Independence, Civil War
Republic of Biafra, Gowon, Niger River, peaceful transition, Biafrans
In May 1967 Gowon announced the creation of a new 12-state structure. The Eastern Region, populated mostly by Igbo, would be divided into three states, two of them dominated by non-Igbo groups. The division would also sever the vast majority of Igbo from profitable coastal ports and rich oil fields that had recently been discovered in the Niger Delta (which until then was a part of the Eastern Region). The leaders of the Eastern Region, pushed to the brink of secession by the recent anti-Igbo attacks and the influx of Igbo refugees, saw this action as an official attempt to push the Igbo to the margins of Nigerian society and politics. On May 27 the region’s Igbo-dominated assembly authorized Lieutenant Colonel Odemegwu Ojukwu to declare independence as the Republic of Biafra. Ojukwu obliged three days later.
War broke out in July when Nigerian forces moved south and captured the university town of Nsukka. Biafran troops crossed the Niger River, pushing deep into the west in an attempt to attack Lagos, then the capital. Gowon’s forces repelled the invasion, imposed a naval blockade of the southeastern coast, and mounted a counterattack into northern Biafra. A bitter war of attrition followed, prolonged by France’s military support for the Biafrans. In January 1970 the better-equipped federal forces finally overcame the rebels, whereupon Gowon announced he would remain in power for six more years to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy.
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