NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR PLANNING STRATEGIES
The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War, 6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970, was an ethnic and political conflict caused by the attempted secession of the southeastern provinces of Nigeria as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra. The conflict was the result of economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions mainly between the Hausas of north and the Igbo of the southeast of Nigeria. Over the two and half years of the war, 1 million civilians died from famine and fighting. The war became notorious for the starvation of some of the besieged regions during the war, and consequent claims of genocide by the largely Igbo people of the region.
A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same state or republic, or, less commonly, between two countries created from a formerly united state. The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, to achieve independence for a region, or to change government policies. The term is a calque of the Latin bellum civile which was used to refer to the various civil wars of the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC.
A civil war is a high-intensity conflict, often involving regular armed forces, that is sustained, organized and large-scale. Civil wars may result in large numbers of casualties and the consumption of significant resources.
MAP OF NIGERIA SHOWING THE BREAKAWAY BIAFRA REPUBLIC
THE VARIOUS WAR PLANNING STRATEGIES EMPLOYED DURING THE CIVIL WAR; 1967-1970
1. THE CLASH OF ARMS STRATEGIES EMPLOYED
Nigeria’s potential in manpower, wealth, natural resources, land mass, infrastructure, international links and diplomacy could hardly be surpassed in Africa. Whenever war is declared, people are generally concerned with the relative strengths of the opposing forces coupled with their war potential. Armed forces are the towing equipment that pulls a nation out if she runs aground in her policy. It is madness for a nation to commit herself more than her armed forces can do. There was no comparison between the strengths of the opposing forces in the Nigerian civil war. Nigerian Army (NA) was too formidable for Biafra, a ratio of 4:1. However each side knew the tactics the other side would employ since they all belonged to the same Armed Forces before the war.
The Biafran Army, realizing the odds against them decided correctly to go into defense. Taking the advantage of fighting on their own ground, they constructed fortified pill boxes on the enemy most likely avenues of approach, the major highways connecting the Eastern Region with the rest of the country. The Biafran army had gathered a lot of information on the disposition of the Nigerian army and made contingency plans to meet any incursion into their territory. They conducted training exercise code named “Exercise Checkmate” which was on the line Biafra Army hoped to fight. This exœrcise was so realistic that when the Nigerian Army started their offensive, they reacted exactly the way Biafra expected them to. Biafra deployed her troops as follows:
1. Northern Sector – 51st Brigade made up of three infantry Battalions
2.Central Zone and Garrison Command – 11th Infantry Battalion
3.Southern Zone – 52nd Brigade made up of three battalions.
The Biafran Air Force carried out strategic bombings of major towns, military installations and the Defense Industry. This had a diverstating effect on civilian population and further helped the Nigerian propaganda which resulted in making more people to join the NA to crush the rebellion. The Biafran Navy also carried out some attack on the Nigerian ships with little effect. Mercenaries were hired to train the troops and took part in the fighting.
The Nigerian political tensions, conflicts and confrontations, like other human interactions, had never conformed with the law of physics that action and reaction are opposite and equal. Reactions had always been more intense and graver than action, real or imagined. Those who are the sowers of wind are usually the reapers of the whirlwind. The Kano riots of 1953 was a reaction to the humiliation of the Northern legislators in Lagos most of whom are still alive and politicking while the rioters are dead, unsung and long forgotten. In the Nigerian historical context, each political action, tension or conflict had evoked more violence in reaction and the elites who initiated the action are normally not the ones who reap the more violent reaction or destruction. They are masters in the art of survival and they have always emerged almost unscratched. It is the common man who knows little or nothing of the on-goings and who certainly gains nothing from the appointments or the prerequisites of office of these elites that is used as cannon fodder and expendable material for the attainment and sustenance of power, wealth and prosperity.
Our leaders aid those of other developing nations must eschew bitterness and violence, learn that no individual or section has a monopoly of violence and that one action of violence evokes greater and more destructive violent reaction, the magnitude which can never be imagined in advance. In the end the law of retributive justice catches with the perpetrators of bitterness, violence and destruction. This difficult lesson must be learnt.
The great publicity given to the war by Markpress on behalf of Biafra, especially the photographs of starving children and ruined or deserted towns, evoked deep feelings of sympathy all over the Western world. By and large, these pitiful sights touched the conscience of those who mounted large scale humanitarian campaigns on behalf of Biafra. The issues in the war were relegated to the background and the human and humanitarian aspects came to the fore. Most of them were genuine in their humanitarian efforts but little did they know that most of their contributions were used to purchase arms and ammunition which prolonged the war and thereby increased and heightened the sufferings of those they were trying to help.
There were involvement of some notable world leaders on supposedly humanitarian grounds, but they had, as we have seen, ulterior motives which were mainly to satisfy their political, economic or diplomatic interests. Some foreign governments covertly encouraged and sustained rebellion under the guise of humanitarianism by secretly giving weapons and other war material to Biafra. They seceded in fuelling the war and prolonged it and consequently prolonging the suffering of the people in the war affected areas.
The importance of winning the support and mobilizing the civilian populace became very obvious. Biafra, despite her inferiority in manpower and war machineries held on for so long because her people believed in fighting the war which they considered a war of survival. On the same token, Nigeria won the war primarily because she was able to win the support of the populace who enlisted in thousands to reunify the country.
The declaration of secession made war not inevitable but imminent. At the dawn of 6 July 1967, the first bullet was fired signalling the beginning of the gruesome 30 month civil war and carnage, brothers killing brothers. Preparations for war had already been set in motion on the Nigerian side by May 1967. All the soldiers of Northern, Western, and Mid – Western origin had been withdrawn from the East and redeployed. Four of the regular infantry battalions of the Army were placed under the command of 1 Brigade and redesignated 1 Area Command. Mobilization of ex – service men was ordered by the Commander – in – Chief. Out of those called up, about seven thousand in number, four other battalions were formed. Increased recruitment from the personnel of the Nigerian Police Force was embarked upon.
The civilians were trained in civil defense duties. In mobilizing the people of Nigeria, the Federal Government had to make the war look a just cause to stop the disintegration of the country and in doing this a slogan was invented “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.” Even the letters of the Head of the Federal Government, GOWON was coined to read “Go On With One Nigeria” and became a very strong propaganda.
Delivery of arms and equipment for the Nigerian Army were hastened. Nigerian Army Headquarters (NAHQ) Operations plan envisaged a war that will be waged in four phases and that will be over within a month with The four phases were
(1) Capture of Nsukka, (2) Capture of Ogoja, (3) Capture of Abakaliki, (4) Capture of Enugu.
1 Area Command was to be the fighting force, 2 Area Command in Ibadan, Western Region, was earmarked for the defense of Mid – West and border protection while the Lagos Garrison Organization was earmarked for the defense of Lagos, the Federal capital.
The NAHQ assessment of the rebels in terms of men under arms and equipment did not give the NAHQ much concern. The total mobilization and the will of the people of the Eastern Nigeria to fight against severe odds was under estimated. Nigeria knew that the survival of Biafra depended on importation of material from abroad to sustain her war efforts and the only route was through the Atlantic Ocean. As part of strategic planning, the Nigerian Navy (NN) was to blockade the region from the sea thereby preventing shipment of arms, equipment, food and other war materiel and services into the East. At the same time all flights to the region were cancelled and the international community were informed that no flight to the region would be accepted without clearance from Lagos. The NAHQ did not pay any particular attention to strategic intelligence of the Eastern Region. In planning and concept the war was intended to be fought by the troops located in the North and to be supplied mainly from Kaduna.
Immediately secession was declared, Nigeria sent her war ships to blockade and secure all sea routes into the region. The Nigerian Air Force was tasked to ensure the control of the air space over the entire country. The offensive was to be a two prong attack, a combined arms mechanized infantry divisional attack from the north and an amphibious operation by another division from the south with the aim of crushing the Biafran army in between. The offence was to be supported by the Air Force and the Navy. A third and fourth fronts were introduced later in the war.
5. THE NIGERIAN ARMY OFFENSIVE.
Nigeria opened her offensive operations from the northern sector. 1 Area Command NA, supported by an Artillery Brigade, Armored units equipped with British Scorpion tanks, Saladin armored cars and ferrets, and Engineer units, issued its operational orders for OPUNICORD, the code name for the “police” action against the rebels on the 2 July 1967.The offence was launched on two fronts. The command was divided into two brigades with three battalions each. 1 Brigade advanced on the axis Ogugu – Ogunga – Nsukka road while 2nd Brigade advanced on axis Gakem – Obudu – Ogoja road. The rebels successfully repulsed the attack. However, with the many friends the command had made since they concentrated on the border waiting for the order to attack, they began to recruit guides, informants and with this came the intelligence on the disposition of the Biafran troops, their strength and plans and a breakthrough.
By the 10th of July 1967, 1st Bde had captured all its first objectives and if they had had the detail intelligence of the Biafran army on this day they would have pressed on to take Enugu, the Biafran capital. H.M. Njoku remarked, “At Ukehe I could not believe my eyes. All along the way were refugees streaming towards Enugu on Nsukka road. Many of the retreating troops carried self inflicted wounds. Some senior offices complained of malaria, headache, and all sorts of ailments. If the NA knew the situation on the Biafran side on this eventful day and pressed on they would have taken Enugu the same day without resistance.” (4:128)
By the 12th of July the 2nd Bde had captured Obudu, Gakem, and Ogoja. A second front, the southern sector was opened on the 26 July, 1967 by a sea landing on Bonny by a division formed from the Lagos Garrison Organization (LGO). With the support of the Navy, the division established a beach head and exploited north after a fierce sea and land battle. On 8th August 1967, Biafra invaded the former Mid – Western Region with the aim to relieve the pressure on the northern sector and to threaten Lagos, the Federal Capital. While the LGO was making preparations for subsequent operations beyond Bonny, the news of the rebel infiltration into the Mid – West was passed to the commander who was then instructed to leave a battalion in Bonny, suspend all operations there and move to Escravos with two battalions with a view to dislodging the rebels and clearing the riverine area of the Mid – West. These moves were carried out with the support of the Nigerian Navy and the merchant of the National Shipping Line. Another division was formed to support the LGO in the clearing of the Mid – West of the rebels. At this point, the formations were redesignated 1 Area Command became 1 Infantry Division, the newly division was designated 2 Infantry Division, and the LGO became the 3 Infantry Division. And with this the “police action” turned into a full scale military operation.
By the end of September 1969, a substantial part of the Mid – West had been cleared of the rebels. The commander of the 3 Infantry Division secured permission to change the designation of his formation to 3 Marine Commando because of the peculiarly riverine and creek operations already carried out by the division. This was the first time something in the resemblance of a Marine organization was tried in the history of the Nigerian Army. The division was not trained In amphibious operations. Infact the troops were made up of the soldiers of the Lagos Garrison Organization (LGO), the administrative establishment for the Federal capital. However, with some crash training, the division became the most feared and successful throughout the war.
Enugu became the bastion of secession and rebellion and the Federal Government of Nigeria expected that its capture would mean the end of secession. The advance from Nsukka to Enugu began in earnest on 12 September 1967. The rebels counterattacked and for the first time launched their “Red Devil” tanks. These were modified pre – second World War armored personnel carriers made in France. They were dangerous, slow, blind, cumbersome and not easily maneuverable. T hey were easy prey to anti – tank recoilless rifles and bold infantry attack. By the 4th October 1967, Enugu was captured and with this capture 1 Infantry Division took time to refit and reorganize. The division had the erroneous belief that the fall of Enugu would automatically mean the collapse of the rebellIon. 1 Infantry Division decided to give the rebels time to give up secession not knowing that the fire of rebellion was still burning high in the hearts of most Easterners. Ojukwu was callously fanning the fire and riding high on the emotions of his apparently wounded and high spirited people who felt slighted and wanted to revenge for all the events of 1966. It took the division another six months to resume the offence thereby giving the rebels the necessary respite to also reorganize and acquire more ammunition, weapons and equipment to continue the resistance.
The 3 Marine Commando opened another front on the south / south eastern border. With the support of the Navy, Calabar was captured on the 13th October 1967. The capture of Calabar, Warri, Escravos and Bonny established the supremacy of the Federal Government in Nigerian waters and international waters bordering Nigerian coast. Biafra was sealed off leaving Portharcourt Airport as the only means of international communication and transportation with the outside world. It was at this point that Biafran leadership decided to find alternative routes for importation of war materiel and medical aids into the enclave. Three stretches of straight roads were developed into airstrips; Awgu, Uga and Ulli. On 19th May 1968 Portharcourt was captured. With the capture of Enugu, Bonny, Calabar and Portharcourt, the outside world was left in no doubt of the Federal supremacy in the war. The mercenaries fighting for Biafra started deserting. Biafra started to smuggle abroad photographs of starving children and to blackmail Nigeria of genocide. This secured military, economic and political relief from international organizations for Biafra and further lengthened the war and the suffering of the people of Biafra.
By the early 1969, 2nd Infantry Division crossed the Niger River at Idah, after several unsuccessful attempts to cross the river at Asaba, advanced through the already liberated areas of Nsukka and Enugu to capture Onitsha. The division continued its advance towards Owerri. At the same time 1 Infantry Division advanced on Umuahia. The 3 Marine Commando was by now advancing on three fronts: Oguta – Owerinta – Ulli airstrip – Umuahia axis; Portharcourt – Aba – Owerri – Umuahia axis; and Calabar – Uyo – Umuahia axis. The plan was a link up with 1 Infantry Division at Umuahia in order to envelop the rebels and either force them to surrender or to destroy their fighting spirit. his plan, the final offensive, was successfully implemented. Biafra tried unsuccessfully to hold the NA onslaught using guerrilla tactics.
On the 10th January 1970, Lt. Col. Ojukwu, the self proclaimed Head of State of Biafra, on realizing the total chaotic and hopelessness of the situation, handed over to the Commander Biafran Army Maj. Gen. Phillip Effiong, the administration of Biafra and flew out of the enclave with his immediate family members in search of peace. Maj. Gen. Effiong consulted with the Biafra Strategic Committee on the situation and they decided that enough was enough and that the only honorable way out was to surrender.
The war had come and gone. The story of the war and what led to it has been told, is being told and will continue to be told. What seems to me a human tragedy all through ages is the inability of man to learn a good lesson from the past so as to avoid the pitfall of those who had gone before. There is also the innate and unconscious desire of man to remain oblivious of the lessons of the past. He hopes and believes that the past can be ignored, that the present is what matters, that no mistakes of the present can be as serious and grievous as the mistakes of the past. As a result history tends to repeat itself. However, there are exceptions of nations and men who had learnt from history to avoid collective and individual disasters or a repetition of such disasters. I feel confident that Nigeria must join the group of these happy exceptions if we are to have political stability, economic progress, integrated development, social justice, contentment and be the epicenter of African solidarity. Since the end of the civil war, Nigeria has made considerable progress in all these areas.
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9. “Biafra: Thirty years on”. Africa (BBC News). Retrieved 4 January 2014. “Ethnic split: At independence, Nigeria had a federal constitution comprising three regions defined by the principal ethnic groups in the country – the Hausa and Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the south-west, and Ibo in the south-east. Crowd The fighting led to famine and chaos but as the military took over in the mid-1960s, and the economic situation worsened, ethnic tensions broke out. Up to 30,000 Ibos were killed in fighting with Hausas, and around 1million refugees fled to their Ibo homeland in the east”
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