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The Abagana Ambush: The Greatest Loss in the Biafran War on This Day in 1968


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On March 31, 1968, the Abagana Ambush took place, resulting in the wiping out of the Nigerian 2 Division by Biafran guerrilla troops.

This event was a significant blow to the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War, which was fought between the government of Nigeria and the Republic of Biafra from 1967 to 1970.

Led by General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria fought against Biafra, led by Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu. The secessionist state of Biafra represented the nationalist aspirations of the Igbo ethnic group, who believed they could no longer coexist with the federal government dominated by the interests of the Muslim Hausa-Fulanis of northern Nigeria.

Although the Nigerian army had superior ammunition, manpower, and the support of the international community, the Biafran army used mostly guerrilla warfare, including ambushes and hit-and-run tactics, to fight back.

The Abagana Ambush was one such ambush, resulting in the wiping out of the entire Nigerian 2 Division. Only a few, including the 2nd Division’s commander, General Murtala Muhammed, survived the attack.

Despite its eventual defeat, the Biafran army’s resistance and struggle for secession left a significant impact on Nigeria’s history and its people.

It resulted in the loss of many lives and the displacement of thousands of civilians. The war also exposed the deep ethnic and religious divides within the country and highlighted the need for national unity and reconciliation.

Today, the memory of the Abagana Ambush serves as a reminder of the atrocities of war and the importance of peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups.

It also highlights the need for effective leadership and governance to prevent such conflicts from arising in the future.

In this article, we will delve into the background of the Biafran War, discuss the details of the Abagana Ambush, examine the aftermath of the attack, and explore the lessons learned from this devastating event.

Background of the Biafran War

The Biafran War, also known as the Nigerian Civil War, was a three-year conflict that took place between 1967 and 1970 in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Civil War was a civil war fought between the government of Nigeria and the Republic of Biafra, a secessionist state that declared its independence from Nigeria in 1967.

The war was fought between the Nigerian government, led by General Yakubu Gowon, and the secessionist state of Biafra, led by Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu.

The main cause of the conflict was the ethnic and political tensions between the Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria, who formed the majority of the population in the Biafran region, and the rest of Nigeria.

The war was marked by brutal fighting, including massacres of civilians, and widespread hunger and disease. It is estimated that over one million people died as a result of the conflict, the majority of whom were civilians.

The Nigerian government imposed a blockade on Biafra, which led to a humanitarian crisis and widespread starvation. The Biafran government was also accused of human rights abuses, including the forced conscription of child soldiers.

The Biafran War ended in January 1970 when the Nigerian government declared victory and reasserted its control over the southeast region.

The war had a profound impact on Nigeria and on African politics more broadly. It highlighted the dangers of ethnic and regional divisions and the need for inclusive governance and equitable development.

The war lasted for three years and six months, with the Nigerian army having more ammo, manpower, and support from the international community, while the Biafran army had only guts, hope, and mostly used guerrilla warfare like ambushes and hit-and-run tactics to fight the Nigerian army.

The Abagana Ambush

On March 31, 1968, the Nigerian 2nd Division was ambushed and almost completely destroyed by a small group of just 700 Biafran soldiers led by Major Jonathan Uchendu.

The Abagana Ambush occurred when Nigerian troops were advancing towards the town of Abagana in Anambra State, which was a stronghold of Biafran forces.

The Nigerian troops, who were mostly from the 2nd Infantry Division, were caught off guard when Biafran soldiers opened fire on them from several positions.

The Nigerian soldiers were unable to organize a counterattack and were quickly overwhelmed by the Biafran soldiers, who had superior knowledge of the terrain

The convoy was transporting 6,000 soldiers and armour from the captured city of Onitsha to Enugu when it was attacked in the town of Abagana. The ambush resulted in the heaviest single loss suffered by the Nigerian army during the Nigerian Civil War.

The Abagana Ambush: The Greatest Loss in the Biafran War on This Day in 1968
source: talkafricana

During the ambush, the Biafran soldiers used homemade Ogbunigwe rocket missiles to launch an attack on a tanker truck carrying gasoline, causing a massive explosion that destroyed many of the convoy’s armoured vehicles and killed a large number of Nigerian troops.

The Biafran soldiers then opened fire on the convoy, killing even more Nigerian soldiers. The attack resulted in the destruction or capture of 350 tons of Nigerian Army equipment.

The Nigerian army suffered a devastating loss in the Abagana Ambush, with over 300 soldiers killed and many more wounded.

The Biafran soldiers also captured a large cache of weapons and ammunition, which they would later use in their fight against the Nigerian army. The loss was a significant blow to the Nigerian army and marked a turning point in the Biafran War.

Major Jonathan Uchendu later recounted how the sight of the convoy almost paralyzed his troops. They were so anxious to start firing, more out of panic than anything else. He asked them to remain calm until he gave the command.

He allowed much of the Nigerian 2 Division convoy to pass through, shocking his boys, who were nervous and suspicious, yet they trusted his military gallantry and awaited his strategy. He said they concluded that the war was over, but as brave soldiers, they must fight to the last!

The successful ambush at Abagana gave both Biafran soldiers and civilians hope in the war as well as temporarily halting the Nigerian advance into Biafran territory.

General Murtala Muhammed, who was with the convoy during the ambush, survived, but was relieved of his command and never commanded a division again.

Aftermath of the Abagana Ambush

The aftermath of the Abagana Ambush was a turning point in the Nigerian-Biafran War. The ambush had a significant impact on the morale of the Nigerian troops, and it boosted the morale of the Biafran soldiers and civilians.

The loss of over 6,000 soldiers and 350 tons of equipment was a significant blow to the Nigerian army and slowed down the federal government’s advance into Biafran territory.

The Abagana Ambush led to a change in tactics by both sides. The Nigerian army increased its use of air power and artillery, while the Biafran army relied more on guerrilla warfare tactics.

The Biafrans also developed more sophisticated weapons, including the locally made Ogbunigwe rocket which played a crucial role in the ambush.

The aftermath of the ambush also saw a change in the leadership of the Nigerian army. General Murtala Muhammed, who was the commander of the 2nd Division at the time of the ambush, was relieved of his command and never commanded a division again.

The Nigerian government, faced with mounting casualties and a prolonged war, eventually launched a “no victor, no vanquished” policy to end the conflict.

For the Biafrans, the Abagana Ambush was a morale booster. It gave them hope that they could defeat the Nigerian army and gain independence. The ambush also demonstrated the Biafran army’s ability to confront the Nigerian army despite being significantly outnumbered and outgunned.

The aftermath of the Abagana Ambush also saw an increase in international attention to the Nigerian-Biafran War. The media coverage of the ambush and the humanitarian crisis that followed helped to raise awareness of the war and the suffering of the people in Biafra.


In conclusion, the Abagana Ambush remains one of the most significant events of the Nigerian Civil War, marking a turning point in the war and causing a heavy loss to the Nigerian army.

The use of homemade rockets and guerrilla tactics by the Biafran soldiers demonstrated their determination to defend their territory, while the Nigerian army was left to ponder its next move.

The Abagana Ambush was indeed a defining moment in the Nigerian-Biafran War, which left a lasting impact on both sides of the conflict. The ambush marked a significant victory for the Biafran army and demonstrated the effectiveness of their guerrilla warfare tactics against the larger and better-equipped Nigerian army.

The devastating loss suffered by the Nigerian 2nd Division, coupled with the destruction of 350 tons of Nigerian army equipment, dealt a significant blow to the morale of the Nigerian troops and temporarily halted their advance into Biafran territory.

Furthermore, the Abagana Ambush brought renewed hope to the Biafran people, who were fighting for their right to self-determination and freedom. The successful ambush showed that the Biafran army was not to be underestimated, and that they were capable of defending themselves against the Nigerian army.

Overall, the Abagana Ambush remains a significant event in the history of Nigeria and Biafra, and it serves as a testament to the bravery and resilience of those who fought in the Nigerian-Biafran War.

The war remains a tragic and avoidable conflict that highlighted the dangers of ethnic and regional divisions in Nigeria and in Africa more broadly.

Today, it serves as a reminder of the need for inclusive governance, respect for human rights, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.




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