When the Nigeria-Biafra civil war of 1967 broke out, many citizens of the newly independent Nigeria didn’t see it coming. Just a few years before, there had been massive celebration on the attainment of independence Great Britain. The events of October 1st 1960 were supposed to put the destiny of Nigeria into their hands. Many of the neighboring countries in West Africa were looking at Nigeria to chart the course for not only political freedom but economic emancipation of the newly independent states of West Africa and Africa as a whole.
The events of the uprising that gradually snowballed into a full blown civil war started with the political tensions as a result of electoral crises in 1965 and later the January 15th, 1966 coup d’etat led by mostly young officers from the then-Eastern region. Subsequent events saw a counter coup by Northern soldiers who believed that the January coup was an ethnic agenda. This prompted attacks by Northern millitia group on the Easterners, who later declared their independence from Nigeria. The war that ensued lasted for about three years leaving behind more than two million people dead from both sides, with millions of naira worth of properties being destroyed. Today, fifty years after the end of the war, survivors of the war recount their experiences during the dark days. There have been many literary works written about the level of hunger, diseases and deaths that permeated the country especially in the Eastern region where it was reported that children hunted lizards in order to satiate their hunger.
The question today is about what we have learnt from the civil war after fifty years. As we look back with regret at what could have been done right to avoid the senseless loss of human lives, we need to undertake a self-assessment. Is ethnic bigotry and religious intolerance still found among us? Does the government have the right plans and commitment to take millions of Nigeria out of poverty? Intolerance and extremism finds a breeding ground in an atmosphere of extreme poverty such as we grapple with today. If we can harness and consolidate on the lessons of the civil war, insurgency such as we have it today could have been nipped in the bud. Concerted efforts by the government and non-governmental organizations at eradicating poverty and providing the necessary infrastructure will go a long way in having the Nigeria of our dreams.