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close this bookCountry Report Nigeria - ICRC Worldwide Consultation on the Rules of War (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1999, 56 p.)
close this folderThe war experience
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View the documentRegional conflict
View the documentThe chaos of war


Nigeria's civil war was a conventional war fought in the south-eastern part of the country, known during the secessionist period as the Republic of Biafra. The war yielded two very different experiences: one for those close to the violence and fighting, and one for those removed from the conflict. But the war has made an impression on every person in Nigeria, no matter where they lived, or even if they were not alive at the time.

Unlike most of the participants in the People on War project, the people of Nigeria view war through a long lens, backwards through time. Among the respondents in the ICRC survey in Nigeria, all of whom were over the age of 18, only 34 per cent were age 10 or older at the end of the war; 43 per cent of those surveyed were born after the cease-fire was declared in January 1970.5 While the citizens of Colombia, Somalia or Afghanistan can relate stories of war remembered from youth, adulthood or even from past weeks and months, for the citizens of Nigeria, direct experience of war is either a distant memory or a lesson to be learned from history books, television or stories passed down from grandfathers and aunts, retired neighbours and distant kin.

5Forty-five per cent of Nigeria's 110 million people are under the age of 14; only 3 per cent are over the age of 65.

There is no doubt, however, that the 1967-1970 Biafran war made an impression on those born after its end. It still shapes Nigerian life, as focus groups, in-depth interviews and survey results reveal; the long-term consequences of the war range from the overt, such as the string of military governments that have dominated Nigerian political life since the war, to the subtle tensions that still linger on today. As one journalist commented, "Nigeria has been [in peace] almost 30 years, three decades, and we still have Biafra war effects." (FG, journalists, Lagos)

Many Nigerians' concept of war and the rules that govern it comes not from direct experience of violence and bloodshed, but rather from direct experience of the consequences - displacement, poverty, and mistrust born of exaggeration or simple fear. Their responses offer a unique perspective on a war a generation past.