An informed evaluation of the Nigerian Civil War of 1967: A social science case study

Culled from Nigerian Muse

How do the Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler opportunity and grievance model, and the James Fearon and David Laitin’s civil war hypothesisassess the Nigeria Civil war (Biafra war of secession, 1967 – 1970)? Was the declaration of Biafra’s Independence largely as a result of opportunity or grievance?

Konye Obaji Ori

International Conflicts and Conflict Resolution

Department of International Relations

University of Indianapolis


Like several African nations, Nigeria was carved by the British who neglected the religious, ethnic and lingual differences that existed among the people who are Nigerians today. The country’s boundaries had been defined subjectively to demarcate where the contending claims of the colonial powers collided. Just seven years after independence from Britain in 1960, the eastern region of Nigeria by May 1967 declared itself an independent state called the Republic of Biafra, under the leadership of Lt Colonel Ojukwu in accordance with the wishes of the Igbo people. Upon this declaration, the Nigerian Civil War began; a war between the then eastern region of Nigeria and the rest of Nigeria. All efforts to intervene by eminent Nigerians and well - wishers were futile. The war began in 1967 and ended in 1970, costing over one million military and civilian casualties.

With advanced studies on civil wars today, the question asked here is what were the most relevant factors in the sudden occurrence of this civil war? I answer this question by assessing the Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler’s opportunity and grievance model, and the assessment of James Fearon and David Laitin’s civil war hypothesis in the case of the Nigerian civil war.

Previous researches have not overtly shown whether opportunity factors were more relevant than grievance factors, or vice versa, in the case of the Nigerian civil war. This study through a structured-focused analysis of events that led up to the war, and events during the war, argues that grievances such as ethnic rivalry and ethnic dominance, polarization and regionalism, perceived tribalism and religionism, and perceived income inequality, were the most significant factors that fuelled the Nigerian civil war. Opportunity factors such as weak democracy and state capacity, availability of oil, international recognition and sympathy, finance and the availability of arms were significant in assessing the outcome of the war than there were in assessing the outbreak of the war. This was because the opportunity factors favored the Nigerian side more so than the Biafran side. In conclusion, Biafra’s declaration of independence from Nigeria in 1967 is mostly based on grievance factors.


Are conflicts caused by ethnic tensions, religious differences, or other social affiliations, or do conflicts begin because it is in the economic best interests of individuals and groups to start them?

According to Collier and Hoeffler (2001), opportunities are more important in explaining conflicts than are motives. A particularly powerful risk factor is dependence upon primary commodity exports. A likely explanation is the scope these activities provide for extortion of natural resources by rebel groups, donations from Diasporas, and subventions from hostile governments.

Hirshleifer (1995, 2001) provides an important refinement on the motive-opportunity dichotomy. He classifies the possible causes of conflict into preferences, opportunities and perceptions. The introduction of perceptions allows for the possibility that both opportunities and grievances might be wrongly perceived. If the perceived opportunity for rebellion is illusory – analogous to the `winners’ curse’ – unprofitability will cause collapse, perhaps before reaching our threshold for civil war. By contrast, when exaggerated grievances trigger rebellion, fighting does not dispel the misperception and indeed may generate genuine grievances (Collier and Hoeffler 2001).

Four general explanations are often advanced to account for group rebellion: state responses and capabilities, diffusion, relative deprivation, and rational actor. One of the most commonly used indicators of relative deprivation is income inequality. The empirical evidence for an inequality effect on internal political conflict is, however, mixed. Studies by Sigelman and Simpson (1977), Muller (1985), Muller and Seligson (1987), Boswell and Dixon (1990), and Schock (1996) report a significant, positive relationship between income inequality and political violence. Hardy (1979) and Weede (1981, 1987), on the other hand, conclude that once a control for the level of economic development is introduced, the relationship between income inequality and political violence vanishes (Collier and Hoeffler 2001).

Rebellion may be explained by atypically severe grievances, such as high inequality, a lack of political rights, or ethnic and religious divisions in society. Alternatively, it might be explained by atypical opportunities for building a rebel organization. Opportunity may be determined by access to finance, such as the scope for extortion of natural resources, donations from a Diaspora population, and donations from hostile governments. Opportunity may also depend upon factors such as military advantage, cost of rebellion, geography: mountains and forests that may be needed to incubate rebellion. Both opportunities and grievances increase with population, a result compatible with both the opportunity and grievance accounts. However, grievances increase with population due to rising heterogeneity. Yet those aspects of heterogeneity that measurable are not associated with an increased risk of conflict (Collier and Hoeffler 2001).

Collier and Hoeffler (2004), researching the factors impacting on civil war onset, have found it useful to distinguish between greed- and grievance related factors. Generally, they find more empirical support for greed-related factors, meaning that greedy rebels start civil wars with a view to realizing political or economic gains when the political structure provides them with an opportunity to do so. The importance of political opportunities was especially highlighted by Fearon and Laitin’s (2003) study on civil war onset, which concentrates on economic, political, and military aspects of state weakness (Gurses, Rost and McLeod 2008).

Under normal circumstances the amalgamation of Nigeria 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 Nigerian Civil 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 (Atofarati, 1992).

James Fearon and David Laitin’s Civil War Hypothesis

According to Fearon and Laitin (2003), the political and military technology of insurgency will be favored, and thus civil war made more likely:

When potential rebels face or have a newly independent state available, which suddenly loses the coercive backing of the former imperial power and whose military capabilities are new and untested.

When there is political instability at the center, which may indicate disorganization and weakness, there is an opportunity for a separatist or center seeking rebellion.

When a regime mixes democratic with autocratic features; as this is likely to indicate political contestation among competing forces and, in consequence, state incapacity.

When a country’s population is large; it becomes necessary for the center to multiply layers of agents to keep tabs on who is doing what at the local level and, also, increases the number of potential recruits to an insurgency for a given level of income.

When the territorial base separated from the state's center by water or distance- for example, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) from West Pakistan or Angola from Portugal; foreign governments or Diasporas willing to supply weapons, money, or training.

Land that supports the production of high value, low-weight goods such as coca, opium, diamonds, and other contraband, can be used to finance an insurgency.

When the state’s revenues are derived primarily from oil exports.

The next section of this paper will evaluate these postulations and other hypotheses through a layered narration of the events leading to the Nigerian civil war.

The Creation of Nigeria and Ethno-political Split

Nigeria was composed of semi-autonomous Muslim feudal states in the desert north, and Christian and animist kingdoms in the south and east. During the colonial period, the British divided the country into three regions: The north which was dominated by the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group, the west which was dominated by the Yoruba ethnic group, and the east which was dominated by the Igbo ethnic group. The north had slightly more population than the other two regions combined, and on this basis the northern region was allocated a majority of the seats in the Federal Legislature established by the colonial authorities (McCaskie, 1997). The dominant ethnic groups within these three regions sought economic, political, and social dominance in the new Nigeria.

Ethnic Rivalry and Ethnic Dominance (Grievance***)

Measures of a country's ethnic or religious diversity should be associated with a higher risk of civil war (Fearon and Laitin, 2003).

According to Collier and Hoeffler’s grievance model, increased ethnic dominance increases the chances of civil conflict significantly. Prior to 1960, the region that became Nigeria had a population of 60 million people consisting of nearly 300 different ethnic and cultural groups. Of these numerous ethnicities, leaders of the Igbo and Yoruba ethnicities were at the forefront of the fight for independence from Britain. The Igbo’s and Yoruba’s wanted an independent Nigeria to be organized into several small states so that the conservative Northern ethnicities could not dominate the country. Northern leaders, however, fearful that independence would mean political and economic domination by the more educated elites in the South, preferred the perpetuation of British rule (Udofia, 1981).

The growth of nationalism in the society and the subsequent emergence of political parties were based on ethnicity and tribes rather than national interests, and therefore the country had no unifying effect on the people (Atofarati 1992).

Ethnic and religious hatreds are widely perceived as a cause of civil conflict. Although such hatreds cannot be quantified, they can evidently only occur in societies that are multi-ethnic or multi-religious. Intergroup hatreds must be greater in societies that are fractionalized than in those which are homogenous (Collier and Hoeffler 2004).

As a condition for accepting independence, the Northerners demanded that the country continue to be divided into three regions with the north having a clear majority. Igbo and Yoruba leaders, anxious to obtain an independent country at all costs, accepted the Northern demands. A coalition of ethnic-based conservative parties emerged. In 1960, a population of 60 million people from nearly 300 different ethnic and cultural groups, with desires of their own sovereign nations was incorporated into a nation (Udofia, 1981).

Polarization and Regionalism (Grievance ***)

Policies that discriminate in favor of a particular language or religion should raise the risk of civil war onset in states with religious or linguistic minorities (Fearon and Laitin, 2003). The Macpherson's constitution of 1951, created this situation in Nigeria.

After World War II, there was political awareness and upsurge of nationalism in Africa. Political parties were formed on regional and ethnic basis. The outcome of the three political regions created in Nigeria was full scale regionalism. According to Collier and Hoeffler (2004), ethnic polarization, increases the chances of war. The Macpherson's constitution of 1951, established a central legislative council and a central executive council for the country, and a greater measure of autonomy was granted the regions with stronger regional legislatures. All the political leaders who had strong and firm political bases in their regions fought hard for maximum powers for their regions which weakened the center (Atofarati, 1992). There was diffusion instead of fusion of the three units.

The only point on which Nigerian political leaders spoke with one voice was the granting by the British of political independence - and even then they did not agree on the timing. With granting of independence in 1960, all the dirt, swept under the carpet, surfaced. Nigeria was now beset by strings of political problems which stemmed from the lop-sided nature of the political divisions of the country and the type of the existing federal constitution and the spirit in which it operated (Olusegun, 1980).

As hypothesized by Fearon and Laitin (2003), Countries with an ethnic majority and a significant ethnic minority are at greater risk for civil war.

Availability of Oil (Opportunity ***)

Primary commodity exports substantially increase conflict risk. Collier and Hoeffler (2004) have interpreted this as being due to the opportunities such commodities provide for extortion, making rebellion feasible and perhaps even attractive. Auty and Gelb (2001) likewise concludes that ’point resources’ such as minerals, have a particularly strong association with destabilizing social tension, while Murshed (2004) suggests that ‘point resources’ retard democratic and institutional development. Similarly, de Soysa (2002) and Fearon and Laitin (2003) find that a dummy variable for oil exporters makes civil conflict more likely. Lujala (2005) concludes that onshore oil production increases the probability of civil conflict, but that offshore production does not, and Lujala, Gleditsch and Gilmore (2005) suggest that secondary diamonds increase the likelihood of conflict (Aslaksen and Torvik, 2005, 2).

In the case of Nigeria, the discovery of vast oil reserves in the Niger River delta had tempted the Igbo dominated South-Eastern region to annex in order to become economically self-sufficient. Prior to the discovery of oil, Nigeria's wealth derived from agricultural products from the south, and minerals from the north. In general, it seems fair to say that the results from the abundant empirical literature indicate that oil, gemstones, minerals and other ‘loot-able’ resources are connected with civil conflict, but that there appears to be no similar effect of less loot-able (and less valuable) resources such as agricultural land (Aslaksen and Torvik, 2005).

Northern Nigeria, up until around 1965, had had low-level demands to secede from Nigeria and retain its agricultural wealth for Northerners. These demands seemed to cease when it became clear that oil in the southeast would become a major revenue source. This further fuelled Igbo fears that the northerners had plans to strip eastern oil to benefit the North, following the exclusion of easterners from power. With oil now flowing in the Eastern Region, the way was now open for the implementation of the secession (Madiebo, 1980). Civil war chances are high when the state’s revenues are derived primarily from oil exports.

According to Collier and Hoeffler (2000), “the extent of primary commodity exports is the largest single influence on the risk of conflict.” Primary commodities are however associated with other characteristics that may cause civil war, such as poor public service provision, corruption and economic mismanagement (Sachs and Warner, 2000). Potentially, any increase in conflict risk may be due to rebel responses to such poor governance rather than to financial opportunities.

Like it was in Nigeria, natural resources are usually found in only one part of the country, often in a peripheral area. According to Collier (2004), the people who live in this area are ready prey for secessionist political movements. To the usual romantic propaganda of identity politics, secessionist leaders can add the powerful language of economic self-interest: ‘our’ resources are being squandered by corrupt and alien elite. Large natural resource rents not only make civil war more likely, they make it more likely that a civil war will be secessionist. Like Katanga, Cabinda: Africa’s secessionist wars including that of Biafra have usually been related to natural resources.

Economic Growth (Opportunity*)/ Income Distribution (Grievance**)

Opportunities arise from atypically low income. Recruits must be paid, and their cost may be related to the income forgone by enlisting as a rebel. Rebellions may occur when foregone income is unusually low. The Igbos at the time may have had a percived economic marginalization and weer suceptible to fight for better economic opportunities in an independent Biafra. The three proxies for foregone income are mean income per capita, male secondary schooling, and the growth rate of the economy (Collier and Hoeffler, 2004).

Greater income inequality should be associated with higher risks of civil war onset

(Fearon and Laitin, 2003). Income per capita in 1967 Nigeria was very low. Nigeria’s GDP as at 1967 was $5,203,136,000.00 (CIA: World Fact Book). During the 1960s and 1970s, Nigeria's degree of income concentration was average for sub-Saharan Africa, which, after Latin America, had the highest income inequality of any region in the world. Because the rural masses in Nigeria were politically weak, official income distribution policies focused on interurban redistribution (Nigeria: Country Data). According to Fearon and Laitin (2003), a higher per capita income should be associated with a lower risk of civil war onset because it is a proxy for a state's overall financial, administrative, police, and military capabilities.

The education proxy may affect the risk of conflict through changing attitudes. By 1957, Western Nigeria introduced Universal and Compulsory free primary education and devoted almost fifty per cent of the region's budget to education generally. At the attainment of the country independence in October 1960, there was already a wide gap between the North and the South in the matter of western education. The Northern region had only a handful University graduates and probably no more than two thousand (2000) holders of school certificate. The South, which received western education earlier than the North and which also, sponsored more students abroad than the north had these two categories of educated elements in their hundreds and thousands respectively.

Ten years later in 1967, there were about two and half million children in the primary schools of Eastern and Western regions, compared with a half million out of the greater population of the former North. Besides these, 119,000 students were in Southern secondary schools, against 14,000 in the Northern secondary schools (Atofarati, 1992). However the Western region at the break of the war was part of Nigeria, so their secondary schooling proxy factored into the Nigerian side, rather than the Biafran side.

The growth rate of the economy in the preceding period is intended to proxy new income opportunities: The lower the rate of growth, the higher the probability of unconstitutional political change (Alesina et al. 1996). However, the big brute fact according to Collier (2004) is that civil war is heavily concentrated in countries with low income, in economic decline, and dependent upon natural resources. Income inequality is also a strong grievance that increases the chances of rebellion. The relation between regional inequality and rebellion is indeed a close one as the poor may rebel to induce redistribution, and rich regions may mount secessionist rebellions to preempt redistribution (Sen, 1973), which was perceivably the case of Biafra.

Weak Democracy and State Capacity (Opportunity ***)

Researchers have often argued that state weakness plays a major role in causing and prolonging violent conflicts. To understand the role of state weakness in the Nigerian civil war, it is helpful to apply Bruce Bagley's theoretical conception of state capacity, which assesses the ability of government institutions to penetrate society, extract resources from it and regulate conflicts within it . . . [and] the ability of state authorities to govern legitimately, to enforce the law systematically, and to administer justice effectively throughout the national territory (Bagley 2001, 2)

In 1963, Nigeria declared itself a Federal Republic. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the Christian-dominated Igbo ethnicity was appointed as its first president and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of the Hausa and Muslim-dominated ethnicity was appointed prime minister. 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. A first and second census was highly disputed alleged to be riddled with malpractices and inflation of figures of such astronomical proportions that the Eastern Region refused to accept the result. The general election of 1964 was alleged to be neither free nor fair. All devices imaginable were said to have been used by the ruling parties in the regions to eliminate opponents (Atofarati, 1992). Civil war chances are high when there is political instability at the center, which may indicate disorganization and weakness; there is an opportunity for a separatist or center seeking rebellion.

The Chairman of the Electoral Commission admitted there were proven irregularities. The president, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe refused to appoint a prime minister in the light of these allegations. The president and the incumbent Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of the northern region, were each seeking the support of the Armed Forces. This marked the first involvement of the Armed Forces in partisan politics. For four fearful days, the nation waited until the President announced that he had appointed the incumbent Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to form a broad based government (Atofarati, 1992).

According to Cotton 2007, the notion of state failure is employed in several related but methodologically distinct senses. The major indicator of a failing state is its lack of capacity to exercise juridical sovereignty in the international system. An erosion or disappearance of Legitimacy is the focus of these approaches.

Rigging and irregularities in the Western Region election of 1965 were alleged to be more brazen and more shameful. Law and order broke down completely leading to an almost complete state of anarchy. Arson and indiscriminate killings were committed by a private army of thugs of political parties. Law abiding citizens lived in constant fear of their lives and properties. This was the state of affairs when the coup of 15 January 1966 took place. The aim of the coup was to establish a strong, unified and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife. The outcome of coup was a change of political balance in the country. It is this struggle that eventually degenerated into coup, counter coup and a bloody civil war (Atofarati, 1992). Civil war chances are high when a regime mixes democratic with autocratic features; as this is likely to indicate political contestation among competing forces and, in consequence, state incapacity.

What constitutes a failed state has varied, therefore, according to the perspective. It would seem that there are at least two kinds of ‘state failure’. According to the first, the state atrophies, its revenues decline, its capacities diminish and its place is taken by local civil society and/or ‘traditional’ hierarchies and/or international forces/agencies. Alternatively, elements of the state become predatory, disputes over resources and revenues emerge, conflict increases, and humanitarian dislocation occurs. Perhaps there is a third sense of failure, which would entail (as in North Korea and Zimbabwe) the state becoming essentially criminalized (Cotton, 2007, 456). The third case was more prevalent in the case of newly independent Nigeria

As a means of holding the country together, Nigeria was divided into twelve states from the original four regions in May 1967. Following the act of the creation of states by decree without consultation, the former Eastern Region under Lt. Col. Ojukwu declared the Region an independent state of Biafra. The Federal Government 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 (Harold, 1982).

Perceived Tribalism, Religionism and Genocide (Grievance*)

The first coup was carried out on January 15, 1966, known as the coup of the "Five Majors," carried out by Igbo officers, led by Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna which had toppled the parliament and therefore, the government of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. An Igbo Army general, General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was installed as president, the country’s first military head of state.

Gen. Ironsi was thought to have promoted many Igbo’s in the Army at the expense of Yoruba and Hausa officers, and was accused of perpetuating the brutal slayings of Yoruba and Hausa leaders. The Northerners in particular saw it as a deliberate plan to eliminate the political heavy weights in the North in order to pave way for the Easterners to take over the leadership role from them. Resentment grew in the North, culminating in the May 1966 riots throughout the North during which most Easterners (Igbo’s) residing in the North were attacked and killed (Atofarati, 1992).

In response to the Igbo-led coup, the Northerners and Islamic-faith-dominated Nigerian army led a coup against the Head of State, Maj. Gen Aguiyi Ironsi who was killed along with many other senior officers of the Igbo ethnicity. But as the military took over, the economic situation worsened, ethnic tensions broke out (Atofarati, 1992). This back to back coup led to an increase in ethnic tension and violence.

Claims of Genocide

After three anxious days of fear, doubts and non-government, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, who at the time was the most senior officer of Northern origin and then the Chief of Staff in the Nigerian Army, emerged as the new Nigerian political leader. The lack of planning and the revengeful intentions of the second coup manifested itself in the chaos, confusion and the scale of unnecessary killings of the Easterners throughout the country. Even the authors of the coup could not stem the general lawlessness and disorder, the senseless looting and killing which spread through the North like wild fire on 29 September 1966. The Northern initiated coup, which was mostly motivated by ethnic and religious reasons, was a bloodbath of both military officers and civilians, especially those of the Igbo tribe. In the anti-Igbo riots, up to 30,000 Ibos were killed in fighting with Hausas, and around 1million refugees fled to their Ibo homeland in the east (Reopening Nigeria’s Civil WarWounds, BBC, 2007).

Troops of Eastern Nigeria origin serving elsewhere in the country were officially and formally released and posted to Enugu, the capital of Eastern Region (Biafra), while troops of non-Eastern origin in Enugu moved to Kaduna and Lagos (Nigeria). This marked the beginning of division and disunity within the rank and file of the Nigerian Armed Forces:

This simple and seemingly innocuous action broke the last thread and split the last institution symbolizing Nigeria's nationhood and cohesion which had been regularly tampered with by the politicians since 1962. The rift between the Eastern Region and the rest of the country was total (Atofarati, 1992).

The violence against the Igbo’s increased their desire for autonomy and protection from the Northerners’ military wrath. The military governor of the Igbo-dominated southeast, Col. Ojukwu, citing the Northern massacres and electoral fraud, proclaimed with southern parliament the secession of the south-eastern region from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra, an independent nation on 30 May 1967 (Atofarati, 1992).

Finance and Arms Availability (Opportunity *)

In general each combatant in an armed internal conflict chooses whether to acquire arms, forego acquiring arms, or disarm to some degree. In internal conflict both governments and armed opposition groups possess a variety of potential methods to obtain weapons. A link is likely between arms acquisitions and escalation, particularly by the military of a state embroiled in an ethnic dispute. In the case of Sri Lanka for example, arms acquisitions by the military were prompted by prior ethnic fighting and escalation, and by the military’s intention for subsequent escalation and dominance (Sislin, 2006).

Before the fighting began, Lt. Col. Ojukwu seized the Federal Government property and funds in the East. He planned the hijacking of a National commercial aircraft Fokker 27 on a schedule flight from Benin to Lagos. All these and other signs and reports convinced the Federal Military Government of Ojukwu's intention to secede. Lt Col. Yakubu Gowon, the Head of Federal Government, imposed a total blockade of the East. It was realized that more stringent action had to be taken to weaken support for Ojukwu and to forestall his secession bid (Atofarati, 1992).

The month of June of 1967 was used by both sides to prepare for war. Each side increased its military arsenal and moved troops to the border watching and waiting. At the dawn of 6 July 1967, the first bullet was fired signaling the beginning of the grisly 30 month civil war and carnage (Atofarati, 1992).

As stated by Sislin (2006), arms do play a role in a conflict’s progression. Just as the government of Southern Rhodesia pump-primed the Renamo rebellion in Mozambique while in the case of the Nigerian civil war, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union supplied Nigeria with arms while France sent Biafra weapons.

Photographs of starving children with huge distended stomachs from protein deficiency horrified people around the world. U.S. and European relief organizations, private groups and religious groups came to the assistance of the Biafrans in response to Biafran propaganda stressing the genocide of the Igbo. Airlifts brought food, medical supplies and arms to the war zones during the nights (Henryka and Himmelstrand, 1978).

International Recognition and Sympathy (Opportunity ***)

On May 30, 1967, Col. Ojukwu formally announced that Biafra would be an independent Republic. Several peace accords especially the one held at Aburi, Ghana (the 1968 Aburi Accord) collapsed. In July army combat units were dispatched to the east, but were met with rebel troops. Biafrans retaliated by taking control of strategic points in the mid-western region.

Conversely, only five nations recognized the Republic of Biafra, although socialist movements in many countries tried to give moral and material support. The Organization of African Unity, the papacy, and others tried to reconcile the combatants. Most countries continued to recognize Gen. Gowon’s regime as the government of all Nigeria. On the other hand, international sympathy for the plight of starving Biafran children brought airlifts of food and medicine from many countries.

One determinant of the prospects for insurgency is the availability of third-party support to either the rebels or the government of the state in question Fearon and Laitin, 2003). C te d’Ivoire, Gabon, Tanzania, South Africa and Zambia recognized Biafra as an independent state (Green, 1967), but the absence of international support from political superpowers could have weakened the resolve of the secession movement of Biafra. However, the finance and arms availability factor ties in with the international recognition and sympathy factor, because the former may have been induced by the later.


Collier and Hoeffler (2004) showed that most proxies for grievance were insignificant: inequality, political rights, ethnic polarization and religious fractionalization. Only ethnic dominance had adverse effects. Collier and Hoeffler pointed that even this factor has to be considered in combination with the benign effects of social fractionalization: societies characterized by ethnic and religious diversity are safer than homogenous societies as long as they avoid dominance.

Fearon and Laitin 2003 show that the conditions such as state weakness marked by poverty, a large population, and instability were better predictors of civil war than ethnic and religious diversity or measures of grievances such as economic inequality, lack of democracy or civil liberties, or state discrimination against minority religions or languages.

The presence of a rough terrain, poorly served by roads, at a distance from the centers of state power, should favor insurgency and civil war, and so should the availability of foreign, cross border sanctuaries and a local population that can be induced not to denounce the insurgents to government agents (Fearon and Laitin, 2003). But in Nigeria, the factor of Geography does not appear to have contributed to the opportunity to fight for secession. This observation is in accordance with Collier and Hoeffler’s 2004 findings that show a weak relationship between mountainous terrain and rebels’ advantage.

Collier and Hoeffler, (2004) suggested that both opportunities and grievances increase with population. This result is compatible with both the opportunity and grievance accounts; however, grievances increase with population due to rising heterogeneity. Fearon and Laitin (2003), hypothesize that among countries with an ethnic minority comprising at least 5% of the population, greater ethnic diversity should associate with a higher risk of ethnic civil war. This finding was evident in the case in Nigeria of 1967, with a population of 60 million people, 15 million of whom were Biafrans. However, I could not assess how significant the population size factored in the outbreak of the war, other than the inherent fact that grievances increases with population.

Among the factors listed in the James Fearon and David Laitin’s Civil War Hypothesis, only factors B, C, and G appeared relevant to the outbreak of this civil war:


Contrary to some of the findings of Collier and Hoeffler, and Fearon and Laitin, in my assessment of the Nigerian civil war, grievances such as ethnic rivalry and ethnic dominance, polarization/ regionalism, perceived tribalism and religionism, and perceived income inequality were very significant in the outbreak of the war (the demand for Biafra’s independence). The most significant opportunities were weak democracy and state capacity, availability of oil, international recognition and sympathy, finance and the availability of arms. However, these factors influenced the outcome of the war more so than the outbreak of the war.

Also, the factors of opportunities were mostly devalued by the might and size of the Nigerian side. Take for example, military advantage. Nigeria received arms, diplomatic support, and military training from Britain and the Soviet Union, while Biafra received arms from France. However, Lt Col. Yakubu Gowon, the Head of Federal Government, imposed a total blockade of the East (Biafra side). The Want-away country was only recognized by weak players such as C te d’Ivoire, Gabon, Tanzania, South Africa and Zambia. The powerful nations did not recognize Biafra.

Based on the assessment of Fearon and David Laitin’s Civil War Hypothesis, the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war occurred because; there was political instability at the center, which indicated disorganization and weakness and thus an opportunity for a separatist or center seeking rebellion; the government at the time was a mix of democratic and autocratic ideals as it sought to stay independent of Britain; an indication of political contestation among competing forces and weak state capacity; and the country’s revenue was chiefly derived from oil exports.

Availability of oil is perhaps the single most significant opportunity factor. Even though weak state capacity gave Biafra the opportunity to rebel and the dare to secede, the military size and financing of the Nigerian side thwarted any chances of victory. International recognition played a strong part in frustrating and ending the rebellion; however this paper does not asses weather a pre-perceived international support influenced the declaration of independence.

The introduction of perceptions to the grievance and opportunity factors allows for the possibility that both opportunities and grievances might be wrongly perceived. As stated by Collier and Hoeffler (2001), if the perceived opportunity for rebellion is illusory – analogous to the `winners’ curse’ – unprofitability will cause collapse, perhaps before reaching our threshold for civil war. By contrast, when exaggerated grievances trigger rebellion, fighting does not dispel the misperception and indeed may generate genuine grievances.



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