The Nigerian Civil War: Causes, Strategies, And Lessons Learnt

CSC 1992











1. List of Maps.

2. Outline.

3. Introduction.

4. Executive Summary.

5. Background History of Nigeria.

6. History of the Nigerian Army before 1966.

7. The War - Planning Strategies.

8. The Clash of Arms.

9. Lessons Learnt.

10. Conclusion.

11. Bibliography.


1. Map 1 : The four Regions of Nigeria.

2. Map 2 : The twelve states of Nigeria.

3. Map 3 : The liberation of the Mid - Western state.

4. Map 4 : The front line in mid - 1969.

5. Map 5 : The final offensive.




The Nigerian Civil War was fought to reintegrate and reunify

the country. This paper will focus on the causes of the war, strategies

employed by the belligerents in the conflict, and the lessons learnt.

I. Background History of Nigeria

II. History of the Nigerian Army before 1966

III. The War - Planning Strategies

IV. The Clash of Arms

V. Lessons Learnt

VI. Conclusion


The Federation of Nigeria, as it is known today, has never really

been one homogeneous country, for it's widely differing peoples and

tribes. This obvious fact notwithstanding, the former colonial master

decided to keep the country one in order to effectively control her

vital resources for their economic interests. Thus, for administrative

convenience the Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated in 1914.

Thereafter the only thing this people had in common was the name of

their country since each side had different administrative set - up.

This alone was an insufficient basis for true unity. Under normal

circumstances the amagalmation ought to have brought the various peoples

together and provided a firm basis for the arduous task of establishing

closer cultural, social, religious, and linguistic ties vital for true

unity among the people. There was division, hatred, unhealthy rivalry,

and pronounced disparity in development.

The growth of nationalism in the society and the subsequent

emergence of political parties were based on ethnic/tribal rather than

national interests, and therefore had no unifying effect on the peoples

against the colonial master. Rather, it was the people themselves who

were the victims of the political struggles which were supposed to be

aimed at removing foreign domination. At independence Nigeria became a

Federation and remained one country. Soon afterwards the battle to

consolidate the legacy of political and military dominance of a section

of Nigeria over the rest of the Federation began with increased

intensity. It is this struggle that eventually degenerated into coup,

counter coup and a bloody civil war.


The Nigerian Civil War broke out on 6 July 1967. The war was the

culmination of an uneasy peace and stability that had plagued the Nation

from independence in 1960. This situation had its genesis in the

geography, history, culture and demography of Nigeria.

The immediate cause of the civil war itself may be identified as

the coup and the counter coup of 1966 which altered the political

equation and destroyed the fragile trust existing among the major ethnic

groups. As a means of holding the country together in the last result,

the country was divided into twelve states from the original four

regions in May 1967. The former Eastern Region under Lt. Col. Ojukwu saw

the act of the creation of states by decree "without consultation" as

the last straw, and declared the Region an independent state of

"Biafra". The Federal Government in Lagos saw this as an act of

secession and illegal. Several meetings were held to resolve the issue

peacefully without success. To avoid disintegration of the country, the

central government was left with only one choice of bringing back the

Region to the main fold by force.

The Federal side expected a quick victory while the Biafrans saw

the war as that of survival and were ready to fight to the last man.

By August 1967, the war had been extended to the Mid - Western Region by

the Biafrans with the aim to relief pressure on the northern front and

to threaten the Federal Capital, Lagos. Both sides employed Political,

Diplomatic, Psychological and Military strategies to prosecute the war.

By the end of April 1969, after almost two years of bloody and

destructive war, the envisioned quick victory had eluded the Federal

side, the rebel enclave had been drastically reduced in size but the

Biafrans were still holding on. More peace conferences were held but

none achieved a cease - fire and an end to the war. The Federals

embarked on a strategic envelopment of the remaining Biafran enclave. By

the Christmas of 1969, it was obvious that the end of the civil war was


The self - acclaimed Head of State of Biafra, Lt. Col. Ojukwu,

realizing the hopelessness of the situation fled the enclave with his

immediate family members on the 10th of January 1970. The Commander of

the Biafran Army who took over the administration of the remaining

enclave surrendered to the Federal Government on 14th January 1970

bringing an end to the war, secessionist attempt and bloodshed.

Several lessons were learnt from the war and these have helped in

the unification, political, military and economical progress of the



The Nigerian civil war, popularly known all over the world as the

"Biafran War" was fought from 2 July 1967 to 15 January 1970. The war

was between the then Eastern Region of Nigeria and the rest of the

country. The Eastern Region declared itself an independent state which

was regarded as an act of secession by the Federal Military Government

of Nigeria. The war was fought to reunify the country. In order to

understand what led to the civil war, it is necessary to give a brief

background history of Nigeria.


The land mass known today as Nigeria existed as a number of

independent and sometimes hostile national states with linguistic and

cultural differences until 1900. The Governor General of Nigeria between

1920 - 31 , Sir Hugh Clifford, described Nigeria as "a collection of

independent Native States, separated from one another by great

distances, by differences of history and traditions and by ethnological,

racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers." (Nigeria

Council Debate. Lagos, 1920). The building of Nigeria as a multi -

national state began in 1900 with the creation of Northern and Southern

Protectorates along with the colony of Lagos by the British government.

Further effort at unification and integration was made in May 1906 when

the colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, which had

existed separately, were amalgamated to become the Colony and

Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

Even then the Northern and the Southern Administration were

separate and distinct. Both were independent of one another and each was

directly responsible to the Colonial Office. The first momentous act of

the British in the political evolution of Nigeria as a modern state was

the amalgamation of the administration of the two sections of Nigeria on

1 January 1914 by Lord Lugard. For ease of governing and in the economic

interest of the British, indirect rule and separate development policy

were maintained in the two sections of the country, with the amalgamated

administration based in Lagos. This, in effect produced two Nigerias, each

with different social, political, economic, and cultural backgrounds and

development within the country.

No further constitutional development took place until 1922. The

1922 constitution made provision, for the first time, for elected members

to sit on a Nigerian legislative council, but did not empower them to

make laws for the North. Nigeria was divided into four administrative

units in 1940; the colony of Lagos, the Northern, Eastern and Western

provinces. This administrative divisions, with increased power for the

colony and the provinces, was not only maintained but separateness was

also strengthened and deepened by Sir Arthur Richardson's constitution

of 1946 which inaugurated Nigeria's regionalism. It however achieved a

half - hearted political breakthrough by integrating the North with the

South at the legislative level for the first time.

The post second World War political awareness and upsurge of

nationalism in Africa brought about the Richardson's constitution of

1950. Political parties were formed on regional and ethnic basis.

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The outcome of this was obvious: full scale regionalism. With the

Macpherson's constitution of 1951, a greater measure of autonomy was

granted the regions with stronger regional legislatures. With only

residual power left to the central government, Nigeria politically took

a turn for the worse, and there was a possibility of three countries

emerging out of Nigeria.

In 1953, the central cabinet was split over the acceptance of a

target date for securing self - government with the end result of the

Kano riot. The gap between the regions widened. For the first time the

North talked openly of the possibility of secession rather than endure

what they saw as humiliation and ill - treatment. The West also threatened

to secede over the non - inclusion of Lagos in the West in the new