History Internal Assessment
To what extent is Nigerian government to blame for the Nigerian Civil War?
In this investigation, I have found a number of sources to aid in the exploration of the question: To what extent is the Nigerian government to blame for the Nigerian Civil War? The Nigerian Civil War spanned over6 two years (July 1967 to January 1970), with the events preceding it stretching back to British colonisation. In my research, I have found these sources which I believe to be the most important sources in providing a good answer.
The first source I would be analysing is a description made by American ethnomusicologist Charles Keil, who witnessed the 1966 Igbo massacres and later led the chapter of the Committee to Keep Biafra Alive at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The purpose of the source was to criticise and reprimand the Nigerian government for the unnecessary murder of innocent Igbo people. This quote is extremely valuable to my argument because it shows the prejudicial and murderous attitudes of the Nigerian soldiers towards the Igbo people. Furthermore, it illustrates the conviction the Nigerian soldiers held of the fact that the Igbos were a plague that needed to be dealt with for even the world’s safety, illustrated when he says “…were doing me and the world a great favor by killing Ibos”. In addition, this extract is reliable because the identity of the author is clear, and the author is still alive and available for verification, a rarity for primary sources. Moreover, the quote also adds another dimension to the argument, that is, if Colonel Gowon, leader of the Nigerian army/government, really wanted the massacre of Igbos to occur, because he “could be heard over the radio issuing ‘guarantees of safety’ to all Easterners”. This could be useful in analysis. The source is also complete, which makes it possible to know that Keil has no sudden change in opinion.
However, this source is overly detailed, such as the description of the bodies as ‘disembowelled’, to incite personal engagement from the reader. This reduces its reliability because of the uncertainty in the actual excessiveness of the murders. Compared to other sources, such as Levey’s, “Israel, Nigeria and the Biafra Civil War” (2014), pp. 266, which states that “between May and September 1966, northerners murdered between 80,000 and 100,000 Igbos and other Easterners resident in the Northern Region”, then this level of descriptiveness lies true to the reality.
The next source is a quote made by Sir Frederick Lugard, who was at the time the leader of the West African Frontier Force, a native force made to protect British interests in Lagos, Nigeria, from other colonial powers. He would later become the first Governor-General of Nigeria. In this quote, Lugard outlines the method and purpose of indirect rule, that is, using the “native authority” to bring Nigerians gradually into approximation with British ideas of justice and humanity”. I believe this quote is valuable because it was made by arguably the most prominent figure of colonial rule in Nigeria, and it explains the policy that inadvertently caused a divide between the Easterners and other Nigerians in education, salary and jobs, and eventually caused enough tension to lead to massacres, secession and a civil war. Additionally, the source is also very typical, because there are many well-documented instances of British use of indirect rule in her colonies, which I believe only strengthens the validity of the source.
However, the source is not complete, with the middle of his speech having been removed. Despite this, by having the beginning and end of the source, one can ascertain that there is no change in his views over Britain’s colonial policy in Nigeria. Moreover, the source is under-detailed, and the lack of specifics leave room for inaccuracy.
“I’m preaching this gospel, that if the ‘zoo’ doesn’t do anything, and give a date for our referendum, come November this year, there will be no governor in Anambra State. In 2019, the whole of Biafra Land will not vote for any President.” – Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) on June 20th 2017The Nigerian Civil War, more commonly referred to as the Biafran War by Nigerians (6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970), was a war held between the Nigerian government and the secessionist state of Biafra. Biafra represented the Igbo people who felt they could no longer support a Northern-dominated government. Although all historians would argue that the repercussions of the war were monumental, with about 100,000 overall military casualties, while between 500,000 and 2 million Biafran civilians died of starvation, due to the blockade the Nigerian government placed on Biafra, there is still considerable disagreement over the most important factor that led to the Biafran War. In this essay, I would be focusing on the argument on the extent of which the Nigerian government could be blamed for starting the war that still affects inter-Nigerian relations today.
The Nigerian government had only existed for seven years prior to the Biafran War, however, the Federal Legislature, established by colonial authorities, pre-existed the Nigerian government. Therefore, when referring to the Nigerian government, I mean the governments from 1914 till the start of the Biafran War. Also, pre-1946, the Western and Eastern regions were regarded as the Southern region of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Government
The initial Nigerian government was fraught with disparity, as it was made using the three main political parties in the country, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in the North, the Action Group in the West (AG) and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in the East. These parties were not meant to be exclusively homogenous, however, resulting from the split of the country these parties were by and large from people of the same region. The British had divided the country in a way in which the Northern region had a higher population than the Western and Eastern regions combined, hence the NPC had a majority in in the Federal Legislature. This was especially important because the NPC, AG and the NCNC were constantly at odds over major decisions. The epitome of this tension came in the 1950’s. As the number of intellectuals in Nigeria increased due to the expansion of the national educational program, more and more people agitated of independence through “nationalistic organisations”, especially the Igbos and Yorubas. However, the NPC, fearful of economic and political domination by the Westernised South, preferred adhering to British rule. This caused tension between members of these regions, which came to a head in May 1953 in Kano, where a riot broke out between Northerners and Southerners which left 36 people dead and 241 people injured. Ultimately, the NPC, as a condition for independence, requested that the country continue to be divided into three regions, with the North retaining a clear majority, which the Southern regions reluctantly accepted. However, these events had severely damaged Southern and Northern relations, which would play a part in the secession of Biafra.
However, it would be misleading to believe relations were smooth between both Southern regions. The AG did not want Lagos, a Yoruba town, to be made the Federal Capital at the loss of Yoruba de facto sovereignty. However, the NCNC, using Lagos’ current status as the Federal Capital of Nigeria, was anxious to declare Lagos as “no-man’s land”, most likely due to the fact that Lagos was one of the most economically prosperous regions of Nigeria. The AG was notably angry and requested a secession clause from Nigeria at the constitutional conference in London in 1954, which the NCNC, with support from the NPC, vehemently denied, explaining that secession would be detrimental to the success of a unitary Nigeria. Therefore, all major parties in the Nigerian government had deteriorated relationships which set the tone of political governance for later years. Moreover, if the secession clause had been accepted, the Nigerian/Biafran conflict would have been avoided.
The problem with this argument is that there are no direct links to the Biafran War present. Yes, there was considerable tension between all the major political parties, but not enough to spill into Igbo secession and Nigerian reaction. Moreover, it was a military government, led by Colonel Ojukwu, which ruled over the Eastern region, rather than the NCNC. I believe the more closely lies with the socio-political climate before the civil war.
The massacre of the Igbo by the Nigerian government heavily influenced this climate. The immediate antecedent to the massacres was the 1966 coup d’état, led by Major Nzeogwu and mostly young Igbo officers. Hence, it was widely believed that it was an “Igbo coup” , which led to the increasing fear of Igbo dominance in the North of Nigeria. Therefore, a counter-coup, led by northerner General Gowon, was made. Under the guise of the disarray caused by the counter-coup, the Nigerian army led a systematic pogrom of Igbo people in the North. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Igbo, half of them children, were killed and more than a million to two million fled to the Eastern Region. Essentially, excluding a few officers who were not convinced of the innate evil of the Igbo, the Northern Nigerian officers felt “that they were doing … the world a great favour by eliminating Igbos.” Similar to the Nazi persecution of Jews, the Nigerian government (although not exclusively, the people took part in this massacre as well, with the collusion of the Nigerian government) slaughtered the Igbos due to harboured disdain for them over their privileged positions in society as well as advanced education. Therefore, one can ascertain that the Igbo completely distrusted the Nigerian government and felt secession would be the only way to ensure their own safety.
British influence and “indirect rule”
This policy meant leaving the traditional rulers – emirs in the North and obas in the South – in charge of police, hospitals, public works, and local courts, while bringing “Nigerians gradually into approximation with British ideas of justice and humanity”. Essentially, the British government, among other things, brought Christianity and Western education to Nigeria. However, the British felt it was easier to rule indirectly in the North by retaining the status quo, and hence Christian missionaries were banned from the Islamic North. Oppositely, Christian missionaries in the South had rapidly spread Western education, especially to the Easterners, who actively sought Christianity. Hence, at the time of independence in 1960, the North was by far the most underdeveloped area in Nigeria, while Igbo political culture was more unified and the region relatively prosperous, and the Igbo were elites in positions all over Nigeria. This, combined with the ethnic and cultural differences already held between the North and the South, meant there was an increase in prejudice between members of these regions, which would eventually spill into the politics that led to the Biafran War.
In conclusion, I believe the Nigerian government can be heavily blamed for the Biafran War. Yes, the British government can be said to have inadvertently created the underlying discrimination between the North and the East, but the actions of the Nigerian government; not only colluding but actively taking part in the massacre of part of her population and fuelling the seeds of ethnical intolerance the British placed made war inevitable.
In writing this essay, I believe I encountered many problems which historians face.
The most challenging problem I had was, while trying to obtain secondary sources from reading books, I found myself agreeing with the author’s point of view rather than forming my own opinion. Consequently, I was taking whole chunks of the author’s argument and planting it in my essay. This is a problem for historians because it creates confirmation bias, as well as increases the risk of plagiarism. To counter this, I tried to remain objective while examining other historians’ arguments, however, I believe some elements of subjectivity seeped into my essay.
Moreover, the effects of confirmation bias are increased, for historians, if they have a personal connection to the incident they are researching on, which I faced, as a person of Yoruba heritage. It felt easier to blame the British government, not only because of the atrocities committed in colonialism (e.g. slavery) not related to the war, but because I wanted to believe my compatriots in the Nigerian government then could not have caused the war. However, after extensive research and using evidence, I was able to conclude that the Nigerian government was more to blame.
One the most prominent problems historians face is the selection process of sources. I found a substantial number of sources to use for my analysis, however, most of them had unknown authors. For example, the quote “Let them The Igbos go, food will be cheaper in Lagos’ would have been useful in the analysis of the socio-political climate of Nigeria at the time, but the quotee is unknown. This extremely reduced the validity of the sources, even though their content would have been useful, or closely matched with other sources. Essentially, to increase the soundness of my essay, I had to use only the sources in which their creators are known or is quoted in a book I can reference.
Altogether, I realised the historian’s job is to collate different perspectives of an issue in order to allow the reader to come to his/her conclusion, irrespective of the difficulties faced (such as a lack of an official Nigerian online archive).
Carland, The Colonial Office and Nigeria (1985), p. 67
Carroll, Tim. “Friends of Nigeria Newsletter”, Summer 2015, Vol 19, No 4
Heerten ; Moses, The Nigeria–Biafra War (2014), p. 173.
ICE Case Studies: The Biafran War. American University: ICE Case Studies. American University. 1997.
Keil, Charles, quoted in Postcolonial Conflict and the Question of Genocide: The Nigeria-Biafra War, 1967–1970, by A. Dirk Moses and Lasse Heerten
Levey, “Israel, Nigeria and the Biafra Civil War” (2014), pp. 266
McKenna, Joseph C. (1969). “Elements of a Nigerian Peace”. Foreign Affairs. 47 (4): 668.
Olawale Albert, Isaac (1994). Urban Violence in Africa: Violence in metropolitan Kano: A Historical Perspective
Olawoyin, “Historical Analysis of Nigeria–Biafra Conflict” (1971), pp. 53–73.
Pierri, A New Entry into the World Oil Market (2013), p. 108.
https://www.naija.ng/1111255-just-in-nnamdi-kanu-spits-fire-2019-election-hold-biafra-land.html#1111255 – quote from Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) on June 20th 2017