The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War, was a three-year, bloody conflict with a death toll numbering more than one million people. Having commenced seven years after Nigeria gained independence from Britain, the war began with the secession of the southeastern region of the nation on May 30, 1967, when it declared itself the independent Republic of Biafra. The ensuing battles and well-publicized human suffering prompted international outrage and intervention.
Carved out of the west of Africa by Britain without regard for preexisting ethnic, cultural and linguistic divisions, Nigeria has often experienced an uncertain peace. Following decades of ethnic tension in colonial Nigeria, political instability reached a critical mass among independent Nigeria’s three dominant ethnic groups: the Hausa-Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the southwest, and Igbo in the southeast. On January 15, 1966, the Igbo launched a coup d’état under the command of Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi in an attempt to save the country from what Igbo leaders feared would be political disintegration.
Shortly after the successful coup, widespread suspicion of Igbo domination was aroused in the north among the Hausa-Fulani Muslims, many of whom opposed independence from Britain. Similar suspicions of the Igbo junta grew in the Yoruba west, prompting a joint Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani countercoup against the Igbo six months later. Countercoup leader General Yakubu Gowon took punitive measures against the Igbo. Further anger over the murder of prominent Hausa politicians led to the massacre of scattered Igbo populations in northern Hausa-Fulani regions. This persecution triggered the move by Igbo separatists to form their own nation of Biafra the following year.
Less than two months after Biafra declared its independence, diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis fell apart. On July 6, 1967, the federal government in Lagos launched a full-scale invasion into Biafra. Expecting a quick victory,