Like most African nations, Nigeria consists of many different groups forced to co-exist within artificial boundaries drawn by the European power that had formerly controlled the region. A British colony until its independence in 1963, Nigeria became a republic with four regional governments, in which the ruling party, largely Northerners, dominated the new nation. A crisis occurred in 1964 when electoral boycotts took place during the first general elections. Then in 1965 disorders broke out after the ruling political party rigged elections in the Western (Ibo) region.
In January 1966, a coup led by army officers belonging to the Ibo ethnic group overthrew the civil government and murdered the prime minister and the premiers of the north and western regions. A military government led by Maj. Gen. Johnson T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi then ruled Nigeria, until another coup led by the officers of the Hausa from the northern region. The murder of Ibos living in the north led to a mass migration of Ibos to their native eastern region. Hausas were also killed in the Eastern Region.
The four regions attempted to negotiate a return to a civilian government from September to November 1966 but failed to produce an agreement, in part because the representatives of the Eastern Region failed to appear after the first conference. Although more negotiations took place in 1967, the situation quickly deteriorated, and on May 27, Lieut. Col. C. O. Ojukwu, empowered by the Eastern Region's Consultative Assembly, declared the Eastern Region a sovereign and independent republic. The federal government declared a state emergency and divided Nigeria into 12 states.
On May 30, Ojukwu proclaimed the secession of the Eastern Region and the formation of the Republic of Biafra. Soon, fighting broke out between the federal and the Biafran forces. Although the Biafran forces at first did well, by early October the federal forces had captured Enugu, their capital. Despite attempts by the Organization of African Unity to end the civil war, hostilities continued until 1970 at which point the federal forces had starved the Biafran population into submission. Ojukwu fled the country on January 11, and a delegation to Lagos formally surrendered on January 15, 1970, thus ending the existence of the Republic of Biafra.