Quick Kill In Slow Motion: The Nigerian Civil War
SUBJECT AREA Intelligence
Author: STAFFORD, Michael R., Major, United States Army
Title: QUICK KILL IN SLOW MOTION: THE NIGERIAN CIVIL
Publisher: Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Date: 1 April 1984
This paper examines the lessons of the Nigerian Civil
War from the perspective of a U.S. military officer. It
seeks to analyze the factors which stand out from the first
modern war in independent Black Africa and equate their
significance to general military concepts.
A summary of the historical and cultural aspects which
predicated the civil war preceeds a review of the development
of the Nigerian military. Capabilities of the Federal and
Rebel forces are acknowledged and lead to discussion of the
strategies of the respective sides.
Selected battles and campaigns are evaluated to define
the strengths and weaknesses of the combatant organizations.
The impact of the introduction of relatively sophisticated
technology is viewed in light of the capacity to use that
technology. The effects of the personalities of the two
principle leaders, Gowon (Nigeria) and Ojukwu (Biafra), on
the war's character are studied.
Several themes surface. First is that once the military
politicized, it could not control the course of events in
Nigeria. Second, the necessity for rapid expansion of
military forces on both sides predestined their inefficiency
and limited effectiveness due to training and leadership
shortfalls. Finally, technology, and its application, must
fit the specific battlefield.
The paper closes with a review of conclusions generated
from the analyses throughout the work.
WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR
Quick Kill in Slow Motion:
The Nigerian Civil War
Major Michael R. Stafford, USA
2 April 1984
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
I owe my sincere appreciation and gratitutde to the many
professionals who assisted and encouraged me during the
production of this paper. First, Lieutenant Colonel William
Isom, Director of African Studies, National War College, and
Lieutenant Colonel William Hubard, USA, Major Mary Becka,
USA, and Dr. William Stoakley (all of the Defense
Intelligence Agency), gave their time, considerable
expertise, and recommendations to the direction of this work.
Second, Lieutenant Colonel Musa Bitiyong, Nigerian Army,
provided substance to my research through his correspondence.
Finally, I need also acknowledge Lieutenant Colonel
Donald Bittner, USMC, Mrs. Mary Porter, the Reference
Librarian at Breckinridge Library, and Mrs. Marvella McDill,
Lieutenant Colonel Bittner's encouragement was substantial,
and he painstakingly edited the first draft of this
manuscript. Mrs. Porter amazed me with her dexterity in
obtaining relatively scarce documents which were used in the
research for this paper. Mrs. McDill diligently and
cheerfully typed this document.
To each of these kind people, I offer my thanks.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I Africa iii
II Nigeria iv
III Nigerian Regions-January 1967 v
IV Midwestern Invasion, August-September 1967 vi
V Status, October 1968 vii
VI Airlift, November 1968 viii
VII Biafra, May 30, 1969 ix
VIII Final Collapse, December 1969-January 1970 x
I ROOTS OF CONFLICT 5
Pre-War History 5
The Nigerian Military 10
The Ibo Experience 16
II THE COMBATANT FORCES 20
The Federal Side 20
The Rebel Forces 26
III THE WAR BEGINS 30
Initial Phase (June-July 1967) 30
The Midwestern Invasion (August-September
IV THE WAR DEVELOPS 43
The Influence of Gowon 43
1 Division Operations 45
2 Division Operations 50
3 Marine Commando Division Operations 54
V OJUKWU'S BIAFRA 62
IV TO THE END OF THE WAR (SEPTEMBER 1968-
JANUARY 1970) 71
VII THE AIR WAR 80
The Rebel Air Force 80
The Federal Air Force 86
VIII CONCLUSIONS 90
END NOTES 97
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 107
A. CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS 113
B. LIST OF PROMINENT PERSONS 115
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The Nigerian Civil War marked a significant milestone in
the military history of independent Black Africa. For the
first time, 20th Century technology reached a battlefield
where Black African met Black African in conventional combat.
The expansion of capabilities, from the chaotic
spears-and-knives of the Congo to the set piece, automatic-
rifles-and-jet-airplanes of Nigeria, introduced new
dimensions in devastation to Africa south of the Sahara.
The premise of this paper is that a study of the
Nigerian Civil War offers the opportunity to understand how
the introduction of sophisticated weapons affects the combat
capabilities and actions of the military in the developing
countries of the world. The quantities of modern weapons in
the Nigerian-Biafran conflict were not substantial, but their
impact was great. There were no tanks or heavy artillery
(122mm Russian Guns were the largest), so the individual
battle lethality can not compare to the Arab-Israeli
conflicts or other technology-intensive campaigns. However,
the Nigerian Civil War caused the deaths of hundreds of
thousands of people, primarily through the starvation
associated with seige warfare. In the end this war proved as
unjust and deadly as war can become. Those who suffered the
most were once again the very young and the very old.
Much has been written about the Nigerian Civil War.
There are many fine histories detailing the development of
the country and the factors which led to the Civil War of
1967 to 1970. For this reason, this paper only capsulizes
this information. Likewise, there is only limited space
expended here to review the Nigerian military's evolution,
growth and eventual initiation of two 1966 coups d'etat which
proved to be immediate causes of the Nigerian Civil War.
Robin Luckham thoroughly analyzes this subject in his book,
The Nigerian Military (Cambridge: University Press, 1971).
Other areas which have received considerable analysis
include international politics and foreign intervention, the
relief efforts and the implications of the policy of
starvation, the economics of civil war, and the propaganda
war waged within the civil war itself. Because of the wide
range of information available on these topics, I selected an
area of research more directly related to my profession--the
analysis of the military campaign.
This paper is not a detailed history of the war in
Nigeria. Rather, selected battles and campaigns are
discussed and analyzed based on their significance to the
outcome of the war, their edification of certain lessons of
the conflict, or their benefit in illustrating points
regarding the development of the forces involved or the war
itself. In all cases, effort has been exerted to use written
accounts from actual participants and observers, especially
military personnel, in formulating analysis of the subject
events. This proved necessary for two reasons. The first
was the propaganda war mentioned above. Press releases from
the two sides were so distorted that the New York Times, for
example, ran adjacent Biafran and Nigerian sourced stories.
The other reason is the bias exhibited by foreign
correspondents covering the war. On the Nigerian side,
access to the war zone was extremely limited since the
military controlled the movements of journalists, thus
effectively censuring much information. The Biafrans allowed
freer movement by the media, seeking every advantage in
courting world opinion. This often resulted in the co-opting
of journalists. As Frederick Forsyth noted about his
perspective, if "I may be accused of presenting the Biafra
case, this would not be without justification. It [his book]
is the Biafra story, and it is told from the Biafran
Realizing that participants may have reputations at
stake, multiple accounts of individual incidents were a must.
This has been possible in most cases, since Biafran and
Nigerian versions of most episodes were available.
After assembling the military analyses of the selected
battles and campaigns, a summary of historical factors
leading up to the Civil War was compiled to aid the reader in
understanding the content of the conflict. This is found in
Chapter One. Finally, a brief summary of conclusions is
provided as the final chapter to highlight the most
significant aspects of the Nigerian Civil War.
For those interested in further reading or study on the
details of the Nigeria-Biafra conflict, the bibliography has
been annotated with this writer's comments on the content and
value of each listing to this research. It is important to
note that readings should be balanced between authors of
Biafran and Nigerian perspectives.
ROOTS OF CONFLICT
Understanding the nature of the Nigerian Civil War
begins with a knowledge of the unique and complex factors
which led to the secession of Biafra and subsequent open
hostilities. By their nature, these causes drew worldwide
attention to the potential redivisions of Black African
boundaries along traditional cultural, tribal and
geographical lines. (The Organization of African Unity
attempted to avoid the possible disintegration of its states
into conflict and civil war by establishing in its 1963
charter the policy of keeping the national boundaries drawn
by the former colonial powers.) Later in this chapter, I
shall examine how the military in Nigeria was shaped and
driven by these influences and as an institution contributed
to the chaos that ended as civil war.
Pre-War History. Nigeria is the most populous country
in Africa. At the start of the civil war in 1967, she
possessed about 56 million inhabitants. Most of these people
belonged to one of three tribes--the Northern Hausa--Fulani,
the Western Yoruba, or the Eastern Ibo. The West and East
are collectively called "The South."
Before the imposition of European influence in the 19th
Century, these tribes shared little common experience. They
were separated geographically. The Northern Hausa-Fulani
tribes were situated in dry savannahs south of the Sahara and
accessible to the influences of the Mediterranean region,
especially Islam. City states there developed under the rule
of powerful emirs and the Islamic religion took root.
The Yoruba in the West maintained more contact with the
North than did the Eastern tribes, due to their highly
developed trading activities and moderately open territory.
Urban dwellers, the Yoruba were divded into states, each
centered on a city. The tribe was industrious; crafts were
numerous; and the religion complex due to interaction with
many outside cultures. The relative sophistication of
Yoruban society helped it withstand the trauma of European
The Ibo of the Eastern region were initially quite
different from the hard-working, intelligent people that
developed after the arrival of the British. Isolated in the
dense, wet woodlands of the Niger Delta, the Ibo lacked the
sophistication of the Yoruba or the coastal minority tribes.
In contrast, the originally backward Ibo emerged from the
British colonial period as the most westernized tribe,
espousing Christianity (as did some Yoruba) and proving
adaptable to the imported work ethic due to their initiative
Having earlier exploited the Niger area slave trade,
Britain decided to stop it in the early 19th Century. First
the Royal Navy patrolled the coastal waters with vessels
controlled from a consulate set up on Fernando Po, a Spanish
island possession 150 miles southeast of the Niger River
Delta. In 1861 Britain claimed control of Lagos with the
goal of ending the slave trading which originated at that
port. Having established a mainland foothold, British
influence gradually reached further inland.(3) The Oil
Rivers Protectorate was established in (what is now) Southern
Nigeria to administer traders doing business in that region,
and the Niger Company was chartered to trade in the Niger
By 1885, when Bismarch called the Berlin Conference.
Britain was firmly established in Nigeria. As was the
purpose of the conference, Africa was divided among the
European nations into spheres of influence. This division
was made wholly on the competitive political situations in
Europe and did not take into account those factors on which
western nation-states had historically been built.
Geographical and cultural influences such as natural
boundaries, tribal locations and tribal differences were
totally ignored. With the acceleration of British
involvement, this set the stage for the artificial fusion of
three distinctly different populations.
In 1886 the National African Company (also known as the
Royal Niger Company) was granted a royal charter to oversee
the territories north of Oil Rivers Protectorate; by 1893
this had become the Niger Coast Protectorate. The National
African Company was empowered to establish a police force and
provide government services in the north.
In 1897 the kingdom of Benin was brought under British
control. After the annexation of other southwest areas, the
Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was established in 1900. In
the same year, the charter of the National African Company
was revoked and the North redesigned the Protectorate of
Northern Nigeria. The two southern protectorates were united
in 1906, and by 1914 the British consolidated control over
all of Nigeria. What had in fact happened was the joining of
three different foreign administrative organizations rather
than the unification of three different indigenous
The first governor of the unified Nigeria was Frederick
Dealtry Lugard, 1st Baron Lugard. He introduced in Nigeria
the system of indirect rule, in which local government was
essentially delegated in toto to tribal chiefs or indigenous
ruling bodies. These local authorities acted under the
supervision, or more accurately in many cases, the advice of
British administrators. In Nigeria, this allowed the
continuation of strong regional political differences.
Little progress occurred in Nigeria until the end of
World War II, when nationalistic movements surfaced in Africa
as well as much of the rest of the colonial world. This was
actually part of the unrest in the European empires as
peoples in various areas sought to remove outside rule from
their homes. Powerful political parties developed n each
sector of the country. Chief Awolowo founded the Action
Group in the West. However, the old city-states remained,
dividing the West between local and regional interests. The
East saw the formation of a single democratic party, the
National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). The
theme of this party, which was led by Dr. Azikiwe, was
national unity--the formation of a single, powerful
independent state. The Northern emirs responded to the
growing political awareness in the South by submerging their
region in the "designedly local and monolithic" Northern
With British assistance, these three regions negotiated
a constitutional government which resulted in the loosely
constituted federation established when independence was
achieved in October of 1960. In this federation, two of the
three parties had to form a coalition to gain control of the
government. Incredibly, the Ibo of the East who advocated a
strong federal union and the more conservative Northerners
who favored a weak confederation united.(6) Dr. Azikiwe
became President and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of the North was
named Prime Minister.
The Westerners, as oddman out, vented their frustration
in a division of their party between Awolowo and his
followers, and local party segments led by Western Regional
Premier Akintola. Akintola's faction aligned with the North,
and formed the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA), while the
other factions united with the Eastern Ibo to establish the
United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA).
Open hostility in the West resulted in Federal
intervention, under strange circumstances, and the discovery
of "immense defalestions of regional revenues into party
funds and private hands"(7). Awolowo was tried, convicted
and imprisoned for treason, and his rival, Akintola, gained
power based on his alignment with the Northern Party.
Civil unrest was increased by other incidents during
this time. The 1962 census results were released in 1963 and
showed a total Nigerian population of 55.6 million people, of
which 29.8 million were identified as living in the Northern
Region. This outright majority caused other regions to
vehemently discount the accuracy of the census.
As the 1964 parlimentary elections neared, corruption
was rife. Local political activity was marked by
intimidation, and cheating was rampant, especially in the
North. The UPGA boycotted the elections, but later accepted
a second election in 1965 and garnered about a fourth of the
seats. In that year the events surrounding the Western
Regional legislative election bordered on civil war. Clashes
between Akintola's NNA and the UPGA brought about many deaths
and recorded another episode in the headlong tumble from
independence to civil war (8).
The Nigerian Military. Into this cauldron of seething
historical, political and cultural antagonism stepped the
military in the first coup attempt of January 1966. The
discord between regions was based on tribal differences
accentuated by religious and social disparities. The
military, as an institution, was intertwined with these
contradictions and could not act independently from the rest
of Nigerian society. Hence, instead of stabilizing the
country, the armed forces led it to civil war with a coup in
Jaunary 1966 and a counter-coup in July of the same year.
Former military ruler Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo
maintained that these coups were the immediate causes of the
Nigerian Civil War. He has noted that the political equation
was altered, and the fragile trust existing among the three
major tribes was shattered.(9)
But the military lacked the size to control Nigeria. At
the time of the first coup, Nigerian forces totaled only
10,500. The Army was the largest with 9,000 soldiers. The
Navy numbered 900, including 80 officers, and the newly
formed Air Force boasted about 700 men. In a country more
than twice the size of California, the military was spread
too thinly and was without the training, equipment and
sophistication to suitably dominant Nigeria's vast area and
population. Additionally, this small organization
reverberated with the ethnic turmoil confronting the rest of
the country which further reduced its ability to handle the
The Nigerian Army traced its roots back to the West
African Frontier Force created in the late 19th Century by
the chartered companies to administer their respective
regions.(10) By 1914 this force included a Gold Coast
Regiment, the Sierra Leone Battalion and a Gambia Company.
In that year, Nigerian and Gold Coast (Ghana) units fought in
Togoland against the Germans there, and a detachment of
British Colonial forces and a French Senegalese unit
campaigned in the German Cameroons.(11) In Accra, the
British established the West Africa Command to exercise
command and control of its regional colonial units. It
remained until 1956, when it was disbanded because Ghana
gained independence and desired its own army, thus forcing
the break up of the Regional Force.(12)
About 30,000 Nigerians served with the British Forces in
World War II. The 81 and 82 (West Africa) Divisions included
Nigerian soldiers who saw action in Burma. Nigerian troops
also served with the Royal West African Frontier Force in
Ethiopia against the Italians, and later Nigerian units
served with British units in Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Palestine
and Sicily. Allied commanders were reportedly generous in
their praise of Nigeria's soldiers and units.(13)
Until independence the Nigerian Army consisted of
recruits essentially from the lower levels of Nigerian
society, with a high concentration of minority tribe members.
The officer corps was predominately British with a gradual,
slow transition to "Nigerianization" from 1949 to 1964.
Ethnic politics delayed the announcement of a Nigerian
Commander of the Army until 1965 when Major General Johnson
A. Ironsi, an Ibo, was given that position.
After independence, military service gained prestige,
and the more educated Southerners, particularly Ibo, began to
enlist in increasing numbers. With decreasing British
funding, the Nigerians were forced to escalate military
spending. The armed forces which before received little
interest (14) became a matter of national pride and pressures
to expand the military size became a popular issue.(15) In
1958 the Nigerian military numbered 7,600 officers and men.
By 1964 it had increased by 2,900. Growth in the Navy and a
relatively ambitious Air Force program accounted for much of
Quota systems were implemented in 1958 for the enlisted
ranks and in 1961 for the officer grades to balance service
compositions with national regional demographics. These two
efforts served to highlight tribal differences within and
politicize the small military. Along with the Nigerianiza-
tion of the Officer Corps (see Table I), the quota system
thoroughly confused the dynamics of officer development. The
rapid influx of officers created an age imbalance and a
professional gap. Promotion rates accelerated, especially
for officers commissioned before 1960. An officer accessed
at age 20, could be a lieutenant colonal at 31. When the
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officer ranks began to stabilize in 1965 after all the
British officers had departed, younger officers became
frustrated because of slower promotion rates.(16) This
frustration may have found outlets in political action, first
by the "Majors' Coup" in January 1966 followed by the
counter-"Captains' Coup" the following July. The most direct
impact of these two coups on the Nigerian military was the
destruction of the command structure and the polarization of
the forces along two lines, basically Ibo and non-Ibo (the
first coup was planned and executed by a predominately Ibo
group of officers, while the second coup was led by non-Ibo
officers; this served to create a mutual suspicion). The
loss of relatively experienced officers (see Table II) would
prove particularily damaging to the Federal side in the Civil
War because of the migration of middle grade Ibo officers to
The impact of the coups was even more devastating to the
country as a whole. The early coup destroyed the delicate
first republic. Though the coup was organized to end
corruption throughout the Nigerian political system, the net
effect only placed the military in power, while the
corruption found a way to continue. It in fact was a
standard justification for subsequent coups, cited in
military takeovers in 1975 and as recently as January 1984.
In a British TV interview, the leader of the January 1966
coup, Major Chukwumah Nzeogwu stated,
We wanted to get rid of rotten and corrupt
ministers, political parties, trades unions and the
whole clumsy apparatus of the federal system. We
wanted to gun down all the bigwigs on our way.
This was the only way. We could not afford to let
them live if this was to work. We got some but not
all. General Ironsi was to have been shot, but we
were not ruthless enough. As a result he and the
other compromisers were able to supplant us.(19)
Instead of ending the corruption, the coups triggered
hostilities which blanketed the country in civil war and
forced the rapid expansion of the military. But the Nigerian
military could not provide the stability to serve as a
unifying institution for an oil-rich emerging power in Black
The Ibo Experience. A final point needs to be made
regarding the animosity toward the Ibo. In their acceptance
of European values and the Christian religion, the Ibo
further differentiated themselves from the other tribes of
Nigeria, particularly those of the North. The Ibo proved
themselves intelligent, ambitious and conscientious. These
traits enabled the Ibo to capitalize on educational
opportunities and saw them dominate administrative
organizations, like the civil service and similar positions
in industry. They did especially well on the General
Qualification Examination for Officer Placement in the
military, due to their higher education level.(20) This
eventually became a factor in the establishment of a regional
quota system for officer recruitment, so as to achieve an
ethnic balance in the armed forces.
Resentment built up among the other tribes of the near
Ibo monopoly of the skilled professions and white collar
jobs. Old tribal prejudices were aggravated by the belief
that the Ibo were trying to dominate Nigeria. The coup of
January 1966, instigated by Ibo majors, led to the death of
the key non-Ibo leaders in the country and, though apparently
unplanned, placed Ibo General Ironsi in power. After an
initial period of relief at the believed end of corruption,
doubts formed among the non-Ibo population and a fear
developed that the coup was another step in an Ibo plan to
control the country.
Hundreds of Ibo were massacred in May 1966 in a backlash
to the coup. General Ironsi had failed to take positive
steps to stabilize the political situation by harshly
punishing the plotters, most of whom were jailed
indefinitely. The appearance of complicity and the growing
nationwide unrest created the climate for the counter-coup in
July 1966; this coup was initiated by non-Ibo company grade
officers. Ironsi was brutally slain and his Chief of Staff,
Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu "Jack" Gowon, was a compromise
choice as his replacement. Gowon was the senior Northern
officer serving in the Army at the time; however, his choice
created some interesting aspects since he was Christian, from
a middle belt minority tribe, and had been hitherto
The second coup saw the directed movement of troops and
troop units to the regions of their respective ethnic
heritage. The exodus of Ibo to the Eastern Region grew and,
increasingly, that region in a de facto sense partitioned
itself from the rest of Nigeria. Led by Lieutentant Colonel
Chukwuemeka O. Ojukwu, like Gowow a British-trained combat
officer, the Eastern Region slowly emerged as the safe haven
homeland of the Ibo peoples. In October of 1966, despite
Gowon's declaration that the Ibo would be protected, pograms
and rioting resulted in the mutilation and death of thousands
of Ibo and a mass flight to the Eastern Region by a million
and a half Ibo. This October 14, 1966 Time eyewitness
account indicates the terror of that period:
...A Lagos-bound jet had just arrived from
London, and as the Kano passengers were escorted
into the customs shed, a wild-eyed soldier stormed
in, brandishing a rifle and demanding, 'Ina
Nyammari?'--Hausa for 'Where are the damned Ibos?'
There were Ibo among the customs officials, and
they dropped their chalk and fled, only to be shot
down in the main terminal by other soldiers.
Screaming their bloody curses of a Moslem holy war,
the Hausa troops turned the airport into a
shambles, bayoneting Ibo worders in the bar,
gunning them down in the corridors, and hauling Ibo
passengers off the plane to be lined up and shot.
From the airport the troops fanned out through
downtown Kano, hunting down Ibos in bars, hotels
and on the streets. One contingent drove their
Land Rover to the rail road station where more than
100 Ibos were waiting for a train, and cut them
down with automatic fire.
The soldiers did not have to do all the
killing. They were soon joined by thousands of
Hausa civilians, who rampaged through the city
armed with stones, cutlasses, machetes, and
homemade weapons of metal and broken glass. Crying
'Heathen!' and 'Allah!!' the mobs and troops
invaded the sabon gari (strangers' quarter),
ransacking, looting and burning Ibo homes and
stores and murdering their owners.
...All night long and into the morning the
massacre went on. Then tired but fulfilled, the
Hausas drifted back to their homes and barracks to
get some breakfast and sleep. Municipal garbage
trucks were sent out to collect the dead and dump
them into mass graves outside the city...:(21)
The fear of extermination built out of such incidents was the
foundation of the will to resist a vastly superior force
throughout the Civil War. The Ibo nurtured fear in their enclave
of Eastern Nigeria with the resulting belief that only secession
and the formation of a separate country would ensure their
security and safety. On May 30, 1967. Ojukwu cast aside Gowon's
continuing efforts to maintain a federal government and proclaimed
the formation of the independent Republic of Biafra.
The resulting Civil War lasted over two and half years.
The cost in human life has been estimated as high as two million
people, and Nigeria's expanding oil-based economy simmered when
its unimpeded growth could have raised the country to a position
of international responsibility unparalled in Black Africa.
THE COMBATANT FORCES
The Federal Side. When war broke out, the Nigerian
military was beset with numerous problems. The Army was not
totally inexperienced, having sent two battalions with the
United Nations Peacekeeping Force to the Congo between 1960
and 1964 and a smaller force to Tanzania later for a similar
peacekeeping mission. But the small 10,000-man Army that
existed in 1966 was wrecked by the divisiveness of the tribal
strife. Many senior leaders were killed during the two
coups, and the migration of Ibo to the East resulted in the
loss of more experienced officers and NCOs. According to one
source, the Federals were able to claim about 184 officers
while the Biafrans had 93 at the start of the war.(1) The
difficulties of selection, training and development of
officers, including the distorted promotion schedules and age
structures (note that the military head of the country,
Lieutenant Colonel Gowon, was 32 years of age at the outbreak
of the war), were outgrowths of the rapid expansion of the
Army to 80,000 at the end of 1967 (2) and more than 200,000
by the end of the war. Battalions were formed with 5 or 6
(vice 30+) officers in late 1967. The resulted in tentative
command and control and rudimentary staff work.(3)
The seeds of indiscipline were watered by the nature of
the force constructed. The Nigerian Army never had to resort
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What existed on the Nigerian Air Force was located at Kaduna
in the Northern Region. Naval Forces were headquartered at
the port near Lagos.
to conscription to fill its ranks. Instead, it raised the
pay of privates to $46 a month (in a nation with per capita
income at the time of about $120/year) and quickly filled its
ranks with thousands of recruits, notably the uneducated from
the middle belt minority tribes; but immigrants came from
Chad seeking a better life. These untrained, unsophisticated
soldiers highlighted the shortage of skilled personnel in
specialized areas like maintenance and administration.(5)
Table III documents the concentration of Nigerian Army
Forces in the North before the war. This disparity was
probably due to political manipulation. In any event, the
structure left the Midwest State completely unprotected and
only ceremonial and administrative units in Lagos. To
counter this situation and prosecute the early Nigerian
strategy, the Army was reorganized along these lines:
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Army Headquarters was in Lagos and even with early growth of
the Army, it still tried to maintain the centralized
administrative control that existed before the war. No
central field control was established, and this problem was
exascerbated when the Chief of Staff, Colonel Joe Akapan,
died in a helicopter crash in the first month of fighting.
Until the last months of the war, the Nigerians failed to
exert unity of command in their operations. By the time
three divisions were formed, each operated independently. No
Corps Headquarters was established. Instead, each Division
Commander acted as a "feudal baron", competing with the other
Divisions for resources amd attention, often returning to
Lagos to conduct business at the headquarters while fighting
continued in sector. For most of the war, the Nigerian Army
was configured into three divisions:
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a. 1 Division had been organized around what remained
of the Nigerian Army. Representing the best trained and
disciplined of Nigerian forces, the division had about 40,000
soldiers in six infantry brigades. Although its leaders were
slow and meticulous, 1 Division never failed in accomplishing
its missions (6).
b. 2 Division included three infantry brigades and
around 20,000 troops (7). Hastily formed during the Midwest
Crises of August 1967, its lack of capable leadership and
limited experience resulted in numerous failures on the
c. 3 Marine Commmando Division distinguished itself
throughout most of the war. With a total strength of about
35,000 (8), this division was divided into eight commmando
brigades which executed numerous amphibious and riverine
operations throughout the war.
The Nigerian Navy was instrumental in blockading Biafra.
Though there were few ships available, the Nigerians fully
demonstrated their conceptual understanding of the need to
control the coastline and adjacent waters. A frigate, the
N.A.S. Nigeria, and a submarine chaser had been obtained from
the Netherlands in 1966. The British had provided two
minesweepers, a landing craft and a patrol craft.(9) The
Russians also sold the Federals three torpedo boats (10) and
several radar-equipped seaward-defense vessels (11) after the
war started. These last vessels were effective in canalizing
relief flights for Biafra into uncovered air avenues.
The Nigerian Air Force had not existed until 1962 and
was building as the war commensed. The British had started
the Air Force training, but terminated it when the Nigerians
unilaterally voided a military landing rights agreement. The
West Germans than assumed the program in 1963. Training was
conducted both in West Germany and Nigeria, but ended in July
1967 with the first air raid on Kaduna Airfield when a West
German trainer reportedly was killed. The other trainers
left immediately.(12) Over 100 Nigerian pilots were
qualified on trainer aircraft. Many of these pilots were Ibo
who were lost to the Air Force with the advent of war.
Regardless, the Nigerians had no combat aircraft. In early
1967, her fleet consisted of five Dakota (C-47) transports,
20 Dornier DO-27 light liaision planes, and 12 P149D
Piaggios.(13) The Dorniers and Piaggios had come from the
Luftwaffe Training Mission.
But help soon arrived; a July 1967 trip to Moscow bore
fruit in mid-August 1967 when the Soviets sent MIG 15's and
17's, as well as Czech Delfin L-29 light attack trainers
(adapted for strafing and bombing). In all the Nigerians
received about 15 MIG's and 12 Delfins during the war (14) and
hosted hundreds of Soviet and Czech technical advisors.
Egyptian, European and South African mercenaries piloted the
jet aircraft through the first part of the war. In early
1968, three IL-28 Ilyushin bombers were received at Makurdi.
Additionally, the Federals boasted two BAC Jet Provosts
(gifts from Sudan), eight Westland Whirlwind Helicopters
(purchased from Australia) and five DC-3's (borrowed from
In total, the Nigerian Air Force represented a flexible
and intimidating factor which had significant theoretical
strategic impact on the war effort. Yet even with its
tremendous superiority over the Biafran opposition, the
Nigerians never fully exerted their advantage. In fact, the
Air Force figured prominently in two of the more negative
aspects of the conflict, the bombing and strafing of the
civilian population and the failure of the Federals to stop
the airlift into Biafra after it was cut off from every other
means of support.
The Rebel Forces. The Biafran Army grew to a strength
of nearly 90,000. Formed around the nucleaus of 2000 former
Nigerian soldiers, the Rebel Army also felt growth pains; it
was eternally wanting for experience, ammunition and food.
Overwhelmingly outmanned and outgunned, poorly led and
lacking an adequate support base, the Biafran Army still
managed to survive for two and a half years against what
easily became the strongest military force in Black Africa.
The Biafrans maintained five undersized divisions and
several special units like the Biafran Organization of
Freedom Fighters (BOFF) and the 4th Commando Brigade. Though
guerrilla tactics did enhance Biafran operations, they were
never embraced as the disparity between the two forces might
have indicated. Ojukwu, in fact, was marked as a "prisoner
of classic British tactics."(16) His methods were based on
the belief that a secure homeland was essential for the Ibo.
As such, his priority was the maintenance of an impenetrable
There was little artillery or mortars in the Biafran
Army, and advanced armaments consisted of homemade rockets
and land mines, fabricated tanks and pre-World War II French
armored cars. Desperate for war materials, the Biafrans were
often dependent on captured Federal equipment. This created
problems. Rebel soldiers would stop to pick up clothing and
supplies instead of pursuing retreating Federal troops. When
the Nigerians discovered this trait, they baited preplanned
artillery and mortar targets with military supplies.(17)
The shortage of equipment also meant that the Biafrans
were unable to capitalize on the large numbers of volunteers
which initially streamed in. Time magazine reported that one
of the elite Biafran Brigades had enough arms for only 3,000
of its 6,000 men.(18) This situation persisted until the
summer of 1968 when the French announce support of the
The Biafran Navy was essentially a non-entity after the
raid on Bonny. It consisted almost entirely of machine gun
mounted Chris-Crafts taken from the Port Harcourt Sailing
Club (19), and armed harbor and river craft. Though the
Rebels tried to obtain naval vessels, they were unsuccessful
and never seriously influenced the naval war.
The Biafran Air Force, however, evolved into a viable
institution. Twice it countributed to Biafran initiatives.
Early in the war, the Air Force consisted of:
Click here to view image
Keeping this ancient fleet in the air rapidly overwhelmed the
Biafrans. The initial value of these aircraft was the
psychological effect they created in the disorganized early
stage of the war. The bombers made harassing attacks on
Lagos and the Northern air fields, creating large scale panic
with their erratic bombing with homemade munitions. The
helicopters likewise dampened Federal fervor on the
battlefield. Used primarily for reconnaissance, Federal
soldiers soon discovered they were not safe when the
Alouettes were in the air due either to aerially supported
artillery or mortar attacks, or homemade bombs dropped from
the aircraft. They quickly learned to seek cover when the
helicopters were flying.(22)
Besides the continuing airlift, the next important
contribution made to the air war came at the end. A Swedish
citizen was moved by the suffering created in Biafra by
Federal air raids. This man, Count Carl von Rosen, decided
to get the Biafrans a countering air capability and
introduced 19 Swedish single engine MFI-90 airplanes. Each
of these trainers had 12 rockets in a pod mounted under the
wing and was capable of flying undetected at tree top level
to its targets. These tactics had an immediate impact on the
Nigerians, but it was a case of too little, too late as the
war ended before the potential of this small air force could
be realized. They were particularly effective in attacks
against fixed targets, like oil wells and equipment.(23)
The Biafrans simply were never able to match the
relative Federal might. The oil revenue with which they
expected to finance their war effort was soon cut off as the
Federal blockade was enforced. By the time massive French
aid was received, the war was lost and the aid merely
prolonged the suffering.
THE WAR BEGINS
I need not tell you what horror, what
devastation and what extreme human suffering will
attend the use of force. When it is over and the
smoke and dust have lifted, and the dead are
buried, we shall find, as other people have found,
that it has all been futile, entirely futile, in
solving the problem we set out to solve. (1)
Initial Phase. (June-July 1967). No one heard the
prophetic words of Colonel R.A. Adebayo, Governor of the West
Region of Nigeria. Both sides were totally unprepared for
what was to come. This was the foremost lesson at the start
of the war. On the Federal side, there was no comprehension
of the paranoia which encompassed the Ibo being. Instead,
Gowon expected a "police acton" whereby the rebellious
Biafrans would be surrounded and isolated from the world;
then Biafran resistance would quickly fade and Federal
victory would be rapid--"a quick kill."
Even before the Biafran Independence Announcement, the
Federal government cut off telephone, telegraph and postal
service to the rebellious state. Afterwards, airlines,
railroads and highways were closed, and the small Nigerian
Navy prepared to blockade all shipping except oil tankers.
Even these were restricted from transit as hostilities
Mobilization was half-hearted at best. In the North,
the Chairman of Internal Administrative Services warned
provincial administrators of the impending conflict. Limited
training in civil defense began and evacuation planning was
conducted in the event of raids on the larger cities.
Ex-servicemen, some 7,000, were recalled to active duty and
formed four new infantry battalions. The Army started
recruiting members from the local and national police
After a five week lull, the first offensive actions
began. Barely qualifying as skirmishes, they marked a
Federal campaign to advance from the North on four axes with
the objective of crushing Biafran resistance and seizing
their capital of Enugu. After some initial successes, the
Nigerians began to meet increasing Rebel resistance. It
became apparent that they had underestimated the measure of
resolve of the poorly equipped Biafran Army. Also
highlighted were the lack of training and discipline of the
Nigerian Army and the difficulties they would experience due
to their long lines of communication. The offensive ground
to a halt, and the rebellion that they expected would take
only days to crush exhibited more long term potential.
The Biafrans set their strategy as the establishment of
a secure homeland for the Ibo and the development of a might
which, as Ojukwu stated, no force in Black Africa could
overcome.(3) Like the Federals, the Rebels stressed civil
defense procedures. With limited military resources, yet
driven by terrible fear, the people of the region prepared
defensive positions on likely avenues of approach, formed
local militias and secured Nigerian-owned war materials that
remained in the region. In fact, Rebel preparations began
well in advance of the actual secession date. They started
in earnest with the massive influx of refugee Ibo during and
after the September/October 1966 pogroms. Non-Easterners had
been ordered out of the region at that time, and there are
clear indications that secession was planned from that
The Biafrans met the initial Federal advances from the
Northern Region with full resistance. They used to their
advantage the fact that they were fighting in their home
territory, capitalizing on the availability of manpower to
hinder Federal advances. Traps, ditches and obstacles were
placed in the paths of attacking Nigerians. These only
slowed the Federals, who used their superior firepower to
saturate prepared positions and their mobility advantage to
outflank Biafran strong points. At Obollo Eke, for example,
artillery and mortar shelling began at 6 a.m. August 3, 1967,
and continued until 8 a.m. After a brief attack, artillery
preparations resumed, followed by another probe. This
alternating pattern of two hours of shelling and a probing
attack continued during daylight hours for four days before
the Rebles were pushed out of Obollo Eke.(5)
The extensive road network in northern Biafra created
flank defensive problems. After the first loses of Biafran
territory at Obudu, the Rebels planned to fall back to Ogoja.
In retreat they ran into a Federal ambush and learned just
how vulnerable their flanks were.(6) Quickly they adjusted
their tactics, moving to the flanks when armored vehicles
assaulted their lines and reclosing the ranks after they
passed. The Rebels soon resorted to hit-and-run tactics in
the form of ambushes to harrass Nigerian operations. But
they never abandoned their static defenses, and from the very
beginning the Biafrans were victims of their lack of military
One bright spot for the Biafrans appeared on July 21,
1967 when a World War II American-made B-26 bomber piloted by
a Polish expatriot, called "Kamikaze" Brown, bombed and
strafed Federal positions at Obukpa. This greatly lifted
Biafran morale (7), but offered ominous clouds for future
events. Both Great Britain and the Untied States had
rejected Nigerian requests for aircraft. By July 31 Nigerian
representatives were reported in Moscow (8) and expansion of
the war's lethality was imminent. (Note: Arms supply was a
major part of a critical issue, outside intervention, which
dominated international discussion of the Nigerian Civil
Another event which portended the calamities to follow
was the amphibious assault on and capture of the Island of
Bonny at the mouth of the Port Harcourt Harbor. This Federal
operation was important for two reasons. First, it
demonstrated a boldness, fluidity and imagination seldom seen
in Federal operations. The Bonny assault was not remarkable
in its execution; however, the operation was in marked
contrast to the "skirmishes, slow, cautious probes, and long
distance bombardments of doutful object with doubtful
accuracy [and an] incredible amount of aimless and wasteful
shooting" (9) which dominated the northern battlefields. On
Bonny a 1000 man invasion force loaded on two ships
overwhelmed a company--sized garrison after a limited naval
bombardment. Destroyed was Biafra's only real naval vessel,
a Nigerian patrol boat seized at secession; more important,
Port Harcourt, the major port and oil terminal in Biafra, was
effectively sealed off.
This leads to the second importance of the Bonny
capture. It pinpoints the failure of Biafran leaders to
appreciate the incredible consequence of losing their sea
lines of communications. They did not see the need to secure
adequate sea power before the war began and were unable to
correct their shortcoming when it became apparent how serious
the Federals were about enforcing their blockade of the
Biafran coastline. The New York Times noted at this stage of
the war that Biafra had a "better-than-even chance of
survival" ...but that it was... "clear, that the East cannot
survive for many months unless the naval blockade is
broken."(10) Instead of confronting this problem, however
the Biafrans turned inward.
The Midwestern Invasion (August-September 1967). The two
forces fought tentatively through July of 1967 and into
August, with the Federals steadily gaining ground. Then the
Biafrans, who had seemed interested only in a defensive war,
launched an attack into the Midwestern State. This marked
the turning point in the war, as the Rebels gambled on a
disastrous offensive campaign.
"We have no territorial ambitions. We do not want to
capture anybody or punish anybody. We just want to be left
alone,"(11) Ojukwu wrote. The drive into the Midwest,
however, stood in stark contrast to this claim, Biafra had
moved boldly beyond simply protecting the Ibo enclave and
seized the initiative, taking the war to the Federals. The
objectives of the strike were lightning attacks on, and the
capture of, the Federal capital of Lagos and the Western
State capital of Ibadan. The occupation of these two
capitals was expected to cause an immediate collapse of the
Federal government and an end to the war. But the way the
Rebel forces spread throughout the region, it is clear that
Ojukwa had other objectives in their advance. Among these
were establishment of internal control of the Midwestern
State and limited prosecution of the war into the Northern
The execution of the plan higlighted the incompetence
of the strategic planners in Biafra. Just as they failed to
fully grasp the implications of a naval blockade, they lacked
the professional skills and imagination (and patience, and
resources) to coordinate an effective attack. The plan took
advantage of the sparse Federal forces which were thinly
spread throughout the region in small garrisons, more an
internal security force than an army. But the plan did not
correctly account for many of the non-military factors
bearing on the situation, nor did it have sufficient
flexibility to confront in any realistic sense changing
The Midwestern State was in a precarious position, a
small, wealthy area caught between the secessionist Ibo and
the Federal captial of Lagos. In its boundaries were some
800,000 Ibo who could be expected to have sympathies for the
East. Primarily agrarian, the region was rich in palm oil,
rubber and timber, while oil was a growing resource.
One-third of Nigeria's 1967 production and one-half of her
reserves were located here. This made the Midwest a
desirable property for both sides.(12)
At 3 a.m. on August 9, a 100 vehicle column (about 1000
men) crossed the Onitsha Bridge over the Niger River. Within
hours Rebel troops occupied the Midwest captial of Benin,
while others had fanned out towards Okene (see Map IV) in the
north, Owo, also north, and Sapele and Warri to the south.
The takeover was facilitated by an insurrection of Ibo-led
troops in the region and few shots were actually fired.
Evidence is strong that Federal military leaders of Ibo
origin secretly collaborated with the Biafrans, providing
intelligence on Federal troop dispositions and coordinating a
revolt from Nigeria in conjunction with the offensive.(13)
As a result, operational security and surprise were achieved.
The inital success of the raids, coupled with an August 11
air attack on Lagos, had a devastating psychological effect
on the Federal side.
In compensation for the tremendous security surrounding
the operation, the Biafrans delayed the formation of their
brigade-sized task force, conducted no rehersal and even
withheld appointment of the task force commander until the
day before the attack.(14) This demonstrated a lack of
appreciation for the necessity of building teamwork and
cohesion in military units and entered several unknowns into
the Midwest operational equation.
a. Lieutenant Colonel Victor Banjo, a Yoruba, was
selected to be the operational commander for politcal
reasons rather than his military skills. There was a belief
that a non-Ibo leader would help gain Midwest and Western
support for the Biafran attack and in the end, help unite all
of the South against the North. This not withsanding, Banjo
ignored his principal objective, Lagos, and twice held up his
advance. At Benin he halted to "reorganize" his forces,
though they had not fired a shot. Time was lost in an
argument between Benin and Enugu over who was to be the new
governor of the region.(15) After three days the Rebels
advanced on to the west before stopping at Ore. Forgeting
that their success depended on speed, the Biafrans were
hesitant to face the uncertainty of continued advance.(16)
Lack of agrresive leadership and unity of purpose resulted
in a two week delay after which the Rebels lost the
b. The shock of the invasion and the lack of discipline
displayed by Biafran soldiers produced adverse results. The
support expected for the Midwest Ibo did not materialize as
expected, and the negative reaction by non-Ibo in the Midwest
and West was far worse than anticipated. It evidenced a
political blindness in the Biafran leadership akin to their
military shortcomings. John de St. Horre notes that this
political blindness was "too often repeated to be a chance
c. The political "wheeling and dealing" that took place
in Benin over control of the region, at the expense of
military objectives, lent a suspicious cast to the Biafran
leadership. The motives and actions of all officers became
suspect because of the rumor of "saboteurs" within the
leadersip.(18) This prejudgement severely hampered command
and control in Biafra thereafter and is discussed in Chapter
d. The Biafrans probably lacked the capability to
conduct such an offensive operation. In his book, Reluctant
Rebel, Fola Oyewole details the lack of preparation for the
Midwest offensive by his company. Here is a summary of one
episode. Upon his return from a battalion field exercise, he
was ordered to form a new company at Onitsha. He delivered
his car and possessions to family members in that city and
reported immediately to his battalion. Within hours he moved
to the Midwest. His unit's mission was the capture of the
army barracks at Ugbelli. With an officer cadet as his
executive officer and no experienced noncommissioned
officers, the company was bused to the objective area. Ten
miles from Ugbelli, he stopped the column and provided a
short briefing, though he was without intelligence or
reconnasissance. Fortunately there was no opposition at the
objective. Even so, the untrained and undisciplined troops
engaged in sporatic firing which resulted in one wound.(19)
Such episodes illustrate just how unprepared the Rebels were
for the war. The vehicles used for the attack included
homemade armored cars, farm trucks and passenger cars. The
Biafran soldiers were poorly equipped, and many were without
uniforms. They were lucky to meet only token resistance from
the few Federal Forces.
From the Federal side, the Midwest Invasion achieved one
significant result. It broke the complacency surrounding the
Federal war effort, and unified the ojectives of Lagos, the
West and the North. The entire country was intimidation by
the aggressiveness of the Eastern Ibo and the response was
immediate. In a demand for Federal action, anti-Ibo riots
broke out in Lagos and Ibadan. A dawn-to-dusk curfew was
imposed at Ibadan, and troops and armored cars presented a
show of force in Lagos to buoy public confidence.
Militarily, the reaction was more substantive. A war
cabinet was formed in Lagos. Remaining Federal forces
operating in the Midwest fell back to blocking positions,
most notably to the south of Ore about 120 miles from Lagos
on the overland axis of advance from Benin. There they were
reinforced by a company of Federal Guards from Lagos. A new
unit, 2 Division, commanded by then Lieutenant Colonel
Murtala Mohammed, sent its 7 Brigade to Ore, while the 6 and
8 Brigades were placed on the northern border of the Midwest
to occupy the Biafran's right flank.
Lagos must have been reminiscent of Paris and her taxis
during the first battle of the Marne. Ground wagons and red-
and-silver buses delivered soldiers from Lagos to the front.
Six hundred soldiers were recalled from Bonny, and 500 more
were moved by rail from Kaduna in the north. The war in the
north of Biafra slowed as attention and resources were drawn
to overcome the threat in the Midwest. Nigeria's leading
playwright, Wole Soyinka, observed that "the short, surgical
police action is being conducted with blunt and unsterile
By mid-August, blown bridges and their own hesitation
had stopped the Biafrans. The very factor which had hampered
the Federal offensive earlier, long lines of communcations,
now was a problem for the Rebels. A small force from the
beginning, it was stretched too far to withstand the growing
Abruptly, the Rebel offensive ended as the Federals took
the initiative. After a single, fierce, battalion-level,
infantry battle at Foriku, just south of Ore, Biafran
resistance faded into an "accelerating retreat" characterized
by minor delaying actions, blown bridges and cratered
roads.(21) The two northern brigades were in a race to
outflank the Biafrans and cut off their retreat to the Niger
River Bridge at Onitsha. In their haste, the Biafrans left
behind many soldiers who did not receive word to withdraw and
were consequently captured. Benin was evacuated days before
the Federals arrived. The remnants of the invading force
crossed the Niger Bridge at Onitsha, blowing two spans in
their passing. The destruction of the bridge, a giant
edifice commemorative of Nigerian progress, was symbolic of a
final isolation for Biafra and a new and deadlier phase of
From the Midwest Invasion the Biafrans had hoped to show
the world that they were a legitimate power deserving of
international recognition; instead the foray ended with
disaster. The Rebels gained some food, materiel, and the
assets of the Bank of Benin which were expropriated in the
occupation. But the losses far overshadowed those minor
a. The Federals declared all out war, launching the
first air strikes of the war at Enugu, Onitsha, Port Harcourt
and Calabar among others.(22)
b. The Biafrans removed the buffer of the midwest
state. All sympathy in the South was lost as non-Ibo became
pro-Federals. Additionally, the blockade became more
effective as trade that had flourished in the Niger died.(23)
c. The loss of resources, men and materiel, in the
Midwest hastened the fall of Enugu. The withdrawal of these
assets had weakened the defense of the northern region. When
these forces did not return and the Federals resumed their
advance with a rekindled fervor, the early fall of the
Biafran capital was assured.(24)
d. Finally, the initiative was surrendered to the
Federals. With the offensive they initiated in mid-August,
the Federals began to display their superiority. The
conflict slowed to the plodding war of attrition that would
continue for over two years. The norther border was closed
by the Nigerian 1 Division, the Midwestern Region had been
clearly by 2 Division, and the Navy had blockaded most of the
sea approaches. The Cameroons had closed their rugged border
in June 1967, and the noose was slowly tightened by the
THE WAR DEVELOPS
(October 1967-August 1968)
The Biafrans had gambled on taking the initiative away
from the Federal forces. Pushed back across the Niger River
after the abortive Midwest invasion, they had lost any chance
of victory and had spurred the Nigerians into action. The
Federal response was a three-pronged offensive from the
north, the west and the south, while they methodically
tightened their blockade. The result was the isolation of
Biafra and the gradual collapse of the Rebel state into a
smaller and smaller enclave.
The Influence of Gowon. The deliberateness of the
Nigerian effort was indicative of the character of the
Federal leader, now Major General Yakubu "Jack" Gowon. This
occurred despite the fact that personally Gowon was atypical
of the people he led. Born into a Methodist minister's
family in 1934, Gowon was a Christian from a minority tribe
in the predominantely Moslem north. He was educated in
Nigeria and received military training in the British-
operated Officer Training School at Teshire, Ghana and at
Eton Hall and the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst in
England. He and his counterpart on the Rebel side, Ojukwu,
had similar military backgrounds.
Both were commissioned in the Army in 1957 and served
with the United Nations Force in the Congo. After staff
college in Camberley, England, Gowon was promoted to
Lieutenant Colonel in 1963. In 1965 he attended the Joint
Services Staff College in England, returning to Nigeria two
days before the first coup of January 15, 1966; his absence
from Nigeria may actually have saved his life. In any event,
Major General ironsi took power and appointed him Chief of
Staff of the Nigerian Army. In the aftermath of the July
1966 counter-coup, Gowon was a compromise selection to head
Nigeria though he apparently was not involved in the coup.
Where Ojukuw was outgoing, openly ambitious and
charismatic, Gowon was more sedate. A man of slight stature,
Gowon was trim, dapper and polished. He radiated little of
the fire and exhibited none of the clever intelligence of his
adversary; but Gowon was stable, serious and determined. He
had the talents to hold together and orchestrate the wartime
administration of the emerging power engaged in a bitter
civil war. This General Gowon did under the intensive
scrutiny and criticism of the international media, yet he
displayed insight that tinged his leadership with
Lincolnesque qualities.(1) His moderation is regarded as
possibly the greatest single asset that he brought to the
war.(2) There was no panic in his headquarters, and Gowon
let his field commanders run their operations with little
intervention. In fact, his visits to the fronts were
virtually nonexistant; he depended on radio and telephone
contact for information.(3)
Gowon was sensitive to the fear of genocide in the Ibo
and to the necessity of rebuilding the country when the war
ended. He issued a code of conduct for the military. He
refused to authorize any awards for the conduct of the Civil
War. Finally, General Gowon invited a team of international
observers to the front to appraise the conduct of Federal
Gowon balanced his understanding of the long term
aspects of his policies with a resolve which demonstrated his
comprehension of the short range needs of Nigeria to conduct
war. He gradually built up his forces and arms rather than
immediately acquiring armaments and munitions in bulk, thus
avoiding morgaging his country's furture.(5) Additionally,
once he decided that siege warfare was the best method to
secure victory, he applied the blockade and did not waiver
under the intense international pressure to allow mass relief
operations into Biafra. Regardless of whether his position
was morally right or wrong (considering the people who died
of starvation), Gowon maintained the commitment necessary to
direct his country througout the war and the insight to
reunite it when peace arrived.
1 Division Operations. The unit that most reflected
Gowon's cautious resolve was 1 Division which fought in the
north of the Eastern Region. Containing the bulk of the
remaining Nigerian regular prewar army, the division applied
renewed pressure around Enugu after the Midwest offensive.
Enugu's importance went beyond the fact that it was the
Biafran capital: it was a coal mining and steel town which
lay on the only railroad into the Eastern Region. As a
captial, the city had symbolic value; but as an industrial
center, it represented a major asset to the Biafran war
Characteristic of 1 Division, detailed planning and
preparation went into the operational concept for the Enugu
assault. 1 Brigade was tasked with capturing Enuku; it had
seven battalions (1000 men each) with another 1000 men
available as individual replacements. The first brigade was
tasked with capturing Enuku. The plan called for a two axes
advance from Nsukka to Nine Mile Corner and Eka, followed by
a single axis movement to Enugu.(6)
On September 10, 1967 the Rebels launched a pre-emptive
counter-attack in which they introduced their own armored
personnel carriers, pre-World War II French vehicles called
"Red Devils." Slow and bulky, the "Red Devils" were
particularly vulnerable to antitank weapons, and the attack
quickly stalled.(7) Two days later the Federal attack
renewed. It was a deliberate process as the Federals met the
typical Rebel rear guard delaying action. Obstacles were
created using craters, trenches and debris, and progress was
futher hampered by well planned covering fires on the
The shelling of Enugu commenced on September 26th and
continued sporatically, but in volume, until the city was
taken on October 4th.(8) The serious fighting occurred on
October 1st when Nine Mile Corner was captured by the
Nigerians. The dominant high ground, Millikin Hill, was
controlled after weak resistance as the Biafran support base
fled from Enugu and the soldiers, isolated, soon followed.(9)
The Federals had clearly demonstrated their superior
firepower with the capture of Enugu. The relatively
extensive artillery preparation was the key to capturing the
city. However, the psychological damage done by, and
resources diverted to, the loss in the Midwest (which was
cleared at the end of September by the Nigerians) can not be
overlooked as factors in the defeat at Enugu. Additionally,
Lieutenant Colonel Banjo and three others held responsible
for the Midwest debacle were executed by the Biafrans on
September 24th, feeding the suspicion of the Biafran populace
The fall of Enugu highlights several problems which were
to haunt the Biafrans throughout the war:
a. The tremendous shortages of food and materiel were
exacerbated by the support base which the Biafrans developed.
Administrative directorates, completely civilianized, were
responsible for providing services to military units. For
instance, the food directorate set up kitchens behind the
lines. These cookhouses prepared food which was moved to the
troops for consumption. Throughout the war, as at Enugu,
when the Army was forced to withdraw, the kitchens were
disassembled and reestablished several days later in a safer
location. Meanwhile, the troops were without food for days
as they continued to fight.(10) By the end of 1967 the Army
formed the Biafran Army Service Corps (BASC) to help with
food distribution and other support requirements, but the
BASC often engaged in petty arguments with the directorates
over control of resources. Many of these disputes required
personal intervention by Ojukuwu and clearly showed a lack of
logistics awareness and unity of purpose in the Biafra war
b. Disorganization is also apparent in the way that
reserves were thrown pell mell into battle when the situation
was desperate. Time and again, the Federals would attack and
overwhelm their objective; thus, the Biafrans would
frantically mobilize every available resource and try to
reverse an already lost cause. At Enugu, it was the
formation and deployment of the "S" Brigade, raised to
recapture the city from the Federals. This brigade continued
resistance at Enugu for weeks until it was outflanked and
forced to withdraw. The lesson here is that the Biafran
leadership did not fully consider its operational problems.
Fighting a defensive war, the superficial, obvious
preparations for battle were made. Defensive fortifications
with concrete bunkers, alternate positions and preplanned
ambushes were planned and emplaced. Yet the leadership did
not plan for the worst case. Consequently, hectic scrambling
occurred to regain lost positions when some degree of
realistic foresight and planning might have saved precious
resources and ensured more successes.
c. Perhaps the reason that the Biafrans did not
consider the worst was because discussion of such cases would
have cast suspicion on the planner as being a "saboteur."
Paranoia was rampant throughout Biafra. Even in official
channels, the truth, if disastrous, was avoided. After the
fall of Enugu, Biafran documents, books and press releases
were identified as originating from "Enugu." Umuahia, where
the govenment moved from Enugu, was called the "Administra-
tive Center," a euphemism for capital, and Port Harcourt
later was said to be "disturbed" instead of captured.(11)
Ultimately, the air of suspicion and the lack of reality in
the precautions of the government hindered the military
capacity and caused thousands of civilian deaths.
The Federals also demonstrated patterns which were to
follow them through the rest of the war.
a. Their long lines of communications, dependence on
artillery bombardment (which required massive resupply
efforts) and reliance of armored personnel carriers to lead
combat formations, initially tied them to over-the-road
movements. This was especially true since they started the
war in the rainy season. Soon their supply lines were
overextended. This may have been a major factor for the
deliberateness of 1 Division operations. After their
cautious movement during combat, they took six months to
resupply and reorganize before their next operations.
b. The Federals did not capitalize on the use of
infantry tactics. Systemic is the word one author used to
define every Federal operation. The saturation shelling which
preceeded Federal assaults left the soldiers with little to
do other than walk-in and mop-up the various objectives.(12)
This meant that the inexperienced troops gained minimally
from each successive operation. It also allowed for greater
civilian casualties, especially as the war continued, and the
Biafrans were squeezed into smaller and smaller areas.
c. Lastly, Enugu once more pointed out shortcomings in
the Federal intelligence capabilities. At the outbreak of
the war, the Federals had inaccurately predicted the Biafran
capacity to wage war and had planned a short "police action."
The Midwest Invasion had caught them by surprise, and when
retaking Benin, Federal forces barraged the city even though
the Biafrans had vacated the premises days before.(13) At
Enugu, 1 Division did not realize in their caution that
pursuit of the disorganized, retreating Biafrans, and the
destruction of the Rebel force which was then possible, might
have brought a rapid conclusion to the civil war.(14)
2 Division Operations. Things were not all one-sided on
the northern front. At Onitsha, the Federal 2 Division was
bogged down. Its continuous setbacks there were one of the
major failures of the Nigerian Army in the war. The green,
untrained and poorly led 2 Division offered a marked contrast
to 1 Division.
Thrown together in the heat of the Midwest Invasion, 2
Division got a false sense of its own and Biafran
capabilities as the Rebel forces melted away in the
Midwestern Region under slight pressure. Securing the Region
by the end of September, the Division Commander, then Colonel
Murtala Mohammed, prepared for his next operation--the
capture of Onitsha on the Biafra side of the Niger River.
Onitsha was important because it was a commercial center with
the largest market in West Africa. Denial of access to these
resources would seriously reduce Biafran logistical
capabilities. Additionally, securing a bridgehead on the
east bank of the Niger at Onitsha would shorten Nigerian
lines of communications with Lagos. Even with the Niger
River Bridge down, waterborne movement from the main road on
the western side would greatly reduce transit time for
replacements and supplies into the Eastern Region. Finally,
Onitsha marked the route into the Ibo heartland and therefore
would take the war to traditional tribal home. The
possible psychological gain was great.
All available ferry boats in the country were collected
at Asaba on the western side of the river, and limited
special training was conducted on river crossing operations.
The Army and Supreme Headquarters advised against the opposed
river crossing, recommending instead that 2 Division should
transit the Niger unopposed, north at Idah and then attack
overland to Onitsha. Both staffs realized how complicated
this operation was for inexperienced troops with inadequate
equipment. The General Officer Commanding (GOC), Colonel
Mohammed, had his way. Onitsha was attacked with mortars and
artillery in preparation for the assault. On the night of
October 12, the Federals crossed in strength, established a
bridgehead and fanned out into the city with two armored
personnel carriers in the lead. Here, the conduct of the
The undisciplined soldiers became obsessed with
ransacking Onitsha for spoils, forgetting the need for
securing the bridgehead. The Biafrans, under Colonel Joe
Achuzie, counter-attacked; the Federals were surprised, out
of position and routed. Driven back to the river's edge, the
soldiers discovered that expected reinforcements and supplies
had not arrived because of the mechanical failure of the
follow-on support vessel. The 1000-man assault battalion was
decimated in their disorganization under the Rebel fire. In
this and other crossing attempts, drownings accounted for an
excessive number of losses, pinpointing the lack of detailed
training/rehearsals for the crossings.(15)
The second crossing was tried on September 28. It
failed when the Biafrans machinegunned the boats in the
water. By the time the third attempt came, demoralized 2
Division troops were on the verge of mutiny and chaos.(16)
The Division Commander then abandoned further river assaults
and executed the plan originally recommended by his higher
headquarters. He crossed the Niger unopposed at Idah which
was under Federal control and moved slowly to Onitsha in 1
Division territory. Planning and operational security were
poor, but the Rebels were overextended and could not redeploy
in sufficient numbers to counter the 2 Division attack.(17)
At the end of March 1968, six months after the first
abortive river crossing, Onitsha fell to a two-pronged
attack, one brigade closing from the north and another
conducting a river crossing over the Niger (near the original
sites). The battle only lasted five hours (18), belying the
difficulty the Federals experienced at Onitsha. The victory
was pyrrhic. 2 Division was demoralized and largely
ineffective as a combat orgainzation. It had difficulty
moving beyond Onitsha and clearing its sector. The road
between Onitsha and Enugu where 1 Division maintained its
headquarters was closed by Rebel activity until the last days
of the war. The Division later had to return elements to the
Midwest to counter recurring Rebel guerrilla activities in
that region. One strong Rebel raiding expedition in April
1968 took Asaba and briefly closed direct supply across the
Niger.(19) Such harassment with its drain on manpower
constantly degraded 2 Division capabilities on the eastern
side of the Niger.
Two final events starkly characterized 2 Division during
this period. First, soldiers of the Division massacred,
without apparent provocation, 300 Ibo men, women and children
who had gathered in Onitsha Cathedral to pray during the
city's seige. This brutal act typified the lack of
leadership, discipline and professionalism in 2 Division.
Such incidents solidified sentiments that the Federals wanted
to exterminate the Ibo, thus hardening the Ibo resolve to
The second incident occurred during resupply operations
for the battle at Onitsha. A division convoy of over 100
trucks, led by two armored cars, was ambushed by Colonel
Achuzie's forces at Abagana, a few miles northeast of
Onitsha. The armored vehicles sped away from the convoy when
it was ambushed, while the packed column provided a
spectacular target when a petroleum tanker went up in flames.
The fire swiftly spread through the convoy which was lost in
its entirety, including almost all the drivers and
escorts.(21) Once more poor planning, training and
discipline haunted 2 Division, as the whole supply column was
destroyed in one lucky ambush.
3 Marine Commando Division Operations. The war in the
south took on a different nature. Colonel Benjamin Adekunle
had obtained permission to redesignate his 3 Infantry
Division as 3 Marine Commando Division. This was based on
the unique role the unit had played up to that point in the
war, first with the amphibious assault at Bonny and then with
riverine operations to help clear the Midwestern Region. The
new division took on the special qualities of its GOC.
Colonel Adekunle, Age 29, was diminuative and aggressive,
known to be more daring than the other division commanders.
A staunch disciplinarian, Adekunle carried a golf club shaft
or bat which he used to prod soldiers under fire. Colonel
Adekunle apparently was able to get away with this because of
the universally accepted belief that he was fearless. He was
noted for personally leading his brigades into battle.(22)
Adekunle was dynamic and innovative in his plans and
operations. In early October 1967, he put these traits to
use as 3 Marine Commando Division finalized preparations for
an amphibious assault of Calabar. Calabar was the eastern
most port on the Biafra coastline. Through it, small
quantities of materiel were still shipped into the region.
Calabar also lay on the remaining passible road to the
Cameroons. By capturing Calabar, the Federals would
interdict all land routes into Biafra and control the entire
coast, thus cutting off the secessionists from the rest of
the world except by air and telex.
A garrison of 1000 men was left at Bonny to defend the
island, whiel the rest of the division, six battalions of 500
men each, loaded out naval shipping for the assault of
Calabar. It is important to note that this operation took
all of the Federal naval force, leaving Bonny weakly
supported. The Rebels later attacked and overwhelmed the
Federal garrison which was pushed to a perimeter on the
waterline before adequate relief arrived in early 1968.
Adekunle and the headquarters at Lagos had been willing to
take this risk, because of the additional front opening at
Calabar. The total of five fronts (Bonny, Onitsha, Enugu,
the Northeast, and Calabar) significantly overextended the
already strained resources of the weaker Biafrans. By this
reasoning and their comprehension of the import of the naval
blockade, the Federal leadership demonstrated its superior
grasp of strategic issues.
One battalion of Biafran infantry was defending both
Calabar, to the east of the Cross River inlet, and Oron to
the west of the inlet.(23) Adekunle ignored the company-
sized Oron contingent and attacked near Calabar to seize that
city. After a naval bombardment interspersed with aerial
bombing and strafing, the Federal's lone tank landing ship,
the NNS Lokoja, debarked one battalion in late morning.
Resistance in the form of small arms fire was soon overcome.
The Lokoja embarked another battalion which it delivered to
an adjacent beach head that afternoon. The two battalions
proceeded on separate axes into Calabar. Fighting was
spirited and confused by pro-Federal snipers. Several
sources stated that Federal troops were infiltrated into
Calabar disquished as fishermen and later created havoc.(24)
Hand-to-hand fighting occurred in the streets and heavy
civilian casualties resulted. The defending battalion (-)
was reduced to 350 men by the end of the first day and 200
men on the second day (25) when the Federals landed a third
battalion. The old slave port fell to the Nigerians on
October 19, as the Biafrans were simply overwhelmed by a
The capture of Calabar was followed by a one month
consolidation period as 3 Marine Commando Division found how
difficult reorganization and resupply of an amphibious beach-
head were to accomplish. At night Rebel snipers engaged
Federal targets, and the lone Biafran B-25 attacked Federal
activity during the day.(26)
Meanwhile, white mercenaries were introduced to the
ground battle on the Biafran side. Led by a Frenchman, Roger
Faulques, a contingent of about 50 foreigners saw action at
the Dunlop Rubber Plantation just north of Calabar. They
soon discovered the situation in Nigeria was unlike their
Congolese experiences. They lost several comrades and their
taste for fighting quickly. Faulques recommended retreat to
the western side of the Cross River, and the remnants of the
Biafran battalion soon set up riverline defensive positions
on the other side. The surviving mercenaries soon left
Biafra for safer environs.(27)
With resistance gone, the Federals linked up with
Federal elements from Ikom to seal off the Cameroon border
and complete the encirclement of Biafra.
The Calabar operation showed the diverse capabilities of
the Federal forces. Even moreso, it put the spotlight on the
imaginative and dynamic Colonel Adekunle. He proved skillful
and courageous in the assault of the town, landing on the
first day to lead the forward units. His operational concept
was pertinent and gave a quick foothold to the Federals.
Unfortunately, the offensive bogged down as the Federals
consolidated. They allowed the surviving Biafrans to
establish themselves on the western banks of the Cross River
and grow from battalion size into a brigade and later a task
force division.(28) Since the heavily forested southeastern
region severely limited mobility and dictated river crossing
points, this was a serious mistake. The predictability of
options reduced the potential for surprise or success and
resulted in heavy Federal losses as early attempts at
crossing failed.(29) Making the same mistakes in the east as
at Onitsha, the Federals found that the riverline defense
greatly favored the Biafrans in opposed encounters,
especially when proper equipment and well trained troops were
unavailable. Later the Federals gained a foothold using a
canoe-borne assault and a fording operation further
down-river. After consolidating, they rapidly pushed the
On the Biafran side, they learned how flexible the
Federals could be, as they were once again surprised by an
amphibious landing. They also were subjected to the
possibility that the minority tribes in their territory were
not firmly on their side. They had earlier suspected this,
but the sniping and open-armed acceptance of the Federals by
the residents of Calabar further confirmed this suspicion.
Lastly, the Biafrans received an object lesson in the fact
that mercenaries would not be their salvation. They did
employ many for their airlift, but only a few, most notably
Rolf Steiner, who was responsible for forming 4 Commando
Brigade, were used for ground operations.
Both sides turned their attention to the tightening
pressure. The Biafrans were fighting a desperate defensive
war, while the Federals looked to the offensive. Their next
major target was Port Harcourt. The Rebel losses of Enugu,
Calabar, and later Onitsha, left Port Harcourt, with its
airport, oil processing facilities and businesses (including
department stores), as the only remaining Biafran major urban
center, and the sole link to the outside world for the
Adekunle had started planning for the attack on Port
Harcourt while his division was still clearing hte
southeastern state. His plan called for a three-pronged
attack from the Cross River to Port Harcourt. Materiels and
men were built up at Opobo on the coast to support the
operation. Before the division was ready, an abortive
amphibious assault was attempted by 15 Brigade, the unit
formed around the garrison that Adelunke had left at Bonny.
The Brigade proved too weak to challenger the Port Harcourt
defense and was crushed. the Biafrans cut off future
amphibious attempts by pumping crude oil into the Bonny
Channel and setting it on fire.
The Rebels frantically watched the unchecked advance of
Federal columns from the west. Colonel Joe Achuzie, who
enjoyed some success at Onitsha, moved to Port Harcourt to
organize the defense. He was unable to rally the dispirited
Rebels as the Federals moved through the surrounding mangrove
swamps and brush to isolate the city. On May 16, 1968, the
artillery and mortar bombardment began.
The shelling of Port Harcourt saw a first in the civil
war. Colonel Adekunle allowed a corridor through which
civilians could escape the seige. Whether his intent was
humanitarian or not is unknown, but within a few hours of the
bombardment's start, traffic was backed up 15 miles.(31). The
defense of Port Harcourt was just as disorganized and
haphazard as the evacuation.
The occupation of Port Harcourt was anti-climatic. By
May 18 it had fallen, and the Federals continued on. First
they secured the local sector with riverline operations and
then drove north to Owerri and Aba. By September 16 both had
been captured, and Biafra was reduced to one fourth of its
The war was now confined to the Ibo heartland. Air-
lifted supplies were temporarily halted with the loss of the
Port Harcourt Airport until alternate fields became opera-
tional. Peace talks, an on again, off again phenomenon
throughout the war, slowed down as a surrender announcement
war expected.(32) The Biafran Navy and Air Force ceased to
exist for the moment. The militia was disbanded.
The Federals sensed the war was almost over. The desire
to reduce friendly casualties was shown in the pattern of
heavy artillery preparations that characterized the advance
from Port Harcourt to Aba. The relative superior firepower
was used the "soften up" the Biafrans who were forced to move
from their defenses under intense bombardments. The Federals
then moved slowly into the vacated positions, occasionally
"...leaving ojectives(s) empty as a sort of no-man's land for
But the war would not end in 1968. The Federals never
truly understood the fear that embraced the Ibo; equally
important, they did not realize that Charles deGaulle would
chose Biafra as a surrogate to challenge the level of
Britain's influence in Western Africa. Thus the war
Understanding the nature of the Nigerian Civil War
requires review of the special qualities that allowed the
Biafrans to wage war for two and a half years even though
they were outnumbered, outgunned and isolated from the world
except by a tenuous airlift. On reflection, the character is
not all positive, but it still bears examination.
Much of the national character of the Biafrans is
revealed through the actions of their leader Major General
Chukuwuemeka ("Emeka") Odumegwu Ojukwu. Intelligent,
ambitious and resolute, Ojukwu displayed the traits commonly
attributed to the Ibo as a tribe. An Ibo born in 1933,
Ojukwu was the son of one of Nigeria's most wealthy
entrepreneurs, a man who converted a few used trucks into a
giant transport business. His family's position made it
possible for Ojukwu to be educated in England, first at Epson
College for secondary school and then Lincoln College,
Oxford, for a bachelors degree in modern history. But when
he returned to Nigeria, Ojukwu forsook the family business
and went into the civil service. In 1957 Ojukwu entered the
military and was caught in the rapid Nigerianization. He was
promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1964 and was serving as the
5 Battalion Commander at Kano in January 1966 when the first
Although no military officer in Nigeria was completely
untouched by the politization that occupied the Army after
independence, Ojukwu managed to avoid open involvement in the
coups. He remained loyal to General Ironsi after the first
coup attempt and shortly thereafter was rewarded with an
appointment as Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria. In this
position, Ojukwu emerged as the leader of the Ibo. Said a
former Secretary in the Biafra Govenment, Raph Uwechue, "It
is sad but instructive irony that Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu
Ojukwa, one of Africa's one-time most brilliant political
promises, was the man that led his own people with such a
lack of ingenuity into what was clearly a foreseeable
The tragedy was built on Ojukwu's inflexibility and the
resultant inability to effect compromise on the political
side. He fueled the disaster with his ambition, desire and
ability to control the situation in Biafra. Ojukwu was
fighting a war within the Civil War, as he struggled to keep
and consolidate his position of leadership. And the tragedy
was prolonged and insured by the divisive actions Ojukwu used
to maintain his position of power. These methods had
particular impact on the capabilities of the Biafran Army.
Based on his military training and experience, Ojukwu
should have understood the complexity and difficulty of
establishing a cohesive fighting force in the Eastern Region.
Instead he alienated the military and rendered the leadership
ineffective through a series of intimidating acts and
witchhunts to find "the guilty" after tactical failures. The
former is best seen in how Ojukwu handled his first Army
Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hilary Njoku who returned to
Eastern Nigeria with other native Easterners after the July
1966 Coup. Soon Njoku and the other Army leadership were
distressed at the lack of policy direction in the region.
Either efforts were needed to negotiate the peace, or
preparations for war had to begin. These officers met with
Ojukwu, but their fears were not allayed by Ojukwu's
arguments. He demonstrated his ruthlessness and his modus
operandi in the way he preempted the potential threat to his
power by these military officers.
In a few hours during the evening, he had the
parents and relatives of Lt. Col. Njoku brought to
Enugu. He also sent for leading personalities, men
and women carefully selected, as well as bishops
and chiefs. Before them he blandly accused Njoku
of plotting to overthrow him by force. Not that he
cared about himself, he said with emotion, but only
for the disaster and tragedy that such a move would
bring to the people of Eastern Nigeria, particu-
larly the Ibos, for whom he was fighting! Women
began to weep and invoke everything against any
person concealing such an evil idea. The bishops
began to pray solemnly. Njoku was bereft of words.
Activity continued during the whole night and the
following day, mainly by bishops and some selected
leaders. Njoku had to give promises and under-
takings, both orally and in writing, never to do
anything to disrupt the government. But the
Governor could not take chances. With Njoku in the
country and about, he could not feel comfortable or
safe. He therefore decided that Njoku must leave.
An excuse for this was not difficult to find.
Njoku had been with the former Supreme Commander in
Ibadan when the latter was abducted by the army.
He was wounded but managed to escape. His bones
needed treatment and this was a good enough reason
for sending him to Britain. Immediately Njoku had
gone, the Governor reorganised the army by
splitting Njoku's former responsibilities and
making himself the over-all commander. In order to
create rivalry among the senior officers he
promoted Imo, Njoku and Effiong to the rank of
Brigadier with the same seniority. By accident or
design, Njoku returned to Eastern Nigeria about the
very day on which the civil war started. He was
given charge of the fighting but under the over-all
control of the Military Governor. Even thus, he
was not to last very long.(2)
Njoku did not last long because of the paranoia that
permeated the Ibo mentality. At once this mindset was the
key to the strength of the Biafran defense and simultaneously
a factor in destroying the secession from within. The Ibo
were so driven to protect themselves that they developed the
attitude that they could not lose. They perceived the threat
of extermination of the tribe as so real that any weakness or
flaws in the defense of the Eastern Region was unthinkable.
When military setbacks occurred, scapegoats had to be and
were found. Instead of realizing obvious facts--that men
armed only with rifles could be overwhelmed by armored
columns; that the Federals had superiority in terms of
manpower and firepower--the Biafran's believed that
"saboteurs" caused military reverses. This phenomenon, begun
when Ojukwu as Governor warned the Easterners in late 1966 to
be on the vigil for traitors, infiltrators and even the
indifferent, (3) caused the downfall of Njoku and other
The loyalty of every officer, save Ojukwu, was question-
able, a situation that seemed to stem also from a distrust
generated of those officers who initiated the first coup.
Once the first blood flowed, all Nigerians became suspicious,
and they lost confidence in the Officer Corps. The list of
examples of the result is endless. Here are a few:
a. With the early loss of Opi Junction in the
North, Colonel Okon, the local commander was demoted and
removed from the Army (he was reinstated later).(4)
b. When the town of Oron fell, the defending brigade
commander, Colonel I.N. Aniebo, was identified as the
scapegoat and disgraced.(5)
c. As the Federals shelled the capital of Enugu,
remaining civilians were adamant in their belief that Biafran
Army "saboteurs" were firing the rounds. Soldiers had to be
sent from the lines to check the stories so Nioku's
replacement, Colonel A.A. Madiebo, would not be thought a
collaborator.(6) Madiebo also tells of having the brief every
civilian who came to his headquarters with questions to avoid
the start of rumors that he was concealing information.(7)
d. At the loss of the critical airport and oil
facilities at Port Harcourt, Colonel O. Kalu was accused of
collaboration with the enemy.(8)
e. Captain Nweka, 53 Battalion Commander, returned from
a reconnaisance at Amadim and was executed for sabotage after
being accused of collaborating with the enemy.(9)
The last example is the extreme case. Usually, officers
were beaten, imprisoned and had their heads shaved when
accused of sabotage. This was not a practice limited to the
military, but it had grave effects on the Army's ability to
function. The constant turnover of officers resulted in a
continual drain of experience and a failure to develop
cohesion and unit integrity.
Ojukwu found other ways to make the Army impotent as a
rival to his power. These further diluted the unified
direction of his armed forces. Ojukwu played the civilians
off against the military. He formed special units which
reported directly to him, usurping the role of his military
commanders. Moveover, Ojukwu established directorates to
control the logistical aspects of the war efforts, thus
creating a rivalry not only with the military but also with
the existing civil service.
There is also evidence that most Biafrans considered
their men as "fighters" instead of "soldiers" because they
viewed warfare naively as inter-village free-for-alls.(10)
Because of this, Ojukwu was able to pit the civilians against
the military. As he stated:
It has all along been my conviction that it is the
civilians who will fight and win this war and not
the soldiers. From all that has happened already,
it would be foolish to expect the soldiers to
satisfy the aspirations of this new republic.(11)
These words to his strategic committee prefaced later actions
which contradicted his military training, especially con-
sidering the British influence on his development. Ojukwu
had called on volunteers to come and defend Enugu. As the
Biafran leader commented:
Nothing can frighten professional soldiers more
than the sight of civilian masses confront them.
They will kill them no doubt, but will soon be
tired. That is the tactics adopted in the Asian
countries. China for instance. I have got brought
down to Enugu thousands of civilians from all over
the Republic. The aim is to throw them in in
masses against the enemy who would thereby be
confused and frightened by the prospect of mowing
down thousands of civilians and incurring world
Armed primarily with machetes (and a few shotguns)
Ojukwu's "fighters" were trucked to the front and reformed.
They marched off into the night chanting war songs and
screaming. After a brief advance, the Federals unleashed a
great volley of shells. All activity stopped, and the
formation melted into the night.(13) Ojukwu never repeated
such a move.
He did, however, form special purpose military units.
The first was the "S" (for special) Brigade. This brigade
was organized from volunteer militia to retake Enugu.
Lacking experienced leadership and poorly organized, the "S"
Brigade was not able to reverse the loss of the capital by
bolstering the regular forces. It was retained afterward as
the Governor's special unit and was given his personal
attention as well as a higher priority of support. As with
many "elite" forces, its existence and priority created
jealousy in the regular forces. Eventually, Ojukwu had to
merge the "S" Brigade into the regular army to eliminate the
command and control problems that its special status created.
The same problem existed later with 4 Commando Brigade.
Commanded by Rolf Steiner, an ex-Hitler youth, ex-French
Foreign Legion mercenary, the Commando Brigade was originally
organized to conduct guerrilla warfare operations behind
Federal lines. As with the "S" Brigade, Ojukwu gave the
Commando's special attention and priority supply support.
When the Commando Brigade proved successful in guerrilla
operations, it was expanded. Despite protests, Ojukwu later
pressed it into service in a conventional role. Its losses
were excessively heavy, and it lost its previous effective-
ness. Jealousies which had developed in the Regular Force
found the opportunity to be vented, and Steiner was forced
out of command. He was escorted to Uli Airfield and flown
out of the country.
Despite the existence of a civil service, at the start
of the war Ojukwu created administrative directorates as
caretakers of the civilian population and the military
efforts. These directorates controlled civil defense, the
militias, propaganda, military intelligence, food distri-
bution, food production, fuel, medical supplies, transport,
requisition and supply, and clothing.(14) Their directors
supplanted the ministers and departments of government,
further dividing the war effort. The civil service was
subordinated and embarrassed. Likewise, when the supply and
transport organization was added to the mlitary inventory, it
openly battled the directorates for control of important
resources. Often these "turf battles" had to be resolved by
Ojukwu, and the predictability of his decisions made the
directors powerful men in the Biafran ruling structure.
The cumulative effect of these special units and
extra-organizational control groups divided the direction of
the war effort. They took authority away from those most
responsible for fighting the war--the military--and
institutionalized Ojukwu's actions to mitigate any potential
political opposition by producing a fragmented power
structure that answered only to him. This resulted in an
inefficient support system that barely capitalized on
Biafra's interior lines of communication when the Federal
effort lacked coordination. Once the Nigerian Federals
finally coordinated their three pronged attack, the Biafran
disorganization was incapable of response, and the
secessionists were crushed. But the Federals took another
year to realize this potential, and the war slowly followed
TO THE END OF THE WAR
(September 1968-January 1970)
September 1968 was a dark time for Biafra. Federal
pressure continued on every front. The Rebels were cut off
from their major food producing areas, and the loss of Port
Harcourt forced them to rely on resupply through makeshift
air fields. At this stage of the war, Ojukwu announced a new
phase of the Biafran effort--guerrilla warfare. But the
change was half-hearted because promised French assistance
soon began in earnest with an average of over 20 tons of war
materiels arriving each night from French sources via
airlift.(1) This infusion of military aid buoyed Rebel hopes
and resulted in a renewed belief that they could still win
the civil war (or more accurately, legitimately establish the
Biafra Nation) through conventional means.
The Federals had captured the airstrip at Obilagwu and
on October 1, 1968 occupied Okigwi in the north with 1
Division units. 3 Marine Commando Division was spread across
a front of more than 100 miles in the south. The line
stretched from the Niger River on the west over the Cross
River on the east. Besides capturing Owerrri and Aba, the
Division continued pressure toward Umuahia, "The
Administrative Center," and Oguta which was only 10 miles or
so from the strategic Uli air strip. Federal operations, as
always, were preceded by relatively intensive artilley
preparations. Several days were taken to position every
available weapon, so that all could be fired together in a
display that the flamboyant Adekunle called, "...my own
The French support altered the balance of power. The
additional small arms, plus artillery, anti-armor weapons and
needed ammunition greatly bolstered the Biafrans. They
stopped the drive to Umuahia from the south and put the
Federals on the defensive at Onitsha.
An aggressive, brigade-sized riverine attack on Oguta
tested the Rebels on September 10. The Federal 15 Brigade
landed within 12 miles of Uli air strip and created a panic
among the Rebels. Emphasizing the criticality of the
situation, Ojukwu personally led the counter-attack to secure
the town and relieve pressure on Uli.(3) The Federal
attackers, faced with encirclement, withdrew back down the
The Rebels reverted to a frantic counter-offensive. By
the end of September, they had recaptured Ikot Ekpene and
were moving on Aba and Owerri at Christmas of 1968. The
Biafran Organization of Freedom Fighters (BOFF) was operating
throughout the region and in the Midwest, conducting
querrilla-type operations behind Federal lines; but their
successes were minimal. Fola Oyewole, a Biafran staff
officer, noted that by this time most Biafrans were
disillusioned with the struggle. The result was that many
who joined the BOFF were not committed to the cause and that
often Biafrans (Ibo) who remained in Federally occupied areas
did not cooperate with the BOFF.(4) The BOFF nonetheless had
the Federal's attention and the highly motivated regular
Rebel units (5) produced important changes in Federal
attitudes over the year and a half of war. They no longer
took midday siesta hours, and the war of ambush resulted in
disaster when vigilence faltered.(6)
French assistance did not completely alter the Rebel
situation. In December 1968 the International Committee of
the Red Cross estimated that 14,000 people were dying each
day in Biafra.(7) The December offensive against Owerri
continued and developed into a seige of the Federal 16
Brigade within the city. For at least six weeks the brigade
had to be resupplied by air, but large quantities of materiel
landed in enemy hands. The seige tightened until April 25,
1969 when the beleaguered Federal remnant successfully
executed a night withdrawal under pressure by slipping
through the Biafran lines.
The recapture of Owerri proved a major setback for the
Federals, second only to the repeated failures in crossing
the Niger River to take Onitsha. The loss damaged the
reputation of 3 Marine Commando Division and its aggressive
leader, Colonel Adekunle. The Federals also were dispirited
by the indiscriminate bombing tactics of their Air Force
which attacked non-military targets throughout Biafra.
In January and February 1969, the Nigerians stepped-up
their air strikes, especially on Umuahia; this signaled a
renewed offensive. Foreign correspondents personally
verified attacks on civilian targets and presented their
findings in the world-wide media. Such incidents rekindled
the fear of extermination among the Ibo people and damaged
Federal prestige abroad.
The April 25 loss of Owerri overshadowed the 1 Division
triumph in capturing the Rebel capital of Umuahia on April
22, 1969. The Federal advance, as normal along the roads,
had been difficult since the Rebels effectively deployed
French Panhard armored vehicles to menace the column.(8) But
the methodical traits of 1 Division again proved successful
as Umuahia fell, marking the final phase of the war. The
Biafrans were further disorganized as administrative elements
had to be spread around the country. No suitable single
place remained in which to establish a functional capital,
though Owerri became the new Administrative Center. Despite
the degradation of the Biafran infrastructure, the Federals
were unable to exploit the situation. They had problems of
Federal morale was low as political infighting among the
division commanders and staffs expanded. The lack of unity
of command had created problems of insufficient coordination
and inadequate logistical support. Colonel (later Major
General) Olusegun Obasanjo described the situation in his
memoir of the war:
The Federal victory in capturing Umuahia, the
next rebel administrative headquarters after Enugu,
was almost immediately effectively nullified by the
loss of Owerri to the rebels. The rebels,
strengthened and emboldened by their recapture of
Owerri, swiftly advanced southwards to threaten
Igritta, a distance of fifteen miles north of Port
Harcourt on the Owerri road. The federal
finger-tip hold on Aba was considerable weakened.
The morale of the soldiers at least of 3 Marine
Commando Division was at its lowest ebb. Desertion
and absence from duty without leave was rife in the
Division. The despondence and general lack of will
to fight in the soldiers was glaringly manifest in
the large number of cases of self-inflicted
injuries throughout the formation. Some officers
tacitly encouraged these malpractices and
unsoldierly conduct by condoning such acts or
withdrawing their own kith or kin or fellow
tribesmen to do guard durties in the rear and in the
officers' own houses. Distrust and lack of
confidence plagues the ranks of the officer corps.
Operations were unhealthily competitive in an
unmilitary fashion and officers openly rejoiced at
each other's misfortunes. With the restrictions
imposed by the Federal Military Government on many
items of imported goods and the country in the grip
of inflation, the civilian population began to show
signs of impatience with a war which appeared to
them unending. In fact, some highly placed
Nigerians started to suggest that the Federal
Government should sue for peace at all cost to
prevent the disaster that would befall it and its
supporters if rebel victory seemed imminent.(9)
Gowon heeded complaints and countercharges that staff
officers in Lagos were unresponsive to the field commanders
and that the field commanders had lost their initiative and
drive. He thus transferred all three division commanders to
staff positions, replaced them and redefined the missions of
the three divisions. On May 12, 1969 the changes were
announced. 2 Division withdrew from Onitsha and moved back
into the Midwestern Region to provide internal defense there
against BOFF guerrilla activity and defend on the west bank
of the Niger River. 1 Division took over the defense of
Onitsha and now had responsibility for the entire northern
sector, while 3 Marine Commando Division remained responsible
for the southern campaign in Eastern Nigeria.
By May 30, 1969, the tide again turned. Ojukwu had
taken personal command of all Biafra units, but the Rebels
were pushed back into an area of roughly 2000 square miles.
The Federal forces began coordinating their actions; however,
the rainy season and the first air attacks by Count Von
Rosen's Minicons (see the next chapter) slowed the Federal
advance. Even so, the war was virtually over. The arrival
of Soviet 122mm howitzers greatly improved Nigerian artillery
range and accuracy. Biafran desertions increased as the will
to resist diminished in the face of more disciplined Federal
Air Force bombing and strafing. The crumbling of the Biafran
infrastructure continued. After two years of war and
shortages of spare parts, vehicles were wearing out with a
resultant loss of transit capability. Even when resupply
occurred, distributing materiels to the front proved
Corruption by self-serving administrative officials
sapped the furor from the Biafran war effort, but one agency
stood apart even in this final part of the war. The research
and production (RAP) directorate was an innovative and
resourceful agency without which the Biafrans could not have
prosecuted the war. Composed of scientists and engineers
educated in Britain and the U.S., the RAP devised and built
portable oil refineries which produced gasoline with the heat
of wood fires, mortars from oil drilling equipment, and soap,
matches, and gin from available resources.(10) They
developed ground-to-ground and ground-to-air rockets which
proved useful at Calabar and Onitsha. The rockets were
electronically fired, area munitions launched from
especially-built stands; however, they sometimes wobbled in
flight and boomeranged, coming back to the fires.(11)
The most important weapon built was the Ogbunigwe (Ibo
for "destroyers of all"). These devices were also known as
"Ojukwu's kettles" and were the keystone of the Rebel
defense. They were made from available cooking pots filled
with locally-produced explosives and miscellaneous metal
products--nails, scrap iron or whatever else was on hand.
The Ogbunigwe were planted in the ground (or in road beds) or
abutted against trees and camouflaged. When suitable targets
arrived, the mines were command detonated. They produced a
tremendous explosion and proved immensely effective. Their
use alone often created enough damage to rout Federal
The ingenuity of the RAP was not enough to overcome the
superior might of the Federals. They reorganized their
divisions internally and applied pressure from both north and
south. The Federals gained steadily until November 1969 when
the Nigerian Army Chief of Staff ordered his forces "to
liberate what was left of the Rebel held areas."(12) Around
Christmas of 1969, powerful probes cut into Rebel held
territory. Instead of stopping to consolidate gains, the
Federals drove on, surprising and overwhelming the Biafrans.
Ojukwu flew out of Uli Air Strip in the early morning of
Jaunuary 11, 1970 after he and his staff decided not to revert
to guerrilla warfare. The war had ended by January 15, 1970
when Colonel Philip Effiong, who was left in charge,
announced the surrender. The end was so rapid and the
Biafrans so demoralized that further resistance did not
The end was anti-climatic. The Biafrans were exhausted
by hunger and had few medical facilities. They lacked the
clothing and individual equipment to combat the superior
weapons of their opponent. Most importantly, the Federals
benefited from personnel changes which produced better
generalship in the three divisions and brought the war to a
rapid close in the fashion expected when the war started.(13)
But the "quick kill in slow motion"(14) was expensive.
Estimates on the total number of deaths from the war range
from 500,000 to 2,000,000. There is no way of knowing with
certainty the exact number. The vast majority of fatalities,
however, were starvation casualties among Biafran civilians.
The Federals estimated in 1970 that the war cost them
$840 million.(15) Their economy slowed down but never
reached zero growth and regained momentum after the war.
Loss of oil revenue caused the stagnant economic condition.
However, the Federals rapidly transferred their oil
production emphasis to the Midwest and soon equalled their
The Biafrans were constantly in need of money for two
reasons. First, they lost their oil revenue (two thirds of
the total Nigerian production) early in the war,; hence, they
were denied the revenue to finance the war. The other reason
for their monetary shortage was that Nigeria converted her
currency during the war. The Biafrans confiscated millions
in Nigerian currency, but were unable to get most of it
exchanged during the brief conversion period. This rapid
reduction in capital in 1968 limited Biafra's ability to
purchase arms overseas. Beyond occasional purchases and
French aid, she depended on what she captured and what she
could invent. The industry and imaginations of her people
never matched the firepower of the Federals.
THE AIR WAR
The two most significant technological advances
introduced in the Nigerian Civil War were the extensive use
of modern artillery, particularly by the Federals, and the
impact of aviation on a disorganized, relatively unsophisti-
cated battlefield. The numbers of aircraft were slight in
comparison to what the United States used in Vietnam, and the
tactics were generally limited to interdictory bombing and
strafing with some close air support. Air-to-air combat
consisted essentially of attacks on bulky, outdated cargo
planes delivering relief supplies and armaments to Biafra.
Nonetheless, aircraft played a major role in making this
conflict a "modern" war. Both sides experienced the
introduction of an advanced degree of sophistication and
killing power and the immense psychological effect that
aerial bombing and strafing produced. We will look at the
Biafran side first.
The Rebel Air Force. The Biafrans had the first
aircraft used for offensive purposes. A World War II
vintage, American made B-26 bomber was obtained in Europe,
manned by a European crew, and flown from Lisbon to Enugu and
then on operational missions. The plane carried machine guns
and rockets which were outfitted on the plane in Enugu by
former Nigerian Air Force armorers.(1) It was initially used
to bomb and strafe attacking Nigerian formations, but soon
the Rebels took the war to the Federal heartland to show
their strength and determination.
With the B-26 and othe airplanes their agents in Lisbon
had procurred, the Biafrans turned to air raids on Lagos and
other towns. These seemed to have no specific target other
than inducing panic in the civilians; these attacks resulted
in haphazard patterns which primarily produced the desired
panic in the Nigerians. Several such raids caused a small
amount of property damage and a few civilian casualities; but
like the Midwest ground offensive, they served to awaken the
Nigerians from their lethargy and incensed the population.
Because the Federals did not immediately respond to the early
bombing raids, the Rebels misread their capabilities and
resolve. The lack of reaction reinforced the Rebel belief
(based on their knowledge of Federal military strength) that
the war would quickly end.
The small Biafran Air Force was overworked and soon wore
out. When a Fokker F-27 passenger plane equipped to drop
bombs was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Lagos in early
October 1967, Biafran offensive air operations were
essentially ended until the last year of the war. Another
noteworthy fact appeared; at least four of the crew of eight
who were killed in the crash of the Fokker were white
mercenaries.(2) It was in the air conflict that mercenaries
had their greatest impact in the Nigerian Civil War.
On the Biafran side, they helped prolong the war as they
delivered arms, ammunition and relief supplies to the
beseiged Biafrans. The first Biafran mercenary was Hank
Wharton. He operated the most famous of the companies which
ran charter airplanes into Biafra (the Biafrans also
purchased some older planes) and typified the "entrepreneurs"
who flew this dangerous route. The German-American Wharton
owned a tired fleet of Superconstellations and DC-7's. As
noted by mercenary Bruce Hilton, "Wharton's planes were
available to anyone who could afford to charter them, which
meant that a crew might take in rifle ammunitions for the
Biafran Army one night and medical supplies for the World
Council of Churches the next..."(3) The flights were also
used by the Catholic relief organization, Caritas, and the
International Red Cross with round trips costing up to
Under these circumstances, the Federals accused the
relief agencies of concealing arms shipments with their
humanitarian flights. This highlights the most controversial
aspect of the war, the effectiveness of the Federal blockade
as an offensive weapon and the resulting starvation of
hundreds of thousands of Biafrans. At the same time, it
points out Ojukwu's obstinate unwillingness to sue for peace
despite the horrific suffering of his people. Instead, he
advertised it to gain sympathy for Biafra. He was successful
in his efforts becauses the relief organizations converted
sympathy into political support for Biafra, but with little
ultimate effect on the outcome of the war. Saving Biafrans
bacame synonymous with saving Biafra.(5) Concurrently, the
relief organizations wanted a ceasefire so they could
concentrate on moving food into the country. This was
desirable to Ojukwu since he knew that if the fighting
stopped, it would be difficult to restart. In the stalemate,
Biafra would gain time and might survive. The tragedy of the
war was that such political finagling, by both sides,
resulted in so many additional tragic deaths in the prolonged
The mercenary pilots experienced a temporary halt in
their airlift when Federals captured Port Harcourt Airfield.
Fortunately for the Biafrans, they had foreseen the
possibility of losing their fixed air facilities and prepared
alternate sites. The most famous was the Uli Air Strip.
Code-named Annabelle, the Uli Strip was in fact a stretch of
straight road between Onitsha and Owerri which was widened
for miles. Vehicles mounted with communications equipment
served as a mobile control tower so that the actual landing
site could be shifted back and forth along the stretch of
road. All operations occurred at night; relief planes made
their final approaches based on tower instructions; and
landing lights were turned on for 15-30 seconds to facilitate
touchdown. Other similar strips were prepared, as well as
bush sites, but Uli survived to the last day of the war and
was an important symbol of resistance for the Biafrans.
Initially Portugual, the last colonial power in Africa,
provided most of the staging bases for the relief and
resupply of Biafra. Later the French gave major support to
the Rebel cause. At first, night trips were made from Lisbon
with small arms and ammunition that was bought in Spain,
France or Switzerland through private dealers. Aircraft were
refueled in Portuguese Guinea Bissau and the Portuguese
Island of Sao Tome. Pilots landed at Harcourt Airfield or on
a stretch of highway between Orlu and Owerri.(6)
Another route of entry reportedly began in South Africa,
with flights two or three times a week from Petersburg in the
Transvaal to a rendevous point in the Kalahari Desert in
Botswana. South African DC-7's, charted to Biafra, then
carried the cargo to Uli by way of Angola and Sao Tome.(7)
Other staging points were Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Libreville
in Gabon and the Island of Fernando Po where much of the
relief supplies were marshalled.
From the relief pilots Biafra got its most potent
offensive air capability. Count Carl Gustaf von Rosen, the
Swede who commanded the Ethiopian Air Force in the 1930's,
was appalled at the indiscriminate bombing and strafing of
non-military targets by the Nigerian Air Force and pledged to
give the Biafrans an Air Force to interdict Nigerian efforts.
The arrival of his Minicon fleet, mentioned earlier, was
timely. In late May 1969 Biafra was less than a tenth of its
original size. The rainy season had slowed the Federal
offensive and their bombing, but also had reduced relief
Von Rosen brought three Swedish pilots and two ground
crewmen with the first five Minicons. They were to both fly
the planes and train Biafran air and ground crews. He also
used two Biafrans as pilots on the first aircraft.(8) The
Rebels had several ex-Nigerian Air Force pilots trained by
the West Germans and a group of aviators partially qualified
in Portugual to fly various aging aircraft purchased in
Europe that never arrived in Biafra.
The Minicons immediately boosted morale. The single
engine trainers were too small to deliver iron bombs, so they
were outfitted with 76mm rocket pods. Flying below radar
coverage and surprising anti-aircraft gunners, the Minicons
swooped in on targets in lightning fast raids. They targeted
on-the-ground aviation assets and oil facilities and were
extremely successful. Attacks covered the air fields at
Benin, Enugu and Port Harcourt, reducing Federal interference
with relief flights. In the first month of use, von Rosen
claimed destruction of four MIG's, and Ilyushin bomber, two
Canberras, a Heron and a control tower.(9)
By September 1969, von Rosen had 19 minicons in Biafra
with a total of five Swedish pilots. There also were two
Danish explosive experts who trained infiltrators.(10) The
ports at Sapele and Port Harcourt were targets as were
the oil installations. They cut oil exports from the
Midwestern Region to a trickle with attacks on the just
completed Shell-BP facility at Forcadoes.
Von Rosen then had bigger plans. He wanted to bomb
Nigeria's major port at Apapa, near Lagos, but the longer
ranged equipment he needed did not arrive before the war
ended in January 1970. This may have occurred because von
Rosen's tactics caused the opposite of what he intended.
Instead of handcuffing the materially superior Federals, he
may have once again awakened them from their doldrums and
forced an increase in war activity that quickly ended the
The Federal Air Force. The Federals introduced a more
technogically advanced level of aviation to the war. It is
paradoxical that the Rebels believed the failure of the
Federals to immediately retaliate for their early bombings
was a sign of weakness or a lack of resolve. They should
have taken a more pragmatic view. The Federals were planning
for a police action, but instead became involved in an
all-out war. Responding as they would throughout the war,
they methodically obtained the right tools for the task. The
Federals used the first jet aircraft in early August 1967 to
help clear the Midwest; and shortly thereafter their
mercenary pilots were indiscriminately bombing and strafing a
wide range of targets.
The Biafrans quickly reassessed the resolve of their
opponent. The verdict was that the unrestrained aerial
attacks on undefended hospitals and markets, especially with
napalm, and the tightening blockade were further evidence of
the Federal desire to commit genocide, i.e., the eradication
of the Ibo population. The seeming validity of these
accusations often embarrassed the Nigerians throughout the
hostilities. International observers would conclude that no
orderly, planned policy existed for extermination of the Ibo
people; however, there was irrefutable evidence of repeated
attacks on defenseless civilians which again and again fed
the Biafran propaganda machine.
The Federals used mercenary pilots in a different way
than the Biafrans. A British mercenary, John Peters, was
hired in July 1967 to recruit pilots to fly converted DC-3's
and 4's with Nigerian crews since there were only a few
Nigerian pilots. Paid between $2,000 and $3,000 per month
plus living expenses in Nigera, the Federals usually had 12
to 20 pilots available, primarily British, Rhodesians and
South Africans. When Egyptian pilots proved ineffective, the
mercenaries were trained on the MIG-15's and then the
By the time the mercenary pilots were trained on the
MIG's, their efforts were concentrated on stopping the
gun-running into Biafra. But along with the indiscriminate
bombing and strafing of civilan targets, the inability to
stop the night flights into Biafra demonstrated the gross
inefficiency of the Federal Air Force. While the war still
progressed, historian Neville Brown pointed out several
reasons why the gun-running continued.
a. The short range and electronic deficiencies of the
b. Lack of skill and motivation of the Egyptian pilots
c. Reluctance of the Federals to let foreigners play a
large part in their success.(13)
John De St. Jorre, another historian, went a step
farther. He noted that the MIG's and Ilyushins were the
wrong aircraft to use against the make-shift airstrips like
Uli. Their high speed and armaments made effective night
attacks on the narrow, unlit runways difficult. He believed
a smaller, relatively slower plane with cannons, light bombs
and machine guns would have been more effective. He also
argues that he mercenaries did not destroy Uli because it
would have been the end of a well paid job.(14)
The Federals engaged in minimal close air support, but
used their jet aircraft with artillery to prepare their
ground objectives in major offensives. In fact the increase
of air support by the Federals in early 1968 and early 1969
were clear indicators to the Biafrans that extensive major
moves were in the offing.(15)
For both sides aircraft represented a new escalation of
power, capable of temporarily terrorizing the population or
sustaining it. Neither side possessed the capability to use
aviation to its fullest advantage, but each saw the
battlefield reduced in size, the responsiveness of air
support, and the horror that the airplane could inflict on
both the civilian population and military formations.
Heretofore isolated enclaves became accessible to the
destructive dimensions of modern warfare through aviation.
The Nigerian Civil War was the first modern war
conducted in Independent Black Africa. The lessons of the
war were not new or unique. They merely reinforced what has
been learned over and over again. However, their context was
unique, since the bush warfare of the Congo transitioned to
technologically sophisticated 20th Century warfare. The
military, though unsuited for the role, became the leading
institiution in Nigeria. The causes of the war were complex,
based upon tribal, political and economic factors inherited
from the colonial period. A military institiution,
subordinated through British traditions, took political form
in the post-colonial era and initiated a blood letting that
led to the Civil War. Though segments of the military had
the capacity to disrupt and overthrow the civilian
govenment, the military was not sufficiently unified or
large enough to adequately govern the country.
The coups of 1966 provided the immediate catalyst to the
economic, political and social unrest. Once the horror was
unleashed, the military inherited responsibility for finding
a solution. The war requried the formation of a large,
fighting force, which became the dominant institution in
Nigeria. To this day, the political course of the country is
tied to the desires and decisions of the military leadership.
Once the precedent was set, getting the military out of power
became virtually impossible given the divisiveness of the
Neither side was prepared for war. As the facade of
civilization crumbled under the weight of riots and pogroms,
Ibo tribesmen fled oppression and sought refuge in their
homeland. Despite the evidence of the hatred that drove the
Ibo out of other areas and the fear of extermination which
permeated the consciousness of those in the Eastern Region,
military leaders were unable to fully mobilize their
countries for the coming war.
The Federal Government announced its expectation that a
"police action" would bring the secessionists back into the
fold in a brief time. Available units were assembled on the
northern boundaries of the Eastern Region, ready for the
quick thrust and capture of the Rebel capital. Civil defense
exercises were conducted in the North, but the capital,
Lagos, remained unmoved by the threat of war. This
unconcerned attitude, as well as the incorrect reading of the
force requied, revealed the poor intelligence capability
that would hamper Federal efforts throughout the war.
The Rebels likewise failed to comprehend the potential
for violence. Probably due to ego, they did not believe the
Federals had the capability or resolve to defeat them. The
Biafrans felt they would win because their struggle was just,
and moral courage and perseverence would win the day for
them. As order broke down in Nigeria, the Rebels did start
building defensive positions and training militias and civil
defense personnel; but they were hesitant to invest their
limited monies to outfit and prepare an armed force. Again,
they believed this was unnecessary because right was on their
side. Consequently their soldiers received only superficial
training, and there were not enough weapons to arm units.
Officers were scarce and often went into battle before they
completed their training. This helped keep officer attrition
rates high, which consequently debased unit stability and
with other factors seriously damaged unit cohesion and
The Federals experienced similar problems with the rapid
expansion of their forces. Junior leaders could not be
trained fast enough to fill the enlarged army. Inexperi-
enced, poorly trained and ineptly led soldiers manifested
their lack of professionalism and indiscipline by massacres
of innocent civilians and a failure to effectivley execute
The Federals were overly cautious and dependent on
artillery in their advances. They would saturate objectives
with artillery fire, then move up on to the objective and
consolidate their force. Further movement to shell the next
objective. 1 Division was especially noteworthy in the
cautiousness in its operations. The division would prepare
for a mission for six months, gathering resources and
training. The offensive would take place, but as soon as the
objective was seized, the division would consolidate its
gains and take another six months to prepare for the next
Had they pursued their successes, there were several
times when more aggressive actions might have brought the
Federals immediate victory. Examples are the first shelling
of Onitsha, the fall of Enugu and the capture of Port
Harcourt. Instead, delays allowed the Rebels to recoup from
setbacks and establish new defensive positions.
This tactical shortcoming stands in contrast to a
strategic strength given to the Federals by their leader,
Major General Jack Gowon. Conservative and unflappable,
Gowon gave stability to the Federals. When the police action
strategy proved inadequate, he orchestrated a methodical,
forceful strategy which resulted in a blockade of Biafra and
her subsequent inability to continue the war.
The implications of seige warfare were heightened by the
introduction of modern media to the battlefield. While
starvation was probably the factor which ultimately caused
Biafra to fall, it was also a factor in obtaining world-wide
support for the Rebels and gave false hope to its leaders and
initially prolonged the war. Both the morality of the seige
and the exploitation of the media were key issues of he war.
Far more than Gowon's character permeated Federal
thought and action, Major General Emeka Ojukwu's personality
dominated Rebel activity. He was the single unifying figure
in the Biafra story. Ojukwu was able to motivate and direct
the Rebels to incredible accomplishments in the face of never
ending shortages and constant defeats. He adeptly achieved
tactical successes, but he failed to implement a strategic
plan that could bring victory.
a. He accurately saw the potential of the Midwest
Invasion and introduced bombers to the war, but he failed to
comprehend the long term effects of both actions.
b. He capitalized on airlift to sustain Biafra after
losing his sea lines of communcations.
c. He realized the tactical deficiencies of the Federal
Army but ignored those of his own army, and he failed to
resort to all out guerrilla warfare while his people still
had the means and will to resist.
d. Finally, he hoped that if he held Biafra long
enough, the Federals would become frustrated and give up.
Unfortunately, Ojukwu underestimated the Federal reslove in
relation to Biafra's ability to hold out. The Federal
learning curve caught up with him when the Nigerian Army took
advantage of their successes without consolidating their
gains from November 1969 to January 1970. Ojukwu failed to
understand that obstinancy on both sides meant the war would
be resolved on the battlefield and not by other means such as
This last point highlights a shortfall for both sides,
unity of command or purpose. On the Federal side, the three
divisions operated independently, competing among themselves
for men and materiels. This allowed the Rebels to use their
interior position to advantage. Ojukwu shifted resources
from front to front based on the most urgent threat. This
worked well until the Federals launched their final
On the Rebel side, unity of command was lost because of
the fear and suspicion that seized Biafra. While fighting
the Federals, Ojukwu also had to maintain his position. To
do this, he set the military and civilian leaders against
each other. By making each weaker, he solidified his hold on
power, but the resulting political infighting greatly
detracted from the war effort.
A major lesson of the Nigerian Civil War was that
technology must fit the situation. The airplane had
significant importance in Nigeria. Jet aircraft represented
tremendous psychological and destructive capacities not seen
before in Black Africa. Yet the MIG's and Ilyushin's could
not stop the gunrunners or close Uli Air Strip. On the other
hand, the use of reconnaissance helicopters forced a halt to
military activities, and Count von Rosen's Minicons virtually
cut off oil from the Midwestern Region in the later stages of
In the same way, French support in 1968 showed how the
right materiels (in this case small arms, ammunition and
anti-tank weapons) could turn the war into a stalemate and
temporarily alter the balance of power, so that the Biafrans
went on the offensive. The French support also demonstrated
how (by Western standards) relatively small amounts of war
materiels could still critically affect the battlefield
equilibrium in the wars of developing nations.
In closing, one point needs to be reviewed. The
Biafrans fought for more than two and a half years against a
numerically and materielly superior force. During that time,
shortages of critical items abounded, mass starvation
occurred, Federal incursions reduced Biafra to one tenth of
its original size, and paranoid fear of extermination was
rampant. Corruption and political infighting grew. The
gravity of the situation seems incomprehensible, yet the
Rebels fought on with what was generally regarded as higher
morale than their adversaries. In the end the most
significant lesson of the Nigerian Civil War may be the
strength and flexibility of the indomitable human spirit.
1. Frederick Forsyth, The Biafra Story, (Baltimore: Penquin
Books, 1969) p. 7.
1. Colin Legum and John Drysdale, Africa Contemporary
Record 1968-1969 (London: Africa Research Limited,
1969), p. 2.
2. Ibid., p. 3.
3. John Hatch, Nigeria: Seeds of Disaster, (Chicago: Henry
Regnery Company, 1970), pp. 141-3.
4. John R. Sullivan, Breadless Biafra, (Dayton: Pflaum
Press, 1969), p. 86.
5. Legum, op. cit., p. 4
6. Ibid., p. 5.
7. Ibid., p. 5.
8. Ibid., p. 5-6.
9. General Olusegun Obasanjo, My Command, (London:
Heinemann, 1980), p. xi.
10. Billy J. Dudley, Instability and Political Order:
Politics and Crisis in Nigeria, (Ibadan: Ibadan
University Press, 1973), p. 88.
11. Zdenek Cervenka, The Nigerian War, 1967-1970,
(Frankfurt: Bernard and Graefe Verlag fur Wehrwesen,
1971), p. 131.
12. Dudley, op. cit., p. 88.
13. Harold D. Nelson, Ed., Nigeria: A Country Study, 4th
Ed., (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982)
14. Charles Lewis Taylor and Michael C. Hudson, World
Handbook of Political and Social Indicators, (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1972), pp, 34-47. In a
compilation of various indicators, this work shows how
little Nigeria stressed its military in 1965. Examples:
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15. Nelson, op. cit., p. 243.
16. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 134.
17. Ibid., p. 133.
18. Ibid., p. 138.
19. Quoted by Robin Luckham, The Nigerian Military,
(Cambridge: University Press, 1971), pp. 32-33.
20. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 134.
21. Time, October 14, 1966. pp. 44-47.
1. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 138.
2. Neville Brown, "The Nigerian Civil War," Military
Review, vol. 48, October 1968, p. 27.
3. Ibid., p. 28.
4. A. A. Madiebo, The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran
War, (Enugu: Fourth Division Publishers, 1980), p. 9.
5. Brown, op. cit., p. 27.
6. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 139.
7. Ibid., p. 139.
8. Ibid., p. 139.
9. Joseph Okpaku (Ed.), Nigeria: Dilemma of Nationhood,
(New York: The Third Press, 1972), pp. 293-294.
10. Sir Robert Thompson (Ed.), War in Peace, (New York:
Harmony Books, 1982), p. 159.
11. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 139.
12. John De St. Jorre, The Nigerian Civil War, (London:
Hodder and Stoughton, 1972), pp. 150-151.
13. Brown, op. cit., p. 25.
14. Ibid., p. 26.
15. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 140.
16. Time, January 26, 1970, p. 18.
17. Madiebo, op. cit., p. 118.
18. Time, August 2, 1968, p. 25.
19. Rolf Steiner, The Last Adventurer, (Boston: Little,
Brown and Company, 1978), p. 87.
20. Brown, op. cit., p. 26.
21. Raph Uwechue, Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War,
(New York: Africana Publishing Corporation, 1971), p. 8.
22. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 151.
23. Sir Rex Niven, The War of Nigerian Unity 1967-1970,
(Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield, 1971), p. 132.
1. Colonel R. A. Adebayo quoted by Fola Oyewole, Reluctant
Rebel, (London: Rex Collings, 1975), Introduction.
2. Obasanjo, op. cit., pp. 14-15.
3. Ojukwu quoted by A. A. Madiebo, op cit., p. 19.
4. Story related by Obasanjo, op. cit., p. 12.
5. Madiebo, op. cit., pp. 149-151.
6. Oyewole, op. cit., p. 30.
7. Obasanjo, op. cit., pp. 16-17.
8. New York Times, August 1, 1967, p. 7, col. 1.
9. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 51.
10. New York Times, June 29, 1967, p. 1, col. 3.
11. Quoted by Jimoh Lawal, "Nigeria--Class Struggle and the
National Question," Nigeria: Dilemma of Nationhood, (New
York: The Third Press, 1972), p. 281.
12. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 127. At the start of the
war, two thirds of the oil production and virtually all
the oil processing facilities were in the secessionist
13. John De St. Jorre and Fola Oyewole, among others, report
the routine travel of senior Nigerian military officers
(Ibo) from Benin to the East immediately before the
attack. The presumption is clandestine preparations for
14. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 169.
15. Madiebo, op. cit., p. 157.
16. Niven, op. cit., p. 116.
17. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 169.
18. Madiebo, op. cit., p. 158.
19. Oyewole, op. cit., pp.42-44.
20. Time, September 1, 1967, p. 20.
21. New York Times, September 20, 1967, p. 6, col. 3.
22. Elechi Amadi, Sunset in Biafra, (London: Heinemann,
1973), p. 48.
23. Oyewole, op. cit., p. 77.
24. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 172.
1. Gowon reportedly maintained a copy of Carl Sandburg's
Lincoln biography, The War Years, on his desk later in
the war. Time, August 23, 1968, p. 27.
2. Raph Uwechue, op. cit., p. 197.
3. Time, January 26, 1970, p. 22.
4. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 273.
5. Even when they went to the Russians for capital
equipment, the Nigerians paid cash.
6. Obasanjo, op. cit., p. 19.
7. Ibid., p. 19.
8. New York Times, September 28, 1967, p. 12, col. 3;
September 30, 1967, p. 21, col. 7; October 1, 1967, p.
8, col. 1.
9. Obasanjo, op. cit., p. 20.
10. Madiebo, op. cit., p. 175.
11. Bruce Hilton, Highly Irregular, (London, The Macmillan
Company, 1969), p. 127. Oyewole (op. cit. p. 128) notes
that when Umuahia was later captured by the Federals,
the Biafrans spoke of the govenment as "decentralized."
12. Michael A. Samueli (Ed.), The Nigeria-Biafra Conflict,
(Washington: The Center for Strategy and International
Studies, Georgetown University, 1969), p. 19.
13. New York Times, September 23, 1967, p. 10, col. 4.
14. Obasanjo, op. cit., p. 20.
15. Forsyth, op. cit., p. 123.
16. Obasanjo, op. cit., p. 43.
17. Brown, op. cit., p. 30.
18. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 61.
19. Brown, op. cit., p. 31.
20. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 188.
21. Ibid., pp. 188-189.
22. Time, October 4, 1968, p. 36.
23. Obasanjo, op. cit., p. 47.
24. New York Times, October 9, 1967, p. 11, col. 1. Lester
A. Sobel (Ed.), Facts on File Yearbook, (New York: Facts
on File, Inc., 1968), p. 507.
25. Madiebo, op. cit., pp. 191-192.
26. New York Times, November 3, 1967, p. 11, col. 1.
27. Madiebo, op. cit., p. 196.
28. Oyewole, op. cit., p. 85.
29. Niven, op. cit., p. 123.
30. Obasanjo, op. cit., p. 50.
31. Time, May 31, 1968, p. 31. Sir Rex Niven, op. cit., p.
127, points out that Adekunle may have wanted to add to
the supply and health problems the Rebels were already
32. The London Times among other sources declared that the
war was militarily won.
33. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 257.
1. Uwechue, op. cit., p. 133.
2. Ntieyong U. Akpan, The Struggle for Succession
1966-1970. (London: Frank Cass, 2nd Edition, 1976), p.
3. Ibid., p. 92.
4. Ibid., p. 92-93.
5. Oyewole, op. cit., p. 126.
6. Madiebo, op. cit., p. 174.
7. Ibid., p. 171.
8. Oyewole, op. cit., p. 127.
9. Madiebo, op. cit., p. 210.
10. Amadi, op. cit., p. 143. A. A. Madiebo argued that this
conceptually is the reason the Biafrans were so
unprepared for war. They did not want to take on the
expensive process of outfitting their army because they
felt that "determination" and "will power" were all that
were needed to secure their just cause. Madiebo, op.
cit., p. 108.
11. Quoted by Akpan, op. cit., p. 95.
12. Ibid., p. 95-95.
13. Madiebo, op. cit., p. 173.
14. Akpan, op. cit., pp. 98-100.
1. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 271.
2. Time, October 4, 1968, p. 36.
3. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 64.
4. Oyewole, op. cit., p. 64.
5. This morale was based in large measure on the belief
that extermination was the alternative to the fight for
survival for the Rebels. Biafran units were often
formed on short notice, decimated and deactivated or
incorporated into other units constituted for a new
emergency. That the Biafrans were successful in the
incredible disorganization can only be attributed to
their intense motivation and front line leadership.
a) The Biafrans commissioned 10,000 officers during the
war of which about 3,000 were killed (Oyewole, op. cit.,
Introduction, page unnumbered). Even with this high
incidence of officer casualties, the Rebels displayed
the suspicious distrust of their officer corps noted
b) Morale was high in front line units in spite of large
number of casualties. In its first six months of
existence, 4 Commando Brigade (led during that time by
the mercenary Rolf Steiner) sustained 8,400 killed,
wounded and missing in action in a unit with an average
strength of 5,000 soldiers (Steiner, op. cit., p. 119).
6. Michael Mok, Biafra Journal, (New York: Time-Life Books,
1969), p. 64.
7. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 54.
8. Obasanjo, op. cit., p. 24.
9. Ibid., pp. 56-57.
10. Hilton, op. cit., p. 125.
11. Oyewole, op. cit., p. 87.
12. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 79.
13. Akpan, op. cit., p. 191. Ojukwu noted these issues in a
memorandum to the president of the Ivory Coast, but he
claimed the improved leadership was due to an infusion
of foreign officers to direct the Nigerian forces.
14. A. H. M. Kirk-Green, Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria,
vol. II, (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), p.
15. Peter Schwab (Ed.), Biafra, (New York: Facts on File,
Inc., 1971), p. 118.
1. New York Times, July 10, 1967, p. 1, col. 4.
2. New York Times, October 8, 1967, p. 5, col. 1.
3. Hilton, op. cit., p. 74.
4. Time, August 23, 1968, p. 28.
5. Cervenka, op. cit., p. 154.
6. Brown, op. cit., p. 26.
7. Schwab, op. cit., p. 113.
8. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 336-337.
9. Time, June 6, 1969, p. 38.
10. Schwab, op. cit., p. 79.
11. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 338. De St. Jorre notes that
von Rosen's air force accomplished the opposite of his
intension. The Federals increased their bombing and the
pace of the war.
12. Ibid., pp. 315-316.
13. Brown, op. cit., p. 26.
14. De St. Jorre, op. cit., p. 318.
15. Madiebo, op. cit., p. 284.
A. Books and Special Reports
Ademoyega, Adewale. Why We Struck. Ibadan: Evans Brothers
(Nigergia Publishers) Limited, 1981. Expanation and
history of the coup attempt in January 1966 by one of
the key participants. This book gives a feel for the
dynamics that led to the coup, the personalities and
motivations of the plotters, and the naivete which
doomed the plot from its beginning. Used for background
information, this work is heavily biased, almost a
complete defense of the plotters.
Akpan, Ntieyoug U. The Struggle For Succession 1966-1970.
2nd Ed. London: Frank Cass, 1976. Author was chief
secretary of the government and head of the Civil
Service of Eastern Nigeria (later "Biafra") from
1966-1970. This book provided an insider's view of the
operations of the Biafran government. Used as a
Alade, R. B. The Broken Bridge. Ibadan: The Caxton Press,
1975. Background reading only.
Amadi, Elechi. Sunset in Biafra. London: Heinemann
Educational Books, Limited, 1973. An autobiography by a
noted Nigerian novelist. The easy, direct style made
this book enjoyable to read. The work was used to
verify certain concepts or conclusions through the
review of specific events detailed in the book.
Excellent source of information on reestablishing
control of former Rebel areas.
Balogun, Ola. The Tragic Years: Nigeria in Crisis
1966-1970. Benin City: Ethiope Publishing Corporation.
1973. Review of Civil War years; used as back-up source
for this paper.
Cervenka, Zdenek. The Nigerian War 1967-1970. Frankfurt:
Bernard and Graefe Verlag fur Wherwesen, 1971.
Comprehensive research document on the Civil War,
published shortly after the conclusion. This work is
objective and an appropriate starting point for
researchers. It contains an excellent bibliography and
was published in English.
Collis, Robert. Nigeria in Conflict. London: Secker and
Warburg, 1970. A pro-Federal account of the war, this
book is sketchy and greatly biased. Used for
Critchley, Julian. Crisis Paper No. 7: the Nigerian Civil
War: The Defeat of Biafra. London: Atlantic
Information Centre for Teachers, 1970. This pamphlet
outlines the events of the Civil War providing a
chronology with brief accompanying analyses. Included
are a wide selection of editorial quotes on the fall of
Biafra from newspapers around the world.
De St. Jorre, John. The Nigerian Civil War. London: Hodder
and Stoughton, 1972. Thorough, readable book by
jounalist who spent extensive time in Nigeria before,
during and after the war. He was objectives in his
pronouncements and his detailed research was reflected
in his well substantiated conclusions. Heavily used
Dudley, Billy J. Instability and Political Order: Politics
and Crisis in Nigeria. Ibadan: Ibadan University
Forsyth, Frederick. The Biafra Story. Baltimore: Penguin
books, 1969. Interesting, but biased. Written while
the war was in progress to tell the Biafra side.
Gold, Herbert. Biafra Goodbye. San Francisco: TwoWindows
Press, 1970. Short book recounting the author's
personal involvement with Biafra. Polished work which
often slips to stream of consciousness.
Hatch, John. Nigeria: Seeds of Disaster. Chicago: Henry
Regnery Company, 1970. Review of factors leading to the
Civil War. Excellent recapitualtion of causes for
Higham, Robin. ed. Civil Wars in th 20th Century.
Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1972.
Established context for the war in Nigeria in light of
various aspects of civil warfare in this centruy.
Hilton, Bruce. Highly Irregular. London: The Macmillan
Company, 1968. Biography of the mercy missions,
including proposed airlift by author. Concise
background to the causes of conflict. Documents the
suspicious nature of Biafran officials.
Kirk-Greene, A.H.M., ed. Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria. 2
vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Comprehensive collection of source documents on the
Nigerian Civil War. Important reference due to
selection of texts and profound analysis in both
Legum, Colin, and Drysdale, John, ed. Africa Contemporary
Record 1968-1969. London: Africa Research Limited,
1969. Best synopsis of factors leading to the Civil
. Africa Contemporary Record 1969-1970. London:
Africa Research Limited, 1970.
Luckham, Robin. The Nigerian Military. Cambridge:
University Press, 1971. Detailed analysis of the
development of the Nigerian military during the period
1960 to 1967. Luckham outlined the factors which put
the military in a position to seize power, examined both
coups and studied the military as a social system and
political entity. Exceptional research work.
Madiebo, A.A. The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War.
Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980. Major
General Madiebo was commander of the Biafran Army from
September 1967 to January 1970. He offered a unique,
knowledgeable perspective characterized by candor and
reason. His insider's view made this a major source.
Mok, Michael. Biafra Journal. New York: Time-Life Books,
1969. Popular literature by a photo journalist who
covered the Biafran side of the war. Admittedly biased,
yet moving account of life in the horror of the war in
Nelson, Harold D., et. al. Nigeria: A Country Study.
Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982.
Outstanding reference work.
Niven, Sir Rex. The War of Nigerian Unity 1967-1970.
Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1971.
Relatively objective overview despite pro-Federal
orientation of book.
Nwankwo, Arthur Agwunch and Ifejika, Samuel Udolhukwu.
Biafra: The Making of A Nation. New York: Praeger
Publishers, 1970. Text provides a development of events
leading up to the Civil War and a justification for the
existence of Biafra.
Obasanjo, Olusegun. My Command. London: Heinemann, 1980.
Key figure in the post-independence history of Nigeria
(Division Commander in war and later military ruler who
turned government over to civilian leadership.)
Outlines causes of Civil War and its early stages.
Obasanjo details events that occurred after he assumed
division command until the end of the war. One of the
major works about the conflict.
Obe, Peter. Nigeria: A Decade of Crises in Pictures.
Apapa: Times Press Limited, 1971. Basic picture book
with pro-Nigeria (Federal) cant by long time
photographer for Lagos Daily Times.
Ojukwu, C.O. Biafra. 2 vols. New York: Harper and Row,
1969. Selected speeches by the Biafra head of state.
Okpaku, Joseph, ed. Negeria: Dilemma of Nationhood. New
York: The Third Press, 1972.
Oyediran, Oyeleye, ed. Nigerian Government and Politics
Under Military Rule 1966-1979. New York: St. Martin's
Oyewole, Fola. Reluctant Rebel. London: Rex Collings,
1975. Autobiography of Civil War experience by a
Biafran staff officer. This work has significance
because of its first hand insights into the conduct of
the war in Biafra. Major source for this paper.
Oyewole was released from prison to fight in the war.
He returned to prison at the end. A thoughtfully
objective account of the Biafran regime and its military
Samuels, Michael A., ed. The Nigeria-Biafra Conflict.
Washington: The Center for Strategic and International
Studies, Georgetown University, 1969. Minutes from a
one-day conference. Highlights the critical concerns of
Schabouvka, Henry Ka and Himmelstrand, Ulf. Africa Reports
on the Nigerian Crisis. Uppsala, Sweden: The
Scandianavian Institute of African Studies, 1978.
Primarily tangential information. Study of press
responses and attitudes to Nigerian Civil War.
Schwab, Peter, ed. Biafra. New York: Facts on File, Inc.,
1971. Factual reference work recapping media accounts
Sobel, Lester A., ed. Facts on File Yearbook 1967. Vol.
XXVII. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1969.
Steiner, Rolf. The Last Adventurer. Boston: Little, Brown
and Company, 1978. Authobiographical account of noted
mercenary's experiences in Biafra, as well as Algeria
and the Sudan.
Stremlau, John J. The International Politics of the Nigerian
Civil War 1967-1970. Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1973. Salient work on the topic.
Sullivan, John R. Breadless Biafra. Dayton: Pflaum Press,
1969, Pro-Biafran publication by jounalist who visited
Rebels in 1969. Concise, easy-to-read account of chain
of events leading up to war.
Taylor, Charles Lewis and Hudson, Michael C. World Handbook
of Political and Social Indicators. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1972.
Thompson, Sir Robert. War in Peace. New York: Harmony
Books, 1982. Establishes context of conflicts since the
Second World War.
Uwechue, Raph. Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War. New
York: Africana Publishing Corporation, 1971. Primarily
politico-social analysis of Civil War. Objective
conclusions about the war considering pro-Biafra
reference of author.
Brown, Neville. "The Nigerian Civil War." Military Review,
October 1968, pp. 20-31.
Grinaldi, J.S. Major, "The Effect of Political Geography on
Nigeria's Solidarity." Marine Corps Gazette, July 1969,
New York Times, 15 January 1966-15 February 1970.
Sterling, Claire. "The Self-Defeating Civil War in Nigeria."
The Reporter, 10 August 1967, pp. 23-30.
Time, 14 October 1966; 1 September 1967; 31 May 1968; 23
August 1968; 4 October 1968; 6 June 1969; 26 January
Becka, Mary, Major, USA. Research Analyst for Western
Africa, Defense Intelligence Agency. Arlington.
Virginia, March 8, 1984.
Hubard, William, Lieutenant Colonel, USA. Current Analyst,
Africa Branch, Defense Intelligence Agency. Washington,
D.C., October 21, 1983.
Isom, William G., Lieutenant Colonel. Director, African
Studies, National War College. Washington, D.C., March
Stoakley, William, Dr. (Ph.D., History). Research Analyst
for Western Africa, Defense Intelligence Agency.
Arlington, Virginia, March 8, 1984.
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