrans resorted to eating lizards, cassava leaves e.t.c. After a while, most Biafrans started suffering from Kwashiorkor, Beriberi and other diseases caused by deficiencies in vitamins. It is often said that coupled with poor medical intervention, Biafrans lost millions of people through debilitating illness occasioned by lack of access to nutritious food.
Till today, some south-easterners still say Nigerian Government used hunger to win the war. Is everything fair in War?
THE BIAFRAN FLAG, ANTHEM, AND MONEY
To show their determination and preparedness “The Republic of Biafra” even at its incipient stage had everything needed to lay claim to nationhood. The Biafran Army, Definite Territory, National Anthem, Flag and Currency.
The Biafran Anthem was culled from the late Nnamdi Azikwe’s poem titled “Land of the Rising Sun” and set to the tune of Sibelius’– Finnish Composer– “Finlandia”.
Land of the rising sun, we love and cherish,
Beloved homeland of our brave heroes;
We must defend our lives or we shall perish,
We shall protect our lives from all our foes;
But if the price is death for all we hold dear,
Then let us die without a shred of fear.
(The first Stanza of the Biafran Anthem)
The Biafran Flag consists of a horizontal tricolor of red, black and green charged with a golden bar. Each ‘logo’ on the flag stands for something, but the yellow/golden rising sun symbolizes a GLORIOUS FUTURE.
END OF THE CIVIL WAR
On the 23rd December 1969, a final offensive was launched against the Biafrans by the Federal forces of Nigeria who had support from the British.
Owerri and Uli which were both Biafran towns fell on 9th and 11th January 1970 respectively and that ended the starry-eyed optimism and the doggedness of the Biafran soldiers.
AFTER THE WAR
After the civil war in Nigeria (from 1967-1970), in order to keep the fragile peace of the nation then, General Yakubu Jack Gowon, the Nigerian Head of State (President), instituted the 3Rs—Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reintegration; and also pronounced to the world’s acclaim that the war ended with a: “No Victor No Vanquished” stand.
The efforts were made to ensure the easterners reabsorportion and reintegration into the Nigerian Nation.
THE £20 STORY
In 1970 after the war the Nigerian government generally gave money to every eligible adult of Igbo extraction regardless of the amount they had in their account before the outbreak of the war.
This decision was ‘engineered’ by the late Obafemi Awolowo. While the Igbo still see the decision as pure cheating, Nigerians from other ethnic groups, especially those of Yoruba extraction still think it was pure economic wizardry from the Ikene-born former premier of the Western region.