Today is October 1st. Today my country remembers its Independence from Britain. But did they really become independent? Was the independence what we needed at a time like then? Did Britain have our interest in force merging a group of different people together then granting them independence without undoing their actions? A few years ago, a region of Britain wanted to secede, Britain had a peaceful voting system to decide that. But the same country years ago thought it was a good idea to encourage a war to decide same in a country that it was even the cause of the rift in the first place.
My motto has always been “Looking backwards is the only way going forward can be made better”. Today I want to look back into Nigerian Civil War with an eye to see if we are getting it at all!
The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War and the Nigerian-Biafran War (6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970), was a war fought between the government of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra. Biafra represented nationalist aspirations of the Biafran people, whose leadership felt they could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated federal government. The conflict resulted from political, economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions which preceded Britain’s formal decolonization of Nigeria from 1960 to 1963. Immediate causes of the war in 1966 included ethno-religious riots in Northern Nigeria,a military coup, a counter-coup and persecution of Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. Control over the lucrative oil production in the Niger Delta played a vital strategic role.
Within a year, the Federal Government troops surrounded Biafra, capturing coastal oil facilities and the city of Port Harcourt. The blockade imposed during the ensuing stalemate led to mass starvation. During the two and half years of the war, there were about 100,000 overall military casualties, while between 500,000 and 2 million Biafran civilians died of starvation.
In mid-1968, images of malnourished and starving Biafran children saturated the mass media of Western countries. The plight of the starving Biafrans became a cause célèbre in foreign countries, enabling a significant rise in the funding and prominence of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The United Kingdom and the Soviet Union were the main supporters of the Nigerian government, while France, Israel and some other countries supported Biafra.
From 1968 onward, the war fell into a form of stalemate, with Nigerian forces unable to make significant advances into the remaining areas of Biafran control due to stiff resistance and major defeats in Abagana, Arochukwu, Oguta, Umuahia (Operation OAU), Onne, Ikot Ekpene, etc. But another Nigerian offensive from April to June 1968 began to close the ring around the Biafrans with further advances on the two northern fronts and the capture of Port Harcourt on 19 May 1968. The blockade of the surrounded Biafrans led to a humanitarian disaster when it emerged that there was widespread civilian hunger and starvation in the besieged Igbo areas.
The Biafran government reported that Nigeria was using hunger and genocide to win the war, and sought aid from the outside world. Private groups in the US, led by Senator Ted Kennedy, responded. No one was ever held responsible for these killings.
In September 1968, the federal army planned what Gowon described as the “final offensive.” Initially the final offensive was neutralised by Biafran troops by the end of the year after several Nigerian troops were routed in Biafran ambushes. In the latter stages, a Southern FMG offensive managed to break through. However in 1969, the Biafrans launched several offensives against the Nigerians in their attempts to keep the Nigerians off-balance starting in March when the 14th Division of the Biafran army recaptured Owerri and moved towards Port Harcourt, but were halted just north of the city. In May 1969, Biafran commandos recaptured oil wells in Kwale. In July 1969, Biafran forces launched a major land offensive supported by foreign mercenary pilots continuing to fly in food, medical supplies and weapons. Most notable of the mercenaries was Swedish Count Carl Gustav von Rosen who led air attacks with five Malmö MFI-9 MiniCOIN small piston-engined aircraft, armed with rocket pods and machine guns. His Biafran Air Force consisted of three Swedes: von Rosen, Gunnar Haglund and Martin Lang. The other two pilots were Biafrans: Willy Murray-Bruce and Augustus Opke. From 22 May to 8 July 1969 von Rosen’s small force attacked Nigerian military airfields in Port Harcourt, Enugu, Benin City and Ughelli, destroying or damaging a number of Nigerian Air Force jets used to attack relief flights, including a few Mig-17’s and three of Nigeria’s six Ilyushin Il-28 bombers that were used to bomb Biafran villages and farms on a daily basis. Although the Biafran offensives of 1969 were a tactical success, the Nigerians soon recovered. The Biafran air attacks did disrupt the combat operations of the Nigerian Air Force, but only for a few months.
Malmö MFI-9 Biafra Baby two-view silhouette
In response to the Nigerian government using foreigners to lead some advances, the Biafran government also began hiring foreign mercenaries to extend the war.Only German born Rolf Steiner a Lt. Col. with the 4th Commandos, and Major Taffy Williams, a Welshman would remain for the duration.Nigeria deployed foreign aircraft, in the form of Soviet MiG 17 and Il 28 bombers.
With increased British support, the Nigerian federal forces launched their final offensive against the Biafrans once again on 23 December 1969, with a major thrust by the 3rd Marine Commando Division. The division was commanded by Col. Olusegun Obasanjo (who later became president twice), which succeeded in splitting the Biafran enclave into two by the end of the year. The final Nigerian offensive, named “Operation Tail-Wind”, was launched on 7 January 1970 with the 3rd Marine Commando Division attacking, and supported by the 1st Infantry division to the north and the 2nd Infantry division to the south. The Biafran towns of Owerri fell on 9 January, and Uli on 11 January. Only a few days earlier, Ojukwu fled into exile by plane to the Ivory Coast, leaving his deputy Philip Effiong to handle the details of the surrender to General Yakubu Gowon of the Federal Army on 13 January 1970. The surrender paper was signed on 14 January 1970 in Lagos and thus came the end of the civil war and renunciation of secession. Fighting ended a few days later, with the Nigerian forces advancing into the remaining Biafran-held territories, which was met with little resistance.
After the war, Gowon said, “The tragic chapter of violence is just ended. We are at the dawn of national reconciliation. Once again we have an opportunity to build a new nation. My dear compatriots, we must pay homage to the fallen, to the heroes who have made the supreme sacrifice that we may be able to build a nation, great in justice, fair trade, and industry.”
Looking at the brain power of how this war was fought I am baffled that terrorism has been left unchecked for this long in Nigeria.
Now back to Radio Judith, So we see from the commander and leaders above, That Olusegun Obasanjo ruled this nation twice after this war. Muhammadu Buhari twice now, Ibrahim Babaginda even tried to enter a second time in a lost political party primaries. Yes it’s rather unfortunate that after more than 50 years since this War, our crop of leaders are the same and the issues that led to the war are still underlining, but I want to focus on the theorem of right alliances.
The Alliances we make in our lives make or mar our children’s futures. When we speak about connections now and first class citizens, realize that no one family was born that, they came about from choices their ancestors made and which camp they chose to affiliate with.
Make and keep quality alliances today and discard those which aren’t first class!