The pogroms I witnessed in Makurdi, Nigeria (late Sept. 1966) were foreshadowed by months of intensive anti-Igbo and anti-Eastern conversations among Tiv, Idoma, Hausa and other Northerners resident in Makurdi, and, fitting a pattern replicated in city after city; the Nigerian army led the massacres.
The Nigerian Civil War and its Lasting Impact
he Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War or the Nigerian-Biafran War, erupted on 6 July 1967 and lasted until 15 January 1970. The conflict began an uneasy peace and instability that has plagued the country ever since. The war’s primary aim was to reconcile and reunify Nigeria. It resulted from the Nigerian government’s efforts to counter the struggle by the Igbo people of the Eastern region to break away from Nigeria and form a new republic called ‘The Republic of Biafra,’ led by the late military officer and politician Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The Republic of Biafra and its People
The Republic of Biafra mainly consisted of the former Eastern region of Nigeria and was inhabited primarily by the Igbo ethnic group. Biafra is typically divided into four main ethnicities: the Igbos, the Ibibio-Efiks, the Ijaws, and the Ogojas. The modern-day states that make up Biafra from the Eastern region and Midwest are Abia, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Delta, Rivers and Cross River, Igbanke in Edo state, and the southern part of Benue.
The Biafran Flag: A Symbol of Identity and Struggle
The Biafran flag was the official flag of the secessionist state of Biafra, which existed from 1967 to 1970. Nigerian artist Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi designed the Nigerian flag, and the Biafran flag features a horizontal tricolour of red, black, and green, with a golden rising sun in the centre. The red symbolises the blood of those who died during the conflict, the black represents the people of Biafra, and the green signifies the region’s agricultural wealth. The golden rising sun in the flag’s centre symbolises hope and a reminder of the bright future Biafra hoped to achieve. Despite the secessionist state’s abolition in 1970, the Biafran flag continues representing Igbo identity. It serves as a reminder of the Igbo’s struggle for self-determination and autonomy within the context of the Nigerian nation.
The Biafran Currency and the War’s Economic Impact
During the Nigerian Civil War, the secessionist state of Biafra issued its currency, the Biafran pound, to establish its independence and economic self-sufficiency. The Biafran pound, introduced on 28 January 1968, had a fixed exchange rate of one to one British pound. However, the war heavily disrupted Biafra’s economy, and the secessionist state could not maintain its currency’s value. As a result, inflation skyrocketed, rendering the Biafran pound nearly worthless by the war’s end.
The Biafran government created the Bank of Biafra, made possible under “Decree No. 3 of 1967”. A governor and four directors administered the bank; the maiden governor, whose signature featured on the bank notes, was Sylvester Ugoh.
Before it adopted its money, Biafra’s currency was the Nigerian pound.
During the Nigerian Civil War, the secessionist state of Biafra issued its currency to establish its independence and economic self-sufficiency. The Biafran currency was called the Biafran pound, and it was introduced on Jan. 28, 1968., with a fixed exchange rate of one Biafran pound to one British pound.
The Biafran pound was designed by a Nigerian artist, Uche Okeke and featured various symbols and images intended to represent Biafran culture and identity. The currency was issued in denominations of 5 shillings, 10 shillings, £1, £5, £10, and £20.
However, the war heavily disrupted the Biafran economy, and the secessionist state could not maintain its currency’s value. As a result, inflation skyrocketed, and by the war’s end, the Biafran pound was almost worthless. It is estimated that a total of £115 to 140 million Biafran pounds was in circulation by the end of the conflict.
Today, the Biafran pound symbolises Nigeria’s struggle for self-determination and autonomy. Despite its failure as a currency, it remains a powerful symbol of Biafran identity and the legacy of the Nigerian Civil War.
The Blame Game
“The tragic chapter of violence is just ended. We are at the dawn of national reconciliation. Once again, we have an opportunity to build a new nation. My dear compatriots, we must pay homage to the fallen, to the heroes who have made the supreme sacrifice that we may be able to build a nation great in justice, fair trade, and industry.”
The haunting images of starving children from Biafra were broadcasted worldwide and drew attention to the human suffering caused by the war. As a result, the international community was moved to action, with various humanitarian organisations providing aid and relief to the affected populations.
Efforts towards Reconciliation
In the aftermath of the Biafran War, the Nigerian government implemented a “No victor, no vanquished” policy and embarked on a program called the 3Rs: Reconciliation, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction. These policies aimed to heal the wounds of the war and reintegrate the Igbo people and other ethnic groups affected by the conflict back into Nigerian society.
Reconciliation involved promoting unity and understanding among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria, encouraging inter-ethnic marriages, and fostering cultural exchanges. The government also granted amnesty to former Biafran soldiers and officials, allowing them to return to their pre-war positions in the Nigerian military and civil service.
Rehabilitation focused on assisting those displaced or affected by the war, including providing shelter, food, and other necessities. The government also established programs to help reintegrate former combatants and their families, including job training and education initiatives.
Reconstruction involved rebuilding infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and public buildings, destroyed during the war. The government also invested in the development of the Eastern Region, aiming to address some of the grievances that had led to the secessionist movement in the first place.
The Lingering Impact of the Biafran War
Despite the efforts towards reconciliation, the legacy of the Biafran War continues to be felt in Nigeria. As a result, many Igbo people feel marginalised and politically excluded, and there have been ongoing calls for greater autonomy or secession. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) are examples of groups that have emerged in recent years, advocating for the restoration of Biafra or increased political autonomy for the Igbo people.
Moreover, the Biafran War has had a lasting impact on Nigeria’s political landscape—the conflict exposed and exacerbated existing ethnic and regional tensions, which continue to influence Nigerian politics today. The struggle for resource control, particularly in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, has also been a source of the ongoing conflict in Nigeria.
In the broader context, the Biafran War serves as a reminder of the devastating consequences of ethnic and regional tensions. Moreover, it underscores the importance of promoting peace, unity, and inclusion in societies worldwide and the need for responsible governance and the equitable distribution of resources.
Remembering the Biafran War and Learning from History
The Biafran War remains an important historical event in Nigeria and beyond, serving as a cautionary tale about the dangers of ethnic and regional tensions. Therefore, it is crucial to remember the war and learn from its tragic consequences to prevent similar conflicts in the future.
Education and Awareness
Educating the public about the Biafran War, its causes, and its impact on Nigeria is essential for fostering a deeper understanding of the country’s history and the importance of unity and tolerance. This includes incorporating the history of the war into educational curricula and supporting research and publications on the subject.
Memorialisation and Remembrance
Memorialising the victims of the Biafran War and remembering the atrocities committed during the conflict can help to promote healing and reconciliation. This can be monuments, museums, and commemorative events that pay tribute to those who suffered and perished during the war.
Ongoing Dialogue and Conflict Resolution
Engaging in the ongoing dialogue between different ethnic and regional groups in Nigeria can help to address lingering grievances and promote understanding. This includes supporting forums for discussion, cultural exchanges, and conflict resolution efforts that aim to bridge divides and foster cooperation.
Addressing Socioeconomic Inequality
One of the critical factors that contributed to the Biafran War was the perception of economic and political marginalisation among the Igbo people. Therefore, addressing socioeconomic inequality in Nigeria is essential for promoting lasting peace and preventing future conflicts. This includes investing in infrastructure, education, and economic development in marginalised regions and ensuring equitable access to resources and opportunities for all Nigerians.
The Biafran War in a Global Context
The Biafran War serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of ethnic and regional conflicts around the world. By learning from the history of the Biafran War and addressing the underlying causes of such disputes, we can help build more inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous societies for all.