Biafra fifty years on – a new history of the Nigerian civil war – The Tablet

The Biafrans’ struggle aroused widespread support among Catholics around the world
Photo: Alamy/Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix
Half-a-century after the end of the Nigerian civil war, a journalist who covered it has completed a history of the conflict that bears out the ancient claim that the first casualty of war is truth – so was Catholic sympathy misrepresented in news reports?
Such was the public fury at Nigeria’s crooked political leadership that there were celebrations when, a little over five years after it had gained its independence from Britain, a group of military officers overthrew the civilian government on 15 January 1966, killing the federal prime minister and some other senior politicians.

But things quickly turned sour. The men responsible for the coup were Igbos, as was General Ironsi, the head of the new military regime, and a proclamation in May 1966 of an end to the federal system was thought to indicate a sinister takeover plan by Igbo ­people. The Igbos had lived, worked and traded all over Nigeria for years, contributing greatly to its development. Enterprising and well educated, they often aroused prejudice, but the idea common in Nigeria that “the Igbos” planned to dominate the country was unfounded. But this illusion helps to explain the massacres of Igbos that followed later in 1966, Biafra’s declaration of independence the following year, and the war between 6 July 1967 and 15 January 1970 during which it is estimated that there were 100,000 ­military casualties, and between half a million and 2 million Biafran civilians died of ­starvation.
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