June 1967

Federal Military Government (FMG) of Nigeria places an embargo on the shipping of goods to and from Biafra, excluding oil tankers; complete embargo, including oil, begins at the end of June 1967. The ICRC plays a leading role in arranging deliveries of aid, working with the FMG and not defying the blockade.

The FMG placed an embargo on Biafra after Ojukwu declared the country an independent republic. However, this initial embargo did not include oil, only the shipping of other goods to and from Biafra. After the first embargo, Biafra began collecting oil royalties from companies operating within the country, and after Shell-BP agreed, the FMG then completed the embargo to include oil as well.

While the initial blockade, including the supplement inclusion of oil, was not extremely detrimental to Biafra at the time, it eventually led the starvation and death of thousands of people. Though estimates vary significantly, many people approximate that between 500,000 and two million people died due to starvation.

The ICRC’s role in Biafra was controversial, because it maintained its policy of not commenting on the war itself, and it did not run the blockade instituted by the FMG. Other organizations, just as Joint Church Aid, did defy the Nigerian government. Still, starting in 1968, the ICRC launched what was then its largest-ever delivery of food and medical aid.

ICRC flight prepares to leave Geneva for Santa-Isabel, from where it will transport medicine and vitamins to Biafra. Photographer: Vaslav Markevitch. Copyright: ICRC.
See Also:

ICRC audio-visual archives: https://avarchives.icrc.org/

ICRC video on its Biafran relief work.

“Biafra: 1967-70: Ethical Dilemmas of Humanitarian Relief.” Online Atlas of the History of Humanitarianism and Human Rights.

Desgrandchamps, Marie-Luce. “Dealing with ‘Genocide’: The ICRC and the UN during the Nigeria-Biafra War.” Journal of Genocide Research 16: 2-3 (2014).

Desgrandchamps, Marie-Luce. “’Organising the Unpredictable’: The Nigeria-Biafra War and its Impact on the ICRC.” International Review of the Red Cross 94: 888 (Winter 2012).

Heerten, Lasse. The Biafran War and Postcolonial Humanitarianism: Spectacles of Suffering. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Sources: https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/ETD-UT-2011-08-3715/DORON-DISSERTATION.pdf?sequence=1; http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Nigerian_Civil_War