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Innocent Cyril Okwuchukwu (@admin)
2 months ago

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom had planned to maintain and expand its supply of cheap high-quality oil from Nigeria. Therefore, it placed a high priority on maintenance of oil extraction and refining operations. The war broke out just a week before the Six-Day War in the Middle East, forcing oil tankers from the Middle East to use the long route around the Cape of Good Hope, thereby increasing the cost of Middle Eastern oil. In turn, this increased the importance of Nigerian oil to the United Kingdom, because Nigerian oil was cheaper than Persian Gulf oil.

Initially, when it was unclear which side would prevail, the United Kingdom took a "wait and see" approach before opting decisively for Nigeria. Nigeria had a navy of only six vessels, the largest of which was a frigate; an air force of 76 planes, none of which were fighters or bombers; and an army of 7,000 men with no tanks and a shortage of officers with command experience. Though Biafra was likewise similarly weak, the two sides appeared evenly matched at the beginning of the war, and Nigerian victory was by no means considered preordained.

The United Kingdom backed the Federal Government but, when the war broke out, cautioned them not to damage British oil installations in the East. These oilworks, under the control of the Shell-BP Petroleum Development Company (jointly owned by Shell and British Petroleum), controlled 84 per cent of Nigeria's 580,000 barrels per day. Two-thirds of this oil came from the Eastern region, and another third from the newly created Mid-West region. Two-fifths of all Nigerian oil ended up in the United Kingdom.\[99\] In 1967, 30 per cent of the oil being imported into the United Kingdom came from Nigeria.

Shell-BP therefore considered carefully a request by the Federal Government that it refuse to pay the royalties demanded by Biafra. Its lawyers advised that payment to Biafra would be appropriate if this government did in fact maintain law and order in the region in question. The British government advised that paying Biafra could undermine the goodwill of the Federal Government. Shell-BP made the payment, and the government established a blockade on oil exports. Forced to choose a side, Shell-BP and the British government threw in their lot with the Federal Government in Lagos, apparently calculating that this side would be more likely to win the war. As the British High Commissioner in Lagos wrote to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs on 27 July 1967:

Ojukwu, even victorious, will not be in a strong position. He will require all the international help and recognition he can get. The Federal Government would be much better placed both internationally and internally. They would have a cast iron case for the severest treatment of a company which has subsidised a rebel, and I feel fairly convinced they would press their case to the lengths of cancelling the Company's concessions and nationalising their installations. I conclude, therefore, if the company does change its mind and asks the British Government for advice, the best that could be given is for it to clamber hastily back on the Lagos side of the fence with cheque book at the ready."

Shell-BP took this advice. It continued to quietly support Nigeria through the rest of the war, in one case advancing a royalty of £5.5 million to fund the purchase of more British weapons.

It was not until Federal forces captured the ocean oil terminal at Bonny on 25 July 1967 that the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson decided to back Nigeria with military aid. After the Federal victory at Bonny, Wilson summoned David Hunt, the British high commissioner to Nigeria, for a meeting at 10 Downing Street in early August 1967 for his assessment of the situation. Hunt's view that the Federal forces were the better organised and would win because they could draw upon a greater population led Wilson to side with Nigeria.

During the war, the United Kingdom covertly supplied Nigeria with weapons and military intelligence and may have also helped it to hire mercenaries. After the decision was made to back Nigeria, the BBC oriented its reporting to favour this side. Supplies provided to the Federal Military Government included two vessels and 60 vehicles.

In the United Kingdom, the humanitarian campaign around Biafra began on 12 June 1968, with media coverage on ITV and in The Sun. The charities Oxfam and Save the Children Fund were soon deployed, with large sums of money at their disposal.


France provided weapons, mercenary fighters, and other assistance to Biafra and promoted its cause internationally, describing the situation as a genocide. President Charles de Gaulle referred to "Biafra's just and noble cause". However, France did not recognise Biafra diplomatically. Through Pierre Laureys, France had apparently provided two B-26s, Alouette helicopters, and pilots. France supplied Biafra with captured German and Italian weapons from World War II, sans serial numbers, delivered as part of regular shipments to Ivory Coast. France also sold Panhard armoured vehicles to the Nigerian federal government.

French involvement in the war can be viewed in the context of its geopolitical strategy (Françafrique) and competition with the British in West Africa. Nigeria represented a base of British influence in the predominantly French-aligned area. France and Portugal used nearby countries in their sphere of influence, especially Ivory Coast under President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, as waystations for shipments to Biafra.

To some extent, also, France repeated its earlier policy from the Congo Crisis, when it supported the secession of the southern mining province Katanga.

Economically, France gained incentives through oil drilling contracts for the Société Anonyme Française de Recherches et d'Exploitation de Pétrolières (SAFRAP), apparently arranged with Eastern Nigeria in advance of its secession from the Nigerian Federation.

SAFRAP laid claim to 7% of the Nigerian petroleum supply.\[99\] In the assessment of a CIA analyst in 1970, France's "support was actually given to a handful of Biafran bourgeoisie in return for the oil. " Biafra, for its part, openly appreciated its relationship with France. Ojukwu suggested on 10 August 1967, that Biafra introduce compulsory French classes in secondary, technical and teacher training schools, in order to "benefit from the rich culture of the French-speaking world".

France led the way, internationally, for political support of Biafra. Portugal also sent weapons. These transactions were arranged through the "Biafran Historical Research Centre" in Paris. French-aligned Gabon and Ivory Coast recognised Biafra in May 1968. On 8 May 1968, De Gaulle personally contributed 30,000 francs to medicine purchases for the French Red Cross mission. Fairly widespread student-worker unrest diverted the government's attention only temporarily. The government declared an arms embargo but maintained arms shipments to Biafra under cover of humanitarian aid. In July the government redoubled its efforts to involve the public in a humanitarian approach to the conflict. Images of starving children and accusations of genocide filled French newspapers and television programs. Amidst this press blitz, on 31 July 1968, De Gaulle made an official statement in support of Biafra. Maurice Robert, head of Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE, the French foreign intelligence service) African operations, wrote in 2004 that his agency supplied the press with details about the war and told them to use the word "genocide" in their reporting.

France declared "Biafra Week" on 11–17 March 1969, centred on a 2-franc raffle held by the French Red Cross. Soon after, de Gaulle terminated arms shipments, then resigned on 27 April 1969. Interim president Alain Poher fired General Jacques Foccart, the lead coordinator of France's Africa policy. Georges Pompidou re-hired Foccart and resumed support for Biafra, including cooperation with the South African secret service to import more weapons.

### Soviet Union

The Soviet Union strongly backed the Nigerian government, emphasising the similarity with the Congo situation. Nigeria's need for more aircraft, which the United Kingdom and the United States refused to sell, led Gowon to accept a Soviet offer in the summer of 1967 to sell a squadron of 17 MiG-17 fighters. The British-trained Nigerian military tended to be distrustful of the Soviet Union, but the Soviet ambassador in Lagos, Alexander Romanov, a gregarious and friendly man as well as a shrewd diplomat, established an excellent rapport with Gowon and persuaded him that accepting Soviet weapons would not mean subjection to the Soviet Union. The first MiG-17s arrived in Nigeria in August 1967 together with some about 200 Soviet technicians to train the Nigerians in their use. Though the MiG-17s turned out to be too sophisticated for the Nigerians to use properly, requiring Egyptian Air Force pilots to fly them, the Soviet-Nigerian arms deal turned out to be one of the turning points of the war. Besides establishing an arms pipeline from the Soviet Union to Nigeria, the possibility that the Soviet Union would gain greater influence in Nigeria led the United Kingdom to increase its supply of arms to maintain its influence in Lagos while ruling out the possibility of either the United States or Britain recognising Biafra. Russia's interest in the Nigeria civil war should be noted to be interest-based rather than helpful. The Soviet Union was interested in the mineral resources and trade relations with Nigeria and it found the war as an avenue to establish this cordial relationship for future profit.

The Soviet Union consistently supplied Nigeria with weapons, with the diplomatic disclaimer that these were "strictly for cash on a commercial basis". In 1968, the USSR agreed to finance the Kainji Dam on the Niger (somewhat upriver from the Delta). Soviet media outlets initially accused the British of cynically supporting the Biafran secession, then had to adjust these claims later when it turned out that the United Kingdom was, in fact, supporting the Federal Government.

One explanation for Soviet sympathy with the Federal Military Government was a shared opposition to internal secessionist movements. Before the war, the Soviets had seemed sympathetic to the Igbos. But Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin stated to their chagrin in October 1967 that "the Soviet people fully understand" Nigeria's motives and its need "to prevent the country from being dismembered."

Reportedly, the war substantially improved Soviet-Nigerian diplomatic and trade relations, and Moskvitch cars began to make appearances around Lagos. The USSR became a competitive importer of Nigerian cacao.

#### China

Because the Soviet Union was one of Nigeria's leading supporters, supplying arms on a generous scale, China, having recently become rivals with the Soviets in the Sino-Soviet split, declared its support for Biafra. In its first major statement on the war in September 1968, the Xinhua Press Agency stated the People's Republic of China fully supported the justified struggle for liberation of the people of Biafra against the Nigerian government supported by "Anglo-American imperialism and Soviet revisionism". China supported arms to Biafra via Tanzania, supplying arms worth some $2 million in 1968–1969.


From early on, Israel perceived that Nigeria would be an important player in West African politics, and saw good relations with Lagos as an important foreign policy objective. Nigeria and Israel established a linkage in 1957. In 1960, the United Kingdom allowed the creation of an Israeli diplomatic mission in Lagos, and Israel made a $10 million loan to the Nigerian government.

Israel also developed a cultural relation with the Igbos based on possible shared traditions. These moves represented a significant diplomatic success given the Muslim orientation of the northern-dominated government. Some northern leaders disapproved of contact with Israel and banned Israelis from Maiduguri and Sokoto.

Israel did not begin arms sales to Nigeria until after Aguyi-Ironsi came to power on 17 January 1966. This was considered an opportune time to develop this relationship with the federal government. Ram Nirgad became Israeli ambassador to Nigeria in January. Thirty tons of mortar rounds were delivered in April.

The Eastern Region began seeking assistance from Israel in September 1966. Israel apparently turned down their requests repeatedly, although they may have put the Biafran representatives in contact with another arms dealer. In 1968, Israel began supplying the Federal Military Government with arms—about $500,000 worth, according to the US State Department.

Meanwhile, as elsewhere, the situation in Biafra became publicised as a genocide. The Knesset publicly debated this issue on 17 and 22 July 1968, winning applause from the press for its sensitivity. Right-wing and left-wing political groups, and student activists, spoke for Biafra. In August 1968, the Israeli Air Force overtly sent twelve tons of food aid to a nearby site outside of Nigerian (Biafran) airspace. Covertly, Mossad provided Biafra with $100,000 (through Zurich) and attempted an arms shipment. Soon after, Israel arranged to make clandestine weapons shipments to Biafra using Ivory Coast transport planes.

The nations of sub-Saharan Africa tended to support the Arabs in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute by voting for resolutions sponsored by Arab states at the United Nations. A major goal of Israeli diplomacy was to wean the African states away from the Arab states, and given the way that the majority of African nations supported Nigeria, Israel was loath to antagonise them by supporting Biafra too overtly.


President Gamal Abdel Nasser dispatched pilots of the Egyptian Air Force to fight for Nigeria in August 1967, flying the recently arrived MiG-17s. The tendency of Egyptian pilots to indiscriminately bomb Biafran civilians proved counterproductive in the propaganda war as the Biafrans did their best to publicise cases of civilians killed by the Egyptians. In the spring of 1969, the Nigerians replaced the Egyptian pilots with European pilots who proved to be considerably more competent.

United States

The civil war began while the United States was under the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was officially neutral in regard to the civil war, with U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk stating that "America is not in a position to take action as Nigeria is an area under British influence". Strategically, U.S. interests aligned with the Federal Military Government, although there was considerable popular public sentiment in support of Biafra. The U.S. also saw value in its alliance with Lagos, and sought to protect $800 million (in the assessment of the State Department) worth of private investment.

The neutrality was not universally popular, and a pro-Biafra lobby emerged within the United States to pressure the U.S. government to take a more active role in assisting Biafra. The American Committee to Keep Biafra Alive was an organization founded by American activists to inform the American public of the war and sway popular opinion towards Biafra. Biafra became a topic in the 1968 United States presidential election and on 9 September 1968, future Republican president Richard Nixon called for Lyndon B. Johnson to take action in helping Biafra, stating:

Until now, efforts to relieve the Biafran people have been thwarted by the desire of central government of Nigeria to pursue total and unconditional victory and by the fear of the Ibo people that surrender means wholesale atrocities and genocide. But genocide is what is taking place right now—and starvation is the grim reaper.

Both Biafran officials and the U.S. pro-Biafra lobby hoped the election of Richard Nixon would change U.S. foreign policy regarding the war. However, when Nixon became President in 1969, he found there was little he could do to change the established stance aside from calling for another round of peace talks. According to American political theorist Ernest W. Lefever, the U.S. providing official support to Biafra would have resulted in hostility from not only Nigeria, but also other African nations who supported Nigeria in the war, who had successfully argued to the United Nations that the war was an internal affair that the U.N. should not be involved with. The Vietnam War served as another obstacle to a possible U.S. intervention in Biafra. Despite this, Nixon continued to personally support Biafra.

Himself a Jew who escaped persecution from Nazi Germany, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger compared the Igbo people to Jews in a memoriam written to U.S. President Richard Nixon, stating:

The Ibos are the wandering Jews of West Africa – gifted, aggressive, Westernized; at best envied and resented, but mostly despised by the mass of their neighbors in the Federation.

Gulf Oil Nigeria, the third major player in Nigerian oil, was producing 9% of the oil coming out of Nigeria before the war began. Its operations were all located offshore of the federally controlled Mid-Western territory; therefore it continued to pay royalties to the federal government and its operations were mostly undisrupted.

### Canada

At the request of the Nigerian government, Canada sent three observers to investigate allegations of genocide and war crimes against the Nigerian military. Major General W.A. Milroy was joined by two other Canadian officers in 1968, and the Canadian contingent remained until February

#### Rest of Africa

Biafra appealed unsuccessfully for support from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor to the African Union). The OAU, bound by its charter to oppose any secession from a member state, denounced Biafra's attempt to secede from Nigeria. Equally bound by its charter to refrain from interference in the internal affairs of its member states, the OAU took no further action. Countries such as Ethiopia and Egypt vocally supported the Nigerian government's policies in order to prevent inspiring revolts within their own borders. However, Biafra received the support of African countries such as Tanzania, Zambia, Gabon and Ivory Coast.

Rhodesian pilots smuggled weapons and money into Biafra, which Rhodesian intelligence chief Ken Flower claimed was part of the operations of Rhodesia's Central Intelligence Organisation.

Foreign mercenaries

Outmatched by Nigeria's superior firepower, Biafra hired foreign mercenaries for extra support. Mercenaries with prior experience fighting in the Congo Crisis were eagerly drawn to Biafra. German mercenary Rolf Steiner was placed in charge of the 4th Commando Brigade of the Biafran Armed Forces and commanded 3,000 men. Welsh mercenary Taffy Williams, one of Steiner's subordinates, was in command of one hundred Biafran fighters. Steiner's other subordinates were a mixture of adventurers consisting of the Italian Giorgio Norbiato; the Rhodesian explosive expert Johnny Erasmus; the Scotsman Alexander "Alec" Gay; the Irishman Louis "Paddy" Malrooney; the Corsican Armand Iaranelli who had been able to enlist in the Foreign Legion by pretending to be Italian; and a Jamaican bartender turned mercenary who called himself "Johnny Korea".

Polish-Swiss pilot Jan Zumbach formed and commanded a ragtag air force for Biafra. Canadian pilot Lynn Garrison, Swedish pilot Carl Gustaf von Rosen, and Rhodesian pilot Jack Malloch served as leaders of Biafran air operations, attacking Nigerian forces and also supplying weapons and food aid. Portuguese pilots also served in the Biafran Air Force, transporting weapons from Portugal to Biafra. Steiner established a brown water navy by converting some Chris-Craft Boats into gun boats, which turned out to be successful in launching surprise raids for weapons and supplies.

It was hoped that employing mercenaries in Nigeria would have similar impact to the Congo, but the mercenaries proved largely ineffective since the Nigerian military received much more professional and adequate training compared to the Congolese militias.

Despite some initial early successes (such as Operation OAU), over half of the 4th Commando Brigade was wiped out by Nigerian forces during the disastrous Operation Hiroshima of 15–29 November 1968, resulting in Steiner experiencing depression and a nervous breakdown, leading to his eventual expulsion and replacement by Taffy Williams. Although Nigeria appeared to be a tougher opponent, commentators observing the war noted that the remaining mercenaries appeared to have developed a personal or ideological commitment to Biafra's cause, which is a rare trait for mercenaries. Belgian mercenary Marc Goosens, who was killed by defensive Nigerian forces in a suicide mission during Operation Hiroshima, was reportedly motivated by his hatred of the British government (which supported Nigeria during the war). Steiner claimed to have fought for Biafra for idealistic reasons, saying the Igbo people were the victims of genocide, but the American journalist Ted Morgan mocked his claims, describing Steiner as a militarist who simply craved war because killing was the only thing he knew how to do well. Journalist Frederick Forsyth quotes Taffy Williams speaking of his Biafran subordinates, "I've seen a lot of Africans at war. But there's nobody to touch these people. Give me 10,000 Biafrans for six months, and we'll build an army that would be invincible on this continent. I've seen men die in this war who would have won the Victoria Cross in another context".

After the war, Philip Effiong, the chief of the Biafran general staff was asked by a journalist about the impact of the mercenaries on the war, his reply was: "They had not helped. It would had made no difference if not a single one of them came to work for the secessionist forces. Rolf Steiner stayed the longest. He was more of a bad influence than anything else. We were happy to get rid of him."#News