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Nigerian civil war that claimed three million lives was ‘little fracas’: Yakubu Gowon

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m satisfied that we are still existing as a united nation after that little fracas,” Mr Gowon said in a brief ARISE TV interview on Monday.

• May 29, 2023
Starved and malnourished Biafra children and former military dictator Yakubu Gowon
Starved and malnourished Biafra children and former military dictator Yakubu Gowon

The Nigeria-Biafra civil war that claimed between 500,000 and three million lives was “little fracas,” says former military head of state Yakubu Gowon.

“Little fracas” that President Muhammadu Buhari said killed one million people.

The ex-military leader presided over the bloodiest violent conflict in the country and is fondly remembered for his “no vanquished, no victor” statement.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m satisfied that we are still existing as a united nation after that little fracas,” Mr Gowon said in a brief ARISE TV interview on Monday against the backdrop of the presidential inauguration of Bola Tinubu. 

“Thank God we have made it to 60 years, and I hope we’ll make another 60 years. I may not be here.” 

The Nigeria-Biafra war broke out in 1967 following the South-East’s secession from Nigeria. The war lasted over 30 months, ending in 1970.

Though Mr Gowon back then declared the war “no victory no vanquish,” historians are still lamenting the country’s failure to ensure a proper reconciliation and closure over 50 years on.

President Muhammadu Buhari, on June 1, 2021, threatened to deal with the youths of the Igbo-dominated South-East in a manner similar to the violence visited upon the region’s civilians by him and other military officers who fought on the Nigerian side during the Civil War.

Buhari and the malnutrition kids of the civil war
Buhari and the malnutrition kids of the civil war

Mr Buhari said he had had enough of the raging attacks against government facilities across the South-East. Violent thugs have been on the rampage in the region, killing and setting public and private assets on fire. The president has previously warned that there would be consequences for the attacks, and security forces have been combing the region in a deadly pursuit of pro-Biafran elements. 

An estimated three million people were reportedly killed during the war, many rounded up by Nigerian soldiers and shot at close range while hundreds of thousands were starved to death. Although the war was not properly documented, several accounts with substantial corroboration indicated how Nigerian soldiers massacred Igbo civilians in Asaba, Onitsha, and Enugu, amongst other communities in the region. 

The war ended in 1970, but historians still lament the country’s failure to ensure a proper reconciliation 50 years on. 

Mr Buhari, alongside Murtala Mohammed and other controversial military officers of the Muslim-dominated northern region, was documented to be involved in the bloodshed at the time while fighting to keep Biafra as part of Nigeria. 

In 2016, Nigerian forces in Onitsha killed hundreds of Igbo youths during a rally to commemorate Biafran Day. Civil society groups later uncovered their charred remains, but Mr Buhari’s regime held no one responsible. 

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