Emma Okocha is the author of the book “Blood on the Niger.” He is also a Human Rights crusader and conflict studies expert. He was recently honoured by the Asaba community for his pioneering work on Asaba massacre and for accurately telling the story of the genocide. In this chat with OSA AMADI, the author recounts blood-chilling events of the Asaba massacre which forms the thesis of his book, “Blood on the Niger.”
You received an award at the 50th anniversary of the Asaba massacre. What earned you the award?
It was for my pioneering work on the Asaba massacre which opened the way for other writers to join in exposing the genocide. For the community to acknowledge my dangerous sea sail without any compass and extend the same honour to some of my weary colleagues was to me, the climax of that event. It is like a balm to my broken back.
My family may in due course return to me. Presently, I have no relations because they believed I had wasted my career and endangered my life for this struggle.
The chairman of the organising committee, Ogbueshi Alban Okonkwo, should also be congratulated for pushing for me and those honoured colleagues despite our principled differences and colliding definitions of the Asaba genocide narrative.
What are those differences?
The chairman argues that for the community to resurge and experience rebirth, the people should forgive the butchers. We on the other side, reject that stand because there is no place for forgiveness in the genocide register.
It is not a matter of choice. Come to think of it, one murderer is never forgiven whenever our legal system declares a suspect a murderer. Can you now imagine a situation where over five thousand people fell on the day the Second Division landed in town….?
I forgive some ill-informed members of the committee who postulate that 700 youths were killed. The correct figure is far from this conservative estimate awarded to Ogbeosowa. The killings at Ogbeke Square were more than 500. The killings at present day NECAB/St. Joseph’s Catholic Church were more than 800. At AGGS and SPC Asaba, you could count over 1,000 dead.
This was confirmed by the Nigerian Chaplain of the Nigerian Army, Rev. Pedro Martins and the late Father Ossia from Obamkpa. The killing that happened opposite the present Police Headquarters recorded more than 500 shot victims. That is why that piece of property is uninhabitable till this day. Every 4am, eerie, terrible voices disturb the peace of the night because the thousands buried there were victims of the same genocide.
Before Ogbeosowa, the killings at SPC, opposite the Police Headquarters, etc., the whole town was a bloody mess with corpses of the murdered lying on every street, meat for dogs and pigs. Those numbers are uncountable.
There were those who were not Asaba people, who didn’t participate in the procession from the villages to Ogbeke and finally to the slaughter ground of Ogbeosowa. Those victims were uncountable. These Nigerians were mainly from Ndokwa, Aboh and Ukwuani areas and have been here since the turn of the last century, trading in fish and slaughtered near the Brigade areas down the river.
Of course, in the Cable Point area, there were massive killings and burning of houses. Many died when their houses and properties were burnt to ashes. It was at Cable Point that my father and two of my brothers were shot into the River Niger after the soldiers identified his name in the Master list from Benin City. The greatest number of death was registered when soldiers were killing and dumping bodies into the river.
When the Biafrans collapsed the bridge, hundreds of fleeing Asaba refugees were buried down the river together with the fallen debris of the bridge. So, we feel insulted when some of my own brothers are pleading for the perpetrators and spilling out numbers that don’t match the scope of the calamity that was the plight of our people on October 7, 1967.
Indeed, many Asaba families as a result of that war have ceased to exist. Families like the Ezeadiefe, Wemeambu, Ojogwo and the Chukwuras, who suffered over six dead in one day….may never forgive anybody that is singing the forgiveness anthem.
Many people who survived the bullets did not make the gory aftermath. The trauma of losing bread winners, life partners, beloved little children and the anguish of staring every day at the burnt debris of your home, etc., these are the unrecorded trauma that killed most of the victims even after the war had ended.
What is the major thesis of your book, Blood on the Niger?
In his foreword to the book, Chief P.C. Asiodu, who was a member of General Gowon’s war Cabinet stressed that our account of the tragic event at Asaba, Ibusa, Ogwashi-Ukwu, Isheagu is succinct, and that the narrative is based on a long painstaking research. He had in his own introductory lines concurred the thesis of our study, when he explained that “at Asaba and environs from October 2 to October 7, 1967, horrible massacres were committed by the Federal troops, hundreds of men were slaughtered as a result of cold, deliberate planning.
Men of all ages, teenagers and septuagenarians were shot in cold blood.” I am fulfilled that we were able to document the names of these victims, the villages, the communities and for every year, a new edition comes out with fresh names that were not included in the last edition.
Why do people keep talking about peace without mentioning the word ‘Justice’?
Asaba will never be stampeded into supporting any new narrative that diminishes the calamity that was the genocide of October 7, 1967. Before the arrival of the two Human Rights Crusaders, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka and Archbishop Kukah, Barrister Nduka Eze and I were in the minority opposing the frightening new narrative being imposed on our people. The two giants won the debate back to us. Finally, the Asagba of Asaba, Prof. Chike Edozien, ended the debate when he decreed that Asaba would seek and stand for Justice.
We hear you are working on another book that has to do with Nzeogwu, the leader of the 1966 coup. Could you tell us about it?
The Nzeogwu thunderbolt is ready, but as you know, Emma Okocha is a poor reporter and a very poor writer. Unlike our foreign collaborators who have lots of grants, we have nobody to sponsor the type of earthquake chronicle that our mission has brought to our path. Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu was the first and the last Nigerian Revolutionary.