Nigeria is a federal state in west Africa and with its more than 180 million inhabitants, it is a country full of cultural and religious diversity: more than 514 languages and dialects are spoken, in addition to the Islam and the Christianity, countless other West – African religions can be found and a great number of various ethnics collide with each other, which oftentimes lead to conflicts.
The biggest and, politically spoken, most powerful nations are the Hausa and the Fulbe from the north (both Islamic). Together they make up 29% of the population. The Yoruba from the southwest and the Igbo from the south both follow closely with 22% and 18% (both Christian). In addition, up to 400 smaller ethnic minorities join them, for example the Ijaw, Kanuri, Tiv and the Umon.
#Independence and coup d’État
Thanks to a legislation in the British parliament, Nigeria gained independence on the 1st of October 1960. Afterwards however, the country was lead by corrupt politicians who set the ethnical tensions and rivalries alight. On January 15th, 1966, Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and a few young, idealistic and radical military officers carried out a coup. The goal was to overthrow the government and to spearhead a restricted/ limited revolution. The involved officers were mostly Christians from the south who belonged to an ethnic group called Igbo. During the few days that the attempted coup lasted, they murdered a lot of public officials from the Islamic north, as well as four high ranking military officers and northern Nigeria’s prime minister Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello (also Islamic).
The military commander Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo, was able to suppress the coup d’État successfully. However, while doing so, he also took over power. Many people in the north rated this as an Igbo conspiracy, with the gain to oppress the Islamic people and to reinforce the predominant Igbo dominance. In fact, Aguiyi-Ironsi erected a military government and occupied official posts with Nigerians from the south. At the same time, the people responsible for the coup were never punished.
Six months later, soldiers from the north of Nigeria staged an anti-coup and lead violent riots against members of the Igbo in the north and west of the country. The violence was systematic, organized and came in waves: the attacks occurred on the 29th of may, the 29th of June, the 19th of September and the 29th of October 1966, their peak however was reached in September.
Altogether, approximately 30.000 Igbo were murdered, hundreds of thousands fled into the south and the east. Not only the military, but also numerous civilians were involved in this ethnic cleansing of north and west Nigeria. General Yakobu Gowon, who came to power with the help of the repeated Pogrom, spoke out against violence against the Igbo, but the national government militated against Gowon’s authority.
East Nigeria is regarded as the traditionally hereditary country of the Igbo and during the mass violence 150.000 to 300.000 Igbo fled back there. On the 30th of May 1967, the leader of the Igbo, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu declared east Nigeria to be the independent Republic Biafra. As a reaction to this, a civil war broke out in order to get the country back. Beside the warring violence, the Nigerian government also erected an aggressive blockade of supplies. The living conditions in Biafra got increasingly worse and due to the man made famine around 10.000 people died on a daily basis.
“We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces march into the centre of Igbo territory, we shoot at everything, even at things that do not move.” – Officer Benjamin Adekunle
Photo: Von Dr. Lyle Conrad – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USAPublic Health Image Library (PHIL); ID: 6901http://phil.cdc.gov/, Gemeinfrei
The territory of the Biafran Republic shrunk visibly and in January 1970, the country capitulated and didn’t only end the war but also the violence against the Igbo. After the war, President Yakobu Gowon declared that ‘there would be no victor and no vanquished’. With this he found a relatively peaceful way to reintegrate the Igbo into the federal state of Nigeria.
Altogether, approximately 3.1 million Igbo died because of malnutrition, sickness, as well as a result of the violence and the war but one cannot verify this number. The mass violence against the Igbo is considered to be one of the worst researched cases in history – there are hardly any reliable sources or studies. In addition, there is no reliable statistic data regarding the population before and shortly after the war.
# BBC (2016) “How first coup still haunts Nigeria 50 years on”. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35312370 (12.05.2017)
# Countrystudies.us “The 1966 Coups, Civil War, and Gowon’s Government”. Available at: www.countrystudies.us/nigeria/70.htm (12.05.2017)
# Ekwe-Ekwe, H. (2011) “The most tragic day of Igbo history: 29 May 1966”. Available at: www.pambazuka.org/governance/most-tragic-day-igbo-history-29-may-1966 (12.05.2017)
# Uzoigwe, G.N. „The Igbo Genocide 1966: Where is the outrage?“. Available at: http://www.untref.edu.ar/documentos/ceg/25%20G%20N%20UZOIGWE.pdf (12.05.2017)
# World Peace Foundation (2015) “Nigeria: Civil War”. Available at: www.sites.tufts.edu/atrocityendings/2015/08/07/nigeria-civil-war (12.05.2017)