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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

Regional conflict

Nigeria's 30-month civil war ranks as one of the bloodiest African conflicts of the 20th century. The physical destruction and trauma associated with the war - the shelling of villages, displacement of populations, air bombardment and bitter fighting between combatants - was generally confined to the country's south-eastern region.6 Not surprisingly, then, a relatively small percentage of Nigerians lived in areas affected by the fighting - only 37 per cent claim the war took place in an area where they lived.

6 The south-eastern region in the survey, encompassing what was known from 1967-1970 as the Republic of Biafra, is defined as the following states within the Federal Republic of Nigeria: Bayelsa, Imo, Rivers, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Cross River.

Participants in the focus groups and in-depth interviews repeatedly stressed the regional partisanship when describing the history of the war. Regardless of their point of view, they generally characterized the war as a vain attempt by outnumbered Biafrans to gain independence from the rest of Nigeria, whose population dominated the upper echelons of the military and Federal government.

[The Biafrans] felt they are being eliminated in the north, then of course there was the 1966 coup, the first coup in the country... the north felt the purpose of this coup was to eliminate their leaders... (IDI, former journalist, Lagos)

[W]hat was known as south-eastern Nigeria, [the] south-eastern region was fighting the rest of Nigeria. (FG, former Biafran field commanders, Enugu) They [the Biafrans] believe they were betrayed. This is something they started as a group, eventually they ended up fighting alone because it was to be [the] north against the south but eventually it ended the south-easterners fighting alone. (IDI, female student, Lagos)

The survey reveals a wide gulf between the south-eastern region and the rest of Nigeria. The south-east, encompassing what for two and half years was known as the Republic of Biafra, bore the physical brunt of the war. While south-easterners constitute a plurality of those surveyed with 41 per cent, they make up a solid majority of those who experienced the horrors of war firsthand.

Sixty-eight per cent of south-easterners report that the war took place where they lived versus 16 per cent of those who live elsewhere in the country. Of south-easterners, 68 per cent lost contact with a close relative (compared with 22 per cent of those living in other regions); 59 per cent suffered the death of a family member (compared with 17 per cent of those surveyed in other regions); and 19 per cent were tortured (compared with 4 per cent in the rest of the country).

South-easterners also experienced the negative consequences of the war with greater frequency. While 62 per cent of those living outside the south-eastern region report that none of the 13 possible negative effects befell them, only 14 per cent of south-easterners can say the same. Conversely, 38 per cent of south-easterners experienced eight or more of the negative effects, compared with only 3 per cent of those living outside the area.

Indeed, the frequency with which south-easterners suffered the negative effects of the war is often orders of magnitude greater than for those living elsewhere. The ratio of south-easterners to people in the rest of the country who knew someone well who was raped is more than six to one (47 per cent compared with 7 per cent), and for those who were tortured, more than four to one (19 per cent to 4 per cent). In fact, for the 13 possible negative effects of war, in no category does this ratio drop below three to one. (See Figure 1.)

The concentration of the war in the south-east is also evident when it comes to who did the actual fighting. While 9 per cent of Nigerians as a whole were combatants, more than twice as many south-easterners were combatants as those who live in the rest of Nigeria (13 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively).

Although the physical effects of the war were concentrated in one section of Nigeria, all Nigerians surveyed describe their personal experience of the war in negative terms, even if they were not alive at the time of the actual conflict. Despite the fact that the war was confined to one area - almost half of Nigerians say the war took place "somewhere else" (45 per cent) - only 1 per cent of respondents characterize it as "remote". Fifty-six per cent found the war to be "disruptive", 55 per cent describe it as "horrible" and 21 per cent as "hateful". (See Figure 2.)

The extent to which the Biafran war has permeated Nigerian society at all levels is also evidenced by the small number of respondents (2 per cent) who did not have an opinion or could not answer the question at all. Clearly, almost every Nigerian who participated in the survey has strong opinions about the war that once convulsed the country.