The Nigerian civil war was no doubt one of the most brutal wars in Africa. It was fought between 6th of July, 1967 and 15th of January 1970 over the attempt the predominant Igbo people of the Eastern Region to secede from Nigeria to form the Republic of Biafra.
The Republic of Biafra was a secessionist movement that arose from the mass killings of the predominantly Igbos and some southerners who lived in northern part of Nigeria in 1966. The declaration of the Republic of Biafra as a unit state from Nigeria ultimately led to the Nigerian-Biafra war in 1966.
It was during this chaotic atmosphere Pelé and the Santos team visited Africa in an African tour to Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Mozambique and Algeria purportedly to generate funds for the club through appearance fees.
It was said that, their coming to Nigeria was a welcome relief. Pele arrived in Nigeria with his team, Santos in 1969 to play friendly matches amidst the chaotic atmosphere, twice in the same year on January 26 and February 4. At a period when football was becoming a great source of entertainment, a temporary calm and reprieve was ensured for a successful game. The two warring factions in their love for Pelé and football laid down their arms and exchanged them for waving flags and cheers during the agreed 48-hour ceasefire in Benin City which was just a short distance to Biafra.
This achievement of Pelé and his Brazilian Santos team proved to be an impetus for the team to return to Nigeria for two more such visits. Unfortunately, one of the visits coincided with the 1976 coup during which the Nigerian Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed, was assassinated. The match was unsuccessful and even the star of the game, Pelé had to be flown out of Nigeria under the disguise of an airline pilot. However, the last visit in 1978 was a success with a great turn-up of spectators to watch him play.
During his 2011 interview with CNN, Pele ecstatic and attested to the fact that he felt proud when the people stopped fighting for football. “…we stopped war because the people were so crazy for football- they stopped the war to see Santos play in Africa”.
However, the secession struggle for the Republic of Biafra was truncated as there was they surrendered to the Nigerian Army thereby rejoining Federal Nigeria in January 1970.