All is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight us harder’ (Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Financial Times, London, 6/26/1969; Daily Telegraph, 6/27/69)
The Nigerian civil war otherwise known as the Biafran war ended on this day 1970. It’s a gory war that saw the decimation of more three million innocent people. Agha di njo, war is lethal. Agha ajoka, war is bad. Today is a day of brooding for all Igbo people, a lachrymose and poignant day for them. Igbo land was badly hit by the war. She wept as she beheld her illustrious sons and daughters nearly exterminated. Her ancient cities and towns, sacred forests and virgin lands were bombarded with tons of weapons all to bring her to her feet. Ya diba, let it be.
However, today is also a day of sober reflection, a day we throw our minds back into the past, a day we remember our mistakes, flaws and fallen heroes. Many people however have questioned on why Biafra lost the war although Gowon declared it as ‘ No Victor, No Vanquished.’
Well from my own point of view, the following reasons are the reasons why the Igbos lost the war:
1. Genocide: The Nigeria–Biafra war that raged between 1967 and 1970 made headlines around the world especially for its noisome genocide. In genocide, a social group as a whole is the enemy and its power and members are targeted for destruction. In this case, Biafra land was targeted to massive destruction. Nigeria committed the worst genocide since World War II, second only to the Jewish holocaust in its brutality, horror, inhumanity, and brazen barbarism. Nigerian airforce bombarded and shelled many cities of Biafra with deadly missiles and weapons. Blood was spilled, heads were decapitated, women were ravaged, children died in their thousands, the list is endless. The memory of the Asaba massacre also comes to mind. Hundreds of Asaba men both old and young were grouped together and decimated because of their allegiance to their kiths and kins across the Niger. It is estimated that over two million people died on the Biafran side. All of these killings contributed to the loss of war by the Igbo.
2. Poor Arsenal: Biafra lost the war also because they were outgunned and out manned by the Nigerian side. The Nigerian side had heavy ammunition supplied to her by mostly Russia with which they used to unleash destruction and havoc on Biafra land. The Nigerian army with their ammunitions invaded Biafran cities. The gallant Biafran soldiers tried to hold forth but what is greater than the cricket entered its abode. One by one, they gave way: Nsukka fell, Enugu fell, Onitsha, Owerri, Umuahia, Aba and Port Harcourt all fell. The Biafran side at some points had to use sticks to fight. Young boys were even conscripted into the army to fight. They ended up losing their lives on the war front. This is really traumatising.😭
3. Sabotage of the minority groups: Biafra also lost the war because she wasn’t able to dialogue and liaise well with the minority groups under it. The Efiks, Ibibios, Ogonis, Ijaws felt sidelined in the scheme of things. In fact, they saw the Igbos as being cocky and presumptuous folks that would only come to subjugate their rights and lord over them. They rebelled against Ojukwu because they later didn’t ask for their consent to be regrouped into Biafra. That was a grave mistake on Ojukwu did considering the fact that those minorities had the bulk of Biafran oil. The Minorities had to make peace with the Nigerian and assisted them in deflating Biafra’s over bloated ego of victory. This is major reason Ikwerre and other sub-groups of Igbos in the South South rejected their Igbo identity. They stole their brothers properties and branded them abandoned. The animosity still rages on, the bad blood is yet to dissipate. The Biafran experiment failed from the very start when she failed to get the support that mattered.
4. Starvation: This is the ultimate precursor that led to Igbos losing the war. Pa Awolowo was a respected Yoruba leader but a good number of Igbos till today don’t really fancy him because of the role he played during the war. It was Chief Obafemi Awolowo declared that
‘All is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight us harder’ (Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Financial Times London, 6/26/1969; Daily Telegraph, 6/27/69). Awolowo was the Vice Chairman of the Federal Military Executive Council of the Nigerian state when he made this statement. Following his statement, Pa Awo championed the starvation policy which saw hundreds of thousands of Biafran children dying of starvation. Some developed kwashiorkor due to malnutrition.
5: Influence of World Powers: The world powers, Britain, USA, USSR and others were on the Nigerian side cos of several factors. In fact, for the first and last time since the second world war, USA, Russia and Britain were on the same page just because of their selfish interests and other ulterior motives According to Quora: The United States officially declared neutrality, with US Secretary of State Dean Rusk stating that:
‘America is not in a position to take action as Nigeria is an area under British influence.’ Formally, the United States was neutral in the civil war. Strategically, its interests aligned with the Federal Military Government. The US also saw value in its alliance with Lagos, and sought to protect $800 million (in the assessment of the State Department) worth of private investment.’
Russia on the other hand fiercely backed the Nigerian military government and supplied her with heavy ammunition to bring Biafra to her knees.
Reportedly, ‘the war substantially improved Soviet-Nigerian diplomatic and trade relations, and Moskvitch cars began to make appearances around Lagos. The USSR became a competitive importer of Nigerian cocoa.’
Nigeria also received support from the Soviet Union in form of aircraft.
6. Leadership Flaws of Ojukwu: I think that Ojukwu was impulsive about this war of a thing. He hurriedly went to war without preparation and adequate consultation. How do you wake up and suddenly declare a territory that has many minorities as your ultimate possession? Those small small ethnic groups were not even consulted. The Igbos in general might not have wanted war too. Maybe, the success of the Ahiara declaration deluded him and compel him to start fighting with the available resources on ground. He should have consulted those big wigs, negotiate with them and guarantee their protection of interest in the nascent state of Biafra. Yes, Britain, USA, Russia, they all had eyes for the Biafran oil. Britain has stake in Biafran oil through Shell BP and America through Chevron, Texaco and others. They just wanted to be sure their interests won’t be jeopardised.
Unfortunately, Ojukwu never did. He refused vehemently. That was why those countries supported Nigeria because they knew their interests were at stake. For instance, Gowon agreed with Cameroun not to let Biafrans get weapon supplies from the camerounian border in exchange for the Bakassi peninsula. This alone made the Biafran punctured Biafran tyre of resistance. He shouldn’t have let the war drag on since he knew he was running shortage of weapons. How do you push unarmed men and boys into the war front, only for them to be decimated by Nigerian war tanks? He made a great deal of mistakes. Let’s just say it’s the vagaries of war. We have forgiven him.
To all the fallen sons and daughters of Biafra, ka mkpuru ono unu laa na ndokwa.