Nigeria: 50 Years Ago, The War Of Biafra Ended, A "Forgotten" Conflict In History Books

Malnourished Biafran children fed by a French medical personnel inside the French Hospital in Libreville, Gabon March 15, 1969. "The images in the media of malnourished children in the belly swollen disrupt international opinion Humanitarian organizations attempt to bypass Lagos reluctance suspects. - rightly -. Humanitarian convoys carrying weapons and mercenaries Of ' vols- pirates' are organized to bring food to the dying populations , " says Le Figaro . Doctors, especially French, come to treat the victims. The Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) movement was founded after this war.Image: AFP

On January 15, 1970, this region of south-eastern Nigeria signed his surrender, ending a civil war that started in the spring of 1968 and that left millions of people dead and displaced. Even today, this history constitutes a veritable "black hole" in the collective memory of the country.

"A fine mustache and a big smile, General Gowon (President of Nigeria, editor&…

Gosport Grandmother Recalls Fleeing The Horrors Of War In Nigeria

Leslie Mitchell with her daughters (l-r) Uche, Nnenna and Adaora in 1968. Image: Leslie Mitchell via The Portsmouth News
It may have happened more than 50 years ago, but Leslie Mitchell can still remember keenly the horrors she experienced in Nigeria after the county won its independence from Britain.

In a country ravaged by civil war, Leslie and her young family were forced to join the procession of thousands of refugees searching for safety amid shocking violence and hunger.

Along the way they picked up a desperately ill little girl who was simply abandoned by the side of the road.

And they watched in terror as people were set on fire by mobs for supporting the ‘wrong’ side in the war.

The breakaway republic of Biafra, in eastern Nigeria, where Leslie's husband Len was from, existed for just 30 months between 1967 and 1970.

However, the destruction that ensued wrought repercussions through the generations.

But how did Leslie end up there? From the comfort of her h…

Biafrans Capitulate To Nigeria: US Increases Grant For Relief

School children gather at the courtyard reminiscing the effects of the tragic. Image: A. Abbas/Magnum Photos (1971)


JANUARY 13, 1970

—Biafra, with its last de fenses crumbling and its supplies of food and ammunition exhausted, capitulated yesterday to the Nigerian Government.

Brig. Philip Effiong, the Bi afran Chief of Staff, who took over the leadership Saturday night when Gen. Odumegwu Ojukwu fled the besieged remnant of the secessionist region, announced on the Biafran radio this afternoon that the attempt at secession had failed.

[Unconfirmed reports from Lusaka, Zambia, said Monday night that General Ojukwu was expected to arrive with in the next day. It was un derstood that Zambia had of fered him asylum. Page 15.]

Brigadier Effiong ordered Biafran forces to disengage from battle in an orderly fashion and said that he was sending representatives to Nigerian field commanders to negotiate an armistice.

Gowon Accepts Offer


The Amazing Biafran Airlift — Heroics In The Sky And On The Ground

Loading of Joint Church Aid relief supplies on island of Sao Tomé. Photo: Peter Williams


In the late 1960s, a rebellion in West Africa resulted in brutal warfare, the world’s first televised famine, an incredible humanitarian intervention, and the birth of several aid organizations — including Concern Worldwide.
On July 6th 1967, an uprising began in Eastern Nigeria with the aim of gaining independence for the state of Biafra and its mostly Igbo population. The military government moved swiftly to crush the rebellion, and what followed was a two-and-a- half year war that would result in at least two million civilian deaths. The toll would have undoubtedly been higher were it not for the efforts of an ad hoc coalition of international humanitarian organizations and the establishment of what became known as the Biafran airlift.

The secession attempt met with an unmerciful response, displacing millions of people who became further isolated by the government’s…

Nigerian Writers Compare Genocide Of Igbos To The Holocaust

Biafran refugees flee federal Nigerian troops on a road near Ogbaku, Image: Kurt Scumpf/AP


During the massacre of Igbos in Nigeria between 1966 and 1970, one to three million people died. In the decades since, writers have worked to make sense of the immense human tragedy.

These literary representations of the massacres use the Holocaust as an important point of reference.

The war in Nigeria, with its associated mass atrocities, is arguably one of the first major moments in postcolonial Africa when accusations of genocide were made. Following military coups in Nigeria in 1966, the military and ethnic extremists systematically targeted and killed Igbos across the then Northern and Western regions of Nigeria.

Massacres of Igbos and other Easterners across the country led to thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions.

The massacres led the Eastern Region of Nigeria to declare its secession from Nigeria. The region was renamed the republic of Biafra. Nigeria …

THE POGROM: Reminiscence And Events That Bear Witness


"There are no exact numbers on the scale of the human tragedy gathering in Biafra. But all our sources do agree that more than a million people are likely to be in danger of starvation... There would be no question about evacuating the 5500 U.S. citizens or sacrificing the $300 million private investment on the Federal side if these stood in the way of relief. The heart of our dilemma, however, is that our instinctive moral concern and involvement with this tragedy cannot be separated from the political tangle..."

--------- Henry A. Kissinger, Memorandum For President Richard Nixon, The White House, Tuesday, January 28, 1969

World's first super model, British-born Jean Shrimpton joins a group of anti-Igbo Pogrom protesters campaigning to end the killing of women and children on the steps of the Shaftsberry Memorial in Picadilly Circus, Westminster, London. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty

Nurse Elva Peterson feeding starving Igbo children f…

BIAFRA: Church World Service At The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing

Image: United States Senate

In his statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, MacCracken explains the position of the CWS as it relates to the conflict and humanitarian crisis occurring in Biafra and Nigeria at large. He notes that the CWS is solely concerned with the humanitarian issues in Biafra and believes they must be separated from the larger political conflict. MacCracken also quotes at length a statement from the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Sweden (July 15, 1968). In terms of domestic work, MacCracken praises members of the American Jewish Committee for bringing together Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish organizations to coordinate humanitarian assistance in Biafra. He concludes by summarizing the concerns of the CWS and what they believe must be done going forward.


 Washington, D.C.  October 4,…