Festus Chibuike Onuegbu


Events of the Nigeria-Biafra War brought a number of international relief missions on the frontline of the war. Their intervention in the war was not without some problems. It raised some serious suspicions in both the Nigerian and Biafra camps. These relief missions have been often adjudged as political mercenaries in a cloak of humanitarians. The common claim is that they meddled into the affairs and politics of the war, thus, aided its prolongation. More worrisome but engaging is this notion has continued to survive in many accounts of the war. Obviously, situation as this calls for a re-examination. This paper, therefore, re-examines the role of the Red Cross (International Committee of Red Cross, ICRC) as one of the critical relief missions in the war. Focusing on the motive(s), environment, activities and challenges of the ICRC in the war, the paper finds out that it did so much to uphold its obligation to be neutral, as it was not engaged in any covert activities involving arms smuggling, sharing military intelligence, acting mercenary soldier, or willful hoarding of relief material to give undue advantage to one of the two sides in the conflict. Only that the ICRC intervention and the manner it was conducted were mostly misunderstood due largely to the propaganda and paranoia of some third party entering the war. The paper, thus, argues that the role played by the Red Cross in the war did not in any way suggest some form of political meddling and, in that regard, does not qualify to be considered so. Rather, the Geneva based organisation showed a deep sense of committed humanitarianism whose selfless undertaking saved millions of lives in the war. This paper is historical; hence, it adopts a qualitative method of analysis. Useful pieces of information were obtained from interviews, important relevant documents, reports, and array of secondary sources.

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