In January 1967, top military leaders of Nigeria converged in Aburi, Ghana for a peace conference. In March again, Gowon and Ojukwu flew to Ghana for secret talks. Unfortunately, they did not reach any peaceful agreement. Here is the video of both of them in Aburi:
So, on the 30th of May, 1967, the Military Governor of the Eastern Region, Odumegwu Ojukwu (see pictures) declared the Republic of Biafra. He stated:
“Having mandated me to proclaim on your behalf, and in your name, that Eastern Nigeria be a sovereign independent Republic, now, therefore I, Lieutenant Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, by virtue of the authority, and pursuant to the principles recited above, do hereby solemnly proclaim that the territory and region known as and called Eastern Nigeria together with her continental shelf and territorial waters, shall, henceforth, be an independent sovereign state of the name and title of The Republic of Biafra.”
Gowon was enraged. On the 6th of July, 1967, he declared war and launched an attack on Biafra. What would later follow is the source of regret to many Nigerians today. Political statements were banned and more powers were given to the Army and the Police. Four seaports (Port Harcourt, Degema, Calabar and Bonny were closed down indefinitely on the 30th of June). Leave for all military personnel was cancelled and Lagos, Western and Mid-Western States called for re-enlistment into the Nigerian Army.
MAJOR EVENTS DURING THE WAR
“Those who know me know that I have always been on the side of peaceful resolution of all conflicts. If you will recall as Head of State, I did all that was possible to secure a peaceful resolution of the Nigeria crises in the 2nd half of 1960. Unfortunately because of circumstances beyond my control, I had to use force to preserve the unity of our nation.” -YAKUBU GOWON
On the 1st of June, Gowon Gowon was promoted to the rank of a Major General while Colonel Robert Adebayo and Lt. Col David Ejoor were made Brigadiers. The same day, the FMG ordered that closure of the Niger Bridge.
3rd June: Gowon appoints 11 civilians from 11 out of the 12 states to the Federal Executive Council (FEC). By 14th July, federal troops had captured the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
After the Aburi Accord, there were several efforts to stop the war. There was the Niamey Peace Conference in 1968 (under President Hammani Diori of Niger Republic) while Organization of African Unity (OAU, now African Union) made frantic attempts to prevent Nigeria from sliding of the precipice of a civil war, and sponsored the Addis Ababa Peace Conference in Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie.
July 2, 19: Multiple explosions recorded in Lagos, people killed and many injured.
July 14: The FG announces the death of Nzeogwu while he was fighting for Biafra.
July 25: Oil town of Bonny captured by federal forces after the Nigerian Navy bombardment ensued.
July 31: Gowon’s de facto deputy, Wey, promoted to a Rear Admiral of the Fleet, Nigerian Navy.
August 5: Helicopter crash claims the life of Colonel Joseph Ronald Akahan, the Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army.
September 19: Benin City recaptured by Nigerian soldiers.
October 3: Agbor captured by Nigerian soldiers. The next day, Enugu, the base of Biafra also fell.
October 7: Nigerian Air Force shoot down Biafran aircraft in Lagos.
October 20: Calabar captured by federal forces.
November 11: Ken-Saro Wiwa appointed administrator for Bonny.
January 3: New currency notes released.
January 17th: More town captured around Onitsha
February 3: 23 white mercenaries killed in Calabar.
March 30: Ikot Ekpene captured.
April 21: Afikpo captured.
May 8: More peace talks in Uganda.
May 19: Port Harcourt falls.
June 5: The Netherlands imposes an arms embargo on Nigeria. France would follow suit on the 12th and same with Belgium on the 5th of July.
June 26: Yenagoa falls to federal forces. The next day, two federal army officers were publicly executed for killing four Igbo civilians in Benin.
July 31: France voices support for Ojukwu. Aba falls on September 1 and Okigwe freed on the 30th.
April 21: Umuahia freed.
May 22, 24: Secessionist planes raid Benin and Port Harcourt respectively.
June 14: Red Cross Chief Coordinator, Dr. Lindt and BBC Correspondent Peter Stewart expelled from Nigeria.
August 2: Pope Paul meets representatives of the two warring factions in Kampala, Uganda. The Pope heads to the Vatican City the next day after a fruitless talk.
August 7: Gowon visits Ghana and meets the Head of State, Brigadier Afrifas.
August 12: Gowon was in Cotonou, Benin Republic, meets with President Emile Zinsou.
August 18: Gowon with his wife and Azikiwe in Liberia with President William Tubman for peace talks. On the 20th, he warns the United Nations to hands off Nigeria’s internal conflict.
August 24: Spirited attempts by the Biafrans to retake Onitsha were defeated.
September 6: Gowon off to Addis Ababa for OAU summit, stops over in Kenya to see President Jomo Kenyatta. On the 8th, he met and had a deep discussion with President Julius Nyerere, one of the leaders supporting Ojukwu’s regime of Biafra.
September 10: OAU members vote for a ceasefire and peace talks in Nigeria. Five nations abstained from voting: Sierra Leone, Gabon, Tanzania, Zambia and Ivory Coast. Gowon back home. On the 23rd, Azikiwe was back in Onitsha.
October 15: Nigeria’s Chief of Air Staff, Colonel Shittu Akanji Alao dies in an air crash at Uzebba, about 50 miles northwest of Benin. He was aged 32 and he was alone in the plane. Two days later, in Lagos, he was buried with full military honours.
October 27: Gowon off to Congo-Kinshasa.
November 2: Ojukwu turns down peace moves saying he has no hope in the OAU.
November 8: Gowon off to Lome, Togo to meet President Gnassingbe Eyadema.
December 17: Ojukwu refused OAU’s terms for negotiation.
December 18: New Air Force chief announced in Lagos: Colonel Emmanuel Ebije Ikwue.
December 22: Azikiwe calls on France to stop supporting the rebels.
December 31: Gowon talks of a quick end to the war in his New Year message.
January 10: Ohafia, Arochukwu and Utoru falls. UN Secretary General blasts Ojukwu in Ghana.
January 11: Ojukwu escapes from a rebel enclave at dawn, only to resurface in Ivory Coast. Gowon calls on rebel troops to surrender.
January 12: All rebel troops surrender. Effiong renounces succession. Gowon orders federal forces to protect all surrendering rebels. Sir Louis Mbanefo, the former Chief Justice of the Eastern Region, Effiong and five other officers of the defeated Biafran Army off to Lagos to meet with Gowon. Gowon declares a ‘general amnesty for all those misled into Ojukwu’s rebellion’ and said there would be no second-class citizen in Nigeria. Nigeria turns down offers of relief from France, South Africa, Rhodesia, Portugal, Caritas (a Roman Catholic agency), Joint Church Aid and other bodies that had supported the Biafran cause and remained hostile to federal troops during the war.
Here is a video showing Gowon and Obasanjo accepting the surrender of Biafra. THERE IS NO WAY YOU WILL NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH GOWON AFTER WATCHING THIS VIDEO, HIS SINCERITY IS HEART-MELTING>>>>
January 16: Enahoro tells a world press conference in Lagos that there would be no peace talks over the Biafran surrender. The next day, the UN Secretary General U Thant arrives in Lagos and expressed his joy at a dinner party in Dodan Barracks.
January 24: The government of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny grants Ojukwu political asylum in Ivory Coast.
September 13, 1968; With the confidence of a Hannibal and all the tactical prowess of a Khalid ibn al-Walid, Major General Yakubu Gowon inside Dodan Barracks (Aso Rock of that time) gesticulates before a map of Nigeria and boasts to reporters during a press conference that the war will be over in just 4-8 weeks. It lasted for 30 months.
Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Ikemba (Strength of the Nation) of Nnewi, Dikedioramma (Beloved Hero of the Masses) and the Eze Ndi Igbo Gbaa Gburu Gburu, leader of the secessionist Biafra Republic. He died on the 26th of November, 2011 at the age of 78. He was buried with full military honours and his burial remains one of the most elaborate of any Nigerian. A man widely loved and respected by his people, he remains one of the most revered figures in the country. And yes, I must add, he was a very intelligent and articulate man. Listening to him was quite interesting, his voice had an exciting mixture of seduction and erudition.
30th May, 1967, Ojukwu declares the Republic of Biafra. He was later blockaded by air, land and sea, and what followed was mass starvation. He later fled to Cote d’Ivoire to avoid his assassination, into the waiting hands of President Boigny who granted him political asylum. He would later return to a triumphant entry 12 years later after President Shehu Shagari granted him a presidential pardon in 1982. Like Gowon too, he later made entry into politics with a less-than stellar performance.
Chai! Even LIFE Magazine use us do cover. Is that what we want again? Those of you calling for war? War is never a good thing, whatever the intent or purpose. See the agony on the faces of the poor little things, over a senseless they knew nothing about.
We must never forget the lessons of history. Yes, this is Nigeria during the Biafran War. Gowon’s government imposed a devastating blockade in the area preventing the influx of food, allowing the people to starve to death. Many have not forgiven Gowon for this.
This is the darkest phase in Nigeria’s history. A brutal event lasting thirty months of terrifying bloodthirst, unbelievable violence and raging vengeance, it claimed millions of lives, with some records indicating number of dead could have been as high as 3 million. One of Africa’s most brutal conflicts, the Nigerian Civil War (6th July, 1967-15th January, 1970), the wounds are yet to heal.
A seated, listless child, who was among many kwashiorkor cases found in Nigerian relief camps during the Nigerian–Biafran War. Pictures of the famine caused by Nigerian blockade garnered sympathy for the Biafrans worldwide.(CREDITS: Wikimedia Commons).
Yakubu Gowon was at the head of an armed forces with 120,000 troops while the Biafran leader, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu had 30,000 men at his beck and call. Despite the obvious disadvantage in numbers, the tenacity and courage of Ojukwu’s men were not in doubt as they inflicted heavy losses on Gowon’s side too, although at a very high price. By the time the dust of war settled in 1970, Gowon’s side lost a total of about 200,000, soldiers and civilians. The war lasted for:
2 YEARS, 6 MONTHS, ONE WEEK AND 2 DAYS.
A Biafran doctor hands out cups containing the daily ration of powdered milk to a line of children at a refugee camp in Anwa, Biafra, 5th August, 1968.
A federal Nigerian soldier holding an anti-tank bazooka is seen covering the end of the Aba-Umuahia road where Biafran troops hold positions, Sept. 21, 1968.
Starving children of Biafra. We must make sure that as a nation, no Nigerian child is ever going to face this horror again. We do not need another war. And a very good way to do is to ensure we call for justice, fairness, equity and good governance at all times, and not just be cannon fodder in the hands of selfish leaders. PICTURE CREDITS: FIDEL VASQUEZ.
Those who gave active support to Gowon during the Civil War included:
16th September 1968: Nigerians supporting Gowon demonstrate outside the Embassy of France in Lagos. Placards express support for the federal troops and denounced Charles de Gaulle of France for being interested in Nigeria’s oil.
-EGYPT (under Gamal Abdel Nasser)
-UNION OF SOCIALIST SOVIET REPUBLICS (USSR)
-KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA
-SYRIA (I wonder if President Jonathan is offering any support to Bashar al-Assad of Syria today).
The Biafrans were supported by:
-RHODESIA (now Zimbabwe)
-GABON (under President Omar Bongo)
-ZAMBIA (under President Kenneth Kaunda)
-COTE D’IVOIRE (Ivory Coast) (under President c, the Grand Old One from Baouleland…lol!)
-HAITI (under Dr. Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier). Well, I just remembered this and there may be no relation but while the 1966 coup was in progress, Nnamdi Azikiwe was out of Nigeria convalescing abroad, and while touring the Caribbean, his boat paid a visit to an unlikely host: Papa Doc of Haiti, one of the most murderous leaders on earth.
-TANZANIA (under Dr. Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere)
On the 6th of July, 1967, Gowon’s Federal Military Government launched ‘police measures’ to take over the Eastern Region. At first, the federal troops did not succeed as the Biafrans retaliated with their own offensive and by August, they had overrun the Mid-Western Region. The FMG was alarmed and for the few months that followed, Gowon’s forces had to fight bitterly before regaining control over the area. In September 1968, the war had now reached its full drive, and like a schizophrenic armoured tank, it was on full throttle. Gowon announced that there would be a ‘final offensive’. At first, the Biafran troops neutralized the move but later, after another round of severe bloodletting, with brothers and sisters blowing off their brains with machine guns, the federal troops succeeded.
Gowon’s war generals included the following:
-BENJAMIN ADEKUNLE also known as the Black Scorpion
-OLUSEGUN OBASANJO also known as Baba Iyabo (leave me joor, no be nickname ni…lol)
-THEOPHILUS DANJUMA (now one of Africa’s biggest philanthropists and chairman of South Atlantic Petroleum, SAPETRO)
-MOHAMMED SHUWA (later killed by gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members on the 2nd November, 2012)
The Biafran side was commandeered by Ojukwu and:
-OBONG PHILIP EFFIONG (died on November 6, 2003 at the age of 78). He stated before his death in an interview in 1996: I have no regrets whatsoever of my involvement in Biafra or the role I played. The war deprived me of my property, dignity, my name. Yet, I saved so many souls on both sides and by this, I mean Biafra and Nigeria. . . .
I felt that I played a role which has kept this country united till today. . . .
At the end of it all when I saw they (Biafran soldiers) could no longer continue and Ojukwu had fled, I did what was ideal after wide consultation . . . Effiong was the first Vice President and second President of the defunct Republic of Biafra, of which he was also the Chief of General Staff during the war. Born in Ibiono Ibom, he was Nigeria’s first Director of Ordnance.
When the war ended, Ojukwu fled to Cote ‘Ivoire, Effiong became the Head of State on the 2nd of January, 1970 and on the 12th, believing that there was no sense continuing the war any further, he announced:
“I am convinced now that a stop must be put to the bloodshed which is going on as a result of the war. I am also convinced that the suffering of our people must be brought to an immediate end.”
-DR. ALBERT NWAZU OKONKWO, Igbo Mid-Western medical doctor. Served in the Biafran Army Medical Corps as a major. Ojukwu installed him as the Military Administrator of the shortest lived republic in Nigeria’s history -the REPUBLIC OF BENIN (ROB). It lasted for just a little over 24 hours. Its capital was in Benin City, in today’s Edo State.
-COUNT CARL GUSTAF VON ROSEN of Sweden: Provided direct military aid, and was known for the Minicon fighter planes named the ‘Biafran Babies’.
FOR SOME MYOPIC REASONS, SOME NIGERIANS ARE SHOUTING THEMSELVES HOARSE TODAY THAT IF ANOTHER WAR SHOULD BREAK OUT, SO BE IT. INTERESTINGLY, WHEN ANOTHER WAR BREAKS OUT, THEY WILL BE THE FIRST TO DISAPPEAR AND VANISH INTO THE THIN AIR. IT SEEMS SOME OF US DO NOT REALLY UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT AND EFFECTS OF A WAR, IF NOT, I DO NOT SEE WHY SOMEONE WILL JUST SIT DOWN BY HIS LAPTOP KEYBOARD AND START CANVASSING FOR WAR. I WILL BE REPRODUCING SOME OF THE MOST GORY IMAGES OF THAT BLOODY ERA. HOPEFULLY, WE WILL REASON AND SEE THAT A WAR IS NOT THE MOST SENSIBLE WAY OUT. AFTER ALL, ALL WARS ARE FINALLY ENDED ON THE MEETING TABLE. NB: VIEWERS’ DISCRETION ADVISED.
April 1968: Here, a nine-year-old Igbo albino girl clutches an empty tin of corned beef.
1968: An Igbo medic in Biafra attends to a wounded soldier.
November 1968: Biafran soldiers carry the dead body of a mercenary from Belgium, Marc Goosens. During the war, thousands of mercenaries fought on the Biafran side. A mercenary is a fighter hired from a foreign country to fight and are paid for it.
April 1968: An Igbo soldier addresses a dead colleague. I wonder what he must have been telling him.
Brotherhood on the battlefield: A Biafran carries a wounded comrade. Don’t you just wonder the extent to which wars make men heartless and murder defenceless women and children without the slightest hint of conscience?
July 1968: Carrying a young Biafran war victim in a coffin. Like you too, I didn’t see the legs at first.
If you want little Nigerian children who have nothing to do with our nonsensical babble over ethnicity, politics and religion, to look like this, keep calling for war and breakup of the Federation. #Mtschwww. But do I blame those calling for a war? Our African elders have said it all:
“He that has not seen war, is the one that asks for war”.
Or this??? War will not solve our problems in Nigeria. We need to change our mindset as a people and FOCUS on the things that unite us and lay emphasis on what benefits everyone. Anything outside that will mean we have not learnt any lesson from history.
November 1968: A soldier in the Biafran Army. I ask you: do you really want to see an image like this again? CREDITS: GILLES CARON COLLECTION.
When the war ended in 1970, the Biafrans surrendered unconditionally and Gowon accepted, stating that there was no victor, no vanquished. His magnanimity at such a time did a lot to assuage the pent-up tensions in a war-weary nation. After that, Gowon embarked on an unprecedented drive of what is now known as the ‘THREE Rs’ -REHABILITATION, RECONSTRUCTION AND RECONCILIATION. For a nation that had just survived one of the most devastating conflicts in Africa, Gowon’s visionary and responsible handling of the Biafran surrender is one of the things keeping Nigeria together as one today. Luckily for him too, as from 1973, Nigeria started earning immense profits from the exports of crude oil and the Federal Government could bankroll many of the postwar activities.
Unfortunately, the same oil used in healing the nation’s deep civil war wounds has poisoned the entire system instead of lubricating it, turning our leaders into incorrigibly pathological kleptomaniacs and embarrassing stooges, not to say that they have also become pathetic liars, adept at promising everything and doing absolutely NOTHING. Light, we are yet to have. Water, don’t even talk ’bout that one. Roads nko? I pray o. Maybe by 2100, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway will look like a German autobahn.
After the Biafran surrender, General Gowon shakes hands with General Effiong, Biafra’s second head of state at the Dodan Barracks, Lagos.
*The official members of the Biafran and federal delegations who attended the formal war ending ceremony at Dodan Barracks on January 15, 1970 were:
- Major-General Phillip Effiong – Officer Administering the Republic of Biafra
- Sir Louis Mbafeno – Chief Justice of Biafra
- Matthew Mbu – Biafran Foreign Minister
- Brigadier Patrick Amadi – Biafran Army
- Colonel Patrick Anwunah – Chief of Logistics and Principal Staff Officer to Ojukwu
- Colonel David Ogunewe – Military Adviser to Ojukwu
- Patrick Okeke – Inspector-General of Biafran Police
Federal Military Government Delegation:-
- Major-General Yakubu Gowon – Nigerian Head of State
- Obafemi Awolowo – Deputy Chairman, Supreme Military Council
- Brigadier Emmanuel Ekpo – Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters
- Brigadier Hassan Katsina – Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army
- Brigadier Emmanuel Ikwue – Chief of Air Staff
- Rear-Admiral Joseph Wey – Chief of Naval Staff
- Dr Taslim Elias – Attorney-General
- H.E.A. Ejueyitchie – Secretary to the Federal Military Government
- Anthony Enahoro – Commissioner for Information
- The Military Governors of the 12 states: , Ukpabi Asika, Audu Bako, David Bamigboye, Alfred Diete-Spiff, Jacob Esuene, Usman Faruk, Joseph Gomwalk, Mobolaji Johnson, Abba Kyari, Samuel Ogbemudia, Oluwole Rotimi, Musa Usman. (Courtesy: IGBOFOCUS)
Gowon promises to handover by 1976. CREDITS: Rosa Vera-Cruz. The Nigerian Nostalgia 1960 -1980 Project