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The Biafra Story: Part Six

"The Biafra Story: Part Six"

On July 6, 1967, a month and six days after Biafra's secession, Gowon's government officially declared war on Biafra. In the early days of the war, the Biafrans were relatively successful. A swiftly-moving Biafran force commanded by Col Victor Banjo, a mutinous Nigerian officer that had joined the Biafran side, drove the retreating Nigerians all the way to Ore (in what is now Ondo State) and 'liberated' the Igbo and Edo-speaking territories in what are now Edo and Delta states. Ojukwu, seizing the momentum, ordered Banjo to continue his blitzkrieg and attack the disheveled Nigerians in Lagos, in order to force Gowon to the negotiating table. However, for reasons still under debate to this day, Col Banjo ignored Ojukwu's command, committing a grievous error which allowed the Nigerians time to reorganize and counter-attack. Col Banjo was later relieved of his command, tried and executed after being involved in a coup-plot against Ojukwu.

Meanwhile, in the Mid-Western Region (in what are now Delta and Edo states), Major (Dr.) Albert Nwazu Okonkwo laid the foundation for a Biafran puppet state. In the face of the counter-attacking Nigerians, on the 19th of September 1967, Major Okonkwo hastily declared the independent Republic of Benin, before fleeing back to the East. The following day, on September the 20th, the Nigerian army captured Benin City and de-established the Republic of Benin, restoring federal rule in the Mid-West. Biafran forces abandoned the region and fled back across the Niger to the Igbo heartland.

This retreat signals a major turning point in the war; from this point on, the Biafrans would be on the defensive.





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