Anatomy of the Nigerian – Biafra War, Regional Security, Ethnic Militias and Peace



By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje

This year marked 50th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian civil war. The then Military Head of State sloganeering of Novictor, No vanquishedand its three pillars of rehabilitation, resettlement and reconstruction marked the fragile beginning of a new era of peace, national reconciliation and development.

Nevertheless, for many of the Igbo’s, and the peripheral states of the Niger- Delta, where the most frightful of the civil war was experienced, that healing is yet to come 50 years on, when so many scars of war remain unresolved.

This article examines the trajectories of the war and the lack oftransitional justice framework of the Gowon era to addressingthe core issues of separatism and secession that were prevalent before the war and offer new perspectives on one of the most important and popular current streams of agitations, above all, the collective trauma, victimhood and trail of similarly traumatized groups within the country, but also offers elucidation of the mechanisms and factors shaping them in the light of recent happenings in the country.

For the avoidance doubt, it is necessary to look at the various agitations within the country from 1950 to 1970. The first separatist demand was made in 1950 during the review of the Richards Constitution on the ratio of representation in the central legislation on the quotas of 45:33:33 for the Northern, Western and Eastern provinces respectively. This recommendation was rejected by the Northern delegation. Speaking on behalf of the North, the Emirs of Zaria and Katsina warned, Unless the Northern Region was allotted 50 percent of the seats in the Central Legislature, it would ask for separation from the rest of Nigeria on the arrangements existing before 1914.

Conversely, the separatist agitation moved to the Western Region in 1953/1954 on the controversy of the possession of Lagos. In 1953, Obafemi Awolowo, the premier of the Western Region cabled the Secretary of State for colonies demanding among other things the right of the Western Region to decide whether or not they will remain in the proposed federation.Nevertheless, Awolowo request was turned down, with a warning that the secession of the Western Region from the federation would be regarded as the use of force.

Furthermore, in 1964, the Tiv people of the Middle Belt also complained of Hausa- Fulani domination and demanded for their own state within the country. A United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) member of the Northern Regional House, Shaahu stated; The only course we can take now since we are not wanted in the North, is to pull out of the North and the Federation as a whole.Additionally, the Eastern Region also demanded for separation as result of the 1963 controversial census, the 1964 federal elections and the 1965 Western Regional elections respectively. In addition, Isaac Adaka Boroin 1966, declaration of the Delta People Republic was also an agitation to secede from the Eastern Region.

Alas, the sad events following January 1966 coup, and the Unification Decree 34, which had sought the centralization of the military government, and the distrust created by communal violence between the predominately Christian Igbo of Eastern Nigeria and the Hausa / Fulani Muslims of Northern Nigeria, and the urgent need to have an unbiased adjudicator led to January 1967 Aburi, Ghana meeting to work an acceptableconstitutional arrangement for Nigeria.

Sadly, the Federal Government under Gowon did not respect regrettably, the fine points of the Aburi agreement by both parties, which include the devolution of the Armed forces, repatriation of civilian to their states of origin to reduce social tension amongst others. Critically, the Aburi Accord or agreement amounted to confederation for Nigeria. Nevertheless, the poor implementation particularly with the creation of more states by a decree on May 27 1967, Ojukwu replied by pulling out the Eastern Region from the fragile and contentious federation in the name of  Biafra on May 30 1967.

Have we learned anything from that experience that might help prevent a similar outcome for Nigeria?

The anniversary is bittersweet as it comes at the same time as the country is still facing unprecedented security challenges,new agitations for resource nationalism, separation, secession and the nagging paradox of authentic leadership reminiscent of the pre- war era. Perhaps, to understand the current Nigeria crisis, it is important to note that the issues at play from the independence struggles and the events preceding the civil war are still afflicting our existential reality as a nation.

The present security challenge, in my view, is a product of the accelerated conditions of the Nigerian civil war and mutual suspicions, which are inextricable from globalised capitalism,colonialism, divide- and- rule, and contemporary imperialism. It also foreshadows the increasing lack of courage of the compromised political elites to implement the reports of the various constitutional conferences advocating for a united Nigeria.

Though the discourse shaping federalism and the call for restructuring and devolutions of powers provide intertwined concerns for harmonious affiliation, the varied use of the terms,is not meant, to imply that they are interchangeable. Rather, they signal the complex political ways that terminology feature in general understandings of the Nigerian condition.

Indeed, the Igbo’s who were the victim of the war, have outclassed others in commerce, entrepreneurship, trade and havecontributed considerably to the national income and productivity, at a distance from the receivables of cursed oil resources. Furthermore, for five decade now, the Igbo’s of West and East Niger are still victim of war and even today, to some extent suffer lack of inclusion in the wider context of political re – engineering in the last 20 years particularly with the elusive presidential slot and the voodoo shenanigan of sectional leaders across the political landscape.

Intriguingly, the Igbo’s, are also caught, in the web of lingeringpolitical cast out and pilloried as a people rejected within a nation state . The Biafra – Nigeria impasse is an unbearable blunder in our national psyche and imagination. It is equally evident that the Nigeria state under Yakubu Gowon leadership failed in its core responsibility of sustainable transitional justiceand to very large extent has unanswered questions in enthnopolitics and post – conflict-healing mechanism.

The dissension with the current arrangements and the loudvoices from IPOB, Amotekun, Boko Haram, Revolution now and other liberation movements across the country, may not spiral into another civil war, but it will have grave repercussions for insurgency, militancy, banditry, terrorism and their implication for sustainable peace remain to be seen in the nearest future. The promise of national unity remains largelyillusionary and aspirational and fulfilling the equality of all ethnic nationalities will likely prove most challenging, where deep socio- political inequalities and equities persist.

All things considered, the heinous atrocities of genocide, gender- based violence, systematic extra judicial killings, amputations and other war crimes associated the civil war canno longer be prosecuted 50 years on, but a transitional post – conflict audit reforms with the establishment of Truth and Reconciliation commission by the National Assembly will serveas a bridge – building  process that would lead us away from the deeply divided past to a realistic future through truth – finding and national reconciliation. Again, history beckons!


Orovwuje, is founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos. 08034745325, [email protected]


Get breaking news first

* indicates required