Of all the upheavals that have marked Africa's transition from colonialism to political independence, none has been more tragic than Nigeria's civil war, either in terms of the immediate human suffering it has caused or the shadow it has cast on the continent's prospects for harmony and prosperity. After two years of inconclusive warfare and the collapse of three major initiatives toward negotiations, genuine peace in Nigeria seems very far away. One prerequisite to bringing it closer is the identification of the issues with which the peacemakers must deal. The present article undertakes this task, first briefly reviewing the war's background and then outlining the questions that must be considered in negotiating a settlement.
The secession of Nigeria's Eastern Region in May 1967 and its assumption of national sovereignty as the "Republic of Biafra" erupted out of a complex skein of historical experiences, cultural differences, economics, party politics and ethnic antagonisms. The federal structure which was adopted when Nigeria became independent in 1960 was intended to accommodate the local autonomy of diverse cultural groups with the economic unity of extensive and complementary resources and markets. The identification of the three regions (later four) with a particular political party and a single predominant ethnic group effected a polarization of political forces which certainly contributed to the present cataclysm. In the elections of 1959, on which the Independence Government was based, the efforts of the Yoruba-dominated Action Group (AG) and the Ibo party, the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), to win constituencies outside their own respective regions achieved only modest success.
Political action centered then on the struggle to gain or hold control of the Federal Government. The Government which emerged in 1959 was a coalition of the Hausa-Fulani-dominated Northern Peoples' Congress (NPC) and the NCNC. From then until 1966, a prime anxiety of each major group was the possibility of a shift in the balance at the center, which might allow a single region, group and party to dominate the others at the national level and