10 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Biafran War in Nigeria

The Biafran war is a core part of the Nigerian history. There are several accounts of the events that transpired during this time. Here are some facts you might not have known about the Nigerian biafran war.

1. 20th September, 1967

On this particular day being a Wednesday, federal soldiers opened fire on a Catholic convent in Benin City. The convent had only convent there that escaped and sustained few injuries. The soldiers later said they were told that there were some Igbo people there so they decided to shoot anything that moved. Also a particular Bishop Patrick Kelly was giving comfort to a wounded Igbo boy and some soldiers approached him and asked if he was dead, and he told them he was alive and the immediately killed him.

2. Midwest Massacres

The killings that occurred in the Mid-West region were not perpetuated by the federal troops alone. A confidential report of 15th October, 1967 reveals, “As the Biafrans retreated from Benin to Agbor, they killed all the men, women and children they could find who were not Igbos. The town of Abudu, one of the larger places between Agbor and Benin lost virtually of its population with the exception of a small proportion that fled into the bush.”

3. African Continental Bank

In Kaduna, the radio reported that all branches of the African Continental Bank (ACB) were being searched by policemen after a report was revealed that all their branches were harboring explosives. The radio informed its listeners that the ACB was owned by the Eastern Nigerian Government and banned Ibo Union. Meanwhile somewhere in Kano airport, Nigerian soldiers seized an Ibo woman when she landed from her plane from London and nothing was ever heard about her again.

4. Ojukwu And His Men

On the 19th of September, 1967, Col. Banjo (who was administering the Mid-West Region) was arrested and court martialed 3 days later alongside Emmanuel Ifeajuna (January 1966 coup plotter who shot Prime Minster Tafawa Belewa), Alale and Agbam. Ojukwu later revealed that he ordered their killing because they planned to oust from power and also remove Gowon and install Awolowo as Prime Minster of a Reunited Federal Republic. The interesting about all these is that the 1966 coup plotters and these ones had planned to bring in Awolowo as Prime minister yet he masterminded the plans to blockade Biafra causing more starvation for civilians.

5.The Plight Of Igbos

According official police estimates, a total of 50,000 Igbos lives in Lagos and about 32,000 lives in the suburbs of Ikeja where the Army base and airport were located. As at August 1969 only about 17,000 were left and Ibadan had only 6000 Igbos left. According to a revelation by Mr. Strong in a confidential cable, “Recent conversations with Alhaji Adegbenro(Awolowo’s lieutenant), Dele Ige (Bola Ige’s younger brother) and other prominent Yorubas have indicated great fear on their part that Ibos were planning to sabotage federal institutions located in Ibadan in particular University of Ibadan and University College Hospital,”

Mr. Strong questioned a Mr. Ajala the local head of the Nigeria Tobacco Company in an effore to understand this fear. Mr. Ajala’s employees had been implicated in the discovery of ten cases of gelignite near University of Ibadan. According to him their leader was an Ibo graduate of University of Nigeria Nsukka who purpose was to teach the Yorubas a lesson having displaced their countrymen after the mass exodus of Ibo doctors and professors from both institutions since last October [1966].

6. Asaba Masacre

700 people died on the 7th of October, 1967 by 4 pm. The event was such that the Nigerian Army said they were coming into Asaba and the people of Asaba were prepared to welcome them. The welcoming speech was written by the father of the former First Lady of Nigeria, Maryam Babangida, the late wife of Ibrahim Babangida. He didn’t live to give that speech because while they gathered with food and drinks the visiting soldiers pulled the men and boys to one side and the women to another side; and the men and boys were killed in front of the women. Their record is still available today.

7. Gowon “Jack”

Yakubu Gowon, a young colonel was the one picked to take over from Aguiyi Ironsi after the northern that killed him and this was at the chagrin of many northern officers who were more senior than him especially Murtala R. Mohammed. Gowon was initially hesitant on attacking Biafra even though other officers were making statements like “We don’t know what he is waiting for, we all are ready to attack them; we just need his go ahead”. Meanwhile Gowon had a girlfriend that was from the East, Edith Ike. She had spent most of her life in the north where she was born. Her parents had fled to East in October 1966. She told him that her life was threatened twice after she returned to Lagos. She was later flown to Germany, even though she wanted to go to UK or US but Jack thought she will be in danger there. After she landed in West Germany and Gowon was informed, at the next Supreme Military Council he announced that they were going to crush the rebellion noting that they were going after the rebels not Ibos. The military which will eventually turn to a full blown war started on the July 6, 1967 at 5 am.

8. Julius Nyerere

During the war, many world powers were in support of Nigeria and the situation seemed hopeless for Biafra. The African Union also was playing to the tune of those powers at the detriment of Biafrans plight. Meanwhile somewhere in Tanzania, Julius on April 13, 1968 published a statement showing that he recognizes Biafra as an independent African nation. This caused a lot of jubilation in Biafra despite the woes of the war and people started playing Tanzanian music. In time other African leaders; Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, Gabon’s Omar Bongo and Ivory Coast’s Houphouet-Boibny also recognized Biafra.

9. Innovations In Biafra

The Nigerian troops were almost completely wiped out by a combination of mines and electrical devices (Ogbunigwe)”. Tunde Akingbade of the Daily Times

One of the things that the Biafran forces were known for was innovation and creativity in the midst of lack and want. They created the popular Ogbunigwe or what is today known as the weapon of mass destruction. Armored tanks were also made, in fact they also refined fuel from the back of trees and things that couldn’t pass for food like lizard became food for a dying population. Ojukwu later revealed that they also tried to build airplanes even though it didn’t work.

10. Ammunitions

Lt. Colonel Ikwue of the Nigerian side while speaking secretly to UK Defence Attaché said he had gone to German Defence Firm, Merex to buy ammunitions which included: 106mm US recoilless rifles at $86 per round; 84mm ammo for the Carl Gustav recoilless rifles at $72 per round; 105mm HEAT- High Explosive Anti-Tank warheads at $47 per round. Ikwue also bought three English Electra Canberra, eight Mark II Bombers at $105,000 each, 15 Sabre MK VI-T33 Jets at $100,000 each. On hearing this Awolowo rejected Hassan Katsina’s request for 55,000 more rifles for new recruits. However, he agreed after Gowon intervened saying it was not intended for fraudulent practices.


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