Theses Doctoral

Forging the Biafran State: Law and Crime in the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1976

Daly, Samuel Fury Childs

This dissertation brings together the history of law in postcolonial Nigeria with the history of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), analyzing how wartime violence shaped crime and the ethics surrounding it. Using legal records from the Republic of Biafra’s courts, I examine how the secessionist state was governed, and how armed robbery and other criminal activities became means of survival there in the context of the fighting. These cases reveal how Biafrans and their government negotiated what kinds of survival tactics, many of them “criminal,” were permissible or ethical in the context of the war and the humanitarian crisis attending it. Biafra’s courts also became a space where individuals could assert themselves as moral actors in the face of political ataxia and enormous humanitarian strain. The war shaped Nigeria’s postcolonial experience profoundly. As in many conflicts, acts of violence and deception became ordinary – in some cases honorable – when surviving and winning the war trumped all other considerations. When the fighting ended in January 1970, the practices that Biafrans had used to endure the war did not end with it. In the years that followed, fraud and armed violence would become major features of life in reunified Nigeria. Biafra had declared independence in the name of preserving law and order, but the result of the war was to create conditions in which forms of illegality that would later become endemic – forgery, armed robbery, and the body of fraudulent activities known as “419” – could take root. For this reason, the Biafra War is an important episode in both the history of Nigeria after independence, and for the larger study of the dialectics of law and disorder in contemporary Africa.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Mann, Gregory
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 24, 2017