Good morning everyone and welcome to our online event to mark #BiafraHeroesDay2021.
The event titled “Bịa Nụrụ:
A Thousand Stories From Biafra” highlights important events, people, places and groups who played an active role during the War. Stay with us.
On Tuesday, May 30, 1967, Lieutenant-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the then Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria declared the sovereign state of Biafra in a speech that got Ndigbo fighting for self independence from Nigeria.
For three years, Biafra fought for survival from Nigeria in a war that claimed 3 million lives.
Below are the speeches made by the Consultative Assembly and the Biafra Declaration Speech made by Ojukwu himself.
BIAFRA: POLITICS AND GEOGRAPHY
The Republic of Biafra was a unitary republic administered under emergency measures. It consisted of an executive branch, in the form of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, and a judicial branch in the form of the Ministry of Justice. Its legal system was based on the English Common Law.
Upon the outbreak of the Biafra War, SIR LOUIS NWACHUKWU MBANEFO was appointed Chief Justice of Biafra and Ambassador Plenipotentiary. He was actively involved in the peace talks with the Nigerian Government and worked actively towards a diplomatic resolution of the crisis.
The then Republic of Biafra comprised over 29,848 square miles (77,310 km2) of land, with terrestrial borders shared with Nigeria to the north and west, and with Cameroon to the east. Its coast was on the Gulf of Guinea of the South Atlantic Ocean in the south.
The country’s northeast bordered the Benue Hills and mountains that lead to Cameroon. Three major rivers flow from Biafra into the Gulf of Guinea: the Imo River, the Cross River and the Niger River.
An early institution created by the Biafran government was the Bank of Biafra, accomplished under “Decree No. 3 of 1967”.
In 1967, DR. PIUS OKIGBO was appointed economic adviser to the Biafran government (1967–1970). He succeeded in helping with the exchange unit establishment of the Central Bank of Biafra and produced the republic’s currency.
The bank carried out all central banking functions including the administration of foreign exchange and the management of the public debt of the Republic. The bank was administered by a governor and four directors; the first governor, who signed on bank notes, was Sylvester Ugoh. A second decree, “Decree No. 4 of 1967”, modified the Banking Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the Republic of Biafra.
The bank was first located in Enugu, but due to the ongoing war, it was relocated several times. Biafra attempted to finance the war through foreign exchange. After Nigeria announced its currency would no longer be legal tender (to make way for a new currency), this effort increased. After the announcement, tons of Nigerian bank notes were transported in an effort to acquire foreign exchange. The currency of Biafra had been the Nigerian pound until the Bank of Biafra started printing out its own notes, the Biafran pound. The new currency went public on 28 January 1968, and the Nigerian pound was not accepted as an exchange unit. The first issue of the bank notes included only 5 shillings notes and 1 pound notes. The Bank of Nigeria exchanged only 30 pounds for an individual and 300 pounds for enterprises in the second half of 1968.
In 1969 new notes were introduced: £10, £5, £1, 10/- and 5/-.
It is estimated that a total of £115–140 million Biafran pounds were in circulation by the end of the war, with a population of about 14 million, approximately £10 per person.
Radio, as a modern communication technology, has played a revolutionary role in propaganda wars. Governments and revolutionaries find it indispensable because of its advantage in disseminating messages quickly across national borders.
The Biafran government saw the enormous propaganda potential of radio and tactically exploited it. Radio Biafra was an important arm of the Biafran struggle for self-determination.
Also through the efforts of their roving diplomats, such as CHINUA ACHEBE, during the war, Biafra achieved recognition from the states of Tanzania, Gabon, Haiti, Ivory Coast, and Zambia. But the Biafra struggled to secure wider diplomatic support. It also found it difficult to purchase weapons and smuggle them into its controlled territory via airlift.
The efforts of these diplomats have recently come to light through the decryption of telexes sent from Portugal to Biafra during the war. Telex was a method for transmitting messages electronically over land lines or radio. Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, had become the centre for Biafran diplomacy in Europe because the government of Portugal under António de Oliveira Salazar supported Biafra with air landing and communication privileges. Paris and London were also key centres for Biafran diplomats.
During the war, Biafra had only one telex machine. It was the only communications link to and from the outside world. The machine was moved around Biafra depending on what territory was controlled.
THE RESEARCH AND PRODUCTION AGENCY (RAP)
At the outbreak of the war, Biafra was poorly equipped as compared to the Nigerian army with arms and ammunition being in short supply. This imbalance in power was intensified in the course of the war. Biafran scientists, prominently from the University of Nigeria Nsukka (then University of Biafra), formed the Research and Production (RAP) Agency of Biafra which included a Weapons Research and Production Group.
Headed by COLONEL EJIKE OBUMNEME AGHANYA, it was the aim and purpose of this group to develop an indigenous arms industry and they soon started with the production of ammunition, grenades and armoured cars. They also produced bombs, rockets, missiles (collectively called Ogbunigwe), telecommunication gadgets and petroleum refineries among others for the Biafran Armed Forces.
Their most effective and infamous product was the Ogbunigwe of which there were different types in various sizes. The term Ogbunigwe later came to include grenades and landmines but initially referred to non guided rocket propelled surface-to-air missiles which were later converted to surface-to-surface missiles. The engineers Seth Nwanagu, Willy Achukwu, Sylvester Akalonu, Nath Okpala Gordian Ezekwe, Benjamin Nwosu and others were instrumental in the design and production of the weapons.
THE BIAFRAN ARMED FORCES
At the beginning of the war, Biafra had about 3,000 soldiers. This number grew as the war progressed, ultimately reaching 30,000. There was no official support for the Biafran Army from any other nation, although arms were clandestinely acquired.
Because of this, Biafra manufactured many of her weapons locally. Some Europeans served the Biafran cause: German-born Rolf Steiner was a lieutenant colonel assigned to the 4th Commando Brigade, and Welshman Taffy Williams served as a major throughout the conflict. A special guerrilla unit, the Biafran Organization of Freedom Fighters, was established: designed to emulate the Viet Cong, they targeted Nigerian supply lines, forcing them to shift resources to internal security efforts.
Our next post will talk about the different branches of the Biafran Military.
THE BIAFRAN ARMY
At the peak of Biafran military power, the Biafran Army was made of 5 divisions; numbered 11th, 12th, 13th (later renumbered 15th), 14th and 101st.
It also had 2 separate brigades, the S Brigade, a Pretorian guard for the Commander-in-Chief, General Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, and the 4th Commando Brigade (trained and commanded by mercenaries). It was commanded by Brigadier Hillary Njoku and later Major General Alexander Madiebo.
THE BIAFRAN AIRFORCE
Biafra had a small, yet effective air force. Biafran Air Force commanders were Chude Sokey and later Godwin Ezeilo, who had trained with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Its early inventory included two B-25 Mitchells, two B-26 Invaders, (one piloted by Polish flown to Biafra the following month, with another T-6 lost on the ferry flight. These aircraft flew missions until January 1970 manned by Portuguese ex-military pilots.
World War II ace Jan Zumbach, known also as John Brown), a converted DC-3 and one Dove. In 1968, Swedish pilot Carl Gustaf von Rosen suggested the MiniCOIN project to General Ojukwu.
By early 1969, Biafra had assembled five MFI-9Bs in Gabon, calling them “Biafra Babies”.
They were coloured green, were able to carry six 68 mm anti-armour rockets under each wing using simple sights. The five planes were flown by three Swedish pilots and three Biafran pilots. In September 1969, Biafra acquired four ex-Armee de l’Air North American T-6Gs, which were flown to Biafra the following month, with another T-6 lost on the ferry flight. These aircraft flew missions until January 1970 manned by Portuguese ex-military pilots.
During the war, Biafra tried to acquire jets. Two Fouga Magisters and several Gloster Meteors were bought but never arrived in Biafra, being abandoned on foreign African airbases.
THE BIAFRAN NAVY
Biafra had a small improvised navy, but it never gained the success of the Air Force. It was headquartered in Kidney Island, Port Harcourt, and was commanded by Winifred Anuku.
The Biafran Navy was made up of captured craft, converted tugs, and armored civilian vessels armed with machine guns, or captured 6-pounder guns. It mainly operated in the Niger Delta and along the Niger River.
SOME OPERATIONS DURING THE BIAFRA WAR
OPERATION TIGER CLAW (October 17–19, 1967)
This was a military conflict between Nigerian and Biafran military forces. The battle took place in the major port of Calabar.
The Nigerian were led by Benjamin Adekunle while the Biafrans were led by Maj. Ogbo Oji. The aftermath was a major loss to the Biafrans because it cost the Biafrans one of their largest ports.
In October 1967 a Nigerian Navy armada on a naval campaign left the port of Bonny en route to Calabar. Inside the ships were the heavily armed troops of the Nigerian 3rd Marine Division under the command of Gen. Benjamin Adekunle. At the time Calabar was defended by the Biafran 9th Battalion under the command of Maj. Ogbo Oji, who was responsible for the defense of Biafra’s entire southeast coastline from Opobo to the Cameroon border
On October 17 Biafran defenses on Calabar’s beaches came under heavy aerial and naval bombardment. Less than 24 hours later the Nigerian 8th Battalion under the command of Maj. Ochefu disembarked from Lokoja and was able to capture Calabar’s cement factory.
The small but stubborn Biafran resistance was overwhelmed but managed to retain control over certain parts of Calabar and its surrounding area. Bloody hand-to-hand fighting ensued after Nigerian troops began to enter Calabar from 3 different positions. Maj. Oji was seriously wounded during the fighting and evacuated to Umuahia while his outnumbered troops retreated to new defensive positions on the outskirts of Calabar.
OPERATION OAU (September 2 – October 15, 1968)
Operation OAU was a move by the Nigerian troops to capture the three towns of Owerri, Aba and Umuahia. It was an intermittent battle that may have resulted in over 25,000 deaths on both sides. Although the Biafran soldiers were outnumbered, they were able to retain control of Umuahia and eventually recapture the cities of Owerri and Aba.
On September 2, Nigerian artillery began shelling Aba while ground forces began to enter the city under heavy Biafran fire. For twelve days bloody house-to-house fighting ensued and bodies filled Red Cross hospitals before the final Biafrans surrendered on the 14th September. On the 13th September the Biafran 14th Division came under heavy artillery fire from the Nigerian 16th Brigade under the command of Colonel E.A. Etuk.
On September 17, the Nigerian 3rd Marine Division began making their way towards Umuahia but were intercepted outside the city by a division of Biafran soldiers and a bloody battle ensued. On September 18, after a fierce five-day stand, the Biafran 14th Division abandoned fighting in Ohoba and Obinze and retreated from the city, leaving Owerri open to Col. Etuk’s 16th Division. After Owerri’s capture Colonel Ogbugo Kalu was made commander of the 14th Division and Col. Lambert Iheanacho was made commander of the 63rd Brigade.
Due to the swiftness of the Nigerian advance the Biafran 63rd Brigade retreated from the Obiangwu airstrip on September 22, leaving the bulk of its equipment to the Nigerian 22nd and 44th battalions. The same day, the Biafran Maj. Joseph Achuzie attempted a counterattack at the Obiangwu airstrip, but was swiftly repulsed by the Nigerian 22nd Battalion. On September 30, the Nigerian 21st battalion outflanked the defending Biafran 13th Division and captured Okigwe town. In mid-September, the French President Charles de Gaulle openly voiced his support for the Biafran cause and began shipping weapons to Biafra. The terrain around Umuahia consisted of areas of vast jungles and rivers that were littered with mines and Biafran soldiers. For 14 days, the two sides exchanged gunfire and artillery, resulting in mass casualties on both sides. Adekunle radioed in that he needed reinforcements or his entire division would be at risk of annihilation, but they never arrived. Nearly 15,000 Nigerian soldiers had either been killed or wounded in the Umuahia sector and on October 1, the 3rd Marine Division retreated to Port Harcourt while the 16th Division was left isolated in Owerri. Instead of pursuing the retreating Nigerians to Port Harcourt the Biafrans slowly made their way up the Aba-Umuahia road and managed to capture Aba on October 15.
This was a military operation conducted by the Biafran 4th Commando Brigade in an attempt to recapture Onitsha from the Nigerian 2nd Division. The operation ultimately resulted in failure and ended in the deaths of numerous mercenaries and Biafran soldiers.
In early November 1968 the 4,000 strong Biafran 4th Commando Brigade moved northwards from Umuahia to Nkwelle, less than 10 km outside of Onitsha. On 15 November Colonel Rolf Steiner was ordered to launch an offensive operation coined “Operation Hiroshima”. Steiner initially objected on the grounds that his troops were trained for guerrilla tactics, but was overruled.
The operation was a full frontal attack across an open field. With no aerial support or any natural obstacles to hide behind the attacking Biafran brigade was decimated by Nigerian machine gun fire and suffered heavy casualties.
The Welsh mercenary Major Taffy Williams ordered a unit of Biafran soldiers under the Belgian mercenary Marc Goossens to attack a Nigerian defensive position but were almost immediately forced to retreat after Goossens was shot dead. On 29 November the remaining 2,000 soldiers of the Biafran 4th Commando Brigade retreated from Onitsha, leaving Onitsha under complete Nigerian control for the rest of the war.
OPERATION TAIL-WIND (January 7 – 12, 1970)
This was the final military conflict between Nigeria and Biafra. The operation took place in the towns of Owerri and Uli, both of which were captured by Nigerian forces.
The operation ended with General Odumegwu Ojukwu fleeing to the Ivory Coast and then vice president of Biafra Philip Effiong surrendering to Olusegun Obasanjo bringing an end to the 30-month war.
THE ABAGANA AMBUSH
The Abagana Ambush (March 31, 1968) was an ambush by Biafran guerrilla troops led by Major Jonathan Uchendu that wiped out the Nigerian 2 Division. Of the 6,000 Nigerian troops ambushed, only a very small number survived, including the 2nd Division’s commander, General Murtala Muhammed.
On 31 March 1968, a convoy consisting of 106 vehicles belonging to the Nigerian 2nd Division transporting 6,000 soldiers, as well as armour from Onitsha to Enugu was ambushed and decimated in the town of Abagana by a small unit of Biafran soldiers led by Major Jonathan Uchendu.
Homemade Ogbunigwe rocket missiles were launched by the Biafrans at a tanker truck carrying gasoline which caused an enormous explosion destroying many of the convoy’s armoured vehicles and killing a large number of Nigerian troops. 350 tons of Nigerian Army equipment were destroyed or captured by the Biafran troops. After the rocket attack the Biafran soldiers opened fire on the convoy with small arms fire killing many more Nigerian soldiers.
THE UGA AIRSTRIP
Many people are aware that Biafra had an airstrip in Uli but only a few know that there was another airstrip in Uga, Anambra State.
Uga, the second of the three sites originally selected as a bush airstrip, was hastily developed following the threatened loss of Uli in September 1968. Like Uli, the airstrip at Uga was converted from a stretch of the main Orlu to Awka road but instead of creating concrete hard-standings, the Biafrans used a form of PSP (a pierced-steel planking system), although local reports at the time described the material as ‘perforated aluminium strip ‘. (It is very likely that the material used for developing Uga had originally been purchased via the Church Relief Service for use at Uli.
By the end of 1968 the strip was declared operational, but only as a secondary strip to Uli and strictly for government and military usage only. Uga could only, in reality, be considered for emergency purposes as the actual landing strip was considerably uneven and pilots who used it complained about the undulating surface. In fact, at first Uga was very rarely used, even by arms flights which continued to use Uli under the cover of relief flights.
It was not until the late-harmattan season of 1969, after Uli had been subjected to a particularly bad spell of night-bombing, that Uga came into more regular usage. Even then, it was pressure from the Churches which brought Uga into more regular use rather than any desire to separate the two commodities of relief and arms.
Lloyd Garrison was a journalist with the New York Times who reported largely from the side of Biafra during the war. He flew into blockaded airstrips under cover of night to conduct interviews with the Gen. Odumegwu Ojukwu.
He was later deported to America for atttacting some level of international attention to the plight of Biafra during the war.
DISPLACEMENT DURING THE WAR
A lot of Biafrans were displaced from their homes during the war. According to Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, about 10 million people were displaced as a result of the conflict.
Many Igbo people lost their homes, especially in the present day Rivers State, after the Federal government declared their homes abandoned properties.
FEEDING CENTRES IN BIAFRA
We will take the next few minutes to show some feeding centers used to distribute food to the starving people of Biafra during the war.
This is a feeding center in Ullona. Distributions are taking place in the forest because of air danger.
A Biafran feeding in Umuosu, Abia State. Here, children are seen waiting for distribution.
A Biafran feeding in Ezza, Ebonyi State. A Biafran child is seen holding stockfish. Stockfish was one of the regular supplies during the war because it contains protein.
This location is in Amamba in Abia State. The pictures show medical supplies being given to Biafrans in medical need during the war.
THE BIAFRAN AIRLIFT
The Airlift to Biafra is the second largest airlift in human history. It is known that about 3 million Igbo people died during the war but that number would have been a lot more if not the humanitarian activities of so many groups, organizations and national governments who sent relief aid to Biafra.
Approximately 30 non-governmental organizations and several governments provided non-military direct and indirect aid through or in support of the Biafran Airlift. Major contributors of such items as food, medicine, transport aircraft ,air and ground crew included:
American Jewish Emergency Effort for Biafran Relief
Canada (financial, food, material, C-130 Hercules aircraft)
Canairrelief (a NGO organized by the Presbyterian Church of Canada and Oxfam Canada. Over 10,000 tons were carried in 674 flights)
Caritas Internationalis Church World Service
Das Diakonische Werk (a German church group provided flight operations)
Germany (one C.160 aircraft)
Holy Ghost Airline (run by the Irish Catholic Holy Ghost Fathers, Africa Concern)
International Committee of the Red Cross – also acting as an umbrella group for multiple national Red Cross agencies
Nordchurchaid (an ad hoc organization of Protestant churched from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden)
Israel (Israel Aerospace Industries)
Save the Children Fund
Sweden (C-130 Hercules aircraft)
UNICEF (contributed four field service officers)
United States (financial, food, material, and eight C-97 US Air National Guard transport aircraft)
World Council of Churches
Others who contributed other non-humanitarian aid, such as military support and diplomatic recognition, are not included here.
Countries and agencies who contributed solely or mostly through any of the above organizations are not listed separately.
The Centre For Memories has produced a video in gratitude to the numerous groups and governments and individuals who supported Biafra in her time of need. The video will be uploaded shortly.
The Centre For Memories has produced a video in gratitude to the numerous groups and governments and individuals who supported Biafra in her time of need. The video will be uploaded shortly.
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