The Nigerian Civil War: Cause, and Unknown facts

The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War and the Nigerian-Biafran War (6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970), was a war fought between the government of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra. Biafra represented nationalist aspirations of the Biafran people, whose leadership felt they could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated federal government.


In 1960, Nigeria gained independence from Britain. Six years later, the Muslim Hausas in northern Nigeria began massacring the Christian Igbos in the region, prompting tens of thousands of Igbos to flee to the east, where their people were the dominant ethnic group. The Igbos doubted that Nigeria’s oppressive military government would allow them to develop, or even survive, so on May 30, 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu and other non-Igbo representatives of the area established the Republic of Biafra, comprising several states of Nigeria.

Read Also: List of all Igbo States in Nigeria

After diplomatic efforts by Nigeria failed to reunite the country, the war between Nigeria and Biafra broke out in July 1967. Ojukwu’s forces made some first advances, but Nigeria’s superior military strength gradually reduced Biafran territory. The state lost its oil fields–its main source of revenue–and without the funds to import food, an estimated one million of its civilians died as a result of severe malnutrition. On January 11, 1970, Nigerian forces captured the provincial capital of Owerri, one of the last Biafran strongholds, and Ojukwu was forced to flee to the Ivory Coast. Four days later, Biafra surrendered to Nigeria.

Unknown facts

1. Neither side expected the war to drag on for so long.

After Ojukwu declared the Republic of Biafra on 30 May 1967, the Federal Government was satisfied with simply placing an embargo on the South-East, blocking shipping to and from the region. Even when the situation escalated to war, both sides were reluctant to commit to a full-blown war. In the weeks before, Ojukwu had famously warned that if the Federal government decided to object the secession of Biafra, it would find that the republic was more ready than was expected. Unfortunately, that insistence led to over two years of war and the deaths of about two million people.

Read Also: The History of the Edo Empire

2. Minorities in secessionist Biafra suffered atrocities and impulsive pogroms at the hands of both sides during the war.

As the Federal troops advanced towards the Biafran capital, troops loyal to Ojukwu killed many young men in the South-South on the suspicion that they worked for the Nigerian army. The Federal government also were no different. High-flying jets provided by Russia bombed civilian areas in Biafra. Over 2000 Efiks were killed in Calabar. Federal government troops also perpetrated the Asaba massacre, where over 700 young men were shot dead in full view of their families and their community.

3. Rallying Protest

40 years before Mohammed Bouazizi ignited the Arab Spring, a young American student set himself on fire to protest the atrocities committed against Biafra during the civil war. According to the Columbia Daily Spectator, dated 3 June 1969, Bruce Mayrock, a 20-year-old student at the School of General Studies and a sports photographer for the Columbia Daily Spectator, died after setting himself on fire in front of the United Nations to protest the war. Mayock’s self-immolation was only one in a number of reactions to the humanitarian disasters of the Nigerian civil war.

The Nigerian civil war, unlike other wars across international boundaries, was a war of unification, a war of reintegration.  It was, therefore, a much more difficult war for the Federal field commanders to prosecute with the objectives of unification in mind than wars fought against aggressors on foreign land.  The human aspect was paramount.  It was a contradiction and complication not easy to resolve – how to fight causing only limited destruction, how to inflict wounds and heal at the same time, how to subdue without fatal and permanent injuries, how to feed and house civilian population without exposing our troops to danger and risk of saboteurs and infiltrators, how to achieve surrender without inflicting permanent or long-lasting psychological humiliation.

Author: BF

light sleeper, heavy dreamer.

Let us know what you think