The Nigerian-Biafran War was a civil war broke out 6 July 1967 to 15 January 1970. The war was chaired by the government of Nigeria headed by General Yakubu Gowon and the secessionist state of Biafra led by Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu from Biafra represented nationalist aspirations of the Igbo people, whose leadership felt they could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated federal government. The conflict resulted from political, economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions which preceded Britain’s formal decolonization of Nigeria from 1960 to 1963. Immediate causes of the war in 1966 included ethno-religious violence and anti-Igbo pogroms in Northern Nigeria, a military coup, a counter-coup and persecution of Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. Control over the lucrative oil production in the Niger Delta also played a vital strategic role.
Within a year, the Federal Government troops surrounded Biafra, capturing coastal oil facilities and the city of Port Harcourt. The blockade imposed as a deliberate policy during the ensuing stalemate led to mass starvation. During the two and half years of the war, there were about 100,000 overall military casualties, while between 500,000 and 2 million Biafran civilians died of starvation.
In mid-1968, images of malnourished and starving Biafran children saturated the mass media of Western countries. The plight of the starving Biafrans became a cause célèbre in foreign countries, enabling a significant rise in the funding and prominence of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The United Kingdom and the Soviet Union were the main supporters of the Nigerian government, while France, Israel and some other countries supported Biafra. On the 25th of November 1969, John Lennon sent back his MBE medal to the Queen in protest of Britain’s involvement with the war in Biafra.
Shortly after extending its blockade to include oil, the Nigerian government launched a “police action” to retake the secessionist territory. The Biafra strategy had succeeded. The federal government had started the war, and the East was defending itself. The Nigerian Army offensive was through the north of Biafra led by Colonel Mohammed Shuwa and the local military units were formed as the 1st Infantry Division. The division was led mostly by northern officers. After facing unexpectedly fierce resistance and high casualties, the right-hand Nigerian column advanced on the town of Nsukka, which fell on 14 July, while the left-hand column made for Garkem, which was captured on 12 July.