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Several sociopolitical factors led to the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War (1967-1970), including upheavals in Nigeria’s Western Region and Middle Belt in the mid-1960s; the first military coup carried out on January 15, 1966 to allegedly curb the deteriorating state of corruption and conflict; a countercoup mostly led by northern officers who perceived the first coup as ethnically biased; and the subsequent massacre of eastern (mostly Ibo) officers, men, and women primarily in Lagos and northern Nigeria. The ensuing forced relocation of thousands of easterners to the East engendered tensions between the Governor of the Eastern Region, Lieutenant-Colonel C. Odumegwu-Ojukwu and the new Head-of-State enthroned by the countercoup, Lieutenant-Colonel Y. Gowon. The inability of both leaders to reach an agreement on future administrative and military issues resulted in a decision by the Eastern Region to secede from the rest of the country. In response, the Nigerian military government launched a “police action” to retake the secessionist territory and this escalated to a 31-month civil war that officially began on July 6, 1967.

Official Map of Biafra Before the War

Aside from the huge advantage that the federal side enjoyed in terms of regional size, it received tremendous support in arms and other military supplies from the likes of Russia, Egypt, and Britain, and also utilized tactics like the bombardment of civilian facilities, the shooting down of relief planes, economic blockade, and the deliberate destruction of agricultural land, which caused mass refugee problems and starvation of the populace. It is estimated that two to three million people died in the conflict, mostly through starvation and illness.

When the collapse of  Biafra’s military was imminent, General Ojukwu fled to Côte d’Ivoire, after which his Second-in-Command and Chief of General Staff, General Effiong, assumed leadership of the young ailing nation on 8 January, 1970. On 12 January, Effiong called for a ceasefire and an end to hostilities. Three days later, on January 15, he led a Biafran delegation comprising civilian and military officials to Lagos, then Nigeria’s capital, where, in a ceremony at Dodan Barracks, he officially delivered the instrument of Biafra’s surrender to General Y. Gowon.

For my family, the war began in Lagos after the countercoup of July 1966. For security reasons, we relocated to another section of Lagos where we were accommodated by the family of Colonel R. Trimnell. We eventually escaped to Enugu where we were when the war commenced in full. With each incursion of the enemy, we relocated to different towns. From Enugu we moved to Ikot Ekpene and then to Umuahia. We fled Umuahia when it was on the verge of falling into the hands of the enemy and ended up in Ifakala, a rural town, where family friends accommodated us for several weeks because we were homeless. From Ifakala we relocated to Owerri after Biafra recaptured the town from the enemy. We were still in Owerri when the enemy’s final onslaught took place, forcing us out of the town. About three days before Biafra’s final collapse; me, my mother, two brothers and a cousin fled Biafra in a seat-less cargo plane while my father stayed back to handle the young nation’s final surrender. 

Published in The Biafra Story