The Biafran War
Nigeria was a British colony until 1963, when it became a republic with four regional governments. The ruling party, made up largely of people from the north, dominated the government. Like other African nations, Nigeria is made up of many different ethnic groups, which coexist within boundaries that have no connection with traditional lands, but were drawn up by the European powers that controlled Africa in the past.
In 1964, people boycotted the first general election, leading to a crisis, and in 1965, this escalated to general rebellion when the leading political party rigged elections in the western region.
In January, 1966, army officers of the Igbo ethnic group led a coup to overthrow the government. They killed the prime minister and the premiers of the northern and western region. After this coup, Major General Johnson T. U. Aguiyi-Aronsi took control with a military government, and ruled the country until he was ousted by another coup, this time led by officers who were members of the Hausa ethnic group. During this coup, Igbo people living in the north were killed, which led great num- bers of Igbo people to flee to their ancestral eastern region. However, even in this region, Igbo people were killed.
Between September and November of 1966, the four regions tried to come to a truce, but failed, partly because representatives of the eastern region refused to participate in the negotiations after the first meeting. More meetings occurred in 1967, but led to nothing, and on May 27, 1967, Lieutenant Colonel C. O. Ojukwu declared that the eastern region was a sovereign and independent republic. In response, the federal government declared a state of emergency and officially divided Nigeria into twelve states.
Three days later, Ojukwu proclaimed that the eastern region was seceding from Nigeria and was now the Republic of Biafra. Biafran and federal forces soon clashed. The Biafrans did well initially, but by October, the Biafran capital of Enugu was captured by federal troops. The war continued until 1970, when the Biafrans were so starved they were unable to continue fighting.
Ojukwu left Nigeria in 1970, and a Biafran delegation formally surrendered to the Nigerian federal government on January 15.
As Emecheta explains in the book, “it was a civil war, which started among the politicians; the army stepped in to keep the peace, then the military leaders started to quarrel among themselves, and one created a new state, taking his followers with him.” Almost a million people died in the war, not just military people but also civilians; as Emecheta notes, this shows that “in any war, however justified its cause, nobody wins.”
Diversity in Nigeria
Nigeria is roughly the size of Texas, but unlike Texas, contains more than 300 different ethnic groups who speak 300 different languages. When Nigeria was defined as a nation by the European colonialists, the borders of the nation were drawn up without regard to natural divisions between ethnic or regional groups. Thus, there are now a great number of ethnic groups within Nigeria, and divisions among them have led to frequent conflicts. “Ethnic group” is defined as a group of people who share a common language and cultural values; as Simon A. Rakov noted in the Brown University Postcolonial Web, there is as much difference between these groups “as there is between Germans, English, Russians, and Turks.”
Most of the 300 ethnic groups are in the minority, and thus do not have political clout, or the resources needed to take advantage of development or modernization. The three “majority” groups are the Hausa-Fulani in the north, the Igbo (or Ibo) in the southeast, and the Yoruba in the southwest. These groups together make up fifty-seven percent of the Nigerian population, with the rest belonging to “minority” groups.
The most notable feature of The Wrestling Match is the style in which it is told. Readers may feel as if they’re in “an open...
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