Published Date

May 1, 2004

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “Biafra, Nigeria, the West and the World” by David Trask. 

A Timeline for Biafra

Historians are always accused of stressing sequences of dates and events so let’s begin with a few milestones of the Biafra episode in Nigerian history:

  1. In January, 1966, a military coup overthrew the government–both the personnel and the constitution which had developed as Nigeria moved toward and into independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In effect the coup brought that chain of events to an end in an effort to solve the difficulties which plagued Nigeria in the early 1960s. This leaders of the coup not only seized power, they executed a number of military and governmental leaders.
  2. In late July, 1966, there was a mutiny by troops in Northern Nigeria which came two months after a series of riots in the northern provinces of the country. This was followed by a new military coup which resulted in the murders of several leaders of the January government and installed the Gowon regime, named after the leader of the group. This government stayed in power throughout the Biafran secessionist era.
  3. On the first weekend of October, 1966, following a series of murders in northern and eastern Nigeria, there was a weekend of violence in northern Nigeria where most of the victims were from eastern Nigeria.
  4. On January 4-5, 1967, Gowon and his military governors met with eastern Nigerian leaders in Aburi, Ghana, to try to find ways to head off a civil war.
  5. On May 27, 1967, the Gowon regime announced a new arrangement of states in Nigeria; where there had been four regions [Northern, Eastern, Western and Midwestern] there would now be twelve states.
  6. Three days later, on May 30th, the man who had been placed in charge of the eastern region after the January coup announced the secession of the former Eastern Region from Nigeria. That region was renamed Biafra. Warfare soon follows.
  7. Early 1968 sees the intensification of efforts inside and outside of Nigeria to find ways to end the conflict.
  8. Mid-1968 sees rise of concern about the fate of civilians in Nigeria caught in the crossfire of war. European countries have to decide if they will recognize Biafra as an independent nation.
  9. On January 12, 1970, Biafra announces its surrender.
  10. Gowon proclaims “the dawn of national reconciliation” on January 15, 1970.

What stands out in this recitation of the most basic events of Biafran history? Coup. Secession. Inter-regional conflict. Refugees.  World concern.  Amnesty. Anything else?  Historians would look at this chain of events and perhaps draw up the list I just drew up.  And then they might develop a second list of possible explanations for why these events occurred based on a) their understandings of human nature [What do people want when they become involved in a secession movment or any other risky political effort?] and b) their knowledge of  similar events that occurred elsewhere in the world.