Emma Okocha is a journalist who speaks the truth with thunder and brimstone. His novel, `Blood on the Niger` is a graphic narration of the grotesque genocide visited on his people during the civil war.
In a recent chat in Asaba, he lampooned the negotiations between the federal government and some selected leaders of the Niger Delta. His argument is that the Buhari administration owes it a duty to address that genocide if the government is to be taken seriously. He also spoke on other related national issues.
By Julius Oweh
How do you see the recent meeting between the federal government and the leaders of the Niger Delta?
It is most welcome and good for the development of the nation. The issues of the Niger Delta militancy, the Boko Haram insurgency and the Biafra agitations, the federal government should talk to them and I am very happy. We are only left with the characters of the negotiators of the Niger Delta issue. I see my leader Chief Edwin Clark leading the people of the Niger Delta. I do not see the Anioma people been represented. Even though some of them might be there, what do they have as part of the package?
But the Delta state governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa was there?
The governor of Delta State cannot be totally relied on. He is there as the governor of Delta State and not necessarily as the leader of the Anioma people. Clark was there as the leader of the Ijaw people and not as a former minister.
I hope that the Niger Delta negotiation team will include the Anioma people, especially the Asaba people. The discussions should not be limited to the issues of oil and environmental degradation; the 1967 Asaba genocide must be included.
The federal government has not spoken of the genocide in Asaba during the civil war, so why are you linking it to the negotiations with the Niger Delta issues?
The federal government needs to include the Asaba 1967 genocide, the Okapi and Obiaruku gas emissions which are dangerous to the health of the people. Who are those people that are supposed to be of South/ South? Anioma is part of them and so the issue of Asaba genocide must be discussed. Amnesty should be extended to the Anioma people. We are not part of the amnesty. The Asaba genocide is a historical fact, proved beyond reasonable doubt. General Yakubu Gowon, a former head of state came to Asaba and apologised to the people.
Murtala Mohammed and Ibrahim Taiwo were behind Asaba killings and will not be forgiven. We are no longer at the stage of proving it. It is a historical fact and there is scientific collaboration with leading scholars from the University of Florida on that. What we need now is restitution and compensation before we solve other security issues like Boko Haram, the Fulani herdsmen menace, the Biafran agitation, the Asaba genocide issue must be addressed and solved.
If Odi in Bayelsa could get about 36 billion naira as compensation, the people of Asaba have a stronger and compelling case. The Asaba genocide wiped the best and elites of the people. The federal government accepted that there was genocide. The people of Isheagu, Ogwashi Uku and Asaba were exterminated during the war. The federal government cannot continue to live in a state of denial.
In the case of Asaba genocide, don`t see yourself as voice in the wilderness and that you have no home support?
I have support. You saw the recent Vanguard report authored by international scholars from the United States. I did not make the statements. The 1967Asaba genocide has national and international support and understanding. There are many oral interviews with Asaba people in world famous historical journals. So many Asaba people and other Nigerians who value justice and fair play are behind us. I lost my father and two brothers. I did not really know my parents.
As a journalist and a writer, I am not afraid to die the second time. I have support in Asaba and presently a monument to mark the event is standing in Asaba and there are always annual memorial of the event around the world. The Asaba Development Union and other social clubs are always keeping that memory alive and stressing the need for restitution. Arch Bishop Chukwuma is also a leader in that direction.
Apart from that Gowon apology, is there any apology from a serving head of state whether military or civil?
Ans: I do not know why there is this conspiracy of silence. The landmark history of Asaba people in 1967 pogrom , a lot of our people – Igbodo, Ogwashi-Uku, the Oloku brothers, seven of them were killed in one day. It is not a question of support or government acknowledgment. It is only the former governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan who acknowledged the genocide. He wrote a letter to the head of service to give us a piece of land for a monument.
Unfortunately that head of service lost the letter. I dedicated my last edition of my book to him because he is out of power `for his kind approval of a memorial`. The acknowledgment of the Asaba genocide by Uduaghan may be his greatest legacy for governance in Delta State. The Asaba genocide will be compensated internationally. Our papers will go to the world court at The Hague.
Were you to meet President Buhari, what would you tell him about his plan for Niger Delta and the Asaba genocide?
We are waiting for another week to present the case of the Asaba genocide. The whole negotiation with the Niger Delta leaders will remain hollow and meaningless as long as the Asaba genocide has not been addressed and the war damage to Nigerian cohesion.
Should the federal government agree to address the issue of Asaba genocide, in monetary terms, how much would your people demand?
I want to assure you that after the killings, in fairness to them, the federal government under General Gowon and Ogbemudia recognized the genocide. There was an inquiry about the Asaba genocide. The federal government signed the white paper recognising the genocide but was not able to pay compensation. We are not really interested in the money to be paid because we lost thousands of the best of Asaba people and no amount of money can replace that.
The perpetrators of this genocide should face justice and the federal government should do the right thing. Odi in Bayelsa state was paid 36 billion Naira by the federal government. Asaba, the mother of all genocide and violence deserves better. Boko Haram, Biafran agitation and the Niger Delta militancy pale into nothingness if you remember the Asaba genocide. If the Nigerian government fails to give us justice, we shall go to the world court at The Hague to get justice and restitution.