We searched and discoveredA�an article byA�By Mark Curtis titledA�Nigeriaa��s war over Biafra,A�1967-70
13feb07A�An edited extract from Unpeople: Britaina��s Secret Human Right Abuses
Background to civil war
For those in Britain old enough to remember the war in Nigeria in the late 1960s, a�?Biafraa�� probably still conjures up images of starving children a�� the result of the blockade imposed by the Nigerian government in Lagos to defeat the secession of the eastern region, Biafra. For Biafrans themselves, the period was one of immense suffering a�� it is still not known how many died at this time as a direct result of the war and the blockade, but it is believed to be at least one million and as high as three million.
For those seeking to understand Britaina��s role in the world, there is now an important side of the Biafran story to add a�� British complicity in the slaughter. The declassified files show that the then Wilson government backed the Nigerian government all the way, arming its aggression and apologising for its actions. It is one of the sorrier stories in British foreign policy, though by no means unusual.
The immediate background to the war was a complex one of tensions and violence between Nigeriaa��s regions and ethnic groups, especially between those from the east and the north. In January 1966 army officers had attempted to seize power and the conspirators, most of whom were Ibos (from the East) assassinated several leading political figures as well as officers of northern origin. Army commander Major General Ironsi, also an Ibo, intervened to restore discipline in the army, suspended the constitution, banned political parties, formed a Federal Military Government (FMG) and appointed military governors to each of Nigeriaa��s regions.
Ironsia��s decree in March 1966, which abolished the Nigerian federation and unified the federal and regional civil services, was perceived by many not as an effort to establish a unitary government but as a plot by the Ibo to dominate Nigeria. Troops of northern origin, who dominated the Nigerian infantry, became increasingly restive and fighting broke out between them and Ibo soldiers in garrisons in the south. In June, mobs in northern cities, aided by local officials, carried out a pogrom against resident Ibos, massacring several hundred people and destroying Ibo-owned property.
It was in this context that in July 1966 northern officers staged a countercoup during which Ironsi and other Ibo officers were killed. Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Yakubu a�?Jacka�� Gowon emerged as leader. The aim of the coup was both to take revenge on the Ibos for the coup in January but also to promote the secession of the north, although Gowon soon pulled back from calling explicitly for this. Gowon named himself as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and head of the military government, which was rejected by the military governor in the eastern region, Lieutenant Colonel Ojukwu, who claimed, with some justification, that the Gowon regime was illegitimate.
Throughout late 1966 and 1967 the tempo of violence increased. In September 1966 attacks on Ibos in the north were renewed with unprecedented ferocity, stirred up, eastern region officials believed, by northern political leaders. Reports circulated that troops from the northern region had participated in the massacres. The estimated number of deaths ranged from 10,000 to as high as 30,000. More than one million Ibos returned to the eastern region in fear.
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