Nigerian Civil War Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises news summaries, press releases, press cuttings and publications from the period leading up to and including the Nigerian Civil war. The collection was the source material used by Suzanne Cronje for her book The world and Nigeria: the diplomatic history of the Biafran War 1967-1970 (London, 1972).

Administrative / Biographical History

Nigeria obtained its independence on 1 October 1960, having been formerly under British rule. In the same year a Federal Government based on the parliamentary system was created. Elections had been held in 1959, centred on a number of ruling parties including the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), which had control of the Eastern region and was led by Nnamdi Azikiwe; the Northern People's Congress (NPC), which had control of the Northern region and was led by Ahmadu Bello, and the Action Group (AG), which had control of the Western region and was led by Obafemi Awolowo. No party won a majority during the elections, and the NPC joined with the NCNC to form the government. When independence arrived in 1960, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was made Prime Minister and Nnamdi Azikiwe was made Governor General.

In 1962, part of the Action group split off to form the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), led by S. I. Akintola. In 1963, the Mid-Western Region was formed from part of the Western Region. In 1963, Nigeria became a Federal Republic with Nnamdi Azikiwe as President. A great deal of controversy followed the 1963 population census, which the NCNC felt overestimated the number of people in the Northern Region, giving them a greater representation in the federal parliament. In January 1966, a group of Igbo army officials staged a coup d'etat to overthrow the government, killing Balewa, Bello and Akintola and placing General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi in charge of the new military government. He suspended the regional constitution, dissolved all legislative bodies, banned political parties and formed a Federal Military Government that was more central in nature.

There were strong suspicions that Aguiyi-Ironsi favoured the Igbo (Ibo) over other ethnic groups, fuelled by the fact that the military government did not prosecute the army officers responsible for killing the northern leaders. Many northerners saw the coup, as a plot to make the Igbo dominant in Nigeria and there was hostility from the Muslim population. Fighting broke out between the northerners and the Igbo, and in July 1966, a group of northern army officers revolted against the government, killed General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, and appointed the army Chief of Staff, General Yakubu Gowon as head of the new military government. In 1967, Gowon moved to split the existing 4 regions of Nigeria into 12 states. The military governor of the Eastern Region, Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, refused to accept the division of the Eastern Region and declared that this region would become an independent republic, named Biafra. This led to a civil war between Biafra and the remainder of Nigeria. The war began in June 1967 and continued until Biafra surrendered on 15 January 1970. Over 1 million people died during the conflict.


News summaries, press releases and press cuttings have been arranged in chronological order, as have publications, which are listed following the press items.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated in 1974.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance