In contrast to the Congo, the war which then began between Nigeria and Biafra had virtually no ideological character. It is only a struggle between two rival elites for the possession of the country – a struggle in which the people are involved only according to pre-existing ethnic and cultural ties. This explains the heterogeneous mixture of external support that each camp will receive. In the absence of an ideological motive, all kinds of interests come into play. Thus, on several occasions, Nigeria will be supported by the United States, the Soviet Union, most of the Muslim countries and a large part of the African states. . Biafra, for its part, will receive assistance from France, the Vatican, Portugal, a handful of African states, and a range of religious and charitable organizations.
The main function of these outside elements will be to provide arms and advice, to inform the world and to convince each side that they can achieve victory.
The war is primarily aimed at controlling the oil fields, a large part of which is in the eastern territories, occupied by ethnic minorities, and in the territories of the Ibos. Although traditionally hostile to the Ibos, these minorities initially supported the cause of Ojukwu because they too suffered from the massacres. But, later, they will show that they are ready to go to the side of those who offer them the best prospects.
It is obvious that these territories will not fail to be taken by Nigeria since they are very vulnerable to an attack by sea, that the population is perfectly unstable and that the British are ready to give massive support to the operation .
Nevertheless, it was not until May 1968 that the Nigerians succeeded in seizing Port Harcourt, the main Biafran port and headquarters of the Shell refinery. Meanwhile; Nigerian troops advanced north and took the two key towns of Enugu and Onitsha.
Over the next four months, the Nigerians would make further advances from the north and south with the clear intention of cutting Biafra in two. In September 1968, most observers predicted that it would take little more than a few weeks for Nigeria to win the war because not only did Biafra now have to be fully supplied by air, but also the territory that remained was overrun with refugees, most starving. It was then that Nigeria began to attack planes flying to Biafra and to bomb Biafran territory.