One of the indelible events (if not the biggest event) that Nigeria cannot sweep under the carpets is the civil war (also known as the Biafra war). But, one name we don’t seem to hear a lot is Philip Effiong – a key actor in the Biafra story.
Philip Effiong was the first Vice President and the second President of the now-defunct Republic of Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970.
Effiong’s influence in Biafra is one that cannot be submerged as he was Nigeria’s first Director of Ordnance.
Effiong became Chief of General Staff of Biafra under Head of State, Odumegwu Ojukwu during the Nigeria-Biafra war.
The tactics of the Nigerian military during the war included economic blockade and deliberate destruction of agricultural land. Even before the war, the area was a net importer of food, depending on income from its oil fields to feed its populace.
With the blockade cutting off oil revenue and agricultural destruction reducing food production, the result was mass dislocation and starvation of the populace. Two to three million people are thought to have died in the conflict, mostly through starvation and illness.
When Biafra’s military resistance collapsed, Ojukwu fled to Côte d’Ivoire.
Ojukwu’s empty seat was automatically filled by Philip Effiong. He assumed the role of Head of State on January 8, 1970, in the midst of turmoil, starvation and collapse.
When Nigeria’s heat became too intense for Biafra to shoulder, Philip Effiong caved. He surrendered to Nigeria on January 12, 1970 (4 days after he became Biafra Head of State).
Daily Times gathered that on January 15, 1970, at Dodan Barracks in Lagos, in the presence of General Yakubu Gowon, Effiong announced the end of the Biafran conflict.
“I, Major-General Philip Efiong, Officer Administering the Government of the Republic of Biafra, now wish to make the following declaration: That we affirm that we are loyal Nigerian citizens and accept the authority of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. That we accept the existing administrative and political structure of the Federation of Nigeria. That any future constitutional arrangement will be worked out by representatives of the people of Nigeria. That the Republic of Biafra hereby ceases to exist.”
Effiong believed that the situation was hopeless and that prolonging the conflict would have led only to the further destruction and starvation of the people of Biafra.
At that time Effiong said, “I am convinced now that a stop must be put to the bloodshed which is going on as a result of the war. I am also convinced that the suffering of our people must be brought to an immediate end.”
Effiong’s action was met with mixed reactions. Some considered the act as cowardice, some thought it was the right thing to do. In the midst of the opinions that rented the air, Effiong was convinced that he made the right decisions.
In a 1996 interview, Effiong reflected on those events:
“I have no regrets whatsoever of my involvement in Biafra or the role I played. The war deprived me of my property, dignity, my name. Yet, I saved so many souls on both sides and by this, I mean Biafra and Nigeria. . . .
“I felt that I played a role which has kept this country united till today. . . . At the end of it all when I saw they (Biafran soldiers) could no longer continue and Ojukwu had fled, I did what was ideal after wide consultation . . .”
Effiong died 6 November 2003, at the age of 77 less than two weeks before his 78th birthday.
A lot of persons have labelled Philip Effiong, a coward but I cannot help but wonder who the coward really is. The man who fled or the man who weighed his options and decided what was right for peace to reign?