Biafran Flag

The earliest evidence of oil’s role in civil conflict can be seen in the Biafran War from 1967-1970. During what is also known as the Nigerian Civil War, the Igbos of southeastern Nigeria attempted to secede from the national federation in response to alleged political marginalization. In the few years prior to the announcement of an independent Biafra it was clear that the majority of Nigeria’s oil resources were in Igboland, and this was the perhaps the galvanizing force behind the secessionist move.  Under distribution scheme at that time, the majority of oil revenues were going to the northern-dominated federal government.  In an independent Biafra, Igbos would have formed a 7 million strong majority over the 4 million non-Igbos in the area, thus raising its oil revenues from the 14% it was receiving to 67% after secession. The Federal Republic of Nigeria realized that Biafra’s independence would have cut its national oil production in half and consequently President Gowon came down fiercely on the secessionist movement, leading to the death of almost a million Igbos (largely due to starvation caused by food embargoes). Did oil cause the Biafran War?  No.  Was it a necessary condition? Maybe.  Was it a stronger contributor?  Most definitely.