The Nigerian Civil War also referred to as “the Biafra war”, was a three-year-long war that lasted from July 1967 until January 1970. The war broke out when the governor of southeastern part of Nigeria and the easterners decided to withdraw from Nigeria and become an independent state (Bird & Ottanelli, p. 4). The Nigerian Government responded by implementing “police action” to regain control (Chick, p. 68). The war highlighted the deeply entrenched ethnic conflicts within the country that had been gradually unfolding since the colonial era under the British rule (Gould, p. 8). The civil war had significant consequences for Nigeria’s social and political landscape, and it also imposed huge economic costs on the country.
There were many contributing factors towards the civil war including religious and ethnic differences (Gould, p. 8) and geographical divide among the three main ethnic groups; the Hausa-Fulani in the north, the Igbo in the southeast, and the Yoruba in the southwest (Herskovits, p. 392). After the British Government had granted independence to Nigeria, they left behind an unstable political structure in which different political forces found it hard to work together and mutually acceptable agreement (Barua, p. 9). There was also distrust among the three main regions, with each side fearing being undermined by the other sides. The elections were rigged, and the public questioned the accuracy of the census which paved the way for the first coup by the Ibo military group (Bird & Ottanelli, p. 3). Named “Operation Damissa”, the first coup was led by Major Nzeogwu but it failed despite public acceptance (Gould, p. 28- 29). But not everyone approved of it including the northerners who wanted revenge. This put enough pressure on the northern military which led the 2second coup. Despite upsets in the eastern region, the second coup was mostly a success (Barua, p. 10). The second coup, also known as the “counter-coup”, began in July 1966. The first course of action involved killing soldiers that led the first coup and this was followed by the massacre of the innocent people from the Ibo group (Ojeleye, p. 42). The Igbo people also suffered at the hands of Hausa people due to the false rumors that the Igbo people were killing the Hausa people in the north. Several attempts by the leaders to stop the killings failed to ease the sufferings of the Igbo people. The growing tensions between the head of state Gowon and the governor of the eastern region Ojukwu also made things more difficult. They couldn’t agree on anything due to different views and Ojukwu also believed Gowon didn’t deserve to be the head of the state. After a series of disagreements, Ojukwu branched out on his own and established “Biafra”, a “sovereign republic” that was independent of Nigeria. This prompted Gowon to take actions that led to the “Nigerian Civil War.” (Siollun, p. 43-45).
Socially, women and children paid the highest price in the war. Relief agencies estimated the number of people dying from starvation alone went from 300 to 6,000 people per day. Millions of people fled their homes to seek refuge in the eastern region that was already over populated and, thus, unable to accommodate the refugees (McKenna, p. 670-672). Thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered (Bird & Ottanelli, p. 19).There were no taps, therefore, people used the contaminated stream water to cook, laundry, and even drink which led to an outbreak of various diseases such as cholera, measles, tuberculosis, and, especially, kwashiorkor which was very common among the children. Patients suffering from kwashiorkor have a big head, huge stomach, and tiny hands and legs. Boys resorted to stealing while the girls turned to prostitution, often involuntarily since resisting could mean death. Some girls were also auctioned off against their will by their parents to the Nigerian soldiers (Uchendu, p. 405 – 410). The ongoing atrocities in Nigeria only came to the attention of international stakeholders through Ojukwu’s efforts though his intentions were selfish rather than noble in nature. The widespread international awareness led to financial donations from people abroad as well as financial aid from international agencies (Gould, p. 71 – 72, 78).
A study by Akresh, Bhalotra, Leone, and Osili in 2011 shed light on the health effects of the war. They found that the female kids between the ages 0 and three who were exposed to the war for an average 17.5 months, were about 0.75 centimeters shorter as adults than their counterparts who were not exposed to the war. More shockingly, older girls between the ages 13 and 16 who were exposed to the war for an average 20.6 months were on average 4.53 centimeters shorter than those who were not. The study also revealed several generations of women continue to carry the scars of the war as a result of nutritional deficiency during the civil war (Akresh et al., p. 274 – 276).
- Akresh, Richard et al. War And Stature: Growing Up During The Nigerian Civil War. 1st ed. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
- Barua, Pradeep. History of Warfare, Volume 88: Military Effectiveness of Post-Colonial States. Leiden, NLD: BRILL, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 20 November 2015.
- Bird, S. E., and Fraser Ottanelli. “The History and Legacy of the Asaba, Nigeria, Massacres.” African Studies Review 54.3 (2011): 1-26. ProQuest. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
- Chick, John D. “NIGERIA AT WAR.” Feb. 1968: 66-71 ProQuest. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
- Gould, Michael. Struggle for Modern Nigeria: The Biafran War 1967-1970. London, GBR: I.B. Tauris, 2011. ebrary. Web. 29 October 2015.
- Herskovits, Jean. “One Nigeria.” Foreign Affairs (pre-1986) 51.000002 (1973): 392. ProQuest. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
- McKenna, Joseph C. “Elements of a Nigerian Peace.” Foreign Affairs (pre-1986) 47.000004 (1969): 668. ProQuest. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
- Ojeleye, Olukunle. Politics of Post-War Demobilisation and Reintegration in Nigeria. Farnham, Surrey, GBR: Ashgate Publishing Group, 2010. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 21 November 2015.
- Siollun, Max. Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976). New York, NY, USA: Algora Publishing, 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 29 October 2015.
- Uchendu, Egodi. “Recollection of Childhood Experiences during the Nigerian Civil War.” Africa (pre-2011) 77.3 (2007): 393-418. ProQuest. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.