Random Interesting Book from My Library: “The Struggle for Secession, 1966-1970: A Personal Account of the Nigerian Civil War” – Ntieyong U. Akpan

I bought this book from Burton Lyseki Books in Winnipeg more than three years ago. It is one of two books I own (and the better of the two) specifically about the Biafra Conflict (1967-70).

The Biafra War (also known as the Nigerian Civil War) was a complex and incredibly bloody conflict between the Republic of Biafra, a secessionist state in southeastern Nigeria and home to the Igbo people, and the Nigerian military. The origins of the conflict are as complex as the conflict itself: ethno-religious violence between Hausa-Fulanis of northern Nigeria and the Igbos of southern Nigeria and anti-Igbo pogroms, the coup and counter-coup of 1966, the oil reserves of the Niger Delta, and Cold War politics. During the Nigerian military’s blockade of Biafra an estimated 500,000 to 2 million Biafrans died from starvation.

This book is a personal memoir of the conflict by a Biafran state official. Ntieyong U. Akpan served as Chief Secretary to the Military Government, Head of the Civil Service, and Member and Secretary to the Cabinet of Eastern Nigeria and held these posts until the end of the conflict.

Akpan provides a fair overview of the Biafran conflict, but his main focus is on what he himself witnessed and experienced, and the people he himself worked with., especially within the Biafran state apparatus. This book is not a political or historical analysis, it is a personal memoir of a Biafran civil servant.

What I remember most about this book is Akpan’s antipathy towards Biafra’s secession and his criticisms of Odumegwu Ojukwu, the secessionist military leader of Biafra. In fact, he rarely, if ever, refers to Ojukwu as anything but ‘The Governor’, as if refusing to recognize Ojukwu’s leadership beyond his official capacity as the Nigerian Governor of the Eastern Region. Yet despite his antipathy towards Biafra’s secession and ‘Governor Ojukwu’, Akpan continued to serve in the secessionist Biafran state. Akpan was so loyal to his official duties in the Eastern Region that he continued to serve in those roles even after the Eastern Region declared independence as the Republic of Biafra, which he opposed. Throughout the book I got the strong impression that Akpan was not a man of any principles besides completing the task assigned to him regardless of whatever that task might be and whomever assigned the task to him.

Whatever its faults the book offers an intimate insight into one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts — and I am glad I paid the $100 for it at Burton Lyseki!

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