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Republic of Biafra

Created out of a province of Nigeria in 1967, the Republic of Biafra once had a population of about 14 million and covered an area of over 29,400 square miles. Its capital was located at Enugu. The republic went out of existence in 1970, following a bitter and bloody civil war between it and Nigeria.

map of Biafra

Timeline of Major Events

October 1, 1960 Nigeria gains full independence from Great Britain.

1961 The United Nations organizes a referendum in western Cameroon, then a UN Trust Territory, which results in the northern part of the territory joining Nigeria and the southern joining the Republic of Cameroon.

1962 A national census shows an even greater population in the northern regions of Nigeria than had been expected. Southerners, most of whom were Ibo, protested the census results. A second census, conducted in 1963, confirms the original results.

1963 The Mid-Western Region is created out of Nigeria's Western Region. People in the Northern and Eastern regions demand separate political units as well.

1964 Northern politicians gain control of the government following popular elections. Southerners charge that the elections were dishonest.

1965 Similar charges of dishonesty follow regional elections. Violent riots break out in several parts of Nigeria, especially in the south.

January 1966 A group of army officers, mainly Ibo, overthrow the central government, as well as many regional governments, during which Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the prime ministers of the Northern and Western provinces are killed. General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, commander of the Army and an Ibo, takes control of the central government.

May 1966 Aguiyi-Ironsi abolishes the federal system of government and establishes a strong central government with many Ibo advisers. Northerners deeply distrust the Ibo, and riots break out throughout the northern provinces. Thousands of Ibo are killed, and tens of thousands more flee to the southern provinces.

July 1966 A group of northern army officers revolt and kill Aguiyi-Ironsi. Yakubu Gowon, army chief of staff, becomes the head of a military government. Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, military governor of the Eastern Region, refuses to accept Gowon as chief of state.

1967 Gowon replaces the country's 4 political regions with 12 states, to give smaller ethnic groups more political power; the Eastern Region is divided into 3 states.

May 30, 1967 Ojukwu declares the Eastern Region the independent Republic of Biafra (which he named for the Bight of Biafra, the bay to its south). The republic is almost immediately recognized by the nations of Gabon, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Zambia. Gowon responds to Ojukwu's declaration by blockading Biafra's ports, preventing food and humanitarian supplies from getting into the republic.

The flag of the Republic of Biafra.
flag of the Republic of Biafra

June 5, 1967 Civil war breaks out between Biafra and the rest of Nigeria. During the ensuing fight, Biafra receives covert military assistance from France, Rhodesia, and South Africa, and open military support from the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. Financial and humanitarian aid is provided by Portugal, São Tomé and Príncipe, and a few other nations.

January 12, 1970 Biafra surrenders to Nigeria. Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Biafrans were killed during the course of the war, most of them from starvation and disease brought about by the Nigerian blockade. Biafran leader Ojukwu flees to asylum in the Ivory Coast.

Nigerians in Lagos cheer the news of Biafra's surrender.
news of Biafra's surrender

January 15, 1970 The Republic of Biafra is officially disbanded. By March, schools, markets, and roads have reopened in the former war zone. The administrator of East Central State (formerly Biafra) is given special powers to guarantee security, and government agencies are established; political activities with the state remain banned for some time, however.

Major General Philip Effiong, post-surrender leader of Biafra.
Philip Effiong

See Also

Great Britain
Ivory Coast

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The Robinson Library >> Nigeria

This page was last updated on January 15, 2019.