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Yakubu Gowon (b. 1934) Nigerian general and statesman, head of state 1966–75


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Biafran War

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(1967–70, Nigeria)

A Nigerian civil war caused by irreconcilable ethnic tensions. In 1966, an army coup brought to power a military regime headed by an Ibo (from the south), who was himself deposed by a group of northern military officers under the leadership of Gowon, in order to forestall Ibo domination. Many of the Ibo people were murdered in retaliation, which made them feel even more acutely their disadvantaged position in the Nigerian polity. In response, on 30 May 1967, the erstwhile Military Governor, Colonel Ojukwu, declared the independence of the Ibo‐dominated Eastern Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra. It had few chances of survival, as the Nigerian state was determined to regain control of this area of vital oil reserves. Despite desperate efforts, international recognition was only forthcoming from four African countries, as well as Haiti. By 1968, Port Harcourt and Enugu, the Biafran capital, had come under Nigerian control, making Biafra land‐locked. Surrender was announced on 12 January 1970. The war caused the starvation and death of perhaps a million Ibo people.

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