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Florida autumn retreat: Asaba, Kingdom on the Niger, unites to bury her dead

By Emma Okocha

“On the grant of the Charter to the company in July 10, 1886, the man to whom Goldie turned to as Chief Justice was Sir James Marshall. The headquarters was at Asaba.’’ — Oluwole, T. S. Elias, Makers of Nigerian Law, Lagos 1963.

Also See Gills Geography, Text in use up to 1912, it was clearly stated that Asaba was the capital of Southern Nigeria.
“The greatest single massacre occurred in the Ibo town of Asaba where 700 Ibo male were lined up and shot’’  — London Observer, January 21, 1968.

“There has been genocide, for example on the occasion of the 1966 massacres….Two areas have suffered badly …Firstly, the region between Benin and Asaba where only widows and orphans remain. Federal troops having for unknown reasons massacred all the men. Accordingly to eyewitnesses of that massacre the Nigeria commander ordered the execution of every Ibo male over the age of ten years’’ — Monsignor Georges[sent down on a fact -finding mission by His Holiness The Pope,] Le Monde, April 5, 1968.

“In every Sport, SBA, other wise called the Hurricane, brought into the game three elements; speed, strength and his own unique style of playing the game, once he mastered the techniques. Despite his star status,and  unequaled achievements, he was unassuming. Nobody who was his contemporary at Igbobi College, Lagos, who knew Sydney Asiodu can fail to end up feeling that in him the civil war, took not just somebody, but a great leader of men.’’ — Dele Sobowale, Impressionistic Columnist, Vanguard, and Editor In Chief, The Igbobian, lamenting the wanton waste of young men and the senseless killing of the Nigerian decorated Olympian , Sydney Asiodu on the day of the Asaba Massacre.

“The Western Ibos became the most vulnerable Nigerians… required ten positive acts of loyalty to one of the rest of the nation to prove themselves human beings. Ever since the Midwest invasion, they had been hounded, killed and considered greater security risk than the real Igbos themselves’’ — Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, The Man Died.

“In the spirit of Christian reconciliation accept my apologies on behalf of the Federal Military Government on the activities of the soldiers in Asaba during the Nigerian Civil war. I’m sorry for what happened especially to those who lost families….I hope Asaba people will accept this apology even if it is belated….’’ — General YakubuGowon , Apology To Asaba, Nigeria Prays, The Guardian, September 21, 2001.

There were families like the Chukwurahs of Umuaji, who at the end of the mayhem had fifteen dead. Another Chukwurah family from the different village of Umunaje, that is the quarters of the late, renowned Nigerian Constitutional lawyer, Olisa Chukwurah, SAN, counted their relations’ dead bodies, watching the horrible footage on the Western Nigeria Television.

Pa Chukwurah and all his sons, including Eddy, the handsome engineer who had just returned from England, his first son who was a veteran of the West African Force, were not spared as the soldiers painted the household with blood.

Others like the Ezeadeife family of Ugbomanta, did not fare better. They were simply wiped out! University of Ife undergraduate brothers, Akazua Oyana and Uwaegbunam Oyana were shot, wounded, and when the illiterate soldiers figured out that they were undergraduates, they furiously before their pleading mother, buried the bleeding brothers alive.

There were the pathetic cases of victims whose death caused revolution and sympathies even from their butchers. Until their death some twenty years after, the Omoko parents never recovered from the traumatic loss of their only son, Barrister Richard Omoko. Their constant mourning and inconsolable hopelessness eventually led to their deaths.

The mother of another only born, Chukwumah killed at Ogbeosowah was for many years in a state disbelief, refusing to acknowledge the fact that her only and innocent son had gone. When she eventually summoned courage to accept his passage she ran amock and since has been roaming the streets like a mad woman.

Indeed, Barrister Omoko’s death was so pathetic and more saddening when the parents learnt that they could not find his body.

The parents had continued to pray and hoped that he had escaped to Biafra. Unable to bear the personal guilt anymore, the Omoko parents were accosted one morning, by the same soldiers that dispatched their son into the River Niger. They confessed their murder of their son and presented the shocked parents with the Barrister’s golden watch, which they had forcefully taken from him before shooting him into the Niger.

They were countless professionals, medical doctors, like Dr. Eugene Akwule, and his brothers, educationists, like irreplaceable E.C. Philips MBE., top civil servants like my uncle, the late Vincent Iweze, former territorial Controller, P&T, Northern Nigeria. This man who had a red line with the mighty Sardauna was murdered with my father and his sons, to the chagrin of the commanders when the deed was over.

The big men in town on October 7, 1967, were not spared. On the other hand, Asaba was almost spared as the richest black man of that era stepped out to buy the town away from trouble. Michael Ugo who was the pioneer business mogul that owned the Ike Chukwuka Transport Lines that preceded the Ojukwu group or the EkeneDili Transport Lines, also owned the Nigeria Airmails and was the first African to establish the Export /Import business at Apapa.

His real estate empire was so vast, that any young man who came down to Lagos and had no place to shelter him, Chief Ugo would provide him with a place under the sun. He offered the soldiers some millions of pounds. There was initial agreement to save the town from mostly Northern officers who were negotiating in Hausa with Ugo.

Suddenly, this time from predominantly officers of Niger Delta origin a master list of prominent Asaba indigenes were circulated. These red eyed officers burnt the Mercedes car with the cash and came for him. Before he left for the killing ground he asked for his friend Ogbueshi Leo Okogwu. He was aware that this famous father of Nneka Mariam Babangida, had prepared the Community’s Welcome Address.

They had planned to give the victorious Nigerian soldiers the traditional Asaba welcome reverie the latter would never forget. After all, Ugo had unlimited resources, started as the Army’s Paymaster General and he Leo Okogwu is very well known in the north, had worked all his life in the region and was their peerless in law.

His fourth wife is a northerner and she had adapted very well in Asaba and could speak the sexy Ibo dialect like Queen Elizabeth could speak the Queens English.

•Next Week… Ogbeosuwah… And the Asaba Florida Quest to Bury their Dead And Seek Reconciliation


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