The Biafran War: The History and Impact of a Tragic Conflict

The Biafran War: The History and Impact of a Tragic Conflict The Biafran War: The History and Impact of a Tragic Conflict
The Biafran War: The History and Impact of a Tragic Conflict

The Biafran War that engulfed the Republic of Nigeria and the breakaway nation of Biafra from 1967 to 1970 was both tragic and devastating for the millions of people affected by it. The conflict resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, displacement of millions of people and immeasurable suffering on both sides. This article will provide an overview of the history and legacy of the Biafran War.

The conflict began with the attempted secession of Nigeria’s Eastern Region, largely composed of Igbo people, from the rest of the country. The Eastern Region, now renamed Biafra, declared its independence in May of 1967, led by the Igbo military leader Colonel Chukuwuemeka. The new nation was quickly recognized by France, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Tanzania.

The Biafran War: The History and Impact of a Tragic Conflict
The Biafran War: The History and Impact of a Tragic Conflict

Prior to the outbreak of the conflict, tensions had been growing in Nigeria for some time. The country had only recently been granted independence from British colonial rule in 1960, and there were a multitude of tensions over federalist issues and the relationship between the three major regions – the Northern region, the Western region, and the Eastern region. These regions often had divergent religious, ethnic, and political views, further aggravating these tensions.

Once the Republic of Biafra declared independence, Nigerian federal forces, with the aid of troops from other neighbouring countries, mounted attacks on the Biafran forces. This began the two and a half year conflict now known as the Biafran War. This war was characterised by extreme famine and intense fighting, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, primarily civilians, and the displacement of millions of people.

The toll of the war was extreme, with the war claims commission estimating that the war killed two million people – primarily due to malnutrition and diseases caused by the blockade and the disruption of food production. In addition, the war destroyed thousands of homes, with whole villages displaced and destroyed in Nigeria’s and Biafra’s mountainous areas.

In the 1964 general elections, the Igbo, who were the majority ethnic group in the Eastern region, played a pivotal role in the political landscape of Nigeria. At the time, the Igbo people were represented in the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), a party dominated by Igbo politicians. Despite the enthusiasm and mobilisation of Igbo voters, the election was rigged in favour of the Northern-dominated party, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which ultimately won the majority of seats in federal parliament.

The disappointment and disenfranchisement of the region’s majority ethnic group led to calls for secession from the rest of Nigeria and the creation of an independent state. Thus, in May 1967, the Republic of Biafra declared independence. The Nigerian government responded by launching a war against Biafra, citing the need to maintain national unity and territorial integrity.

The Biafran war, which lasted until January 1970, was characterised by significant atrocities, including the massacre of civilians, the use of starvation as a weapon of war, and the displacement of more than two million people, most of whom were Igbo. Unfortunately, the international community largely maintained a state of silence on the conflict, even as the United States and the United Kingdom provided military and diplomatic assistance to the Nigerian government.

Numerous attempts by international organisations, such as the World Council of Churches, to negotiate a ceasefire and end the war proved unsuccessful. In the end, the Biafran forces were forced to surrender to the Nigerian government, leading to the integration of the Igbo people into the Nigerian state.

This was a monumental event for the region, but unfortunately the integration of the Igbo people did not bring an end to the discrimination and marginalisation of the region. The aftermath of the war resulted in economic devastation, as well as socio-political disruption, leaving many Igbo people homeless and without a source of income. To this day, the legacy of the Biafran War and the aftermath still linger in the region, with the Igbo people continuing to endure the consequences of their exclusion so many years ago.

The Cold War and its Disastrous Outcome on the Igbo People

The Cold War was a period of political and military tension between the superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States. The war had a propaganda campaign which both sides used to demonise each other and to rally support for their respective causes. This conflict has indirectly affected many nations, one of them the Igbo people of West Africa.

The Igbo people are an ethnic group indigenous to Nigeria. During the Cold War they faced discrimination, political unrest and starvation. In 1967, the region now known as Biafra declared itself an independent state and attempted to break away from Nigeria. This sparked a civil war which lasted for three years and is known as the Biafran War or Biafran Crisis.

The Biafran War: The History and Impact of a Tragic Conflict
The Biafran War: The History and Impact of a Tragic Conflict.

But the Cold War had a profound impact on this conflict. Nigeria was backed by the British government, which had long-standing colonial ties to that region of Africa, as well as the Soviet Union, who supplied weapons and tactical advice to the Nigerian military in their fight against Biafra. This allowed the Nigerians to gain an advantage and push the Biafrans back.

The result of the Biafran War was devastating for the Igbo people. Over 3.5 million people lost their lives, mostly due to starvation, as Nigerian troops carried out a mass starvation campaign that burned down Igbo farms and disrupted their food supply. It is reported that each Igbo household lost at least one relative during the war, a testament to the suffering endured.

The war ended in January 1970, when General Yakubu Gowon of the Nigerian Federal Military Government accepted a peace offer from General Odumegwu Chukuwuemeka of the breakaway Republic of Biafra. Both sides emerged from the Biafran Crisis with losses. Loss of lives, loss of livelihood and a deep mistrust of the other that lingers to this day.

The Cold War and its indirect consequences on the Igbo people was a tragedy that should have been avoided. Yet it serves as a reminder that Washington and Moscow’s conflict affected all. From the breadbasket of Eastern Europe to the art scene of New York, the Cold War shaped the world in ways both good and bad. It is important to remember this history, so that future generations may learn from the mistakes of the past.

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