REMOTE CAUSE OF NIGERIA BIAFRAN CIVIL WAR

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As killings of Nigerian citizens of Eastern extraction continuing unabated; informed opinion later revealed how Ironsi was brutalized before he was killed.. The situation degenerated to the extent that it became impossible for one to move out of his ethnic region without fear of being molested or killed. With prospects of crude oil in the Eastern region, Northern agitation for secession was suddenly suspended upon wise counseling. An announcement by Gowon to convene an Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference in Lagos on the 12th of September 1966 came as a big relief to all Nigerians. On 13th of September 1966, delegation of Northern region that had earlier advocated for complete regional autonomy later did a complete u-turn. Northerners reasoned that when Ironsi introduced unification degree, it was then accepted by Easterners as an antidote for national unity, but when Irosi was subsequently overthrown, East delegates advocated for true federalism. Thus, Northerners were advised to embrace strong central government in Lagos and creation of more states.

At the height of uncertainty, a peace Conference was proposed. Ghana was chosen as a venue when it became impossible for the leadership of North and East region to meet in any part of Nigeria without fear of being molested. The conference was held on 4th and 5th January 1967 and Ojukwu claimed agreements were reached. The proceedings were observed by General J. A. Ankrah, the leader of Ghanaian National Liberation Council.

At the end of the conference, contending regions released conflicting official statements and its contents became controversial. On 26th January 1967, Gowon issued a press statement of decisions reached during the meeting. This statement, according to Ojukwu, contained a mutilated version of critical decisions reached during the meeting. He objected that official statements released by Gowon did not capture the main points of the agreement. One of the high points of the agreement, according to Ojukwu was that since no single individual could command the entire Army under the prevailing circumstances, it would be proper for the Army Command to be under the control of Supreme Military Council and not under a single individual. This is to avoid a situation where for instance an Ibo man would be saying, “ah! Gowon is from the middle belt, I won’t take his order and vice versa”.

On 26th of January 1967, Gowon rejected this Agreement and insisted that Army would come under Military Headquarters, which would be directly under him (i.e. Gowon) as Supreme Commander. Also in Aburi, It was agreed that Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference should resume sitting in order to chat a new constitutional course for Nigeria. Thereafter, Gowon was advised to stick to their previous recommendations that Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference be adjourned indefinitely. This according to Ojukwu would deprive delegates of four regions the rights of making inputs into the constitution of their country. Another thorny issue centred on how to rehabilitate Eastern refugees. It was agreed that Permanent Secretary of Finance would come up with solutions on how to rehabilitate the dispossessed refuges; but later Gowon said that Permanent Secretaries should not discuss the issue of revenue allocation.

As a result, the Eastern Nigeria Military Government protested; soon afterwards Ojukwu promise to release his own version of the proceedings. The Eastern Nigeria Military Government welcomed this on the condition that the report be published verbatim (unabridged and unedited). Ojukwu produced a long-playing gramophone of the proceedings. This was to enable the public hear the exact words used and contributions made by each of the participants. 

As the stalemate intensified, Ojukwu made a broadcast at the end of Feb. 1967 to the effect that; “if the Aburi agreements are not implemented fully by March 31st 1967, I shall have no alternative but to feel free to take whatever measures that may be necessary to give effect in this region to those agreement”. He accused Federal government of bad faith and was accused of distortions and half-truths. Gulf between north and eastern region widened and violence escalated. For fear of being killed, Ojukwu refused to attend further meetings and was seen in some quarters as a warmonger. In the words of General Obasanjo; “Ojukwu was adamant, obstinate and obdurate. If he could not achieve his long cherished ambition of ruling an independent Nigeria, he could break it up and rule an independent and sovereign state of “Biafra.” Nothing could stop him.” This perception was well understood by Ojukwu who in his own reaction maintained that enemy propaganda was designed to distract the public over his intentions to protect his people from evil empire under Gowon. According to him; “They have sought in various ways to dismiss our struggle as a tribal conflict. They have attributed it to the mad adventurism of a fictitious power-seeking clique anxious to carve out an empire to rule, dominate and exploit.

What amounted to the demise of the Federation was seen when decree No. 8 of 17th March 1967 was promulgated in a desperate effort to implement the Aburi decisions and avoid further stalemate. On March 31st 1967, contrary to International expectations, Ojukwu announced he was issuing Revenue Edith to use all federal revenue collected in the east as a means of paying for the rehabilitation of eastern refugees.
Creation of states was the last straw that broke the camels back as Ojukwu’s government protested that there was no due consultation before the states were created. This protest was followed by a threat of secession as tensions continue to mount all over the country. As a result of deteriorating situation, Ojukwu convened a meeting of the Advisory Committee of Chiefs and Elders on 26th of May 1967 to acquaint them with the latest decision and to seek their permission.

On the 27th of May, the Consultative Assembly mandated Ojukwu to declare at the earliest practicable date, Eastern Nigeria a free and independent state by the name and title, “Republic of Biafra”.


Already, the Eastern dominated Igbo race had been warming up for any eventualities that may result from non-resolution of the impasse. Wars of words were traded and sentimental statements over highly emotional matters were used to aggravate the feelings of exasperated individuals. Rumors on how Igbo citizens were massacred in the North and the agonies they suffered were used to arouse indignation of Eastern citizens. Easterners were not resting on their oars as circumstances under which high-ranking Northerners were subjected to before they were killed were also made public. It was used to stir the indignation of the Northern citizens. It became glaring that politics, which is a war of diplomatic means had been exhausted by both parties. And war, which is a politics of violent means was inevitable.

Finally on 30th May 1967, Ojukwu declared Eastern Nigeria an independent and sovereign state of Biafra in accordance with the mandate given to him earlier by his people.

Chief Awolowo having been released from Calabar prison made his intention known that if Eastern region secede, the entire western region would go as well; therefore with declaration of independence state of Biafra, it’s appeared that Nigeria federation was coming to an end. His move was seen by Gowon as an attempt to break up the nation. He thought that a slight police operation would be required to bring an erring faction into the main fold of Nigeria. According to Gowon, its only going to be two weeks surgical operation; and Biafrans would be re-integrated into the main fold of Nigeria. Ojukwu also felt that no force was capable of halting the great advancement of Igbos towards the cause of freedom. The declaration of secession made war not only inevitable but imminent. Preparations for war had already been set in motion on Nigerian side by May 1967.

One Area Command Nigeria Army, supported by Artillery Brigade, Armored units equipped with British Scorpion Tanks, Saladin Armored Cars and Ferrets, issued its operational order for OPUNICORD, the code name for “Police Action’’ against Government of eastern region on the 2nd July 1967. At the dawn of 6th July 1967, a whistle of war was finally blown when officers and men of Nigerian army bombarded a small Biafran town of Garkem. Nigeria Civil War has begun.

At the end of the war which last for two and half years, 2.5 million people lost their lives while billions of naira worth of materials, infrastructures and equipment were destroyed. 

Source: Nigerian Revolution, A nation on a keg of Gunpowder

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