Nigerian Civil War: Ojukwu, Gowon To Blame For Biafra Starvation Death Toll – US

At the peak of Nigeria’s civil war in 1968, as hundreds of thousands starved to death in Biafra, it was deadly politicking between the conflict’s two key figures-Yakubu Gowon and Odumegwu Ojukwu- that kept food out of the region, escalating the death toll, a secret U.S. dispatch detailing the war says.

The document says disagreement on shipments between Mr. Gowon and Mr. Ojukwu, were more to blame for the failure of relief materials reaching dying children, women and men desperately in need of food.

The confidential cable, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, provides a rare insight into one of the most fatal angle of the war, as narrated by a superpower that regarded itself neutral in the conflict but which seemed to have sympathy for Biafra.

The disclosures came as the nation recalls devastating details of the conflict that killed millions; a recollection shovelled into national consciousness by foremost writer, Chinua Achebe’s new book, There Was a Country.

Mr. Achebe’s portrayal of the late leader of the defunct Western region, Obafemi Awolowo, as the mastermind of Nigeria’s policy of blocking food shipments to Biafra, ignited a week of fierce verbal exchanges between the Igbos and the Yorubas.

But in part, the U.S. account offers a sharp contrast to Mr. Achebe’s position, blaming instead, war-time military ruler, Mr. Gowon, and secessionist leader, Mr. Ojukwu, for the imbroglio.

Mr. Gowon, the cable said, discontinued air shipments to the Eastern region despite pressure from the United States and the Red Cross, fearing transport airplanes were being used to convey arms to Biafra.

Initial shipments by the Red Cross, suspected to be pro-Biafra at the time, had delivered 16 to 20 tons of food a night in a lone DC–4, feeding an estimated 850,000 people in Biafra three meals per week, the memo said.

But the Gowon-led military government barred the airlifting, which originated from Sao Tome and Principe, a Portuguese colony at the time. Portugal was amongst the few European nations that backed Biafra.

The Nigerian side, the cable written from the United States said, was however willing to allow land shipment, and would offer air permit only on guarantees they will not be abused for arms shipment.

Those were conditions Mr. Ojukwu refused to accept, even while thousands of his people, including children, were starving to death.

The former Biafran leader also rejected food shipments sent by road fearing they might be poisoned, and that such route might open an advance corridor for federal government troops, the dispatch adds.

The Red Cross too, would not implement any relief operation without the explicit approval of both sides.

While all these happened, at least 400 to 600 died a day from starvation, the document stated.

“All of this is happening in the shadow of what is pretty clearly a buildup for a new federal offensive designed to take the 10,000 square miles still held by the rebels,” the memo said.

“There are also mounting reports on increased Biafran military activity, allegedly (though probably falsely) led by French officers. If either or both sides take the offensive, the relief problem becomes almost impossible,” it warned, adding that the US needed to take “a strong go at the Feds (federal government) on this point, but their answer is a forbidding “The other side has left us little choice.”

The “other side” mentioned in the document, appears to refer to Mr. Ojukwu’s Biafra, which, more concerned with winning the war, refused to accept the conditions spelt out by the Nigerian government for delivering food to the troubled region.



  • And where is the so called “secret” document from. Upload the document for all to see.

    This article is nothing short of cheap propangada.

    Professor Achebe’s statement are right on the money. Ihave lived in different areas of this country and the only place i’ve suffered tribalism is in the yoruba west

    Tribalism is an inherent genetic trait of the average yoruba man.

  • I sure hope this puts the matter to rest, so that we can and all move on and in the process learn something from this . We have enough problems , we sure don’t need more . Just saying .

  • Doctored account of wat transpired during d civil war by a myopic observer.wat about thousands of other observer who faulted Awo’s idea on dat policy? Awo initiated dat policy and never denied implementing it.why ar u clueless and parochially minded loyalist trying 2 exonerate ur so called leader 4rm wat he did not deny doing.Ar u now tryin 2 prove dat u ar more wiser or more dubious than ur so called hero was?

  • i now know why igos n yoruba are not in harmony, they hardly inter-marry. Pls it time to settle d crisis o. God bless Nigeria

  • According to the report, The Nigerian side, the cable written from the United States said, was however willing to allow land shipment, and would offer air permit only on guarantees they will not be abused for arms shipment.
    Those were conditions Mr. Ojukwu refused to accept, even while thousands of his people, including children, were starving to death.

    Ojukwu committed the greater war crime than any one mentioned here

  • Igbos were power drunk ,and ojukwu quest 4 power killed d igbos,It just common sense,yorubas cannot feed dere enemies,a simple war strategy!u are fighting d northerns n then u face the west to capture ORE,n u expect us to feed u fat,y don’t u blame d south south who sold u out.and 4 the record yorubas are d most accomodating tribe in nigeria.we don’t kill u when u settle in our lands also we sell land to the igbos,please mention one igbo state were land is been sold to a non indigene

  • I think what igbos needed From yorubas is apology, remember awol betray igbos from their first arrangement before the war . I dont blame ojukwu because he stand for his people. Nigerian should stop covering up some secrete document. My question is after yorubas and south south betray and and did many things in other to make nigeria to remain one, how is one nigeria now?

  • What the stupid Igbo people and their daft Achebe father don’t know is that the Yorubas are the most accommodating tribe in Nigeria,they know they can’t try what they do in the south west in the north because the Hausas don’t take those shit from them,they’ll kill them,we give them land to farm free of charge,I know a man in my club who was given large hectares of land in ijebu for free to farm,no Igbo community will welcome a Yoruba man to that point,Yorubas are so accommodating to a fault,igbos even become commissioners in Lagos state,the spokesperson of ACN in Lagos is a Igbo man,it’s only Lagos state in Nigeria that u will see a other tribes as MDs of state hospitals,this can Neva happen in the east,I think the igbos should just be sincere and be appreciative for once because an ingrate can Neva progress,U DON’T BITE THE FINGERS THAT FED U.

  • Even an Imbecile knew that Igbos are the enemies of themselves which made Prof. Achebe guilty of genocide against the so called biafrians. As a member of a cabinet of a country that never was, Prof. Achebe should be tried for war crimes against his people and for misleading millions in his new memoir

  • If this is true, Ojukwu should bear 99% of blame cos as a leader he should consider the overall wellbeing of his people paramount than winning a war! For Achebe to now read back into history and blamed Awolowo and Gowon while sparing Ojukwu’s miscalculations is unfortunate. And for his (Achebe’s) supporters to start ranting without objective assessment is a reflection of the way Nigeria is ‘learning from its past to manipulate its present and plan for its future’!

  • Let me tell u dat say the igbo’s do’nt give yorubas land.we do but u guys are vary deceptive and evil apart from those that are God fearing.Guys be wear the yorubas you deal wit cos they are vary ready to sell you for any tin.

  • Some of our myopic yoruba brothers alwys refer 2 lagos weneva citing instances.hv u 4gotten dat lagos wz d capital of Nig and wz declared home 4 all nigerians? The Igbos ar d only genuine tribe dat practises ‘One Nigeria’ philosophy.they settle in any part of d country n made there a home away 4rm dia homes,they bring with dem commerce n development 2 whereva dey go.Other tribes especially yorubas ar so tribalistic 2 d extent dat dey live n work in Igbo states but hardly do dey settle in properly or build a house or establish any gud tin outside dia land but dey want others 2 come 2 dia lands n develop them.dat is core n chronic tribalists.who said dat d yorubas ar more accomodatin? Hv u eva heard dat d vigilante” Bakassi Boys” wz used 2 intimidate or harrass any non indigene in Igboland? But we hv records of wat OPC Boys did 2 Igbos in Lagos wit references 2 wat dey did 2 Igbos at Alaba market. D yorubas don’t feel at home in outside d homeland bcos dey feel others wil treat dem d way d treat others in dia land.d yorubas can’t neva hv d gut 2 fight d hausas in hausa land.hv u forgettin wat happen btw d Igbo community n hausas in d north during Ibb regime etc? D hausas took on d cowardice yorubas in shagamu,a yorubaland in d recent years n dealt wit dem mercilessly n our loudmouthed west brothers cudn’t do any shit.d norths can’t try any damn shit in d east n dey knw it.hweva,d Igbos are a peace loving n accomodating people.dats why u still find more notherners in Igbolands more than in other tribes.even in d midst of d insecurity in d north.dat is why we laugh at d fools who think dey ar dealing wit Igbos in d north.mind u dat d west n other ethnic minorities ar not excluded in d killings in d north n ar all regarded as Christians.Awo wz a selfish Tribalist with slavery mentality who instead of complying wit an initial agreement 2 liberate his ethnic group n set them on d part of greatness,chose 2 fulfil his selfish desire 2 rule,dominate n make his feeble minded people become his subjects 4 ever.he exhibited d 2nd nature of yorubas by betraying Ojukwu d man dat saved his life by bringin him out of prison wen d north wanted 2 finish him off.hweva,after all his intrigues 2 date,there is no other yoruba town dat is more developed than Igbo villages except lagos which has enjoyed FG presence ever since its creation alongside Igbos who hv played a major role in d development of Nigeria.why do think dat past govts hv been lackadasical about developing southeast and openin seaports in southeast? Becos dey knw dat even lagos state cannot compete wit d southeast when equall development and opportunities ar given 2 d southeast.hweva,no unhallowed hand can stop d Igbos from being d number tribe in Nigeria.the world is already know d most dynamic and successful tribe in Nigeria.

  • @olusegun, you are so stupid and blind to see beyound your ass.
    How dare you said that igbos bite the hand that fed them.
    Igbos’ are the finest bred we have in this country.
    Apart from lagos that igbos contributed up to 90% in its’ development tell me any of your states that you can compare to the type of development we have in igbo land on individual bases. Have you gone round the south west states and lo behold backwardness and poverty staring at you which ever side you turn.
    Yorubas’ lives in squaluor.
    There is no comparison between the two ethnic people,that is the reason awolowo formulated and implemented a policy that will finish off the igbos’ his arc enemy.
    After all those wicked policies meant on exterminating the igbos,today igbos are far better off than all the ethnic people in nigeria.
    So olusegun look around in your region and see the sorry state your people live before you can raise a hand to feed your master.

  • its a pity! we dont need all these now.what type of example are we laying for our generations to come?why all the exchange of abuse when the people who committed the crimes are no longer there????which way forward nigerians?the present problem we have as nigerians are our law makers who dont know why they are there.enough of this childish shifting of blames.lets face the present problem and not the past.

  • I served in Ikenne L.G.A.,Awolowo’s home town in Ilisan,men! I saw hell in that area in terms of trabilism.critism.Infact,Hausa to some extent are better than Yorubas.

    • Raymond. Your problem is the guy in the mirror. I don’t know what parts of Nigeria you have resided, certainly, Lagos was not one of them. Ibos and Yorubas live harmoniously in every part of Lagos. The last time I checked, it is Hausa people who were killing and maiming the Igbo people in the North. I grew up in Lagos, and I did not witness any collaborative effort to exterminate the Igbo people as a race. On the other hand, the reverse is the case in the North.
      To deflect your propaganda and your unfair steriotyping of the Yoruba race being racist against the Igbo as a race, I welcome you to tell me what other state in Nigeria made an Igbo man a commissina ouside the states from the East. The only other state is the Yorubas Lagos State. An Igbo man was made a finace commisoner in Lagos. That fit can’t happen in any State in the East. An Imo person can not even be made a commissioner in Anambra, how much more making a Yoruba man a commissiner.
      It is the Igbos that are prejudice. They are even prejudice against their own Igbo brothers. So, when you point an evil finger to some one, the rest of the four is reversly pointing at you.

  • Well, I I believe we shouldn’t take all the blame in this , what of the south -south that sold yo and rejected to be part of you and who still claim to not to b igbos,nd in the first place I think its Mr Gowon who should be blmed fter all, had he like a gentleman respected the agreement they made in aburi Ghana. We wouldn’t be on this page commenting on this page and had Mr ojukwu not had been power hungry we also would not be here if I’m correct, igbos or biafran army were advancing to lagos (west) ,so we should jus sit down cross legged while you come and prepare tea?don’t think so, nd like other people mentioned above ,can you ever see an igbo minute selling his land to a yoruba ?not being on sided but read history well , azikwe sold us during the 1964 election, going to collaborate with the North (so ironic that its they who lmost wiped you people from the face of the Earth )so who should feel betrayed?in the first place had ur Azik merged or not sold us in the 1964 election, we might never had a civil if truly awo did such to the igbos , just karma setting in.

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