Nigerian Civil War, Causes, Strategies, And Lessons Learnt

The Nigerian Civil War, Causes, Strategies, And Lessons Learnt

By Major Abubakar A. Atofarati: CSC 1992    

Student: US Marine Command & Staff College(Academic Year 1991/92)         



1.    Outline.

2.    Introduction.

3.    Executive Summary.

4.    Background History of Nigeria.

5.    History of the Nigerian Army before 1966.

6.    The War – Planning Strategies.

7.    The Clash of Arms.

8.    Lessons Learnt.

9.   Conclusion.

10.   Bibliography.



      The Nigerian Civil War was fought to reintegrate and reunify the country.  This paper will focus on the causes of the war, strategies employed by the belligerents in the conflict, and the  lessons learnt.


      The Federation of Nigeria, as it is known today, has never really been one homogeneous country, for it’s widely differing peoples and tribes.  This obvious fact notwithstanding, the former colonial master decided to keep the country one in order to effectively control her vital resources for their economic interests.  Thus, for administrative convenience the Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated in 1914.   Thereafter the only thing this people had in common was the name of their country since each side had different administrative set – up.This alone was an insufficient basis for true unity.  Under normal circumstances the amagalmation ought to have brought the various peoples together and provided a firm basis for the arduous task of establishing closer cultural, social, religious, and linguistic ties vital for true unity among the people.  There was division, hatred, unhealthy rivalry, and pronounced disparity in development.

      The growth of nationalism in the society and the subsequent emergence of political parties were based on ethnic/tribal rather than national interests, and therefore had no unifying effect on the peoples against the colonial master.  Rather, it was the people themselves who were the victims of the political struggles which were supposed to be aimed at removing foreign domination.  At independence Nigeria became a Federation and remained one country.  Soon afterwards the battle to consolidate the legacy of political and military dominance of a section of Nigeria over the rest of the Federation began with increased intensity.  It is this struggle that eventually degenerated into coup, counter coup and a bloody civil war.


      The Nigerian Civil War broke out on 6 July 1967.  The war was the culmination of an uneasy peace and stability that had plagued the Nation from independence in 1960.  This situation had its genesis in the geography, history, culture and demography of Nigeria.  

      The immediate cause of the civil war itself may be identified as the coup and the counter coup of 1966 which altered the political equation and destroyed the fragile trust existing among the major ethnic groups.  As a means of holding the country together in the last result, the country was divided into twelve states from the original four regions in May 1967.  The former Eastern Region under Lt. Col. Ojukwu saw the act of the creation of states by decree “without consultation” as the last straw, and declared the Region an independent state of “Biafra”.  The Federal Government in Lagos saw this as an act of secession and illegal.  Several meetings were held to resolve the issue peacefully without success.  To avoid disintegration of the country, the central government was left with only one choice of bringing  back the Region to the main fold by force.

      The Federal side expected a quick victory while the Biafrans saw the war as that of survival and were ready to fight to the last man. By August 1967, the war had been extended to the Mid – Western Region by the Biafrans with the aim to relief pressure on the northern front and to threaten the Federal Capital, Lagos.  Both sides employed Political, Diplomatic, Psychological and Military strategies to prosecute the war.

      By the end of April 1969, after almost two years of bloody and destructive war, the envisioned quick victory had eluded the Federal side, the rebel enclave had been drastically reduced in size but the Biafrans were still holding on.  More peace conferences were held but none achieved a cease – fire and an end to the war.  The Federals embarked on a strategic envelopment of the remaining Biafran enclave.  By the Christmas of 1969, it was obvious that the end of the civil war was near.

      The self – acclaimed Head of State of Biafra, Lt. Col. Ojukwu, realizing the hopelessness of the situation fled the enclave with his immediate family members on the 10th of January 1970.  The Commander of the Biafran Army who took over the administration of the remaining enclave surrendered to the Federal Government on 14th January 1970 bringing an end to the war, secessionist attempt and bloodshed.

      Several lessons were learnt from the war and these have helped in the unification, political, military and economical progress of the country.


        The Nigerian civil war, popularly known all over the world as the “Biafran War”  was fought from 2 July 1967 to 15 January 1970.  The war was between the then Eastern Region of Nigeria and the rest of the country.  The Eastern Region declared itself an independent state which was regarded as an act of secession by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria.  The war was fought to reunify the country. In order to understand what led to the civil war, it is necessary to give a brief background history of Nigeria.  


       The land mass known today as Nigeria existed as a number of independent and sometimes hostile national states with linguistic and cultural differences until 1900.  The Governor General of Nigeria between 1920 – 31 , Sir Hugh Clifford, described Nigeria as  “a collection of independent Native States, separated from one another  by great distances, by differences of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers.”  (Nigeria Council Debate.  Lagos, 1920).   The building of Nigeria as a multi – national state began in 1900 with the creation of Northern and Southern Protectorates along with the colony of Lagos by the British government. Further effort at unification and integration was made in May 1906 when the colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, which had existed separately, were amalgamated to become the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

       Even then the Northern and the Southern Administration were separate and distinct.  Both were independent of one another and each was directly  responsible to the Colonial Office.  The first momentous act of the British in the political evolution of Nigeria as a modern state was the amalgamation of the administration of the two sections of Nigeria on 1 January 1914 by Lord Lugard.  For ease of governing and in the economic interest of the British, indirect rule and separate development policy were maintained in the two sections of the country, with the amalgamated administration based in Lagos. This, in effect produced two Nigerias, each with different social, political, economic, and cultural backgrounds and development within the country.  

       No further constitutional development took place until 1922.  The 1922 constitution made provision, for the first time,  for elected members to sit on a Nigerian legislative council, but did not empower them to make laws for the North.   Nigeria was divided into four administrative units in 1940;  the colony of Lagos, the Northern, Eastern and Western provinces.  This administrative divisions, with increased power for the colony and the provinces, was not only maintained but separateness was also strengthened and deepened by Sir Arthur Richardson’s constitution of 1946 which inaugurated Nigeria’s regionalism.  It however achieved a half – hearted political breakthrough by integrating the North with the South at the legislative level for the first time.

       The post second World War political awareness and upsurge of nationalism in Africa brought about the Richardson’s constitution of 1950.  Political parties were formed on regional and ethnic basis.   The outcome of this was obvious:  full scale regionalism.  With the Macpherson’s constitution of 1951, a greater measure of autonomy was  granted the regions with stronger regional legislatures.  With only residual power left to the central government, Nigeria politically took a turn for the worse, and there was a possibility of three countries emerging out of Nigeria.

       In 1953, the central cabinet was split over the acceptance of a target date for securing self – government with the end result of the Kano riot.  The gap between the regions widened.  For the first time the North talked openly of the possibility of secession rather than endure what they saw as humiliation and ill – treatment.  The West also threatened to secede over the non – inclusion of Lagos in the West in the new constitution.  The 1954 constitution confirmed and formalized the wishes of Nigerian leaders to move and remain as far apart as they possibly could.  The choice between Unitary and Federal options in the form of government had been irrevocably made.  The leaders settled for Federal option.  Thereafter things happened fast in the political arena.  There were constitutional conferences in 1957, 1958, 1959 and in 1960 culminating in the granting of independence to Nigeria on October 1, 1960.

       It should be noted that from 1954 onwards, the political direction  was constantly away from a strong center towards a formidable, almost insulation of the regional base of each major political party.  The failure of the Willink commission to recommend the creation of more states in 1958 for the Nigerian type of federalism planted the most potent seed of instability into the evolution of Nigeria as a nation in the 1950s.  All the political leaders who had strong and firm political bases in the regions fought hard for maximum powers for the regions which weakened the center.  At the same time,  the ugly embers of tribalism and sectionalism had been fanned into a deadly flame by all the political leaders.  These leaders rode on the crest of this cancerous tribalism and ignorance of the people to power, at the expense of national unity and the nation.

       Instead of regionalism ensuring and preserving national unity, it  became its bane.  There were diffusion instead of fusion of the three units.  According to Gen. Obasanjo:  “The only point on which Nigerian political leaders spoke with one voice was the granting by the British of political  independence – and even then they did not agree on the timing.”  (5:3)   With granting of independence in 1960, all the dirt, swept under the carpet, surfaced.  Nigeria was now beset by strings of political problems which stemmed from the lop-sided nature of the political divisions of the country and the type of the existing federal constitution, and the spirit in which it operated.    

    The first post independence disturbance was over the defense agreement between Great Britain and Nigeria, which was seen as “an attempt  (by Britain)  to swindle Nigeria out of her sovereignty”, by contracting with Nigeria  to afford each other such assistance as may be necessary for mutual defense and to consult together on measures to be taken jointly or separately to ensure the fullest cooperation between them for this purpose.  It was viewed an unequal treaty.  Through student demonstrations and vehement opposition by the general public and members of the Federal House of Representatives, the agreement was abrogated in December 1962.

       This episode was nothing compared with later developments in the country’s turbulent political history.  The general census conducted in 1962 was alleged to be riddled with malpractices and inflation of figures of such astronomical proportions that the Eastern Region refused to accept the  result.  A second census was carried out in 1963, and even then the figures were accepted with some reservations. Meanwhile the people of the Middle Belt area of the North had grown increasingly  intolerant of the NPC rule of the North.  The Tiv, one of the major tribes in the Middle Belt, openly rioted for almost three years (1962 – 1965).  Then came the biggest crisis of them all – the general election of  1964.  The election was alleged to be neither free nor fair. All devices imaginable were said to have been used by the ruling parties in the regions to eliminate opponents.

       The Chairman of the Electoral Commission himself admitted there were proven irregularities.  The President, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe refused to appoint a Prime Minister in the light of these allegations.  The President and the incumbent Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, were each seeking the support of the Armed Forces.  This marked the first involvement of the Armed Forces in partisan politics. For four anxious days,  the nation waited until the President announced that he had appointed the incumbent Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa,  to form a broad based government.  The same could not be said of the Western Region election of 1965.  The rigging and irregularities in the election were alleged to be more brazen and more shameful.  Law and order broke down completely leading to an almost complete state of anarchy.  Arson and indiscriminate killings were committed by a private army of thugs of political parties.  Law abiding citizens lived in constant fear of their lives and properties.  

       This was the state of affairs when the coup of 15 January 1966 took  place.   “As an immediate cause,  it might be claimed that the explosion of that day could be traced back along the powder trail to the fuse lit at the time of the Western Region election of October 1965.”  (5:6)  The aim of the coup was to establish a strong, unified and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife.  The outcome of the half-hearted and ill-fated coup was a change of political balance in the country.  Major Nzeogwu’s  (the leader of the coup)  aims for the coup was not borne out of its method, style and results.  All the politicians and senior military officers killed were from the North and Western Region except a political leader and a senior Army officer from the Mid – West and the East respectively.

       The coup hastened the collapse of Nigeria.  “The Federation was sick at birth and by January 1966,  the sick, bedridden babe collapsed.” (1:210)  From independence to January 1966, the country had been in a serious turmoil;  but the coup put her in an even greater situation.  Most of the coup planners were of Eastern origin, thus the Northerners in particular saw it as a deliberate plan to eliminate the political heavy weights in the North in order to pave way for the Easterners to take over the leadership role from them.  The sky high praises of the coup and apparent relief given by it in the south came to a sudden end when the succeeding Military Government of Maj Gen. J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi, an Easterner, unfolded its plans.  If Ironsi had displayed a greater sensitivity to the thinking of the Northerners, he could have capitalized on the relief that immediately followed the coup.

               But in addition to his failure to take advantage of the initial  favorable reaction to the coup, he did not know what to do with the ring  leaders who had been arrested.  He did not know whether to treat them as heroes of the revolution or send them before a court martial as mutineers and murderers.  Military Governors were appointed to oversee the administration of the regions.  In the North the numbed favorable reaction in certain quarters turned to studied silence and a “wait and see” attitude.  This gradually changed to resentment, culminating in the May 1966 riots throughout the North during which most Easterners residing in the North were attacked and killed.

       A counter coup was staged by the Northern military officers on 29 July 1966 with two aims:  revenge on the East, and a break up of the country.  But the wise counsel of dedicated Nigerians, interested and well-disposed foreigners prevailed.  The Head of State, Maj. Gen Aguiyi Ironsi and many other senior officers of Eastern origin  were killed. After three anxious days of fear, doubts and non-government, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, at the time the most senior officer of Northern origin and then the Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army, emerged as the new Nigerian political leader.  The lack of planning and the revengeful intentions of the second coup manifested itself in the chaos, confusion and the scale of unnecessary killings of the Easterners throughout the country.   Even the authors of the coup could not stem the general lawlessness and disorder, the senseless looting and killing which spread through the North like wild fire on 29 September 1966.

       Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, the then Head of State, in a broadcast to the people of the North in September said;  “I receive complaints daily that up till now Easterners living in  the North are being killed and molested and their property looted.  It appears that it is going beyond reason and is now at a point of recklessness and irresponsibility.”  (3:9) Before then, in an effort to stop the killings and to preserve the nation in one form or the other, an ad hoc conference of the representatives of the regions was called on 9 August 1966 in Lagos.  The meeting made the following recommendations:

           1.    Immediate steps should be taken to post military personnel to barracks within their respective regions of origin.

           2.    A meeting of this committee or an enlarged body should take place to recommend in a broad outline the form of political

association which the country should adopt in the future  

           3.    Immediate steps should be taken to nullify or modify any provisions of any decree which assumes extreme centralization. 

           4.    The Supreme Commander should make conditions suitable for a meeting of the Supreme Military Council urgently as a further means of lowering tension.

       The first recommendation was implemented on 13 August 1966.  Troops  of Eastern Nigeria origin serving elsewhere in the country were officially and formally released and posted to Enugu, the capital of Eastern Region, while troops of non-Eastern origin in Enugu moved to Kaduna and Lagos.  This marked the beginning of division and disunity within the rank and file of the Nigerian Armed Forces.  “This simple and seemingly innocuous action broke the last thread and split the last institution symbolizing Nigeria’s nationhood and cohesion which had been regularly tampered with by the politicians since 1962. The rift  between the Eastern Region and the rest of the country was total.” (5:8)   Most of the  civilian of Eastern Region origin who had never lived in the East and would have continued to live elsewhere in the country lost confidence and moved to the East.  Some of them when they arrived at their destination became refugees in their own country

       None of the other recommendations  was fully implemented except nullification of the unification decree.  The implementation of the recommendation with regards to the posting of troops to barracks within their region of origin was relentlessly pursued by the political leaders of Western Region after the exercise had been completed in the Eastern Region.  They were afraid of the so – alled Northern troops domination and probably of the safety of the troops of Western Region origin.

       With the troops of Eastern Region back in Enugu and the non-Eastern troops withdrawn from there, with Nigerians of non-Eastern origin driven out of the East in their own interest, and with Easterners at home and abroad returning home with news of Nigerian’s brutality against them, and with the oil flowing in the Eastern Region, the way was now open for the implementation of the secession.  The East and the North began a virulent of words through their radios and newspapers.  Early in 1967, a peace negotiating meeting of the Supreme Military Council of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Eastern Region Military Governor, Lt. Col. Ojukwu was called under the auspices of Gen. Ankrah of Ghana in Aburi, Ghana.  As it turned out, all the other members of the council except Ojukwu were either too thrusting, too naive or too ill – prepared for the meeting.  Therefore Ojukwu scored a vital goal in his ambition.

       Walter Schwarz remarked :  “Ojukwu got his way with little effort, by being the cleverest.  He was the only one who understood the issue. Step by step the others came to acquiesce in the logic of Ojukwu’s basic thesis – that to stay together at all,  the regions had first to draw apart.  Only Ojukwu understood that this meant, in effect, a sovereign Biafra (Eastern Region) and the end of the Federation.” (6:18)        Different versions of what happened in Aburi were released by Ojukwu in the East and by the Federal Military Government in Lagos. Ojukwu accused the Federal Government of bad faith and going back on promises.  The Federal Government accused Ojukwu of distortion and half truths.  After several meetings amongst the Federal and Regional officials, what amounted to the demise of the Federation was promulgated in decree No. 8 of 17 March 1967 in a desperate effort to implement the Aburi decisions and to avoid further stalemate and possible civil war. Not surprisingly, Ojukwu completely rejected Decree No. 8 as falling short of full implementation of Aburi decisions.  The die was cast.  All efforts to intervene by eminent Nigerians and well – wishers to Nigeria like Gen. Ankrah,  late Emperor Hallie Selassie of Ethiopia and the late Dr Martin Luther King proved abortive. 

       The flurry of conciliatory meetings achieved nothing.  Gen. Obasanjo remarked:  “Ojukwu was adamant, obstinate and obdurate.  He refused to attend the Supreme Military Government meeting called in March in Benin city, Nigeria to discuss outstanding issues and deliberate on the budget for the coming fiscal year.  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 “Biafra.”   Nothing could stop him.” (5:10) As early as 7 June 1966, after the May incident in the North, Ojukwu was quoted as saying:   We are finished with the Federation.  It is all a question of time.”  (5:11)

       Ojukwu seized the Federal Government property and funds in the East.  He planned the hijacking of a National commercial aircraft Fokker 27 on a schedule flight from Benin to Lagos.  All these and other signs and reports convinced the Federal Military Government of Ojukwu’s intention to secede.  Lt Col. Yakubu Gowon, the Head of Federal Government, imposed a total blockade of the East.  It was realized that more stringent action had to be taken to weaken support for Ojukwu and to forestall his secession bid. Short of military action at that time, creation of States by decree was the only weapon ready to hand.  The initial plan was to create States in the Eastern Region only. Such action was considered impolitic and fraught with danger.  Eventually 12 States were created throughout the country on 27 May 1967.

       The Eastern Region was divided into three states.  The reaction from Enugu was sharp and quick:  the declaration of Eastern Nigeria as the independent sovereign state of  “Biafra”  on 30 May 1967.  The month of June was used by both sides to prepare for war.  Each side increased its military arsenal and moved troops to the border watching and waiting until the crack of the first bullet at the dawn of 6 July 1967 from the Federal side.  The war had started and the dawn of a new history of Nigeria.


       What is known today as the Nigerian Army was, before 1966, a part of the British West African Army called the Royal West Africa Frontier Force ( RWAFF ).  This force included the armies of Gold Coast (Ghana) Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Gambia.  At this time, there were eight indigenous Nigerian officers in the entire force, the rest being British officers.  The role of an army in a developing country was not fully realized by the nationalist leaders struggling for independence, hence, there was no effective pressure on the British Government to train Nigerian officers in preparation for independence.  Even at this stage, it was clear that the future stability of a nation such as Nigeria depended to a large scale on the existence of a reliable army.  One result of this short – sightedness was that the first Nigerian to command the Nigerian Army – Maj Gen. J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi, was not appointed until 1965, nearly five years after independence. 

       At independence, it was also obvious that only the group that controlled the Army could aspire to run a stable Nigerian government. Either by coincidence or by design, almost all the military installations were concentrated in one area of the country – The North. To illustrate this fact, below is a list of major military installations in Nigeria and their locations before the January 1966 coup:

       Northern Nigeria:

      1.   3rd Bn                                              Kaduna 

       2.  5th Bn                                                Kano

       3.  1 Field Battery  (Arty)                         Kaduna

       4.  1 Field Squadron  (Engrs)                   Kaduna

       5.  88 Transport Regt                              Kaduna

       6.  Nigerian Defense Academy             “

       7.  Ordinance Depot                              “

       8.  44 Military Hospital                         “

       9.  Nigeria Military Training College            “

      10.   Recon Squadron & Regt                       “

      11.  Nigerian Air Force                           “

      12.  Ammunition Factory                   “

      13.  Recruit Training Depot                        Zaria

      14.  Nigerian Military School                     “


      Western Nigeria:

       1.  4th Bn                                                 Ibadan

       2.  2 Field Battery (Arty)                               Abeokuta 

       3.  2 Recon Squaron                              ” 

       Eastern Nigeria: 

       1st Bn                                                      Enugu 

       There were no military units in the Mid – Western Nigeria and those in Lagos were either administrative or ceremonial.  Recruitment of soldiers into the Nigerian Army was based on ethnic quota system. Under this system Northern Nigeria provided 60%, Eastern and Western Nigeria 15% each and Mid – Western Nigeria 10%.  This was done to encourage the Northerners who had not been interested in joining the Army initially. The standard of entry into the Army was as well lowered to favor the Northerners.  As a result the North in 1966 had the absolute majority within the rank and file of the Army.  The standards fell within the Army and the soldiers became more politically conscious.  Madiebo pointed out “In order to ensure the loyalty of the military thus established, the criterion for promotion and advancement was based more on political considerations than efficiency or competence. (2:10)

       The involvement of the Military in politics took a turn for the worse during the Western Nigerian elections in October 1965.  The politicians openly courted the friendship of top military officers.  Due to the chaos that characterized the general election of 1964 and the Western Region election of 1965,  it had become clear that Nigeria was overdue for a change.  By October 1965, rumors of an impending coup were already circulating in the country.  It was therefore not much of a surprise when the coup was finally staged.                          


      The declaration of secession made war not inevitable but imminent. At the dawn of 6 July 1967, the first bullet was fired signalling the beginning of the gruesome 30 month civil war and carnage, brothers killing brothers.  Preparations for war had already been set in motion on the Nigerian side by May 1967.  All the soldiers of Northern, Western, and Mid – Western origin had been withdrawn from the East and redeployed.  Four of the regular infantry battalions of the Army were placed under the command of 1 Brigade and redesignated 1 Area Command. Mobilization of ex – service men was ordered by the Commander – in – Chief.   Out of those called up, about seven thousand in number,  four other battalions were formed.  Increased recruitment from the personnel of the Nigerian Police Force was embarked upon.

       The civilians were trained in civil defense duties.  In mobilizing the people of Nigeria, the Federal Government had to make the war look a just cause to stop the disintegration of the country and in doing this a slogan was invented   “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.” Even the letters of the Head of the Federal Government, GOWON was coined to read “Go On With One Nigeria” and became a very strong propaganda. 


       Delivery of arms and equipment for the Nigerian Army were hastened. Nigerian Army Headquarters  (NAHQ)  Operations plan envisaged a war that will be waged in four phases and that will be over within a month with  The four phases were

(1)  Capture of Nsukka,  (2)  Capture of Ogoja,  (3) Capture of Abakaliki,  (4) Capture of Enugu.  

1 Area Command was to be the fighting force, 2 Area Command in Ibadan, Western Region, was earmarked for the defense of Mid – West and border protection while the Lagos Garrison Organization was earmarked for the defense of Lagos, the Federal capital.

       The NAHQ assessment of the rebels in terms of men under arms and equipment did not give the NAHQ much concern.  The total mobilization and the will of the people of the Eastern Nigeria to fight against severe odds was under estimated.  Nigeria knew that the survival of Biafra depended on importation of material from abroad to sustain her war efforts and the only route was through the Atlantic Ocean.  As part of strategic planning, the Nigerian Navy (NN) was to blockade the region from the sea thereby preventing shipment of arms, equipment, food and other war materiel and services into the East.  At the same time all flights to the region were cancelled and the international community were informed that no flight to the region would be accepted without clearance from Lagos. The NAHQ did not pay any particular attention to strategic intelligence of the Eastern Region.  In planning and concept the war was intended to be fought by the troops located in the North and to be supplied mainly from Kaduna.

       Immediately secession was declared, Nigeria sent her war ships to blockade and secure all sea routes into the region.  The Nigerian Air Force was tasked to ensure the control of the air space over the entire country.  The offensive was to be a two prong attack, a combined arms mechanized infantry divisional attack from the north and an amphibious operation by another division from the south with the aim of crushing the Biafran army in between.  The offence was to be supported by the Air Force and the Navy.  A third and fourth fronts were introduced later in the war.    


       At the Diplomatic level, the Federal Government mounted a serious campaign to dissuade other countries, particularly the super powers, the USA, USSR, and the United Kingdom from recognizing the secessionist. The war was painted as an adventure by an individual.  The government in Lagos continued to represent the entire country in the international organizations where a very strong propaganda was mounted to continue to portray the war as one to re-unite the country.  This made it possible to win the support of the super powers and to continue to discredit Biafra. Through this support, Nigeria was able to import more arms and equipment from all over the world to prosecute the war.  In order to show that she was prepared for a peaceful solution to the conflict, Nigeria continued to participate in peace talks organized by the international community.  


       Realizing the importance of the support of the civil populace, Nigeria embarked on an elaborate psychological warfare.  “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done”  became a very popular slogan. Leaflets discrediting the Biafran Head of State, encouraging the Biafrans to lay down their arms with a promise of non-persecution, were regularly dropped in the East.      


       On the Biafran side, preparation for war was put into high gear as soon as the troops of non – Eastern origin withdrew from Enugu  in August of 1966.  Thousands of people  poured in for recruitment. Training was embarked upon both for officers and soldiers who were mainly lecturers and university students.  Before the outbreak of hostility, the Eastern Region had no sufficient arms since all the soldiers who returned to the region did so without their arms while the soldiers who were withdrawn from the East departed with their weapons.  What was left of the Nigerian Army at Enugu barracks amounted to about 240 soldiers, the majority of them technicians and tradesmen and not all the soldiers had weapons.  However at the outbreak of the war, the Eastern Region had succeeded in securing arms and ammunition from France, Spain and Portugal.  Madiebo remarked,  “When more weapons were received in May 1967, a decision was taken to form two new battalions to be called the 9th and 14th Battalions.” (2:100) 

       Many  pilots and technicians formerly of the Nigerian Air Force of Eastern origin returned to the region to form the Biafran Air Force (BAF).  Two old planes, a B26 and a B25 were acquired with new helicopters. T he two bombers were fitted with machine guns and locally made rockets and bombs.  The BAF also acquired Minicon aircrafts.  A small Navy was established in Calabar with some patrol boat formerly used by the Nigerian Navy.  More boats were later manufactured locally and these were armored plated and fitted with light guns and machine guns.  A  peoples army called, the Biafra Militia, was formed.  Local leaders and ex – servicemen trained young men and women in the use of whatever weapon the indivIduals had.  These weapons were mainly imported and locally made short guns.  The militia were to provide a ready source of manpower re-enforcement for the regular army,  to assist with military administration immediately behind the frontline,  to garrison all the areas captured or regained from the enemy, and to help educate the population on the reason why Biafra was fighting.

       An establishment known as the Administration Support was formed. Before the declaration of hostility, the small Biafran Army was almost completely administered and maintained by donations from the civil populace. This establishment was to muster necessary support particularly logistic requirements for the army and to run the administration since all the young and able bodied men and women were to be engaged in the fight.  A Food Directorate, responsible for the purchase and distribution of all food, drink and cigarettes to the armed forces and the nation was formed.   A Transport Directorate with  established. A Petroleum Management Board was established for procurement, management and distribution of POL.  The board designed and built a sizeable and efficient fuel refinery which produced petrol, diesel, and engine oil at considerably fast rate.       

  Several other directorates such as Clothing, Housing, Propaganda, Requisition and Supply, and Medical were established.  Clothing in particular was very essential as uniform was unavailable in Biafra. The textile mills in  the Eastern Region were reactivated to produce bails of uniform for the armed forces and the civilians.  A Research and Production Board was established.  This organization researched and manufactured rockets, mines,  tanks, grenades,  launchers, bombs,  flame throwers, vaccines, biological and alcoholic beverages and so forth.

       Women were not left out in the scheme of things.  Women were trained in intelligence gathering and how to infiltrate into the Nigerian side. Women Voluntary Service was formed to assist in educating the women of Biafra on the cause of the crisis, keep women informed of developments, rehabilitation of war casualties, setting up of nurseries, orphanages,civil defense corps, and provision of cooks for the troops.  An Advisory Committee was set up to plan and execute the war and to advise the Head of State on political and military matters. 


       The Biafrans knew that the odds against them was immense and that their survival depended on the amount of external support they were able to muster.  The Biafrans, through many of their people abroad, mounted a very strong campaign and propaganda for the recognition of Biafra by the international community and for the purchase of arms and equipment.  This powerful propaganda paid off by her recognition by countries like, Tanzania, Zambia, Gabon,  Ivory Coast, Haiti, covert support by France and double dealing by countries like West Germany, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Republic of Dahomey, Sierra Leone and secret importation of arms and ammunition into the region.  


       Nigeria’s potential in manpower, wealth, natural resources, land mass,  infrastructure, international links and diplomacy could hardly be surpassed in Africa.  Whenever war is declared, people are generally concerned with the relative strengths of the opposing forces coupled with their war potential.  Armed forces are the towing equipment that pulls a nation out if she runs aground in her policy.  It is madness for a nation to commit herself more than her armed forces can do.  There was no comparison between the strengths of the opposing forces in the Nigerian civil war.  Nigerian Army (NA) was too formidable for Biafra, a ratio of 4:1.  However each side knew the tactics the other side would employ since they all belonged to the same Armed Forces before the war.

       The Biafran Army, realizing the odds against them decided correctly to go into defense.  Taking the advantage of fighting on their own ground, they constructed fortified pill boxes on the enemy most likely avenues of approach, the major highways connecting the Eastern Region with the rest of the country.  The Biafran army had gathered  a lot of information on the disposition of the Nigerian army and made contingency plans to meet any incursion into their territory.  They conducted training exercise code named  “Exercise Checkmate” which was on the line Biafra Army hoped to fight.  This exœrcise was so realistic that when the Nigerian Army started their offensive, they reacted exactly the way Biafra expected them to. Biafra deployed her troops as follows:

        1. Northern Sector – 51st Brigade made up of three infantry Battalions

       2.Central Zone and Garrison Command – 11th Infantry Battalion

       3.Southern Zone – 52nd Brigade made up of three battalions. 

The Biafran Air Force carried out strategic bombings of major towns, military installations and the Defense Industry.  This had a diverstating effect on civilian population and further helped the Nigerian propaganda which resulted in making more people to join the NA to crush the rebellion.  The Biafran Navy also carried out some attack on the Nigerian ships with little effect.  Mercenaries were hired to train the troops and took part in the fighting.   


       Nigeria opened her offensive operations from the northern sector. 1 Area Command NA, supported by an Artillery Brigade, Armored units equipped with British Scorpion tanks, Saladin armored cars and ferrets, and Engineer units, issued its operational orders for OPUNICORD, the code name for the “police” action against the rebels on the 2 July 1967.The offence was launched on two fronts.  The command was divided into two brigades with three battalions each.  1 Brigade advanced on the axis Ogugu – Ogunga – Nsukka road while 2nd Brigade advanced on axis Gakem – Obudu – Ogoja road.  The rebels successfully repulsed the attack. However, with the many friends the command had made since they concentrated on the border waiting for the order to attack, they began to recruit guides,  informants and with this came the intelligence on the disposition of the Biafran troops, their strength and plans and a breakthrough.

       By the 10th of July 1967, 1st Bde had captured all its first objectives and if they had had the detail intelligence of the Biafran army on this day they would have pressed on to take Enugu, the Biafran capital.  H.M. Njoku remarked,   “At Ukehe I could not believe my eyes.  All along the way were refugees streaming towards Enugu on Nsukka road.  Many of the retreating troops carried self inflicted wounds.  Some senior offices complained of malaria, headache, and all sorts of ailments.  If the NA knew the situation on the Biafran side on this eventful day and pressed on  they would have taken Enugu the same day without resistance.” (4:128)

       By the 12th of July the 2nd Bde had captured Obudu, Gakem, and Ogoja.   A second front, the southern sector was opened on the 26 July, 1967 by a sea landing on Bonny by a division formed from the Lagos Garrison Organization  (LGO).   With the support of the Navy, the division established a beach head and exploited north after a fierce sea and land battle.  On 8th August 1967, Biafra invaded the former Mid – Western Region with the aim to relieve the pressure on the northern sector and to threaten Lagos, the Federal Capital.  While the LGO was making preparations for subsequent operations beyond Bonny, the news of the rebel infiltration into the  Mid – West was passed to the commander who was then instructed to leave a battalion in Bonny, suspend all operations there and move to Escravos with two battalions with a view to dislodging the rebels and clearing the riverine area of the Mid – West. These moves were carried out with the support of the Nigerian Navy  and   the merchant of the National Shipping Line.  Another division was formed to support the LGO in the clearing of the Mid – West of the rebels.   At this point, the formations were redesignated 1 Area Command became 1 Infantry Division,  the newly division was designated 2 Infantry Division, and the LGO became the 3 Infantry Division.  And with this the “police action”  turned into a full scale military operation.

       By the end of September 1969, a substantial part of the Mid – West had been cleared of the rebels.  The commander of the 3 Infantry Division secured permission to change the designation of his formation to 3 Marine Commando because of the peculiarly riverine and creek operations already carried out by the division.  This was the first time something in the resemblance of a Marine organization was tried in the history of the Nigerian Army.  The division was not trained In amphibious operations.  Infact the troops were made up of the soldiers of the Lagos Garrison Organization (LGO),  the administrative establishment for the Federal capital.  However, with some crash training, the division became the most feared and successful throughout the war.  

       Enugu became the bastion of secession and rebellion and the Federal Government of Nigeria expected that its capture would mean the end of secession.  The advance from Nsukka to Enugu began in earnest on 12 September 1967.  The rebels counterattacked and for the first time launched their “Red Devil” tanks.  These were modified pre – second World War armored personnel carriers made in France.  They were dangerous, slow, blind, cumbersome and not easily maneuverable. T hey were easy prey to anti – tank recoilless rifles and bold infantry attack.  By the 4th October 1967, Enugu was captured and with this capture 1 Infantry  Division took time to refit and reorganize.  The division had the erroneous belief that the fall of Enugu would automatically mean the collapse of the rebellIon.  1 Infantry Division decided to give the rebels time to give up secession not knowing that the fire of rebellion was still burning high in the hearts of most Easterners.  Ojukwu was callously fanning the fire and riding high on the emotions of his apparently wounded and high spirited people who felt slighted and wanted to revenge for all the events of 1966.  It took  the division another six months to resume the offence thereby giving the rebels the necessary respite to also reorganize and acquire more ammunition, weapons and equipment to continue the resistance.

       The 3 Marine Commando opened another front on the south / south eastern border.  With the support of the Navy, Calabar was captured on the 13th October 1967.  The capture of Calabar, Warri, Escravos and Bonny established the supremacy of the Federal Government in Nigerian waters and international waters bordering Nigerian coast.  Biafra was sealed off leaving Portharcourt Airport as the only means of international communication and transportation with the outside world.  It was at this point that Biafran leadership decided to find alternative routes for importation of war materiel and medical aids into the enclave.  Three stretches of straight roads were developed into airstrips; Awgu, Uga and Ulli.  On 19th May 1968 Portharcourt was captured.  With the capture of Enugu, Bonny, Calabar and Portharcourt, the outside world was left in no doubt of the Federal supremacy in the war.  The mercenaries fighting for Biafra started deserting.  Biafra started to smuggle abroad photographs of starving children and to blackmail Nigeria of genocide.  This secured military, economic and political relief from international organizations for Biafra and further lengthened the war and the suffering of the people of Biafra.

       By the early 1969, 2nd Infantry Division crossed the Niger River at Idah, after several unsuccessful attempts to cross the river at Asaba, advanced through the already liberated areas of Nsukka and Enugu to capture Onitsha.  The division continued its advance towards Owerri.  At the same time 1 Infantry Division advanced on Umuahia. The 3 Marine Commando was by now advancing on three fronts: Oguta – Owerinta – Ulli airstrip – Umuahia axis; Portharcourt – Aba – Owerri – Umuahia axis; and Calabar – Uyo – Umuahia axis.  The plan was a link up with 1 Infantry Division at Umuahia in order to envelop the rebels and either force them to surrender or to destroy their fighting spirit.  his plan, the final offensive, was successfully implemented.  Biafra tried unsuccessfully to hold the NA onslaught using guerrilla tactics.

       On the 10th January 1970, Lt. Col. Ojukwu, the self proclaimed Head of State of Biafra, on realizing the total chaotic and hopelessness of the situation, handed over to the Commander Biafran Army Maj. Gen. Phillip Effiong, the administration of Biafra and flew out of the enclave with his immediate family members in search of peace. Maj. Gen. Effiong consulted with the Biafra Strategic Committee on the situation and they decided that enough was enough and that the only honorable way out was to surrender.  In his surrender announcement to the people of Biafra on Radio Biafra, part of Maj. Gen. Effiong address said:

       Fellow Countrymen,

        As you know I was asked to be the officer administering the government of this republIc on the 10th of January, 1970.  Since then I know some of you have been  waiting to hear a statement from me.  Throughout history, injured people have had to result to arms in their self defense where peaceful negotiation have failed.  We are no exception.  We took up arms because of the sense of insecurity generated in our people by the events of 1966.  We have fought in defense of that cause.  I am now convinced that a stop must be put to the bloodshed which is going on as a  result of the war.  I am also convinced that the suffering of our people must be brought to an end.  Our people are now disillusioned and those elements of the old regime who have made negotiations and reconciliation impossible have voluntarily removed themselves from our midst.  I have, therefore, instructed an orderly disengagement of troops.

         I urge on Gen. Gowon, in the name of humanity, to order his troops to pause while an armistice is negotiated in order to avoid the mass suffering caused by the movement of population. We have always believed that our differences with Nigeria should be settled by peaceful negotiation.  A delegation of our people is therefore ready to meet representatives of Nigerian Government anywhere to negotiate a peace settlement on the basis of OAU resolution.

       Part of Maj. Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the Head of the Federal Government’s speech to accept formally the declared surrender and the end of the civil war read: 

Citizens of Nigeria,

       It is with a heart full of gratitude to God that I announce to you that today marks the formal end of the civil war.  This afternoon at the Doddan Barracks, Lt. Col. Phillip Effiong, Lt. Col. David Ogunewe, Lt. Col. Patrick Anwunah, Lt. Col. Patrick Amadi and commissioner Police, Chief Patrick Okeke formally proclaimed the end of the attempt at secession and accepted the authority of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria.  They also formally accepted the present political and administrative structure of the country.  This ends thirty months of a grim struggle.  Thirty months of sacrifice and  national agony.

     The world knows how hard we strove to avoid the civil war.  Our objectives in fighting the war to crush Ojukwu’s rebellion were always clear.  We desired to preserve the territorial integrity and unity of Nigeria.  For, as one country, we would be able to maintain lasting peace amongst our various communities; achieve rapid economic development to improve the lot of our people; guarantee a dignified future and respect in the world for our posterity and contribute to African unity and modernization.  On the other hand, the small successor states in a disintegrated Nigeria would be  victims of perpetual war and misery and neo – colonialism.  Our duty was clear.  And we are today, vindicated.    

The so – called “Rising Sun of Biafra”  is set for ever.  It will be a great disservice for anyone to continue to use the word “Biafra” to refer to any part of the East Central State of Nigeria.  The tragic chapter of violence is just ended. We are at the dawn of national reconciliation.  Once again we have the opportunity to build a new nation.  On our side, we fought the war with great caution, not in anger or hatred, but always in the hope that common sense would prevail.  Many times we sought a negotiated settlement, not out of wickedness, but in order to minimize the problems of reintegration, reconciliation and reconstruction.  We knew that however the war ended, in the battlefield or in the conference room, our brothers fighting under other colors must rejoin us and that we must together rebuild the nation anew. All Nigerians share the victory today.  The victory for national unity, victory for hopes of Africans and black people everywhere.  We mourn the dead heroes.  We thank God for sparing us to see this glorious dawn of national reconciliation.  We must seek His guidance to do our duty to contribute our quota to the building of a great nation,  ounded on the concerted efforts of all its people and on justice and equality.  A nation never to return to the fractious, sterile and selfish debates that led to the tragic conflict just ending. 

The Federal Government has mounted a massive relief operations to alleviate the suffering of the people in the newly liberated areas.  We are mobilizing adequate resources to provide food, shelter, and medicines for the  affected population.  My government has directed that former civil servants and public corporation officials should be promptly reinstated as they come out of hiding.  Details of this exercise have been published.  Plans for the rehabilitation of self – employed people will also be announced promptly.  We have overcome a lot over the past four years.  I have therefore every confidence that ours will become a great nation.

       The surrender paper was signed on 14th January 1970 in Lagos and thus came the end of the civil war and renunciation of secession.  


       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.  


      The Nigerian political tensions, conflicts and confrontations, like other human interactions, had never conformed with the law of physics that action and reaction are opposite and equal.  Reactions had always been more intense and graver than action, real or imagined.  Those who are the sowers of wind are usually the reapers of the whirlwind.  The Kano riots of 1953 was a reaction to the humiliation of the Northern legislators in Lagos most of whom are still alive and politicking while the rioters are dead, unsung and long forgotten.  In the Nigerian historical context, each political action, tension or conflict had evoked more violence in reaction and the elites who initiated the action are normally not the ones who reap the more violent reaction or destruction.  They are masters in the art of survival and they have always emerged almost unscratched.  It is the common man who knows little or nothing of the on-goings and who certainly gains nothing from the appointments or the prerequisites of office of these elites that is used as cannon fodder and expendable material for the attainment and sustenance of power, wealth and prosperity.

       Our leaders aid those of other developing nations must eschew bitterness and violence, learn that no individual or section has a monopoly of violence and that one action of violence evokes greater and more destructive violent reaction, the magnitude which can never be imagined in advance.  In the end the law of retributive justice catches with the perpetrators of bitterness, violence and destruction. This difficult lesson must be learnt.

      The great publicity given to the war by Markpress on behalf of Biafra, especially the photographs of starving children and ruined or deserted towns, evoked deep feelings of sympathy all over the Western world.  By and large, these pitiful sights touched the conscience of those who mounted large scale humanitarian campaigns on behalf of Biafra.  The issues in the war were relegated to the background and the human and humanitarian aspects came to the fore.  Most of them were genuine in their humanitarian efforts but little did they know that most of their contributions were used to purchase arms and ammunition which prolonged the war and thereby increased and heightened the sufferings of those they were trying to help.

       There were involvement of some notable world leaders on supposedly humanitarian grounds, but they had, as we have seen, ulterior motives which were mainly to satisfy their political, economic or diplomatic interests.  Some foreign governments covertly encouraged and sustained rebellion under the guise of humanitarianism by secretly giving weapons and other war material to Biafra.  They seceded in fuelling the war and prolonged it and consequently prolonging the suffering of the people in the war affected areas.

       The importance of winning the support and mobilizing the civilian populace became very obvious.  Biafra, despite her inferiority in manpower and war machineries held on for so long because her people believed in fighting the war which they considered a war of survival.  On the same token, Nigeria won the war primarily because she was able to win the support of the populace who enlisted in thousands to reunify the country.  


       Moral and discipline are two of the most important factors that greatly contribute to success in war.  Obasanjo commented on the effects of these factors thus, “I observed amongst Nigerian troops during the war different aspects of human behavior under the stress and strains of battle, and interaction between ordinary Nigerians, war or no war.  What I found amazing was the length to which soldiers would go when morale and discipline broke down, in order to avoid going to battle or, so to speak, facing death.  In effect, while running away from death they inflicted death on themselves as some of them died from their self – inflicted injuries.  But towards the end of the war when everything was going right – the rebels were on the run, advance was fast and co-ordinated, moral was high – even our own wounded soldiers did not want to be evacuated to the rear for treatment and medical attention.  Several times I heard such wounded soldiers saying to me, “Oga, na you and me go end this war and capture Ojukwu. ” (5:169)

       Motivation is another very important factor that made troops fight. The Nigerian soldiers enjoyed rapid promotion and increase in pay throughout the war.  This encouraged them to fight on.  It is also important to allow troops time to worship in their various religious faith.  Chaplains should be provided to pray for the troops whenever time warrants.  War is a situation that requires faith – faith in your equipment, faith in your comrades and colleagues, faith in God or the supreme being or whatever one believes in,  faith in oneself and in the cause for which one is fighting.  I believe that success in a profession that embraces the twin problem of human relationships and personal danger in a degree not to be found in any other profession demands more than the attributes of man, it requires divine guidance as well. The care for the wounded and the dead must be taken seriously.

        High standard of training can never be over emphasized.  Most of the soldiers recruited during the war did not undergo enough depot training before being launched into battle.  This resulted in many casualties on both sides.  Most of them who survived the war had to be retrained.  Members of the military must recognize that they depend more on the professional and technical competence and proficiency of their team members than on the formal authority structure.  The maintenance of the highly sophisticated weapons and equipment procured during the war became very difficult.  Most of them lasted for a few months in combat. Weapons were imported from all over the world and this led to non – standardization after the war.  Most of them had to be phased out due to lack of spare parts.        The quality of initiative in the individual must be allowed to develop.  It is the most valued of all leadership qualities and virtues in the military.  In this period of tremedious technological change, military leaders are confronted with almost perpetual change or crisis of organization especially in a fairly fluid combat situation.  Whatever may be the technological achievement of our age and it’s impact on military science, improvisation is still the keynote of the individual fighter and combat group.  This aspect of military training must be emphasized in peacetime.  This is particularly important in the developing nation like ours.

       Failures arising from lack of adequate joint training became very obvious as a result of fratricide that occurred during the war.  On many occasions fire support request made to the Air Force never came, and when it did come, it was sometimes on own friendly positions.  Supply from the air that became necessary atimes and were tried often fell on the enemy side.

       It is commonly said that an army fights on its stomach.  Logistics won the war for Nigeria.  If the Biafrans had half of the resources Nigeria had, the story might be different.  The Biafrans were better organized and managed the meager resources available to them more effectively.  The Nigerian Army learnt a big lesson from this.  The Army school of Logistics was upgraded and well funded to train and produce high quality logisticians for the Army after the war.

       Communication in the field was a big problem to both sides in the conflict.  Radios were lacking and when they were procured, trained manpower was not available.  The importance of good and reliable communication and gathering of adequate and up to date intelligence of the enemy was a big lesson.

       The silencing of guns allowed the milk of brotherhood, love, understanding and sympathy to flow from both the civilians and the soldiers on the Federal side to their fellow citizens on the rebel side. As time went by, everybody came to appreciate the futility of the war which some had regarded as inevitable.  


       The war had come and gone.  The story of the war and what led to it has been told, is being told and will continue to be told.  What seems to me a human tragedy all through ages is the inability of man to learn a good lesson from the past so as to avoid the pitfall of those who had gone before.  There is also the innate and unconscious desire of man to remain oblivious of the lessons of the past.  He hopes and believes that the past can be ignored, that the present is what matters,  that no mistakes of the present can be as serious and grievous as the mistakes of the past.  As a result history tends to repeat itself. However, there are exceptions of nations and men who had learnt from history to avoid collective and individual disasters or a repetition of such disasters.  I feel confident that Nigeria must join the group of these happy exceptions if we are to have political stability, economic progress, integrated development, social justice, contentment and be the epicenter of African solidarity.  Since the end of the civil war, Nigeria has made considerable progress in all these areas.