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The Biafra Story: Part Eight

"The Biafra Story: Part Eight"


When the retreating Biafrans reached Asaba (in what is now Delta State), the last Igbo town in the Mid-West before the East, they crossed the Niger River and entered Onitsha (in what is now Anambra State), making sure to destroy the Niger Bridge in order to prevent the pursuing Nigerians from entering the East.

When the Nigerian army of Gen. Murtala Muhammed reached the Niger River, it was faced with two options: either force an amphibious assault across the heavily-defended Niger or march up to Idah (in what is now Kogi State) and sweep behind the Biafrans. On October 4, 1967 Nigerian artillery batteries began shelling Onitsha in anticipation of the attack which was to come.

A few days later, Murtala attacked the entrenched Biafrans head-on, and after suffering heavy casualties, successfully crossed the Niger and captured Onitsha. However, instead of continuing the attack, his troops diverted to looting the city and its market (which was the largest in Black Africa, at that time), giving the Biafrans time to regroup and counter attack. The Biafrans were successful in driving out the Nigerians and recapturing Onitsha. After several failed attempts to recapture Onitsha by way of an amphibious assault, it became clear to Murtala that in order to enter the East, he would have to attack from the North. As the Nigerians marched northwards, Arab and Soviet mercenary pilots began bombing civilian targets around Onitsha and its environs.

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