48 YEARS AGO — For 18 months the clouds were gathering. The first military coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, which happened on January 15, 1966, was the first spark. Political leaders were killed: the victims included Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premier Ahmadu Bello, Premier SL Akintola, Finance Minister Festus Okotie-Eboh, some senior military officers and others. But the killings were considered lopsided, because the coup did not succeed in the Eastern Region.
Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi quelled the coup and then formed a military government. He introduced Decree 34 of 1966 to make the country a unitary state. He was betrayed and assassinated on July 29.
The military governor of the Eastern Region, Lt. Col. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, condemned Ironsi’s killing and takeover of the government by Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon. At least three other officers, including Ojukwu and Brigadier Ogundipe, were senior to Gowon.
Then the pogrom started — innocent civilians and soldiers from the Eastern Region were massacred in various parts of the north. Peace meetings failed. The one organised in Aburi, Ghana, in January 1967, came closest to success as it was agreed that Nigeria should be a confederation of states. But the federal side led by Gowon violated the agreement and denied all the resolutions reached at Aburi, ostensibly on the advice of the British who warned Gowon that Nigeria would not survive without the oil in the Eastern Region.
As the killing of Easterners continued without any conscious effort by Gowon to stop it, Ojukwu was mandated to declare the Federal Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.
Gowon sent “police men” to stop Ojukwu. They couldn’t. They were arrested.
On July 6, 1967, Gowon declared total war on Biafra. He promised that the war would not last beyond 48 hours. He lied.
For 30 months, the war raged. By the time Ojukwu’s deputy Gen. Philip Effiong surrendered on January 12, 1970, about 2million people had died, most of them civilian victims of war criminals: troops mainly from the federal side went into Biafran villages killing men, women and children; destroying homes and other assets; and raping girls and women. Children starved to death.