Mercenaries pp 18-25 | Cite as

The Nigerian Civil War

  • Guy Arnold


The Nigerian Civil War, unlike the Congo crisis, represented a set-piece confrontation between two sides both of which, though with varying degrees of reluctance, hired mercenaries. The war lasted for 30 months from the declaration of an independent Biafra at the end of May 1967 until its final defeat by the forces of Federal Nigeria in January 1970. It was the first occasion since the Carlist wars in Spain when mercenaries fought one another from opposite sides.1 When the civil war began Africa had set its face against mercenaries whose activities in the Congo had been roundly condemned with Zambia’s President Kaunda, for example, describing them as ‘human vermin’. It was, therefore, a political risk that might prove counter- productive to enlist mercenaries at all. Once the civil war was underway the Federal Military Government in Lagos wanted to demonstrate its capacity to deal with the Biafran secession without calling in outside help; to use mercenaries would undermine this position. Biafra, on the other hand, would promote through its propaganda the picture of an embattled ‘underdog’ fighting for its existence and, as such, would justify turning outside for assistance, including the enlistment of mercenaries. In the event both sides employed mercenaries though in each case exercising far greater control over their activities than had been possible in the Congo.


Political Risk Military Adviser Final Defeat Foreign Legionary Steiner Group 
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  1. 1.
    John de St Jorre, The Nigerian Civil War, Hodder & Stoughton, 1970, p 313.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Thayer op. cit., p 169.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    African Digest, February 1968.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Thayer, op. cit., p 170.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    African Digest, February 1968.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Sunday Times, 24/12/1967.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    de St Jorre, op. cit., p 313.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., pp 316–18.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid., p 318.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    African Digest, October 1969.Google Scholar

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© Guy Arnold 1999

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  • Guy Arnold

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