Fall of Enugu

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Fall of Enugu
Part of Biafran War
Date1–4 October 1967
Result Nigerian victory
 Nigeria  Biafra
Commanders and leaders
Nigeria Theophilus Danjuma Biafra Alexander Madiebo
unknown unknown
Casualties and losses
unknown unknown

The Fall of Enugu, (1–4 October 1967), was a military conflict between Nigerian and Biafran forces. Enugu was invaded after the Biafran retreat from the Mid-Western Region only 14 days earlier after the Nigerian 2nd and 3rd Marine Division cleared them of the area.


In the late 1960s ethnic tensions rose dramatically in Nigeria. Many Igbo people of eastern Nigeria feared domination and discrimination from other ethnic groups. In September 1966 soldiers of the Nigerian Armed Forces inflicted a series of massacres against easterners residing in the northern portion of the country, triggering the flight of thousands more to the eastern city of Enugu. On 30 May 1967, Nigeria's Eastern Region declared that it was seceding from the country to become the independent state of Biafra. Enugu was made Biafra's capital, and the state was led by the former Eastern Region Military Governor, Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu.[1] The Nigerian government planned to suppress the secession in a four-phase operation that would last one month. Their first major goal was to secure Enugu and Nsukka.[2] On 6 July Nigerian federal troops launched their offensive to recapture Biafra, initiating the Nigerian Civil War. Federal officials initially declared that their forces would seize Enugu "in 48 hours", but the conflict soon developed into a stalemate, with heavy fighting taking place near Nsukka.[1]

At the start of the war, Enugu was home to almost 140,000 residents,[3] mostly Christian Igbos. Once conflict broke out, they started leaving the city in search of refuge deeper in Biafran territory.[4] Foreign nationals were advised by their own government to leave Biafra, and by late July only about 50—most of them journalists, arms dealers, diplomats, and traders—remained in Enugu.[1]


A satellite image of Enugu and other towns that surround it with rivers and hills visible
Satellite image of Enugu and other communities neighbouring it.

When Nsukka fell to the Nigerian 1st and 2nd Brigades Ojukwu knew that his capital would be the Nigerian's next target. After a failed invasion of Nsukka on July 30, 1967 resulted in the death of Major Kaduna Nzeogwu President Ojukwu began drawing up plans for an invasion of Nigeria's Mid-Western Region in an attempt to divert attention away from Enugu. The invasion of August 9 was a tremendous success for the Biafrans and was followed by a sort of 44-day stalemate, before it was broken by the Nigerian 2nd Division's invasion of Ore. Biafran soldiers retreated from the region on September 20, 1967 and fled back to their homeland, pursued by Nigerian soldiers. The commander of Nigerian troops stationed in Nsukka, General Obasanjo, was relieved of his command and replaced with Lt. Col. Theophilus Danjuma.[citation needed]

The Biafran 53 Brigade under Colonel Alexander Madiebo, the newly appointed head of the Biafran Army, was tasked with defending Enugu, but the unit had been exhausted by previous engagements and was unable to call upon reinforcements. In an attempt to bolster the city's defence, Ojukwu ordered all able-bodied men mobilised in Biafra. Approximately 10,000 arrived in the capital. Aside from a handful of dane guns in their possession, the men were unarmed and the Biafran administration struggled to feed them. According to Madiebo, Ojukwu intended to equip them with machetes and move them through Eke from where they would swarm federal troops at Abor. Madiebo doubted the plan's feasibility.[5] In contrast to the motley defenders of Biafra's capital, the unit tasked with attacking Enugu, the 1st Division,[6] was the most experienced force in the Nigerian Army. It included large numbers of World War II veterans.[7]

Nigerian offensive[edit]

Due to a flank attack by Biafran units at Ebe, the Nigerian 22nd battalion found itself pursuing retreating Biafran soldiers to Abor, which was already occupied by the Nigerian 5th battalion and almost led to a "friendly fire" incident. The sector commander altered the original plan and ordered both battalions to advance on Nine Mile corner using Abor as launchpad. It was no longer necessary for the 22nd battalion to jump from Eke and arrangements were made for Eke to be shelled by artillery from Abor.[citation needed]

As Nigerian soldiers advanced down the Nine Mile there was a stampede of Biafran vehicles that struggled to get away from the impending federal forces. There was a three-day delay by federal forces at Abor in order to reorganize. Sector commander Lt. Col. Theophilus Danjuma sent a wireless message to Nigerian President Yakubu Gowon that stated he had begun shelling Enugu from Ukena. The message was intercepted by Biafran units who began shelling Danjuma's position a few minutes later, narrowly escaping death.[citation needed] On 3 October, the Biafrans began evacuating the city.[8] On 4 October, the Nigerian 1st Division occupied Enugu.[6] Ojukwu was asleep in the Biafran State House when the federal troops attacked, and awoke at the sound of gunfire and mortar explosions to find the building deserted of his guards and aides and surrounded by the federal forces. Disguising himself as a servant, he was able to walk past the cordon without incident and escape.[9]


Situation in Enugu[edit]

Danjuma described the fall of Enugu as "an anticlimax".[4] His troops garrisoned the city in the immediate aftermath of the battle,[4] while Ukpabi Asika, an Igbo professor at Ibadan University, was appointed to lead the civil administration in the locale and surrounding areas held by federal forces.[10] After its capture, buildings in Enugu were ransacked by looters and federal troops, including the Presidential Hotel and the United States Consulate.[3][4] The vast majority of the population fled, and only approximately 500 civilians remained, most too ill, old, or young to leave. Nigerian federal officials unsuccessfully appealed for residents to return to the area.[4] Over a year after the battle, the city remained mostly deserted, and of the few hundred civilians in Enugu most were being sheltered and cared for by Catholic missions. The International Red Cross established a station in the locale, and used it to direct the distribution of relief supplies to the surrounding area.[3] As late as 1978, signs of damage from the battle remained in the city.[11]

Course of the war[edit]

Many Nigerians hoped that Enugu's capture would convince the Igbo's traditional elite to end their support for secession, even if Ojukwu did not follow them. This did not occur. Ojukwu relocated his government without difficulty to Umuahia, a city positioned deep within traditional Igbo territory.[12] The Biafrans constructed an underground bunker there to serve as the new government headquarters.[13] The fall of Enugu contributed to a brief destabilisation of Biafran propaganda efforts, as the forced relocation of personnel left the Ministry of Information disorganised and the federal force's success undermined previous Biafran assertions that the Nigerian state could not withstand a protracted war.[14] On 23 October the Biafran official radio declared in a broadcast that Ojukwu promised to continue resisting the federal government, and that he attributed the loss of Enugu to subversive actions.[4] The federal forces pressed on with their offensive throughout the month, securing Asaba and Calabar, further encircling Biafra.[15] Umuahia was not taken by Nigerian government troops until 22 April 1969.[16]


  1. ^ a b c Garrison, Lloyd (29 July 1967). "Eastern Nigerian Rebels Weather Their First Test". The New York Times. pp. A1, A3.
  2. ^ Gould 2015, p. 59.
  3. ^ a b c Emerson, Gloria (13 October 1968). "Enugu, Nigeria: Silence in War's Wake". The New York Times. pp. A1, A3.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Nigerian Civil War Makes Enugu a Ghost Town". The New York Times. 24 October 1967. p. A20.
  5. ^ Momoh 2000, p. 74.
  6. ^ a b Jowett 2016, p. 6.
  7. ^ Jowett 2016, pp. 9–10.
  8. ^ Stremlau 2015, p. 97.
  9. ^ Baxter 2015, p. 23.
  10. ^ Gould 2015, p. 75.
  11. ^ Lamb, David (18 November 1978). "Ibos Rebuild: Time Fades the Bitterness of Biafra War". Los Angeles Times. pp. A1, A11.
  12. ^ Stremlau 2015, pp. 97–98.
  13. ^ Ukwu, Jerrywright (2017). "Biafra memories: Photos and Video of Ojukwu bunker". Legit. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  14. ^ Stremlau 2015, p. 111.
  15. ^ Stremlau 2015, p. 98.
  16. ^ Stremlau 2015, p. 218.

Works cited[edit]