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Biafra Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review September 2015 Title Biafra
Author Peter Baxter Publisher Helion
Published 2015 ISBN 9781909982369
Format 64 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $29.95


Among mid-20th-century, post-colonial crises, the Nigerian Civil War, author Peter Baxter correctly contends, "was the second high-profile, post-independence conflict in Africa".

Now it dominates the 16th installment in Helion's splendid "Africa@War" series: Biafra.

Subtitled "The Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970", the compact, 72-page study competently chronicles the conflict.

Contents commence with a practical précis of Nigerian colonial history – in which ethnicity, religion and oil naturally play key, continuing roles. Resist temptation to skip these background summaries: they explain much.

With independence, Nigeria's federal structure did, indeed, prove tenuous. In the wake of the July 1966 counter-coup to that year's January uprising, wholesale slaughter of Igbos accelerated succession. And Lt Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Eastern region military governor, declared the sovereign Republic of Biafra 30 May 1967. The Nigerian Civil War had begun.

Baxter traces the total tale, beginning with the immediate run-up to war – dramatis personae and the Aburi Conference. Early Nigerian military actions, Biafra's audacious Operation Torch and the inevitable, almost plodding Federal strangulation follow.

No coverage would be complete without Nigeria's use of starvation as a weapon. And Baxter dutifully distills clandestine international relief – and gun-running – efforts to Biafra.

Photos, maps, acronym glossary and annotations augment text. And a handy conclusion and endnotes complete coverage.

Gremlins, however, haunt this otherwise handy handbook. The United States really did not "support" the "secessionist aspirations" of Katanga. Biafra's "hard-fighting" Operation Torch column battled its way westward – not eastward – toward Lagos. I believe that's Col Joe "Hannibal" Achuzie – not "Achuzia". What's the source of the "Rusk interview, 8 March 1970"? Some claim that Egyptian Air Force pilots performed well. And gratuitous claims that Nigerian leader Yakubu "Jack" Gowan – who holds a PhD in political science – exhibited "limited powers of intellectual reasoning" remain debatable.

But I quibble. For a pithy précis on the Nigerian Civil War, grab this convenient chronicle.


With thanks to Casemate Publishing for the review copy!