July 6, 2012, rolled by y like any other day. Unremembered; and unmourned!
But in reality it is a date no adult Nigerian should forget quickly.
July 6, 1967, was the day the Nigeria-Biafra Crisis moved into a shooting war.
In the early hours of that day, a Thursday, forward detachments of the Nigerian Infantry fired the first shots into the northern peripheral fringes of Biafra thus signaling the commencement of what has commonly become known as the Nigerian Civil War.
Radio Biafra first announced the sad development in its early morning news bulletin.
By the 7 am news time, the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, confirmed the report.
Nigeria’s Head of State at the time, Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon, later to be promoted a General, announced that the Federal Government had ordered a “Police Action” to bring down the “rebellion” in the East.
And from Enugu, the Head of State of the five-weeks old self-proclaimed “Republic of Biafra”, Lt-Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, assured his country men and women that the challenge from the “Vandals” would be appropriately met.
Biafra thus entered into war when it was exactly five weeks, two days young, having been proclaimed on Tuesday May 30, 1967 and was invaded by Nigeria on Thursday July 6, 1967!
Gowon’s military advisers and strategists had obiviously convinced him that it was going to be a quick operation that would end with the capture of Enugu, the capital of the old Eastern Nigeria, now Biafra by proclamation.
But it was to last the whole of 30 months and one week; from the day the first bullets were fired into Biafra on July, 6, 1967 to the day General Philip Effiong, the acting Biafra Head of State, announced Biafra’s surrender on Monday, January 12, 1970.
General Odumegwu-Ojukwu had handed over authority to Effiong on the eve of his flight into exile, paving the way for the cessation of a horrific conflagration that consumed hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, especially the people of today’s South-East geo-political zone, Nd’Igbo.
The States today that made up Biafra at the start of the war are Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Anambra, Enugu, Abia, Ebonyi and Imo.
Nigerian forward troops attacked Biafra from both the Nsukka and Ogoja sectors with Garkem as the first casualty!
Biafra responded gallantly to the extent that Nigerian troops turned tail and fled, abandoning their store.
The soldiers had not expected any military responses from Biafra that was yet to mark its sixth week of birth.
But a major surprise was in the offing!
Barely four weeks of the military showdown, Biafra carried out a blitzkrieg across the River Niger from Onitsha, overran the whole of the Midwest Region (today’s Delta and Edo States) in a question of hours, and established its Western command post at Benin, the capital, under the command of Col. Victor Banjo.
This happened on August 9, 1967, ironically the fourth anniversary (to the day!) of the creation of the Midwest from the old Western Nigeria.
Col. Banjo who led the Biafran invasion and capture of the Midwest, was in prison in Enugu as a result of the military coup of January 15, 1966, Nigeria’s first coup, and was released after Gowon’s emergence in the July 29, 1966 counter-Coup, and later joined Biafran Army.
Nigeria was shocked at the seizure of a whole Region, in one day, by the “rebels.”
Gowon’s reaction was to declare a “full war” against Biafra on August 9, 1967, to mark the end of his “Police Action” which was hardly distinguishable from a full blown war.
How the war eventually ballooned and dragged on for two years and a half are now history.
This piece is principally to record the day Nigeria lost her innocence as a happy brotherhood and stained her banner with the innocent blood of children, pregnant women and elderly non-combatants in a regrettable internecine altercation.
Those of us who were of impressionable age in the early years of Nigeria’s Independence politics of those days, never would have believed that Nigerians would shoot at one another in an organized warfare.
This writer was a final year Journalism student in Accra, Ghana and heard directly from his wireless set, the cold news of the outbreak of war in his dear country Nigeria on July 6, 1967.
Until that black day in July, I had always looked forward to the date, July 6, to send birthday greetings to my late childhood friend and classmate at the Government Secondary School, Owerri, Richard Akandu Nosiri of 60 Market Road, Aba, who hailed from Obazu Mbieri.
We were to tease him no end for sharing a date with Gowon’s goons who attacked young Biafra on July 6, 1967.
Akandu himself died on another fortuitous date, September 11, 2001, the infamous “9/11,” when the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, were blasted to smithereens by vandalistic suicide bombers, taking the lives of thousands and setting a new high in terrorism!