The Amazing Story Of How Another Country Named REPUBLIC OF BENIN Existed Within Nigeria For Just 24 Hours In 1967
There is a country that existed in Nigeria that many have never heard of. The Republic of Benin was a puppet state of Biafra formed in 1967 and this is the story of how it all happened.
On the 19th of September, 1967, this republic was declared although control for the region was almost totally in the hands of troops of the Nigerian government. Located off the Atlantic’s Ocean Bight of Benin, the Republic of Benin was formerly called the Midwestern Region of Nigeria and had its capital city at Benin City (now in Edo State). The region fell under the control of the forces of Biafra during the initial phases of the Nigerian Civil War.
Shortly before the war broke out, leaders of the Midwestern Region made attempts to adopt a neutral role. They even sponsored a peace conference in Benin City and did not allow Nigerian troops to cross over and invade the Eastern Region via the Midwest. In May 1967, the war started and by August 1967, the area was under the control of Biafran forces with Albert Okonkwo, a US-trained medical doctor appointed the head of government. But there was a snag.
The Midwest region was an amalgam of various tribes (both Igbos, who were fighting the Nigerian federal forces and non-Igbos). When the area came under Biafran control, the Igbos were naturally happy but non-Igbos were understandably not excited and were hoping for a federal victory to conquer the region. Although things started on a calm note, the tensions generated from the ethnic differences became worse with time despite the best attempts of the Igbo-led leadership to curry favour and support for their kit and kith risking limbs and lives facing Nigeria’s military. The leader of the breakaway region, the late Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu had to visit the Midwest to calm tensions and seek support. But the Midwesterners would not budge. However, instead of remaining antagonistic to the Igbos, the Midwesterners lost all passion to support the secession itself.
Okonkwo and his alarmed cabinet saw that if nothing was done to stem the deterioration of relations between the various groups, there could be an implosion. Thus, the Republic of Benin was hurriedly declared with the hope that at least, that would stave off an invasion by the forces of the Yakubu Gowon-led armed forces of Nigeria. While making the declaration, he stated that the reasons for creating the republic included the killing of Midwesterners in the north and the support of the region for a confederacy. He further stated that the new Republic of Benin would be pro-Biafra and would become a member of the Organization of African Unity and the Commonwealth of Nations.
But as he was making the announcement, Nigerian soldiers were already fast closing in on the city. He and Biafran forces had to flee and Nigerian troops overran the city, with crowds of jubilant Midwesterners lining the streets to celebrate the reconquest and welcome the Nigerian soldiers. On the 20th of September, the region was back in Nigeria’s control.
It had an estimated population of three million.
Agricultural produce formed a major source of income revenue. Currencies in circulation were the Biafran pound and the Nigerian pound.
In addition to the Igbos, there were other ethnic groups as the Edos, Urhobos and Ijaws.
OTHERS INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT THE DEFUNCT REPUBLIC OF BENIN
- It was recognized as a state only by the Republic of Biafra which in turn was recognized by some other countries.
- The official language was English.
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