Sunday, 3 January 2016

VIDEO: Life in 'Biafra' during the Nigerian Civil War (1967 - 1970)

The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War, 6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970, was a war fought to counter the secession of Biafra from Nigeria. Biafra represented nationalist aspirations of the Igbo people, whose leadership felt they could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated federal government.

The conflict resulted from political, economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions which preceded Britain's formal decolonization of Nigeria from 1960–1963. Immediate causes of the war in 1966 included a military coup, a counter-coup, and persecution of Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. 


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1966 COUP

On 15 January 1966, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and other junior Army officers (mostly majors and captains) attempted a coup d'état. The two major political leaders of the north, the prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the Premier of the northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello were executed by Major Nzeogwu. Also murdered was Sir Ahmadu Bello's wife and officers of Northern extraction.

Meanwhile, the President, Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo, was on an extended vacation in the West Indies. He did not return until days after the coup. There was widespread suspicion that the Igbo coup plotters had tipped him and other Igbo leaders off regarding the impending coup.

In addition to the killings of the Northern political leaders, the Premier of the Western region , Ladoke Akintola and Yoruba senior military offiers were also killed. The coup, also referred to as "The Coup of the Five Majors", has been described in some quarters as Nigeria's only revolutionary coup. This was the first coup in the short life of Nigeria's nascent second democracy. Claims of electoral fraud were one of the reasons given by the coup plotters.

This coup was however seen not as a revolutionary coup by other sections of Nigerians , especially in the Northern and Western sections and latter revisioninsts of Nigerian coups, mostly from Eastern part of Nigeria have belatedly maintained to widespread disbelief amongst Western and Southern Nigerians that the majors sought to spring Action Group leader Obafemi Awolowo out of jail and make him head of the new government. From there, they would dismantle the Northern-dominated power structure. However, their efforts to take power were thwarted by Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo and loyalist head of the Nigerian Army, who suppressed coup operations in the South. The majors surrendered, and Aguiyi-Ironsi was declared head of state on 16 January.

Aguyi-Ironsi suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament. He then abolished the regional confederated form of government and pursued unitary like policies heithero favoured by the NCNC, having apparently been influenced by some NCNC political philosophy. He however appointed Colonel Hassan Katsina, son of Katsina emir Usman Nagogo, to govern the Northern Region, indicating some willingness to maintain cooperation with this bloc. He also preferentially released northern politicians from jail (enabling them to plan his forthcoming overthrow).

Ironsi did not bring the failed plotters to trial as required by then-military law and as advised by most Northern and Western officers, rather, coup plotters were maintained in the military on full pay and some were even promoted while apparently awaiting trial. The coup, despite its failure and since no repercussion was meted out to coup plotters and since no significant Igbo political leaders were affected was widely perceived as having benefited mostly the Igbo. Most of the known coup plotters were Igbo and the military and political leadership of Westerrn and Northern regions had been largely bloodily eliminated while Eastern military/political leadership was largely untouched.

Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu became military governor of the Eastern Region at this time. On 24 May 1966, the military government issued Unification Decree #34, which would have replaced the federation with a more centralized system. The Northern bloc found this decree intolerable.

In the face of provocation from the Eastern media which repeatedly showed humiliating posters and cartoons of the slain northern politicians, on the night of 29 July 1966, northern soldiers at Abeokuta barracks mutinied, thus precipitating a counter-coup, which have already been in the planning stages. The counter-coup led to the installation of Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon as Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Gowon was chosen as a compromise candidate. He was a Northerner, a Christian, from a minority tribe, and had a good reputation within the army.

It seems that Gowon immediately faced not only a potential standoff with the East, but secession threats from the Northern and even the Western region. The counter-coup plotters had considered using the opportunity to withdraw from the federation themselves. Ambassadors from Britain and the United States, however, urged Gowon to maintain control over the whole country. Gowon followed this plan, repealing the Unification Decree, announcing a return to the federal system.

On 27 May 1967, Gowon proclaimed the division of Nigeria into twelve states. This decree carved the Eastern Region in three parts: South Eastern State, Rivers State, and East Central State. Now the Igbos, concentrated in the East Central State, would lose control over most of the petroleum, located in the other two areas.
On 30 May 1967, Ojukwu declared independence of the Republic of Biafra.

The Federal Military Government immediately placed an embargo on all shipping to and from Biafra—but not on oil tankers. Biafra quickly moved to collect oil royalties from oil companies doing business within its borders. When Shell-BP acquiesced to this request at the end of June, the Federal Government extended its blockade to include oil. The blockade, which most foreign actors accepted, played a decisive role in putting Biafra at a disadvantage from the beginning of the war.

Although the very young nation had a chronic shortage of weapons to go to war, it was determined to defend itself. Although there was much sympathy in Europe and elsewhere, only five countries (Tanzania, Gabon, Côte d'Ivoire, Zambia and Haiti) officially recognised the new republic. Britain supplied amounts of heavy weapons and ammunition to the Nigerian side because of its desire to preserve the country it created. The Biafra side on the other hand found it difficult to purchase arms as the countries who supported it did not provide arms and ammunition. The heavy supply of weapons by Britain was the biggest factor in determining the outcome of the war.

Several peace accords, especially the one held at Aburi, Ghana (the Aburi Accord), collapsed and the shooting war soon followed. Ojukwu managed at Aburi to get agreement to a confederation for Nigeria, rather than a federation. He was warned by his advisers that this reflected a failure of Gowon to understand the difference and, that being the case, predicted that it would be reneged upon. When this happened, Ojukwu regarded it as both a failure by Gowon to keep to the spirit of the Aburi agreement, and lack of integrity on the side of the Nigerian Military Government in the negotiations toward a united Nigeria. Gowon's advisers, to the contrary, felt that he had enacted as much as was politically feasible in fulfillment of the spirit of Aburi. The Eastern Region was very ill equipped for war, outmanned and outgunned by the Nigerians. Their advantages included fighting in their homeland, support of most Easterners, determination, and use of limited resources.
The UK-which still maintained the highest level of influence over Nigeria's highly valued oil industry through Shell-BP and the Soviet Union supported (especially militarily) the Nigerian government.

THE WAR

Shortly after extending its blockade to include oil, the Nigerian government launched a "police action" to retake the secessionist territory. The war began on 6 July 1967 when Nigerian Federal troops advanced in two columns into Biafra.

The Nigerian Army offensive was through the north of Biafra led by Colonel Mohammed Shuwa and the local military units were formed as the 1st Infantry Division. The division was led mostly by northern officers.

After facing unexpectedly fierce resistance and high casualties, the right-hand Nigerian column advanced on the town of Nsukka which fell on 14 July, while the left-hand column made for Garkem, which was captured on 12 July.

BIAFRAN OFFENSIVE

The Biafrans responded with an offensive of their own when, on 9 August, the Biafran forces moved west into the Mid-Western Nigerian region across the Niger river, passing through Benin City, until they were stopped at Ore (in present day Ondo State) just over the state boundary on 21 August, just 130 miles east of the Nigerian capital of Lagos. The Biafran attack was led by Lt. Col. Banjo, a Yoruba, with the Biafran rank of brigadier. The attack met little resistance and the Mid-West was easily taken over.

This was due to the pre-secession arrangement that all soldiers should return to their regions to stop the spate of killings, in which Igbo soldiers had been major victims. The Nigerian soldiers that were supposed to defend the Mid-West state were mostly Mid-West Igbo and while some were in touch with their eastern counterparts, others resisted. General Gowon responded by asking Colonel Murtala Mohammed (who later became head of state in 1975) to form another division (the 2nd Infantry Division) to expel the Biafrans from the Mid-West, as well as defend the West side and attack Biafra from the West as well. As Nigerian forces retook the Mid-West, the Biafran military administrator declared the Republic of Benin on 19 September, though it ceased to exist the next day. (The present country of Benin, west of Nigeria, was still named Dahomey at that time.)

Although Benin City was retaken by the Nigerians on 22 September, the Biafrans succeeded in their primary objective by tying down as many Nigerian Federal troops as they could. Gen. Gowon also launched an offensive into Biafra south from the Niger Delta to the riverine area using the bulk of the Lagos Garrison command under Colonel Benjamin Adekunle (called the Black Scorpion) to form the 3rd Infantry Division (which was later renamed as the 3rd Marine Commando). As the war continued, the Nigerian Army recruited amongst a wider area, including the Yoruba, Itshekiri, Urhobo, Edo, Ijaw, etc.

NIGERIAN OFFENSIVE

Four battalions of the Nigerian 2nd Infantry Division were needed to drive the Biafrans back and eliminate their territorial gains made during the offensive. Nigerian soldiers under Murtala Mohammed carried out a mass killing of 700 civilians when they captured Asaba on the River Niger. The Nigerians were repulsed three times as they attempted to cross the River Niger during October, resulting in the loss of thousands of troops, dozens of tanks and equipment.

The first attempt by the 2nd Infantry Division on 12 October to cross the Niger from the town of Asaba to the Biafran city of Onitsha cost the Nigerian Federal Army over 5,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured or missing. Operation Tiger Claw (17–20 October 1967) was a military conflict between Nigerian and Biafran military forces. On 17 October 1967 Nigerians invaded Calabar led by the "Black Scorpion", Benjamin Adekunle while the Biafrans were led by Col. Ogbu Ogi, who was responsible for controlling the area between Calabar and Opobo, and Lynn Garrison a foreign mercenary. The Biafrans came under immediate fire from the water and the air. For the next two days Biafran stations and military supplies were bombarded by the Nigerian air force. That same day Lynn Garrison reached Calabar but came under immediate fire by federal troops. By 20 October, Garrison's forces withdrew from the battle while Col. Ogi officially surrendered to Gen. Adekunle.

CONTROL OVER OIL PRODUCTION

Control over petroleum in the Niger Delta was a paramount military objective during the war.
Towards the end of July 1967 Nigeria captured Bonny Island in the Niger Delta, thereby taking control of vital Shell-BP facilities.[64] Operations began again in May 1968, when Nigeria captured Port Harcourt. Its facilities had been damaged and needed repair.[65] Production and export continued at a lower level. The completion in 1969 of a new terminal at Forçados brought production up from 142,000 barrels/day in 1958 to 540,000 barrels/day in 1969. In 1970, this figure doubled to 1,080,000 barrels/day. The royalties enabled Nigeria to buy more weapons, hire mercenaries, etc. Biafra proved unable to compete on this economic level.

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