The events of the Nigerian Civil War unfolded within 30 months, from July 1967 to January 1970. The war brought a large-scale humanitarian crisis to the Biafra region, resulting in between 1 and 3 million civilian deaths from hostilities, disease, and starvation (“Biafra War,” 2016). The main opposing forces in the war were the rebel Ibo people and the forces of the newly established Federal Republic. One year before the war broke out, “a group of army officers, dominated by members of the Hausa tribe, overthrew a federal government led by Ibo officers” (Merriam, 1968, para. 4).
The genocide of Ibos followed suit, and 30 to 40 thousand people were killed in anti-Ibo protests in the north of the country (Merriam, 1968). The unfolding events caused the Ibo government to ask for its people to return to the safe territory of the Eastern Region, where on May 30th, 1967, the local military governor Ojukwu proclaimed its independence as the Republic of Biafra (“Biafra War,” 2016).
Events of the Crisis
The official reports place the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War on 6th July 1967, when the federal troops first approached Biafra (Nwanze, 2014). The two brigades were led by Lt. Col Shelpidi and Colonel Shuwa, who advanced from two different roads (Nwanze, 2014). Shuwa’s troops attempted to move into the city of Enugu, where they met with Biafran troops and failed to take hold of the city (Nwanze, 2014).
The first brigade, led by Shelpidi, on the other hand, was successful in winning over Gakem, Obudu, and Ogoja (Nwanze, 2014). Over 7000 of rebel troops were under the command of Col. Victor Banjo, who ordered to split the forces Agbor (Nwanze, 2014). The plan was to for Lt. Col. Festus Akagha to secure the Midwestern region with part of the forces, moving west towards Benin; the other part of the forces, under the command of Major Humphrey Chukwuka, would head south, whereas the remaining troops, led by Lt. Col. Mike Inveso, were to move north to Auchi (Nwanze, 2014).
The end goal was for the forces to reach Lagos, where the federal government resided, as well as to fight the Nigerian troops in the Eastern Region (Nwanze, 2014). On 8th August 1967, the rebels seized several strategic points in the Midwestern Region all within one day (“Biafra War,” 2016). Another split was meant to occur in the Midwest, where “Akagha was meant to secure Benin with a portion of his troops, while Banjo would take the rest and head towards Lagos” (Nwanze, 2014, para. 7).
However, due to the inner controversy, Banjo had to spend the next three weeks in Benin to oppose the appointment of Albert Okonkwo, an Igbo, as governor of the Republic of Benin (Nwanze, 2014). These three weeks were crucial to the development of the military conflict, as they gave the federal government the time to mobilize recruits into the armed forces and to plan the retaliation on the Biafran forces in the Midwest (“Biafra War,” 2016).
The unexpected attack in Ore caused the rebel forces to retreat to Benin (Nwanze, 2014). On their way, the troops killed and harassed the civilians, which turned the people of the Midwest against the Igbo forces (Nwanze, 2014). Residents began to assist the Nigerian forces, which gave the latter a significant strategic advantage (Nwanze, 2014). With the newly acquired support, the government was able to regain control of the Midwestern region, throwing the Biafrans back to the Eastern Region, while at the same time cutting off their access to the sea, surrounding the area (“Biafra War,” 2016).
The advancement of the Nigerian troops into the region, however, was significantly halted by the bridges that Biafrans destroyed on their way back; Murtala’s troops stopped at Asaba, where they initiated a massacre, killing over 800 men and boys (Nwanze, 2014). Nwanze (2014) states that this event prolonged the war: believing that they would fall victim to genocide, too, the rebel troops refused to cease fighting until more than two years later. On 17th October 1967, Nigerian troops went into Calabar, where they defeated the Biafran forces led by Major Ogbu Oji, causing them to surrender on October 20th, after several attempts to get support (Nwanze, 2014).
Meanwhile, in the western areas, troops under Murtala and Col. Shehu Yar’Adua crossed the Niger River at Idah and defeated Biafra’s 53 Brigade on the other side; they continued to move further into the region, which resulted in the Battle for Onitsha on 20th March 1968 (Nwanze, 2014). Defeated, the Biafran troops retreated to Nnewi on the 22nd March, leaving equipment and weapons behind to be seized by the federal troops (Nwanze, 2014).
However, they later retaliated with the Abagana Ambush, during which a Nigerian convoy was attacked to destroy equipment and undermine the authority of Murtala, who was replaced by other commanders (Nwanze, 2014). The invasion of Port Harcourt in May 1968 caused the Biafrans to retreat from the Cross River area and resulted in severe casualties on their side of the forces (Nwanze, 2014).
By October, the rebel troops were thrown further back, although they managed to recapture Aba and take 6,500 Nigerian soldiers prisoner (Nwanze, 2014). At the same time, Ojukwu called for the UN to mediate peace negotiations between the two sides, but the call was rejected as the Nigerian government demanded Biafra to surrender (“Biafra War,” 2016). Another significant point for both sides was Umuahia, which fell due to the pressure of the Federal forces on April 22, 1969 (Nwanze, 2014). After a period of stalemate, during which “massive starvation and disease occurred in the tiny Biafran enclave centered around Owerri” (Nwanze, 2014, para. 22).
The Battle for Owerri was one of the final turning points of the war: Col. Joseph Achuzia was captured by the Nigerian troops and Ojukwu was fled, leaving Ufi to fall on January 11, 1970 (Nwanze, 2014). General Effiong, who was left in command, “called for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire January 12 and submitted to the authority of the federal government at ceremonies in Lagos” (“Biafra War,” 2016, para. 15).
The events of the war left the Eastern Region in poverty and starvation. By the time the humanitarian crisis became known to the world, people were already suffering from severe undernourishment, the rise in infectious diseases, and the overall destruction of the area. The economy of the region was almost destroyed by the military efforts; the people were short of food, resources, and had nowhere to live (“Biafra War,” 2016). The crisis had a major effect on the lives of many civilians and brought to light many human rights issues, which had to be addressed through global efforts.
Biafra War. (2016). Web.
Merriam, John C. (1968). The legacy of the Biafran War. The Harvard Crimson. Web.
Nwanze, C. (2014). Chronology of the Nigerian Civil War. News Wire Nigeria. Web.