Biafran War and British Involvement

 

In 1967, Colonel Ojukwu declared that Eastern Nigeria would be known as the Independent Republic of Biafra. The main intentions of Colonel Ojukwu were to break away from the dictatorship of the Northern Nigeria Military who were immensely discriminating the people of Southern and Eastern Nigeria. But this statement in return, set off a chain of events that sparked a Civil War between the people of Nigeria in which over a million people died.[1] This Civil War showed the world that Africa was a place Colonel Ojukwuwith famine and genocide and when news spread to Europe and North America humanitarian movements began to help the oil rich country.                                                                            Fig. 1

Before these movements started the civil war, Nigeria was once under British rule. In 1960 the country established independence form British rule and began to be its own country. But one thing that held them back from progressing was that right before independence Britain and Northern Oligarchic Elite were running the country and when independence was establish the people of the north were left in charge. Although at first there were efforts to have democratic elections, they failed to meet the expectations of the people of Nigeria. As Michael Gould said in his book Struggle for Modern Nigeria: The Biafran War 1967-1970 “Admittedly there was a veneer of parliamentary democracy, but rigged and corrupt voting seriously compromised democratic elections. This mean that although there were sincere attempts by well-meaning nationalist to ensure that democracy was possible, the reality was that the parliamentary system left by the British was hopelessly undemocratic and fatctionalised.”[2] With these events lining up as Nigeria first gained independence this did not help the country grow, it made the overall situation worse. This led to the movements of the Northern Military Counter-Rebellion in the beginning of 1966. In the early morning of January 15, 1966 the group of soldiers brutally assassinated the Prime Minister, Federal Minister, two regional premiers and top army majors.[3] This attack on the first republic of Nigeria seemed eminent due to the list of complaints from the people of Nigeria. A few days after the attack military leaders were appointed for each part of Nigeria at the time (i.e. North, Mid-West, East and West). Colonel Ojukwu was appointed leader of the East, Colonel Major Hassan Katsina was appointed leader of the north, Lieutenant Colonel Fajuyi was appointed to the west, Lieutenant Colonel Ejoor was appointed to the Mid West and finally Colonel Gowon was made Army Chief of Staff.[4] In the proceeding months a group of insurgents assassinated the active president and Colonel Gowon proceeded to become the national leader.

The affects of the second attack of insurgents had a large affect on the Igbo people of Nigeria. The assassination of Major General Iransi sparked a large northern campaign against the people of Igbo. This led to the Igbo People being very uneasy due to uncontrolled racial attacks, and caused paranoia of the people of the north. This was one of the bigger contributing factors in the eastern region branching off and becoming the Independent Republic of Biafra. But more events helped lead to that incident. As the end of 1966 and beginning portion of 1967 came to be, more rioting and racial attacks took place in Northern Nigeria and this drove Colonel Ojukwu to having a better mindset of what he wanted to do. Most of the beginning of 1967 was directed towards making the Northern region better off from the other regions and was attempting to make more revenue. On March 30, 1967 the Eastern region directs that all the revenue generated in the Eastern region on behalf of the Federal Government should be paid to the Eastern region. And by May of 1967 Lieutenant Colonel Gowon officially abolishes the other 3 regions of Nigeria and creates 12 states in the Northern region. Within the proceeding days Colonel Ojukwu officially declares the Eastern region as The Independent Republic of Biafra. This announcement immediately started the civil war between the regions and the Northern region declared police action on the newly declared Independent Republic of Biafra. The people within the Federation, including the British High Commissioner believed that Biafra would be an easy feat and Nigeria would fold back into its original being.[5] Little did the Federal Government know, that the Eastern region’s determination to stay independent was very strong. The beginning stages of the war proved to show that Biafra was well overpowered, but due to a valiant effort of a counter attack by the Mid-West, the Federal Government had to think differently about the war and how they were going to approach things. After the large scale failure by the Mid-West region the war was finally set down to the two regions of the Federal Government (The Northern Region) and Biafra. With uncontrollable riots continuing in the north against the Igbo people, they seemed to not be stopped or even attempted to be stopped by the Federal Government. This led to deteriorating communications between the North and Eastern Regions. Colonel Ojukwu complained to Gowon about his inability to control these killings and claimed that they seemed systematic and organized. He said, “ The killings began again, with renewed vigour, between 18 and 24 September, while the ad hoc constitutional conference was sitting in Lagos. The outbreaks began within days, sometimes within hours of each other”.[6] Later in that statement he continued to go into detail about how the Igbo people were targeted and even the people of the Eastern people. He said, “Again, rented buses were seen speeding across the North, bringing armed agitators to fresh towns and villages. In each case the message was the same, kill the Easterners…. In the main centres hideous massacres took place as mobs, sometimes led by army men and native police officers, raged through the Sabon Garis hacking, spearing, cutting, chopping and shooting any Easterners they came across.”[7]

But it wasn’t until 1968 that the world would notice that a raging Civil War was taking place in Africa.Life Magazine Photo The newly invented television showed images of women and children suffering for famine and what seemed to be genocide. At this point in the war the Biafran’s were at a great disadvantage to the north due to the superiority of the size of the army due to the Federal Government taking over the Western Region. Another big disadvantage Biafra had against the Federal Government was that General Gowon had strong relations with Britain and the High British Commissioner Cumming-Bruce. Britain helped support the war with arms deals and shipments to Nigeria all throughout 1967-1970. Britain’s main involvement with the war was trying to help end the war because of the large supply of oil that Nigeria and Biafra sits on. The Federal Government took full advantage of the arms deals coming from Europe and used it to its advantage. On December 10,1968 The London Times Reported “Geneva, Dec. 10. – A Red Cross hospital in Biafra was bombed by a Nigeria Air Force aircraft in daylight today, killing and wounding several people, Red Cross sources here said tonight.”[8] The article later reported that the Hospital was near an airstrip where it was the Biafran Terminal for relief that planes flew in and out of from the islands of Fernando Poo and São Tome. And six bombs were reportedly dropped on or near the building.[9] Shortly thereafter Colonel Ojukwu called for a press conference at the bombing site. The article states “ His large, soulful face looking rather tired, he launched into a tirade against British Policy in Nigeria. Britain, he alleged, had initiated the war and sustained it from the outset. Major- General Gowon, head of the Federal Government, was a mere puppet manipulated by strings “reaching far deep into the dark corners of Whitehall””.[10] Colonel Ojukwu believed this because there were many incidents where Biafran troops would capture or find weapons that were supplied by Britain.

Bifran Currency            By 1969 the war has taken almost a million lives and Biafra has lost more than half of its land. Britain is refreshing its efforts to end the war due to the threat of starvation of many civilians in Biafra and the continuing arms deals costing the country millions. With Major General having continuing talks with British Leadership, Major General Gowon wants to imply the idea of “One Nigeria” but Colonel Ojukwu still insists that Biafra Sovereignty is non negotiable. After many visits to Nigeria Lord Sheppard would state his reply when he was asked if Britain was taking any new initiative in ending the war, “ Clearly, it must be in the interests of all in Nigeria that this tragic war should come to an end with negotiated settlement”.[11] And by the beginning of 1970, on January 13, Ojukwu surrendered to the Federal Government and Britain made five million pounds available for relief for the people of Africa. Throughout the war Biafra struggled to be able to fund the war and keep Igbo people safe but one thing that helped them was the Grant for foreign exchange of the oil fields that was worth over six million pounds. The war also produced the first humanitarian relief for other countries around the world.

The Civil War of Nigeria was one of the most deadly inter country wars that took place in the twentieth century. Largely due to how Britain left the country at an uneasy state after Nigeria declared its independence in the beginning of 1960. The corrupted political system and uneasy citizens of the different portions of the country that Britain caused was a big underlying factor. The fight for the rule of Nigeria and the large amount of oil they sit on lasted for almost 4 years. But understand what caused the war with the political system and fear of what people thought was genocide and famine, was what people needed to understand.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Secondary Sources:

  1. Abuja, Gillian. “The Gentleman Rebel: Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (1933-2011).” Time. December 2, 2011. Accessed April 2, 2015. http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2101162,00.html.
  1. Achebe, Christie. “Igbo Women in the Nigerian-Biafra War.” Journal of Black Studies Vol (40) (2010): 785-811.
  2. Cronje, Suzanne. The World and Nigeria: The Diplomatic History of the Biafran War 1967-1970, by Suzanne Cronje. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1972.
  3. Gould, Michael, and Frederick Forsyth. The Struggle for Modern Nigeria the Biafran War, 1967-1970. London: I.B. Tauris, 2012.
  4. Hodges, Hugh. “Writing Biafra: Adichie, Emecheta and the Biafran War Fiction.” Postcolonial Text.Dilemmas of
  5. Nafziger, E. The Economics Of Political Instability: The Nigerian-Biafra War. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983.
  1. “Songs of Biafra: Contrasting Perspectives on the Igbo Genocide in Chukwuemeka Ike’s Sunset at Dawn: A Novel of the Biafran War (1993) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2007).” Muziki: Journal of Music Research in Africa Vol 9, no. Issue 2 (2012): 15-40.

 

Primary Sources:

 

  1. JOHN YOUNG. “Britain’s fresh efforts to settle Biafran war.” Times [London, England] 11 Dec. 1968: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
  2. WILLIAM NORRIS-Aba, Biafra, April 23. “Biafra blames war on Whitehall.” Times [London, England] 24 Apr. 1968: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Illustrations:

  1. Figure 1. 2011 Photo of Colonel Ojukwu announcement in 1967, 2011

http://img.timeinc.net/time/daily/2011/1112/intl_biafra_1201.jpg

  1. Figure 2. July, 1968 advertisement Time Magazine Life Issue. 1968

http://www.oldlifemagazines.com/july-12-1968-life-magazine.html

  1. Figure 3. Biafran Currency 1968.

http://www.africafederation.net/Biafra_Independence.htm

 

[1] Abuja, Gillian. “The Gentleman Rebel: Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (1933-2011).” Time. December 2, 2011. Accessed April 2, 2015.

[2] Gould, Michael, and Frederick Forsyth. The Struggle for Modern Nigeria the Biafran War, 1967-1970. London: I.B. Tauris, 2012.

[3] Gould, Forsyth, The Struggle for Modern Nigeria the Biafran War, Pg 210

[4] Gould, Forsyth, The Struggle for Modern Nigeria the Biafran War, Pg 210

[5] Gould, Forsyth, The Struggle for Modern Nigeria the Biafran War, Pg 39

[6] Gould, Forsyth, The Struggle for Modern Nigeria the Biafran War, Pg 45

[7] Gould, Forsyth, The Struggle for Modern Nigeria the Biafran War, Pg 45

[8] JOHN YOUNG. “Britain’s fresh efforts to settle Biafran war.” Times [London, England] 11 Dec. 1968: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

[9] YOUNG, The London Times “ Britain’s fresh efforts to settle Biafran war”

[10] WILLIAM NORRIS-Aba, Biafra, April 23. “Biafra blames war on Whitehall.” Times [London, England] 24 Apr. 1968: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

[11] YOUNG, The London Times “ Britain’s fresh efforts to settle Biafran war”