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From self-rule to civil war: Nigeria’s independence, 60 years on

Nigeria gained its independence from the UK in 1960.
Nigeria gained its independence from the UK in 1960. © France 24 screengrab
Text by: Nicolas GERMAIN
4 min

Nigeria became independent from Britain on October 1, 1960, and today has Africa’s largest economy. FRANCE 24’s Nicolas Germain looks at how the fledgling independent state was soon mired in a devastating civil war in the eastern Biafra region that would claim nearly two million lives.

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Africa’s most populous nation became independent from Britain on October 1, 1960, a little more than 100 years after colonisers first arrived.

The spread of Western education by Christian missionaries was strongly resisted, especially by Muslim leaders in the north. Under colonialism, the south was more developed, and this division would have long-lasting consequences that continued past independence.

Nigeria’s first nationalist movements appeared in the 1920s, and resistance to colonial rule grew over the next three decades. After independence, tensions that had been building between two ethnic groups – the northern Hausa and the eastern Igbo – led to violence in 1966, when more than 1,000 people were killed in the north.

Igbo leader Emeka Ojukwu declared the independence of the eastern Republic of Biafra in 1967 and the civil war began in July.

The war lasted until 1970, and nearly two million people died, most of them from starvation and illness. After witnessing the horrors of the war, humanitarian workers founded the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

50 years later, the Biafran war remains by far the deadliest conflict in Nigeria’s history.

Click on the player to watch the full FRANCE 24 report.

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