In the early hours of 30 May 1967, a hand-picked audience arrived at a government building, known as State House, in the town of Enugu in south-east Nigeria.
The man who appeared before them was a 33-year old bearded army officer with a gentlemanly bearing, unmistakable gravitas and an earnest expression. In his baritone voice, at a slow, emphatic pace, Lt-Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu made a declaration that was to change the course of his country’s history. ‘The territory and region known as Eastern Nigeria’, he proclaimed, ‘shall henceforth be an independent sovereign state of the name “Biafra”.’
As news of Ojukwu’s dramatic announcement broke, huge numbers of ecstatic local people surged into the streets, dancing and singing to celebrate their moment of ‘liberation’ from the Nigerian regime led by General Yakubu Gowon. Soon this relatively small region, comprising just 29,000 square miles, less than ten per cent of Nigeria’s landmass, would have its own flag, currency, even an anthem. But Gowon’s federal government would not allow oil-rich Biafra to go its own way and it had everything to fight for. Within weeks, a brutal civil war had begun.
To read this article in full you need to be either a print + archive subscriber, or else have purchased access to the online archive.
If you are already a subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.