In Pictures: The Biafran War • Magnum Photos

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Conflict

In Pictures: The Biafran War

On the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Biafran War we take a look at the conflict and its aftermath as documented by Bruno Barbey and Abbas

Magnum Photographers

Bruno Barbey Soldier of the Federal Government on patrol. Town of Ogoja, Nigeria. 1967. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey Troops of the Federal Government on patrol. Biafra territory. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey Troops of the Federal Government taking up positions before attack on Ibo hut in the jungle. Biafra territory. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey Troops of the Federal government entering the university of Nsukka (one of Africa's largest university with 4.000 students). City of Nsukka. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey Ammunition captured by Federal troops when they liberated the town of Ogoja, (the population of Ogoja is mainly composed of Igbos). City of Nsukka, Nigeria. 1967. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey Biafran War. City of Nsukka. Troops of the Federal government entering the university of Nsukka (one of Africa's largest university with 4.000 students). Nigeria 1967. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey Poster against the General Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of the Igbos. City of Lagos, Nigeria. 1967. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
Abbas End of secession by Biafra. An Igbo refugee woman with her child in the market. They both suffer from malnutrition. Oweni, Nigeria. 1970. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas Children suffering from malnutrition in a feeding center. End of Biafra. Port Harcourt, Nigeria. 1970. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas Western journalists photograph and film a child suffering from malnutrition because of the civil war. End of Biafra. Port Harcourt, Nigeria. 1970. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas A young woman suffering from malnutrition because of the civil war, picks up her belongings which she dropped to the floor, due to her weakness. End of Biafra. Port Harcourt, Nigeria. 1970. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas Soldiers of the federal army which has won the war vs the Biafran separatists. End of Biafra. Port Harcourt, Nigeria. 1970. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas An officer of the federal army as well as Nigerian journalists are happy to discover the famed writer Cyprian Ekwensi, who defected to the Biafran side and became its head of propaganda for radio B (...)
Abbas Refugees on board a truck which will take them back to their respective villages now that the civil war has ended. End of Biafra. Owerri, Nigeria. 1970. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas One Year after the War. Schoolchildren gather in their courtyard. Nigeria (ex-Biafra). 1971. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas Food is displayed in the market, a sign that the famine which was the result of the civil war, is over. Aba. Nigeria, ex-Briafra. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas Lawyers in robes and wigs are offered cakes at the end of the opening session of the legal courts. Enugu. Nigeria, ex-Biafra. 1971. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Abbas Schoolchildren of the St Thomas school play on a grounded plane which belonged to the separatist Biafran forces. Uli, Nigeria, ex-Biafra. 1971. © Abbas | Magnum Photos

The Biafran war, fought between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra, was the culmination of a period of racial violence and persecution of the Igbos, its main people. Following the Biafran declaration of independence by Biafran Colonel Ojukwu, the Nigerian government placed an immediate shipping embargo on all goods into the region and led a swift invasion in the early hours of the 6th of July 1967. By tailing the advance of the Nigerian troops, photographer Bruno Barbey was able to document the invasion of the Biafran towns of Nsukka and Ogoja. In his photographs the brutal impact of war is witnessed shattering the mundanity of everyday life.

What followed the initial invasion was a period of almost continuous military activity until the Federal Forces gained control of the Biafran coastal oil facilities and the key trading facility of Port Harcourt a year later. Having been present at the port after the invasion, Barbey photographed the ensuing evacuation of refugees and the extent of international influence on the progress of the War during the military stalemate between ’68 and ’69.

Shortly after the end of the War in early 1970, Abbas took it upon himself to document the aftermath in the now annexed Biafra. The War may have concluded, but in its wake there remained a humanitarian crisis of tragic proportions – widespread starvation causing the death of between 500,000 and 2,000,000 Biafran civilians. “The fall of Biafra in January 1970 was my first international story,” says Abbas, reflecting on this time. “Most of the western press were in favour of the Biafrans and photos of starving children used to make headlines. The reality on the ground was different. In 1971, one year after the end of the separatist war, I decided to go back to the provinces of the ex-Biafra. No-one had thought to re-visit these provinces, and therefore this story became a scoop and was widely printed in magazines.”