Press release

Fifty years after Nigeria civil war ends, unity is key to unlocking potential of the world’s ‘poverty capital’

Fifty years since the end of Nigeria’s deadly civil war, Christian Aid has brought together influencers from the worlds of politics, charity, business and faith to unite to help the country shed its title of ‘poverty capital of the world’

The Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970) was fought over the formation of the state of Biafra, made up of states in Nigeria’s Eastern Region who declared their independence in May 1967.  When the conflict ended on 15 January 1970, as many as three million Biafran civilians had died of starvation, disease and injury.

Now, half a century on, Christian Aid is taking the opportunity to encourage donors, governments, NGOs and faith groups to work together to create a Nigeria where all citizens, particularly women and children, can thrive and live free of poverty, violence and inequality. 

This call comes as global data reveals that an estimated 95 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty today, in January 2020. This represents nearly 50% of the country’s estimated 199m population, making it ‘the poverty capital of the world’ for another year running.

British-Nigerian historian, writer and broadcaster David Olusoga OBE said: “The Nigeria-Biafra war is, without doubt, one of the most devastating post-independence conflicts in modern history. It caused untold suffering on an unprecedented scale and left an indelible imprint on the Nigerian nation we know today.

“Fifty years after its end, it is only fitting that we take a moment to reflect on the legacy and lessons of the war – particularly since tens of millions of people are still suffering today in Nigeria. That’s why I am pleased that Christian Aid is using this significant milestone to advance the message of peace, progress and unity in Nigeria.” 

Mr Olusoga will be sharing reflections on the legacy of the war on the 50th anniversary, 15 January, at a reception attended by influential British-Nigerian at Lambeth Palace, London. The event is being hosted by Christian Aid to mark the anniversary of the end of the conflict.

During the civil war, Christian Aid was among the humanitarian organisations who responded to the plight of Biafrans facing mass starvation due to a blockade imposed on them. The charity sent medical teams to help alleviate the suffering in conflict-hit communities; this included running clinics on the front line.

Christian Aid’s Country Manager Charles Usie, who will speak at the Lambeth Palace reception, said: “The legacy of the Biafran war still casts a shadow over some areas of life here in Nigeria. Women and children suffered the most during this brutal conflict, which caused untold suffering and left scars that took decades to heal.

“Fifty years on, Nigeria is seen as the ‘Giant of Africa’: we are flourishing on so many fronts, but amid our success lies some heart-breaking disparities. As a nation we have the world’s largest number of people in extreme poverty; and the grave humanitarian crisis in our northeast region continues to wreak intolerable damage on millions of people. In a country blessed with riches, this is nothing short of a scandal.”

Mr Usie continued: “During the Biafran War, images of children suffering from malnutrition sparked outcry and action across the world. As we commemorate this moment in history, I would hope that the news that 95 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty will once again spark outcry and action, both here and overseas.

“We must intensify our collective efforts to create a just, equitable and peaceful Nigerian society: one where poverty is eradicated and where everyone – women and youth in particular – have equal opportunities to thrive and are empowered to contribute to building the nation we all desperately want to see. For this to happen, it is also critical that we strengthen unity and collaboration between different ethnic, political and faith groups here in Nigeria.”

Nigeria was first dubbed ‘the poverty capital of the world’ in 2018 by World Poverty Clock, which tracks real-time estimates globally. Since that time, an extra eight million Nigerians have slid into extreme poverty.

This comes at a time of ongoing insecurity and violence in northeast Nigeria, where millions of people have been internally displaced by conflict caused by the Boko Haram insurgency. In response, Christian Aid’s Nigeria programme continues to provide life-saving emergency relief, including food and sanitation supplies, to those affected. This aid has reached more than 400,000 people in the past three years.

Christian Aid's work in Nigeria will be showcased at the Lambeth Palace reception on 15 January. The event will bring together people of influence from the Nigerian diaspora – across business, arts, charity, politics and media – to explore ways to unite to ensure all Nigeria’s people can flourish. At the reception, Christian Aid will screen a new film telling the story of one of its 1968 humanitarian team members, Mr Brian Sheen, who will attend the event.


Notes to Editors:

1. Figures taken from World Poverty Clock: data accessed 13 January 2020.

2. Christian Aid has worked in Nigeria since 2003. Its vision is for a just, equitable and peaceful Nigerian society, where poverty has been eradicated and every person is empowered to live life in all its fullness. It works to improve the health of poor and marginalised people; raise community voices to demand accountability through advocacy and promoting engagement between people and government; improve gender equity and the participation of women and girls in development initiatives; and respond to humanitarian emergencies to alleviate the suffering of people affected by conflict and disaster. For more information, see Christian Aid’s 2019-2026 Nigeria Country Strategy.

3. For more information about the work of Christian Aid see here