Nigeria and Biafra - what is the connection? What were the causes of Biafran war? And what are the effects of Biafran war? Read to learn more.
47 years ago, on the 13th of January in 1970, was the day of signing of the surrender of self-proclaimed republic of Biafra which ended a bloody civil war in Nigeria — one of the first major confrontations on the African continent, placed in the general context of the cold war.
Biafra war in Nigeria
In the armed conflict that lasted two and a half years were indirectly involved not only warring forces within the Nigeria — one of the largest countries of Africa, but also a number of other states, participating in the information support, financing, supplying weapons and mercenaries.
For the post-colonial world, the civil war in Nigeria was a proof of crudity and the artificiality of borders of the remaining sovereign countries of Africa after the departure of the colonialists. War in Nigeria sounded like a wake-up call for future armed conflicts.
Causes of Biafran war
Before speaking about the causes of Biafra genocide and effects of the Biafran war, it is necessary to dwell on the prerequisites of the conflict situation and to study the history of Biafra.
This need brings us to the era of colonization, when the land subsequently incorporated in present-day Nigeria, was conquered by the British colonialists.
Colonialism as a main cause of the conflict
Britain began to show its interest in the territory of modern Nigeria already in XVI-XVII centuries, but at that times Britain was mainly interested in slaves which were exported from Nigeria. Therefore, initially the British just turned to the creation of trading posts on the coast and did not intervene in the internal affairs of the coastal states.
The situation began to change in the second half of the 19th century. In 1861, British colonisators captured Lagos, and in 1885 they appropriated the entire coast of the Gulf of Guinea from Lagos to Cameroon, that lands were on the territory of modern Southern Nigeria.
There was created Oil-Rivers protectorate, in 1893 it was renamed as the protectorate of the Niger Delta. Thus, the British conquered the territory inhabited by one of the largest nations of the region - Yoruba nation.
In 1902, Confederation Haro, representing a Union of the Igbo tribes, another major group of people in southern Nigerian had the same fate. In 1903, British troops entered the territory of Northern Nigeria and conquered Muslim Sultanate of Sokoto. In 1914, all the British colonies on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea were combined into a single ownership called "Nigeria".
Conflict of 3 nations
Thus, Nigeria became a completely different ethno-cultural community.
The first is the Yoruba nation and close to the ethnic groups inhabiting the Western part of southern Nigeria. Our country is currently home for about 30 million of Yoruba people. Most Yoruba people (60%) are Christians, 30% are Muslims, the remainder are adherents of traditional cults.
The second group is Igbo. They inhabit the South East of Nigeria. Their number in the country is 26 million. Unlike Yoruba, Igbo are practically not subjected to Islamization — they are Christians with strong remnants of traditional beliefs.
Finally, the third major group of the population of Nigeria is Islamized population of the North. These are primarily representatives of Hausa and the Fulani people. Both are closely related, including family ties. These are people with long and rich tradition of their own state.
When in 1960 independence of Nigeria was proclaimed, its population consisted of 60 million people. The UK, providing Nigeria's political sovereignty, did not take into account many differences between living in Nigeria people and tribal groups. As a result, from the first days of independent existence, the country has faced a number of serious internal contradictions.
It should be noted that in 1947, 13 years before independence, Nigeria was divided by the British colonial authorities in three regions:
- North - Hausa-Fulani;
- West - Yoruba;
- East - Igbo.
Between them was observed certain rivalry, especially for positions in the Central government. Cultural differences have also been seen from North to South, between the Islamized nations, Hausa and Fulani, christianized members of South-Western and South-Eastern Nigeria.
Development division between states
Northern Nigeria by the time of decolonization was the most underdeveloped cultural and economic region of Nigeria. This was a result of British colonial policy on preservation of the way of life that was inherent to northerners by the time of the establishment of British rule. Indeed, Northern Nigeria, at the moment of decolonization, was represented as a feudal society, ruled by the Sultan of Sokoto and emirs, in which the huge role was played by Islam. Western and Eastern Nigeria were developed in a completely different way. Yoruba and Igbo nations rapidly assimilated European culture, albeit adapted to local conditions.
Unlike northerners, Yoruba and Igbo as Christians have been actively involved in public service in the colonial administration, they also played an important role in the economy of the country. Accordingly, after the decolonization of Nigeria, they had great ambitions for leadership of the state. Moreover, they had much more reason to consider themselves able to cope with the tasks of political and economic governance.
In turn, immigrants from Northern Nigeria have sought to dominate in the country, as it was originally focused on hierarchy and rigid vertical of power. In Northern Nigeria there was a tradition of great power of the Sultan.
After independence, Nigeria's political elite Yoruba and Igbo sought to ensure the development of the country's westernized ways, presenting it as the most modern and developed country in West Africa. However, this required to overcome the resistance of northerners who did not want the dominance of southern Christian components of the political power of the country.
Oil as one of the factors stimulating Biafran army
Niger Delta currently gives the country 95 percent of all its profits. Igbo nation could have placed Biafra in the centre of economic, industrial and political development in the region for a few years. It is no coincidence that in the list of patrons of Biafra, there were such countries, as: Israel, Rhodesia and South Africa.
The requirement was so simple – to stop feeding feudal Muslim North. For more than 55% of the population in 1963, there were less than 1/5 of all schools in the state. Such "economic brick" on the neck of the direct rival of Biafra – ethnic Yoruba in the South-West of the state, solved the problem of any competition quite actively.
Federalization banning decree as hype for Biafran soldiers
One of the decrees of major-General, Ironsi, the leader of the revolt of Igbo in 1966, was the abolition of federalization. The majority of the population took this as a claim for the primacy of Igbo. The North promptly responded to this with the spontaneous murders of any Igbo.
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In 1966, a year before the outbreak of hostilities, Igbo nation has suppressed an attempt of federalization of the state. The result was the following - a few dozens of political murders directly showed Biafran army complaints.
In July 1966, after the assassination of Ironsi, all the power was taken by Colonel Yakubu Gowon. The number of dead Igbo at this time was estimated at about a few thousand people. To the territory of Biafra arrived two million refugees. Odumegu Ojukwu, Igbo, became the de facto ruler of Biafra.
In a last desperate attempt to keep the state away from the crisis was to divide the country into 12 States with the expanded rights of local government, but Odumegu Ojukwu regarded it as an attempt to split the East into more manageable parts.
Here you can see Biafran war map at different periods of history of Biafra war:
Effects of the Biafran war
On the 30th of June in 1969, the government of Nigeria forbade the Red Cross assistance to the civilian population of the self-proclaimed state to strengthen economic and social effect of the war against Biafra. By this time, five million people — military and civilians — remained on this territory.
The war in Biafra was the largest armed conflict in West Africa in the 1960s. As a result of military actions and Biafra genocide of peaceful population, there were killed up to two million people in Eastern Nigeria, mainly representatives of Igbo nation.
A great number of people died from famine and various diseases.
Biafran war facts
- Losses of the Federal forces amounted to about 200,000 troops, whereas Biafra losses are nearly 1 million people;
- Eastern States have remained part of Nigeria;
- Central government continues to maintain control over the oil fields;
- The dominance in the country is in the hands of Nigeria, Biafra was defeated.
Biafra issue today
In the Eastern States of Nigeria the Movement for the restoration of the sovereign state of Biafra is currently operating. It is collaborating with the guerrilla movement for the emancipation of the Niger Delta, which represents the interests of the other southern people, Ijo.
Growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Northern Nigeria and strengthening of the position of northerners in the country as a whole, allowing them to influence the policy of the Central government. As well makes it possible to revive separatist sentiments among the Christian population of the South-Eastern part of Nigeria.
The situation in the South-Eastern States is complicated by the fact that the local population is against the exploitation of oil fields for the sake of Central government and transnational corporations.
The militants of the Movement for the emancipation of the Niger Delta carry out regular armed attacks on oil facilities, clash with government troops and police. However, the United States and Britain aren’t very far. They do not want the transition of the oil fields to be in the hands of uncontrollable separatists and prefer to deal with the Central government.
So, hope that now you can see all the real causes of Biafran war and Biafra issue today.