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An Exchange on Biafra

The New York Review of Books

Volume 14, Number 8 · April 23, 1970


By Sara S. Berry, George A. Elbert, Norman Thomas Uphoff, Reply by Stanley Diamond

To the Editors:

Stanley Diamond's article, "Who Killed Biafra?" (NYR, February 26) sets out to rescue us from the propaganda of governments seeking to justify their roles in the conflict. His discussion of the considerations which moved other nations to support one side or the other is plausible and informative, but sheds little light on the course of events in Nigeria and Biafra themselves. I have no reason to question Diamond's conclusion that Biafra was not "a puppet of reactionary forces," or the fact that the unequal supply of foreign arms and assistance to the belligerents was crucial to the outcome of the war. (Nor is it startling to learn that foreign powers supported one side or the other only insofar as they felt it would be in their own interests to do so; it hardly seems necessary to demonstrate that na…

The Secret Furies

Time Friday, June 10, 1966

In January, when the army overthrew Nigeria's government in a blaze of gunfire, all eyes turned instinctively to the fearsome, feudal Moslem tribes that rule the northern two-thirds of the land. Led by a group of officers from the non-Moslem Ibo tribe in the South, the coup had broken the Northerners' long political hold over Nigeria. It had also taken the lives of the nation's two most prominent Northerners: Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the revered Sardauna of Sokoto, a portly potentate who was both political and spiritual leader of 12,500,000 Nigerian Moslems. Would the North, whose ferocious horsemen warriors were once the terror of all Nigeria, accept its sudden loss?

For a while, the answer seemed to be yes. Retiring to their homes and mosques, the Moslems prayed quietly for the Sardauna and told one another he was still alive in Mecca. There were no rebellious mobs in the streets, no cries for a war of holy vengeance. Even when t…

Colonial Legacy, Elite Dissension and the Making of Genocide: The Story of Biafra

By Sam Amadi

Published on: Jan 10, 2007

Printable Version“The Nigeria civil war broke out on 6 July 1967. The war was the culmination of an uneasy peace and stability that had plagued the nation since independence in 1960. This situation had its genesis in the geography, culture and demography of Nigeria.”
– Major Abubakar A Atofarati1


Introduction

Between 1964 and 1970, the Ibos of eastern Nigeria were victims of mass violence. The violence occurred in two phases, first as a result of planned murderous assault by the Nigerian ruling elites, mainly of Hausa-Fulani ethnic origin in peacetime, and later in a full-blown civil war between Nigeria and Biafra. Biafra was an enclave that the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, General Odumegwu Ojukwu, carved out and declared a sovereign state at the height of the genocidal attack against the Igbo. Ibos were the overwhelming majority in the new Biafran state. They shared the state with minority ethnic groups in Eastern Nigeria. Ojukwu declared B…

What Follows War

Time February 02, 1970

"If war is hell," TIME Correspondent John Blashill cabled last week from Nigeria, "at least it is organized hell. What immediately follows war can be worse. It is not yet peace, and it is certainly not organized." Blashill was one of 80 foreign newsmen who were given government permission to visit the Biafran enclave. Herewith his report:

In the silent palm forests and broken towns of the region once known as Biafra, the rape and the looting go on. Countless refugees told me this week of being stopped on the road by federal troops. The soldiers stripped them of their belongings, took their money and went off with their women.

Near Orlu, Nigerian marines invaded a Red Cross hospital, took all the food and raped the white nurses. During the brief period I was in Owerri, I saw an attempted rape and an attempt at looting. The looting took place right on the main square in front of most of the visiting newsmen. Several marine enlisted men simply en…

Relief, Reconciliation, Reconstruction

Time Monday, February 02, 1970

THE lights came on again in Lagos last week, ending a 30-month blackout imposed to protect the Nigerian capital from Biafran bombers that never appeared. Unaccustomed to the brightness, bats swooped screeching out of trees to seek darkness elsewhere, and pedestrians stepped neatly over rain ditches they had fallen into during the war. Only half the lights went on again, however; there was not enough power available to light the rest. Plainly, peacetime conditions would not be restored with the mere flick of a switch.

Building Up Jerusalem. That was all too evident in the area of what had been Biafra, where 12 million people had sought to establish a state independent of Nigeria and its 45 million other inhabitants. Nigerian Leader Yakubu Gowon had pledged his victorious government to a program of reconciliation rather than recrimination toward the secessionists. Because of ineptitude and the war's unexpectedly sudden end, which caught relief agencies …

BIAFRA: The Secession that Failed

Time Monday, January 26, 1970

THE five hollow-eyed travelers who stepped warily from a Nigerian Airways plane at Lagos Airport one night last week had the fugitive look of men on the run. They were driven to the Federal Palace Hotel through deserted streets heavy with the stifling heat of Africa's dry season. Next morning, after a fitful sleep, they were escorted to the Dodan military barracks in a suburb of the Nigerian capital. There, in the first formal surrender ceremonies to end a military conflict since World War II, Biafra's Major General Philip Effiong signed a document ending the bitter 31-month civil war that has raged between Nigeria and its breakaway Eastern Region.

Said Effiong, in a simple act of fealty to Major General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria's head of state and commander of its armed forces: "We are firm, we are loyal Nigerian citizens, and we accept the authority of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. The Republic of Biafra ceases to exist." …