The Nigerian Civil War was a golden opportunity for the country to have developed technologically if the opportunities it provided were harnessed. Many Nigerians who were of age then had first hand knowledge of what caused the civil war and how it was prosecuted. Those who were young or born during or immediately after the war got to know through books and journals how the defunct Eastern Region was able to hold the remaining part of the country in a civil war that lasted 30 months.
However, the cause of the civil war, the ingenuity of the Igbo scientists, engineers and the tenacity of the Head of Biafra Republic, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, was relived after his death which occurred in a London Hospital on 26 November, 2011. The remote cause of the civil war was the January 15, 19966 coup that claimed the lives of prominent Northern and Western politicians such as Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ladoke Akintola, Premier of Western Nigeria, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Minister for Financial etc. The coup caused indignation in Northern and Western Nigeria as the people of these two regions saw the coup as one targeted against their people. Thus, there was a countered coup on July 29, 1966 that was executed by army officers of Northern extraction. The Head of State, Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi was killed along with his host and Governor of Western Nigeria, Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi. After the countered coup, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon was appointed Head of State.
However, the immediate cause of the civil war was the genocidal actions taken against the Igbos who were residents in the Northern part of the country. So, being inundated by tales of woes that befell the Igbos in the north, as related to the leader of the Biafra Republic by army officers who managed to escape the pogrom, Lt. Col. Ojukwu, on May 30, 1967, declared Eastern Region, the Republic of Biafra. It was estimated that about 30,000 Igbos died in the pogrom that took place in the North. The Head of State, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon confirmed the pogrom in his broadcast which was targeted at northerners in September, 1966: “I receive complaints daily that up till now easterners living in the north are being killed and molested and their property looted. It appears that it is going beyond reason and is now at a point of recklessness and irresponsibility”. The head of state was surprised at the calculated attacks carried out against the Igbos that was why his conscience compelled him to make that statement. Nevertheless, with Lt. Col. Ojokwu’s declaration of Biafra Republic and the wanton killings of Igbos in the north, the civil war began on July 6, 1967 when the federal side fired the first bullet.
All over the world, the period of war is a time when a nation discovers itself and engages in technological development. For instance, the internet the world is enjoying presently was invented by the American Army during World War II. It was invented to enable the American Army communicate among themselves with ease. Today, the internet is the greatest tool for communication and doing businesses. The Asian Tigers, especially Japan also discovered its technological prowess immediately after World War II. During World War II, the city of Hiroshima was devastated by an atomic bomb that was detonated by the American Army. Thereafter, the Japanese went into in-depth researches in technological development. Japan got amazing results from her researches and at the moment, Japan is the largest manufacturer of electronic products, cars, mobile phones, satellites, guns, nuclear plants, etc. As this article is being written, Japan is the third largest economic after America and China due to its technological advancement.
Meanwhile, during the Nigerian Civil War, the Igbo scientists and engineers gave good account of themselves in terms of technological inventions. In the heat of the civil war, the leader of the young Biafra Republic, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojokwu called a meeting of engineers and scientists, and challenged them to produce a counter weapon to all that Britain and Russia were providing to the Nigerian Government. According to the Biafran leader, “The answer I got within a space of six weeks were shore batteries, unbelievable anti-aircraft weapons to checkmate the excesses of those cowardly Egyptain pilots who bombed hospitals and markets and, a little later, the father of them all, Ogbunigwe. And they began manufacturing them in large quantities to assist the war efforts. That indomitable spirit is now caged by the bad government in Lagos”. It is true that necessity is the mother of invention. The dare necessity to survive the civil war compelled the Igbos to discover their technological prowess. The Biafran inventors were led by Ugah Aguata, a science genius, Engineer Roy Umenyi, Ben Nwosu, Godian Ezekwe, Emma Osolu, Sam Orji, Njoku Obi etc manufactured unfathomable weapons not expected of young nation like Nigeria that got independence only six years back.
Thus, the Igbo engineers first invented shore batteries with which they devastated marine craft. They also invented anti-aircraft weapons which they used to control the excesses of the federal fighting jets. The Biafran Army made a bomb they called “Ojukwu Bucket” or “Ogbunigwe,” which means the mass killer. Ojukwu called the invention of Ogbunigwe “the father of them all”. This bomb was used by the Biafran Army to execute havoc on the federal army. Dr. Sam Orji, a world-renowned nuclear physicist and bomb expert and Dr. Felix Oragwu, also a nuclear physicist played a crucial role in sustaining the Biafran war effort by inventing bombs for the secessionist Briafra. Engineer William Achukwu, an Agricultural Engineer actually fabricated the metallic bucket that was used for making the Ogbunigwe bomb. The Biafran Armed Forces engineers also manufactured armoured cars which was very effective and comparable to those made by advanced nations. They invented ground to air missiles, assault rifles, gun boats for amphibious attacks, rocket launchers, rocket propelled grenades, etc. They built refineries with which they refined their crude oil; ambulances were manufactured; bunkers and other war armaments.
Nonetheless, Nigeria lost the opportunities provided by the civil war to develop technologically because the Nigerian Government did not assemble the scientists and engineers that invented these weapons! The Igbo engineers and scientists that manufactured these war armaments should have been assembled together in a technology village where their knowledge should have been harnessed for the growth of the country rather they were allowed to disperse. The reason why the Igbo scientists and engineers were not assembled for positive encouragement might not be unconnected with tribalism, ethnicity, sectionalism, regionalism, and above all, the fear of domination by the Igbos. Undoubtedly, other tribes felt that if the Igbos were encouraged, they would use their inventions against other tribes in case of another outbreak of war. Though, after the civil war, the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon introduced a three point agenda of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration which was aimed at fostering unity and national integration among the various nationalities in the country, the programme was not executed with honesty as the Igbos were not truly reintegrated into the Nigerian society. The Head of State also said that there was no “No victor, no vanquished” yet the Igbos are seen immediately after the civil war and even today as the vanquished.
So, Nigeria lost a great opportunity to have developed technologically because the leaders had a myopic view about the country. From all indications, the civil war was fought to control the oil-rich Niger Delta area and not for unity. If the north had oil like the Niger Delta area, there would not have been a civil war in Nigeria. If the war was prosecuted for the purpose of unity as the leaders claimed, they would have assembled the Igbo geniuses that carried out these awe-inspiring inventions.
Thus, the armoured cars, shore batteries, anti-aircraft weapons, bombs, guns, ambulances, trucks, rocket propelled grandees, assault rifles, gun boats for amphibious attacks, rocket launchers, etc which the country is importing presently were to be made locally if the aftermath of the civil war was effectively managed. Many factories would have been built where these weapons would have been manufactured in large quantities. This would have been a good source of revenue generation for the country instead of depending only on oil money. Thus, the huge amount of money being spent on the importation of these things would have been diverted to other relevant uses. Apart from the huge foreign exchange that would have been earned from the export of these manufactured products, it would have also provided employment opportunities for the teaming population of unemployed youths across the country. This would have reduced the current high crime rate in the country.
It is a fact that the civil war provided a golden opportunity for the country to have developed technologically but the opportunity was lost due to tribalism, sectionalism, regionalism, disunity and fear of domination by the Igbos. The country can still assemble the Igbo scientists and engineers that are still living so as to continue from where they stopped at the end of the civil war. This is so because it is better late than never.