By Gabriel Peters
Preparatory to the 2018 commemoration of the Asaba Massacre on October 5-7, 2018, the Asaba Community has empanelled the Asaba Memorial Foundation under the seal and direction of the town’s traditional ruler; Asagba of Asaba, the Advisory Council and the Asagba-in-Council.
The Foundation, which has been formally incorporated, will act for and on behalf of the Asaba Community on all matters pertaining to the Asaba Massacre of 1967.
It will therefore be part of the foundation’s mandate to oversee the 2018 edition of the Asaba Massacre Memorial scheduled for October 5-7, 2018 in Asaba. A major highlight of this year’s commemoration of the tragic death of over 700 indigenes of the community who were massacred by the federal troops during the Nigerian Civil War in October 1967 will be the official opening of the secretariat of the Asaba Memorial Foundation.
A statement by Chief Nicholas Chizea, Oshimili Atata of Asaba, who is also the Chairman, Caretaker Committee, Asaba Development Union explained that the importance of the foundation to the community is underlined by the highly respected personalities that constitute its Board of Trustees with the Asagba of Asaba, Prof. Chike Edozien as Chairman. Others include Chief Sonny Odogwu as Vice Chairman, Chief Philip Asiodu, Chief (Prof.) Emmanuel Edozien, Prof. Joy Ogwu and Chief Nicholas Chizea.
Other eminent citizens nominated to serve in the various organs include Iyase of Asaba Chief P.I.G Onyeobi, Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma, Omu (Dr.) Ada Biosah, Chief Ubaka Attoh, Obi Godfrey Konwea, Obi Michael Odiaka, Chief (Dr.) Ngozi Allanah, Chief John Edozien, Prof. Emmanuel Nwanze, Chief Tony Ashiofu, Ms. Claire Chizea, Dr. Gertrude Ogunkeye, Chief (Prof.) Epiphany Azinge, Chief (Dr.) Tony Idigbe, Chief Victor Nwosa, Rt. Hon. Peter Onwusanya and Dr. Ify Uraih. Others are Mr. Ibe Udobi, Mr. Fabian Oweazim, Dr. Sam Okonta, Mr. Godfrey Odogwu, Mr. Okey Ofili, Prof. Fidelis Njokanma, Mr. Emma Okocha, Chief Ugbade Okotcha, Mr. Peter Ejiofor, Mr. Emma Diali, Mr. Uche Uraih, Mr. Alban Ofili-Okonkwo and a host of others.
Chizea disclosed that the major objects of the Foundation include the need to act for and on behalf of Asaba on all matters pertaining to the Asaba Massacre of 1967 including the support for victims and survivors and development of monuments and other memorial structures. It also behoves on the foundation to organize the annual commemoration of the anniversary of the Asaba Massacre and institute a Memorial Lecture Series aimed at promoting dialogue and the peaceful coexistence and unity of the people of Nigeria and the world. It will also design, build and manage a world class Maternity and Children’s hospital with a College of Midwifery, as a befitting dedicatory for the Massacred.
Chizea further avowed that the foundation will set-up a secretariat in Asaba with an Advisory Board, a Project Team, a Legal Team and Management Team and design, develop and manage a comprehensive and empirical database and record of the fatalities, victims, survivors and damages/injuries of the Asaba Massacre. It will Create and manage an Asaba Memorial Fund and liaise with National and International Agencies including well-meaning individuals to raise funds for Asaba. It will on behalf of the community engage the Nigerian Government in the resolution of all issues pertaining to compensations, reparations and donations, and siting of institutions and other developmental projects in Asaba, aimed at bringing healing and closure to the people of Asaba. He emphasized that the Foundation is also mandated to organise the memorial lecture series aimed at promoting dialogue, peaceful co-existence and unity among Nigerians and all peoples of the world.
Commenting on the importance of the annual event, the Asagba of Asaba said, “It is important we mark this event for posterity. Asaba Massacre is too tragic to be wished away by mere passage of time. While we no longer bear grudges, it is difficult to forget that on October 7, 1967, over 700 innocent and defenceless indigenes of Asaba were mowed down with machine guns and other weapons assembled not to fight the Biafra soldiers, but to eliminate men and youth in the most brutal manner.
Not even the most ruthless emperor could have ordered the mass killings of a people who did nothing to offend their killers, except that they speak the language of the enemy the killers were pursuing.” Recounting the tragic event of October 1967 at the press conference, Chief Patrick Onyeobi, the Iyase (Traditional Prime Minister) of Asaba, said the Nigerian soldiers had accused the natives of showing solidarity to Biafra and for collaborating with her soldiers in invading the community from where they made successful advance into the West, as far as Ore in present-day Ondo state. The soldiers thereafter settled in Asaba as the Onitsha end of the Niger bridge had been destroyed by the retreating Biafra soldiers to frustrate the advancing federal soldiers who turned their angst against the people of Asaba.
The annual event will also be used to assess the milestone on the various memorial projects launched last year towards keeping the spirit of Asaba Massacre alive among the generations. These include a world-class hospital and maternity sited at Ogbe-Osowa, the location where the massacre occurred. It will be called ‘My Place of Birth Hospital & Maternity’, to serve as symbol of life and not death. It will also include a College of Midwifery to train health workers to acquire advanced expertise in their profession of saving lives.
As earlier explained by the Asagba-in-Council, the challenge of grappling with memories of the horrible incident was the major reason it took 50 years to institute the memorial projects. The facilities will be open to all Nigerians and citizens of all nations across the globe, including the herdsmen given the nomadic nature of their occupation, to demonstrate our spirit of forgiveness notwithstanding the tragic nature of the sad incident.
The community, under the auspices of ‘Asaba 7 October Memorial Group’, hosted a memorable 50th anniversary of the event in October 2017, with the theme: “In Pursuit of Rebirth”.
Among prominent personalities that graced the 50th anniversary last year were Delta state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa; former Vice-President, Dr Alex Ekwueme; Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka; Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Catholic Diocese of Sokoto; President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, John Nwodo; former chairman, All Progressive Congress (APC), John Odigie-Oyegun, and Senator Ike Nwachukwu.
Former Cross River State governor, Donald Duke chaired the occasion during which a publication, “The Asaba Massacre: Trauma, Memory and the Nigerian Civil War” by S. Elizabeth Bird and Fraser Ottanelli, Professors of Anthropology and History respectively at University of South Florida, USA, was unveiled. The event was preceded by a world press conference held at the Palace of the Asagba of Asaba.
Part of Bird and Ottanelli’s book contains graphic account of the heartless Asaba Massacre: “The progress of Federal troops toward Asaba could be measured by the approaching sound of heavy guns and the rattling of machine-gun fire. Within the first twenty-four hours of ‘ferocious’ shelling, Asaba suffered its first victims. Twenty four hours of torture later turned to days, and from October 2 to 7, 1967, hundreds were slaughtered. Despite wearing akwa ocha – a white cloth that symbolises peace – and pledging allegiance to ‘One Nigeria’, the men were singled out, shot and ‘wasted.’ Women and children raped and/or forced into marriage.”