Midwest Invasion of 1967
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (October 2012)|
|Midwest Invasion of 1967|
|Part of Nigerian Civil War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
The Midwest Invasion of 1967 (August 9 – September 20, 1967) was a military operation between Nigerian and Biafran military forces. The invasion began when 7,000 Biafran soldiers led by General Victor Banjo crossed the River Niger Bridge into Asaba. The Biafran retreat from Ore is considered the turning point of the war.
When Nsukka fell to the Nigerian Army on July 14 President Odumegwu Ojukwu knew that the Nigerian would next set their sights on the Biafran capital, Enugu. After a mission to recapture Nsukka on July 30 failed and resulted in death of Major Kaduna Nzeogwu Ojukwu began drawing up plans for an invasion of Nigeria's Mid-Western Region in an attempt to divert attention away from Enugu.
At 3 a.m. on August 9, 1967 a mobilized division of Biafran soldiers under General Victor Banjo crossed the River Niger Bridge at Onitsha and entered Asaba. When the Biafrans reached Agbor they split up, the Biafran 12th Battalion under Lt. Col. Festus Akagha began moving north-west to Benin City, the 18th Battalion under Major Humphrey Chukwuka made its way into the oil-rich Niger Delta, and the 13th Battalion under Col. Mike Inveso swung northwards towards Auchi. Benin City was captured with little opposition as Biafran soldiers fired their weapons into the air upon entering the city. The 13th Battalion established control over Auchi and Agenebode while also capturing the towns of Okene, Atani, and Iloshi, indiscriminately shooting civilians in the process. A Nigerian Army unit was pursued by Biafran soldiers to the Siluko River where the two sides exchanged fire, before the Nigerians managed to escape under the cover of darkness. Within 12 hours of the initial invasion the Biafran Army had control over the entire Mid-Western Region. Unbeknownst to General Banjo a unit of Biafran soldiers under Lt. Col. Oechi attacked the government residence of Mid-Western Region governor David Ejoor on the orders of President Odumegwu Ojukwu to capture Ejoor dead or alive, Ejoor's guards resisted the attacking Biafrans which gave Ejoor enough time to escape and flee to Lagos. The 13th Battalion was given the job of defending the Biafran north flank while also cutting off Nigerian supplies going to Nsukka. The 12th Battalion was transformed into the 12th Brigade and given the job of capturing Ibadan and Lagos from two axes at the towns of Ore and Okitipupa but this was delayed for three days while President Ojukwu and General Banjo argued over who to appoint Governor/Administrator of the Mid-Western Region. Not wanting to appoint an Igbo over non-Igbo citizens General Banjo suggested that either David Ejoor, Sam Ogbemudia, or Col. Trimnell be made governor but Ojukwu refused and ultimately placed the Igbo medical-officer Albert Okonkwo governor. When General Banjo returned to Benin City on August 12 he ordered the 12th Brigade to make its way to the town of Ore but not to attack Ibadan or Lagos until further notice. In Warri, Major Chukwuka released Major Adewale Ademoyega from jail after getting into a fistfight with Major Emannuel Ifeajuna. Ifeajuna made his way to Benin City where he was put in command of the newly formed 19th Battalion, which consisted of 700 recently conscripted soldiers. The next day Major Ademoyega relieved Ifeajuna of his command and replaced him with Lt. Col. Henry Igboba.
On August 17 Governor Okonkwo installed a dusk to dawn curfew in which only citizens with passes would be allowed to move freely at night. Non-Igbo citizens, especially the Hausa community, were subject to harassment from Biafran soldiers while women were often molested and sometimes raped, this in retaliation for the 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom. Resistance groups began springing up constantly consisting of mainly ethnic Urhobos and Ijaws. Because of a series of uprisings against the occupying Biafrans in Benin City, General Okonkwo began raising a force of loyal native inhabitants to combat the rebels. By August 18 Okonkwo had assembled a force of 780 reliable volunteers to keep natives from attacking or killing Biafran soldiers. Loyal inhabitants donated whatever weaponry they has to the Biafrans, which consisted mainly of single-shot rifles and double-barreled shotguns. Cooks began poisoning Biafran soldiers whenever they had the chance to and it was because of this that Biafran soldiers began only eating food that was cooked by ethnic Igbos or self-cooked. Rebellious natives who did not wish to fight would often seduce Biafran soldiers to get information out of them and tell Nigerian authorities. On August 20 a group of Urhobo/Ijaw rebels raided a Biafran camp and were successful in killing 50 soldiers while 16 rebels were killed in the skirmish. Due to these rebellions Biafran soldiers began raiding and pillaging villages throughout both the Mid-Western Region and Niger Delta inhabited by anyone other than Igbo civilians. The Biafran government began broadcasting Biafran propaganda in the region while the Nigerian government broadcast anti-Biafran propaganda as well. On September 19 President Ojukwu declared Governor Okonkwo President of the Biafran puppet-state, the Republic of Benin, in an attempt to make citizens of the Mid-Western Region loyal to a government other than Nigeria.
Turning the tide
On September 20, while the Biafran 12th Brigade was stationed in Ore, the Nigerian 2nd Division under General Murtala Mohammed attacked the Biafrans and almost immediately forced them to retreat. The retreating Biafrans destroyed the Oluwa Bridge and managed to get a vital head-start in front of the advancing Nigerians. When the 12th Brigade reached Benin City they alerted their comrades and, instead of mounting a defense, Biafran soldiers began looting the city, even stealing $5.6 million from the Central Bank. When the Nigerian 2nd Division arrived in Benin City they discovered the city largely abandoned but managed to find a trapped Biafran unit stationed in the Benin Prison, most of whom were killed while attempting an escape. Meanwhile, the Nigerian 3rd Marine Division under General Benjamin Adekunle began landing in Warri and capturing it along with Sapele and Ughelli. Most Biafran soldiers trapped behind enemy lines abandoned their uniforms and weapons before integrating into the local communities, escaping eastward when they had the chance.
The Nigerian 2nd Division continued to pursue the Biafrans but were stopped after retreating Biafran soldiers detonated and collapsed the River Niger Bridge at Onitsha. On October 5, 1967 citizens of Asaba were forced to leave their homes and attend a public dance in Asaba. When the civilians arrived in downtown Asaba they were massacred by the 2nd Division, under the supervision of General Murtala Mohammed, in retaliation for the assassination of Ahmadu Bello at the hands of Kaduna Nzeogwu one year earlier, this massacre became known as the Asaba massacre. The 2nd Division then invaded Onitsha and managed to capture and hold onto control of the city for less than a day before they were surrounded and massacred by Biafran soldiers.