Remembering Nigeria’s Biafra war that many prefer to forget

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The deaths of greater than one million folks in Nigeria because of the brutal civil conflict which ended precisely 50 years in the past are a scar on the nation’s historical past.

For many Nigerians, the conflict over the breakaway state of Biafra is usually thought to be an unlucky episode finest forgotten, however for the Igbo individuals who fought for secession, it stays a life-defining occasion.

In 1967, following two coups and turmoil which led to about one million Igbos returning to the south-east of Nigeria, the Republic of Biafra seceded with 33-year-old army officer Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu on the helm.

The Nigerian authorities declared conflict and after 30 months of preventing, Biafra surrendered. On 15 January 1970, the battle formally ended.

The federal government’s coverage of “no victor, no vanquished” might have led to an absence of official reflection, however many Nigerians of Igbo origin grew up on tales from individuals who lived via the conflict.

Three of those that had been concerned within the secessionist marketing campaign have been sharing their reminiscences.

‘We thought we had been magicians’

Christopher Ejike In the past, soldier

He had simply completed grammar faculty and began coaching as a veterinary assistant on the College of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), in south-eastern Nigeria, when the civil conflict started.

Virtually each pupil he knew turned a part of the conflict effort.

He joined the Biafran military and was assigned to the sign unit, whose duties included “energetic intelligence and eavesdropping on the Nigerian army”.

Christopher Ejike Ago

Christopher Ejike In the past

The Nigerians who had been pursuing us had been skilled troopers… We had been drafted into the conflict, given two days’ coaching.”

“We thought we had been magicians,” stated 76-year-old Mr In the past.

“The Nigerians who had been pursuing us had been skilled troopers. We weren’t. We had been drafted into the conflict, given two days’ coaching.

“Plus the truth that we had been hungry. A few of us, our pores and skin was getting rotten. No person can battle a conflict like that.”

In January 1966, some senior Nigerian military officers, principally of the Igbo ethnic group, assassinated key politicians throughout a coup within the West African state.

These killed included Ahmadu Bello, a revered chief within the north.

This led to months of massacres towards the Igbo dwelling within the north. Tens of hundreds had been killed whereas about one million fled to what was then referred to as the Jap Area.

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Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, pictured right here in June 1968, was a charismatic determine

These occasions sparked the choice to secede, spearheaded by Ojukwu, who was then the army governor of the Jap Area.

Within the months previous the conflict, Ojukwu typically visited UNN, the one college in south-eastern Nigeria on the time, to fulfill with college students and put together them for secession.

Mr In the past regarded ahead to those visits, and joined the group who gathered on the college’s Freedom Sq..

“As soon as his helicopter touched down, everyone went there and, virtually, faculty shut down.

“He had this unimaginable sense of humour. He spiked everyone up and we fashioned songs and had been singing and having fun with ourselves.”

Within the first 12 months of the conflict, the Nigerian authorities captured the coastal metropolis of Port Harcourt and imposed a blockade, which reduce meals provides to Biafra.

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Nigerian troops seen in considered one of Biafra’s foremost cities, Port Harcourt, in 1968 after fierce preventing

Mr In the past remembers the overwhelming starvation that always compelled Biafran troopers to catch and eat mice. He additionally remembers the final 12 months of the conflict when his unit was repeatedly on the transfer, fleeing the advancing Nigerian military.

“Someplace in the course of the conflict,” he stated, “the Biafrans made some dramatic successes that gave us hope that we would maintain the Nigerians till a minimum of some assist from outdoors got here.”

By late 1969, all hope was misplaced.

Biafra timeline

  • January 1966 – Nigerian authorities overthrown in what was seen as an “Igbo coup” led by junior military officers
  • January 1966 – Lt Col Odumegwu-Ojukwu appointed army governor of Jap Area
  • July 1966 – Second coup masterminded by Murtala Muhammed, Lt Col Yakubu Gowon turns into head of state
  • June to October 1966 – Riots in northern Nigeria focused at Igbos, killing many and forcing as much as one million to return to south-eastern Nigeria
  • Could 1967 – Ojukwu declares independence of the Republic of Biafra
  • July 1967 – Conflict begins
  • October 1967 – Biafran capital Enugu falls
  • Could 1968 – Nigeria captures oil-rich Port Harcourt
  • April 1969 – Umuahia, new Biafran capital falls to Nigerian forces
  • January 1970 – Ojukwu flees Nigeria
  • January 1970 – Biafra surrenders

Mr In the past left the military and went looking for his household, whom he had not heard from in additional than two years.

He collected his portion from an allocation of uncooked rice to his unit, then set off in direction of the village of a relative, the place he suspected his mother and father and siblings can be holed up.

“I needed to carry the rice whereas ravenous myself, carrying it throughout rivers and forests till I discovered them,” he stated.

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Starvation prompted the deaths of many individuals throughout the battle

Lots of his pals and classmates had died on the battlefront. However his household was delighted to see that the son and brother they assumed lifeless was alive. And so they had been glad that he had turned up with meals.

Starvation killed extra Biafrans than bullets and bombs.

When the college was reopened a couple of months after the conflict ended, Mr In the past returned to UNN, finally graduating with a level in plant and soil science.

“I feel we might have achieved higher if we had dealt with it with just a little bit extra intelligence,” stated Mr In the past. “I feel now that Ojukwu… thought he was Jesus Christ.

“He thought he might do magic. If he had slowed down and allowed some individuals who had been with him to advise him correctly, we might have come out higher than we did.”

‘They solely had knives and cutlasses’

Felix Nwankwo Oragwu, scientist

He was a physics lecturer at UNN when the civil conflict started.

For the following 30 months, he headed the Analysis and Manufacturing (RAP) group comprising Igbo scientists from numerous fields.

Its major accountability was to supply technological help to the Biafran military, which was poorly geared up.

Felix Nwankwo Oragwu

Felix Nwankwo Oragwu

When the conflict began, there was not a single weapon… anyplace all through Biafra. No gun, no bomb, no nothing.”

The RAP’s most notable product was the “ogbunigwe”, a weapons launcher of outstanding and devastating impact which influenced the end result of many battles in Biafra’s favour, in response to historic experiences.

“With out us, the conflict would have lasted solely about 30 hours,” stated the 85-year-old.

“When the conflict began, there was not a single weapon both in a retailer or anyplace all through Biafra. They solely had knives and cutlasses. No gun, no bomb, no nothing.”

Within the aftermath of the conflict, the Nigerian authorities didn’t need to impose any type of collective punishment.

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Felix Nwankwo Oragwu and others helped develop a few of the weapons that Biafran troopers used

Nonetheless, the Igbo confronted some devastating penalties, significantly economically because the Biafran forex that folks had collected turned nugatory.

Many Igbo nonetheless really feel sidelined in Nigerian politics, as for the reason that civil conflict no-one from the ethnic group has develop into president.

Rising cries of marginalisation have led lately to the emergence of Igbo teams agitating as soon as once more for secession, significantly the Indigenous Individuals of Biafra (Ipob), fashioned by UK-based British-Nigerian Nnamdi Kanu.

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Media captionBiafran battle: A grandmother’s perspective on the conflict

Mr Oragwu needs that the Igbo had paid much less consideration to the scramble for energy on the centre, and as a substitute distinguished their area by advancing the technological positive aspects of the conflict.

“Biafra would have been a technological nation and would have been in a position to compete with anyone,” he stated, anger in his voice.

“That’s what makes me unhappy. By this time, we might have been competing with a minimum of South Korea.”

The scientist’s wartime accomplishments had caught the eye of the Nigerian authorities and he was invited by the federal government to pioneer a particular science and know-how programme for the nation.

He was behind the organising of 4 universities of science and know-how in numerous areas of Nigeria and after retirement he revealed Scientific and Technological Improvements in Biafra, a e book he hoped would encourage younger Nigerians.

“Nigeria was programmed by the British colonial authorities to not take part in manufacturing and manufacture of worldwide applied sciences,” he wrote within the e book.

“The conflict gave the chance to… reject the colonial design.”

‘An unimaginable interval’

Edna Nwanunobi, trainer

She was educating English and French in a secondary faculty in Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria when the civil conflict started.

Whereas the UK backed Nigeria, France was probably the most distinguished supporter of Biafra.

However English was extra broadly spoken in Biafra, so translators had been wanted every time French officers visited Ojukwu.

Edna Nwanunobi

“You had been compelled to fraternise together with your folks greater than any time earlier than”

Ms Nwanunobi joined the Biafran ministry of overseas affairs as a part of a handful of translators who labored instantly with Ojukwu.

“The conflict was an unimaginable interval,” stated 82-year-old Mrs Nwanunobi. “Everyone was compelled to go dwelling so that you had been compelled to fraternise together with your folks greater than any time earlier than.

“And individuals who labored in each Biafra workplace had been excessive degree folks. These had been individuals who had been doing all types of issues and the conflict compelled them out of their positions.”

She loved working instantly with the Biafran chief, whom she and her colleagues fondly known as “Brother OJ”.

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Media captionBiafran Conflict veterans keep in mind the battle 50 years on

“He was a stunning individual,” she stated time and again. “And he was disciplined. If any assembly lasted greater than two hours, he would not be celebration to it.”

Her most memorable task occurred after the Biafran army captured six Italian oil employees employed by the Nigerian authorities.

Officers from completely different European nations travelled to fulfill Ojukwu to attraction for his or her launch.

“That was the biggest meeting we had,” she recalled. “Even the Vatican despatched representatives.”

In the course of the assembly, Mrs Nwanunobi conveyed to Ojukwu that he stood the chance of shedding European help.

He promised to contemplate the matter, and the Italians had been subsequently launched.

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The plight of Biafrans gained help amongst activists around the globe, together with in London, the place this protest was held in 1968

Mrs Nwanunobi met Ojukwu for the final time on 23 December 1969, when she lined up outdoors his workplace together with her colleagues, to obtain a Christmas present and a handshake from him.

Just a few days later, she left the nation for the Biafran workplace in Paris. Throughout a stopover of a number of days in Lisbon, she heard that Biafra had surrendered.

Her first concern was for Ojukwu.

“I used to be anxious that he would come to hurt,” she stated softly. “I did not need anyone to shame him.”

Her fear lifted when she discovered that her boss had escaped in his non-public jet, and was granted asylum by Ivory Coast, a francophone nation.

Mrs Nwanunobi spent a lot of the 1970s in Canada earlier than returning to Nigeria in 1977, the place she resumed work as a secondary faculty trainer.

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Ojukwu was given a full Nigerian army burial in March 2012

Ojukwu himself remained in exile for 13 years. After he was formally pardoned by the Nigerian authorities, he returned in 1982, with multitudes pouring onto the streets of his dwelling state of Anambra to welcome him.

He died in November 2011 and was given a full army burial in a ceremony attended by then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, another African leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.

Fifty years after the Biafran battle, Nigeria remains to be battling to take care of its unity, with numerous teams, not simply the Igbo, calling for the restructuring of Africa’s most populous state.

It’s in all probability because of this that the conflict is barely talked about.

The federal government has nothing to realize by reminding Nigerians that secession occurred earlier than and might be tried once more.

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