Diplomacy in the context of the Nigeria Civil War

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2012

25 Pages, Grade: none



War is the highest form of political struggle for resolving contradictions, when they have developed to a certain stage either between classes, nations, states or political groups. Hence, the rapport between war and peace is being determined by the approach or position of diplomacy. Since the failure of diplomacy usually laid the basis for the start of war, and after all wars, peace often reign, it is of enormous significance to recognize the important relationship between war and diplomacy. Like all civil wars, the Nigerian civil war was unique in the context of the nation’s history. This is because it was the most vivid expression of a country turned against itself. As with civil wars in other countries, the Nigerian civil war can be analyzed within the context of a failed diplomatic act. Hence, this paper discussed the position of negotiation or peace talk before and after the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970. It has also looked at the general impact of diplomacy during the period of the crisis.


So much has been said, argued and written to be the reasons or causes for the Nigerian Civil War which started in 1967 and ended in 1970. Among which are: the colonial blow, the unruliness of the politicians of the first republic, the egoistical and radical pursuit for power of some military personnel, the 1966 coup and counter coup and also the personality clash between Lt. Col. Gowon and Lt. Col. Ojukwu. (Uwechue, 2004: 16)

Hence, the effect of the Civil war on the socio-economic and socio-political life of the country has prompted so many researchers to look into the causes of the crisis on a rational extent. Conversely, not so much has been said as per the approach or ground of diplomacy in the pre-war and post war era. This paper will look at the arena of diplomacy before the Nigerian civil war and how effective the peace talk had been able to stop the crisis that almost disintegrate the so called giant of Africa.


The Nigerian Civil War also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War, 6 July 1967 to 15 January 1970 was a political variance caused by the attempted secession of the south-eastern province of Nigeria as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra. The conflict was the result of economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tension among the various peoples of Nigeria. (Ukpabi, 1995: 100) The various agents that led to the afore-mentioned crisis vary, starting from the colonial impacts (Adejo, 2008: 3). As with many other African nations, Nigeria was a synthetic structure initiated by former colonial powers which had neglected to consider religious, linguistic, and ethnic differences. Nigeria, which gained independence from Britain in 1960, had at that time a population of about 60 million people consisting of nearly 300 differing ethnic and cultural groups.

The causes of the Nigerian Civil War were diverse although, in the view of a Journalist, Alex Mitchell in one of his memoirs blames involvement of the British, Dutch, French and Italian Oil companies whose battle for the rich Nigerian oil field started the Civil War and kept it going. (Lloyd, 1970: 12)

Furthermore, on 15th January 1966, Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and other Junior Army Officers who were mostly Majors and Captains attempted a coup d'état. It was generally speculated that the coup had been initiated by the Igbos and for their primary benefits, because of the ethnicity of those that were killed. The Prime Minister and the Premier of the Northern region in persons of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello respectively were killed. It is also of immense value to note that the wife of Sir Ahmadu Bello was also eliminated in this coup. Meanwhile, the President, Sir Nnamdi Azikwe, an Igbo, was on an extended vacation in the West Indies. He did not return until days after the coup.

The coup d’état itself failed, as Ironsi rallied the military against the plotters. But Ironsi did not bring the failed plotters to trial as requested by military law and as advised by the most Northern and western officers. In this context, it was generally viewed that the coup was a means by the Igbos to strike firm on the governmental and military competence of the Northerners not leaving the perception that Aguiyi Ironsi’s refusal to punish the coup plotters signifies his assent to their deed. A counter coup was staged in July 1966, where so many lives and properties which were majorly of Easterners residing in the Northern region of the nation were lost while Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, the then Head of State and Col. Adekunle Fajuyi who was at that period the Governor of the Western region while hosting the Head of State at His Ibadan resident were assassinated. This coup brought Lt. Col Yakubu Gowon to power which was said to be against the seniority ranking as claimed by Lt. Col. Ojukwu. (Oyediran, 1970: 16)

In addition to the afore-mentioned points, it is of great value to recognize the personality clash between Gowon and Ojukwu, which might seem personal to different scholars, but we can’t but recognize it as one of the causes of the Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970. (Adejo, 2008: 39-40)


The Aburi Summit was a last ditch effort to save a tottering republic from collapse. On January 4&5 1967, Nigeria’s top military brass converged in Aburi in the republic of Ghana for an unusual conference. It was called the Aburi Accord, signed by the leaders of the country about forty six years ago in Aburi, Ghana. It was an accord that was meant to tackle the issue of true federalism in the country.

The Accord was precipitated by the crisis that trailed the counter coup of July 26 1966, and the massacre of southerners, mainly the Igbos in Northern Nigeria. The counter coup was a revenge coup to the military coup that occurred earlier in the year 1966 while Lt. Col. Ojukwu, Military Governor, Eastern Region, as he then was, refused to recognize Lt. Col. Gowon as the new Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Nigeria Army. He had insisted that in the absence of Ironsi, the most senior Army officer, in this case Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe should take charge of the country’s affairs to maintain order and discipline in the Army (Adejo, 2008: 40), but Gowon held on to power in Lagos.

The entire country was enveloped in tension. Fear and mistrust pervaded the land. Soldiers and civilians of Eastern origin residing in the North, who had run home after the massacre that trailed the July 26 counter coup, could not return to the North for fear of their lives. The nation was thrown into chaos. Meetings were held, conferences were convened to find a solution to the national problem. The constitutional conference was adjourned indefinitely on October 3, 1966 (Akpan, 1972: 74).

The supreme military council (SMC) could not meet because Ojukwu had refused to attend a meeting in any part of the country where there were soldiers of Northern extraction, while the other members of the SMC could not come to the East for a meeting. For months, there was a stand-off between the Governor of the Eastern Region and the new Military rulers in Lagos. It was this state of affairs that gave rise to the Aburi conference.

The Aburi summit was the last ditch to save a tottering republic from collapse. So, on January 4 and 5, 1967, as earlier stated, Nigeria’s top military brass conveyed in Aburi, in the Republic of Ghana for an unusual conference. Unusual in the sense that, it was the first and only time after the country’s independence in 1960, the nation’s leaders will gather in a foreign land to brainstorm on the problems of the country.

The conference was facilitated by the then Ghanaian Head of State, Lt. Col. Joe Ankrah, and was attended by nine military leaders of the country. The agendas included: the re-organization of the Armed forces, constitutional Arrangement and the issue of displaced persons within Nigeria, with the overall aim of a political re-engineering for the country. For a start, it was also agreed by the participants that the Nigerian crisis would not be resolved through the use of arms.

In Aburi, all the participants made a strong argument for a return to true federalism that was in operation in the country before the first military coup of January 1966. Specifically, Adebayo advocated a repeal of those Decrees that were passed after 15th January 1966: (Ojukwu, 1969: 8)

…but I think we should revert to what the country was as at 14th January, 1966, that is regional autonomy

While Gowon agreed to do away with any decree that certainly tended to go towards too much centralization. At the end of the two days conference, the much talked about Aburi accord was signed by the participants at that historic summit.

It was resolved amongst others that members agree that the legislative and executive authority of the federal military government should remain in the supreme military council, to which any decision affecting the whole country shall be referred for determination provided that where it is not possible for a meeting to be held the matter requiring determination must be referred to military governors for their comment and concurrence.

Specifically, the council agreed that appointment to senior ranks in the police, diplomatic and consular services as well as appointment to super-scale posts in the federal civil service and the equivalent posts in the statutory corporation must be approved by the supreme military council.

‘The regional members felt that all the decrees passed since January 15, 1966, and which detracted from previous powers and positions of regional governments, should be repealed if mutual confidence was to be restored.’

Besides, it was agreed that ‘the Ad-Hoc committee should resume sitting as soon as practicable to begin from where they left off’, and ‘That all the law officers of the federation should meet in Benin on the 14th January and list out all the Decrees and provisions of Decrees concerned so that they may be repealed not later than 21st January if possible.’

On the issue of displaced persons, it was resolved that ‘civil servants and corporate staff (including daily paid employees) who have not been absorbed should continue to be paid their full salaries until 31st March 1967 provided they had not got alternative employment’. While ‘finance Permanent Secretaries were to resume their meeting within two weeks and submit recommendations, and that each Region was to send three representatives to the meeting.’ (Uwechue, 2004: 32)


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Diplomacy in the context of the Nigeria Civil War
International Studies and Diplomacy
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diplomacy, nigeria, civil
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Osadola Oluwaseun Samuel (Author), 2012, Diplomacy in the context of the Nigeria Civil War, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/202625


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