In commemoration of the October 7, 1967 Asaba Massacre
By Osa Amadi
In August 2018, several decades after the end of the Second World War, 95 years old Jakiw Palij, a Nazi war criminal, was deported from American soil, where he had been hiding. Palij, in March 1944, among other roles, was assigned to the Deployment Company, whose mission included arresting suspected Jews and sending them to concentration camps.
The case of Jakiw Palij, the arrest and trial of other fugitive Nazi war criminals who had served in Adolf Hitler’s army are clear messages to all the soldiers in this world, especially soldiers (and even civilians) who played one role or the other in the Asaba Ogbeosowa Massacre, exactly 52 years ago today, on October 7, 1967, that there are no hiding places here or hereafter for participants in massacres and pogroms. Judgment and punishments may tarry, but they must surely come.
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As Asaba people and all Nigerians of good conscience shed tears afresh today in memory of thousands of Asaba sons, daughters, husbands, wives and even infants, who were massacred at Ogbeosowa killing ground by the Nigerian Army commanded by the late General Murtala Mohammed and Major Ibrahim Taiwo, we commiserate with them through the invocation of the most authoritative book ever written on that mass bloodshed, Blood on the Niger, by Emma Okocha, who, as a child, had witnessed but survived the pogrom.
Dr Cyril Uchenna Gwam
Dr Cyril Uchenna Gwam was also an eyewitness of the massacre. He had, in an interview with a national newspaper, described the Nigerian soldiers who committed the atrocities as evil: “They were evil! The Nigerian troops that came into Asaba came with the aim of eliminating every Asaba man as they thought they were fathers, brothers and uncles of Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, the leader of the first Nigerian coup in 1966 that killed Sardauna of Sokoto and Sir Ahmadu Bello. Major Nzeogwu was from Okpanam Town, which was five kilometres drive from Asaba. It would interest you to know that every Okpanam person regards himself or herself as an Asaba person. I would rather say those soldiers that came to Asaba were on a revenge mission and not after the Biafrans.”
One question Dr Cyril and many others have continued to ask is why the soldiers decided to kill unarmed, innocent civilians, saying it is against the international humanitarian to deliberately kill innocent civilian, whether in time of peace or war. “For me,” he said, it would be very difficult to forgive or forget the injury inflicted on the Asaba people.”
Professor Wole Soyinka
NOBEL Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, in October 2017, spoke against naming national institutions and infrastructure after leaders known to have committed grievous harm against humanity.
As a special guest of honour in Asaba at the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Asaba Massacre, Soyinka, said it is a desecration of the memories of innocent people killed by federal troops in 1967 to name our streets and important public infrastructure after them. For instance, he said, “How do we talk to future generations about corruption if they find a street named after Gen. Sani Abacha?…We do not say dig up Abacha’s remains and put in the evil forest, but do not leave lying around the provocative symbols, the trauma that this nation went through.”
Emma Okocha, Author
Time and time again, author of the tear-evoking book, Blood on the Niger, Emma Okocha, said the people of Asaba will continue to remember General Murtala Mohammed as a war commander of the Second Division of Nigerian Army who came to Asaba and had his hands filled with blood of innocent people who had no hand in the killing of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa: “He (Murtala Mohammed) was the butcher of Asaba people. He was the one central character who destroyed Asaba. He decided what happened in the Nigerian Civil War. He was on the move from Lagos to Benin and was heading to Nnewi in Anambra State. He killed our children, men and women who came out to welcome him to Asaba. It was a genocide that will remain indelible in the minds of our people.”
“We will never forget,” the author said. “We’ve erected war memorial at Ogbeosowa quarters…Although General Yakubu Gowon, the then Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Army came to Asaba and apologized to Asaba people…but it’s not like ordinary killing. Genocide is a deliberate planning of by a group to eliminate another group. The number of killings to make it genocide has to be massive. If you allow the perpetrators to go free, there is no guarantee that it won’t happen again.”
Blood on the Niger
Given that today, October 7, was in history, the day of Asaba Massacre, permit me to retell this story: On page 234, Mr. John Kanayo Hudson Odittah, a survivor of the first black-on black genocide popularly known as October 6 and 7, 1967 Asaba Massacre, gave an eyewitness account of how “at the Cable Point Area, hundreds of (Asaba) people were lined up by the River (Niger) bank (from where Nigeria derived her name) and ordered to walk into the River by the vandals (Nigerian Army). When they moved into a point where the water reached their waist, they were shot dead and their corpses carried away by the river (Niger)…at Ogbeosowa Square, the (Nigerian Army) vandals also collected thousands of men who they ordered to dig three large graves. After they had dug the graves, they were ordered to enter into the graves which they did and were all shot dead.”
Among the thousands of innocent people executed at Ogbeosowa killing ground on 7 October 1967 by Nigerian soldiers led by Col. Murtala Mohammed, Major Ibrahim Taiwo, and Major Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, were not more than 4-year old infants like Felix and Alphonsus Nwajei who were forced to join the men as they faced firing squads. “Babies were yanked away from their mothers’ breasts,” an eyewitness, Dr. Getrude Okogwu, narrated, “their heads bashed against concrete bitumen tar, their little bodies strewn under and rolled over by the monstrous tyres of the army supply vehicles.”
The story of Adaobi, a 16-year old virgin
Or what would you make of the story of Adaobi, a 16-year old virgin, set aside by the gods to serve as Priestess to the River Niger. Three Nigerian Soldiers raped Adaobi to death during the Asaba Massacre. Adaobi’s father told Emma Okocha: “You don’t know how powerful your River is…I told you I’m from Abor. Many Abor, Ndoni and Kwale families were killed at Cable Point. We live in Cable because the River has taken over our land. In those days, my daughter whose name was Adaobi was betrothed to the Omu family. She was sixteen. The Omu would stop by my house on her way to the Oniche Shrine down the River. She would take Adaobi along. She was getting initiated and as a Christian I wasn’t bothered about the details.
“Then the soldiers came and defiled her in my presence. For me, a titled ma, the Otibu-Ayiya of Abor, that was an abomination! She was a virgin, and apart from the fact that the eye does not see the ear, the three army rapists almost suffocated Adaobi, my young daughter, to death. “In my rage, I cared little about their guns when I charged. By the time it was all over I had lost an eye and those vandals beat me to a pulp. It was in the morning hours a day after the Omu as usual visited her daughter. She never said any word or blinked till the end of the story. She left for the River and returned with a large piece of white cloth and covered the poor girl.
The following morning, it was my sister who ran to the Omu with the sad news. Adaobi had bled to death!! The Omu returned with my sister and asked us to leave the house. She avoided the casket the family bought for Adaobi’s burial. “She lifted her with little effort and we were amazed that such an advanced woman could lift that 180 pound, 5feet, 9inches chubby girl without help. She never cried, shed tears, nor blinked. She took my daughter down the slopes of Cable Point to the River. Adaobi was buried somewhere there. I never had the courage to interfere and till this day there was no question from me, her mother, or my sister on why the Omu took away the corpse of my daughter.
“Four days later, the Priestess of the River, the Omu of Asaba, entered my house. Again, she was in all white. It was around 5:00 a.m. and she declared in the language of the water: On the portals of her Shrine/Before the presence of her messengers/Barbarians came to defile?/The virgin daughter of the River/Abomination is wrought their cause/Tribulation shall carry their cause/Their families a future cursed/ A generation to be born and lost/Oniche from strife always recaps/But never forgives her virgin rape/Tomorrow the land shall turn to water/And the water shall bury the land. “And Omu disappeared just like the way she had appeared.
I rushed to my door and the door was still locked. It had been locked since the previous night yet she had come in. “When I opened the door, the build up for the inversion of Onitsha had started. There were lots of activities down the River Niger Road to the River Port – hundreds of armored vehicles, artilleries, machine guns, etc., countless numbers of soldiers. Then the following morning, there was Armageddon! The River was afloat with thousands of dead soldiers by dusk, right till the next day.
The soldiers that attacked Adaobi were in the same boat with Lt. Usman, alias ‘White man no mercy’. Their disintegrated barge was the first to receive a direct hit from the Biafran shore-batteries. Lt. Usman and few others were still struggling when an amorphous monster, more of an alligator, surfaced. “White man no mercy” had been masticated alive.
The next morning, his two legs still in the black army boots and familiar bulala whips were found at the banks under the big Mango trees overlooking the River Niger killing spot. After the vultures had had their fill, the boots were never touched until the end of the war.” (P243-244)
Perhaps that is why General Gowon went to Asaba “to the very sands of the River Niger and prayed and apologized,” said Saint David Oputa. But what can one man’s apology do for a nation neck-deep in the blood of her innocent citizens? And yet, the blood level, like sea level, is still rising.
How did leaders of these murderers, General Murtala Mohammed and Major Ibrahim Taiwo end up? On February 13, 1976, Lt. Col Bukar Suka Dimka, who was deeply involved in the killing of innocent Igbos in Kaduna during the July 1966 counter coup, cornered General Murtala who was sitting in his car in a Lagos traffic holdup and cut his body into pieces with a machine gun. On the same day, Col. Ibrahim Taiwo was also beheaded by his mates. It was a coup against Murtala Mohammed.
Those who kill by the sword will also die by the sword. But even at that, the physical death of the individual sinner is not the end of his punishment. God tells us through the Bible that we should not be afraid of the person who only has power to destroy the body but has no power over the soul.
The person we should fear, says God, is the person who has power to both destroy the body and cast the soul into Hell Fire. So, both terrestrial and eternal punishment await all those who committed and condoned the Massacre of Igbos generally and Asaba people particularly.
God is merciful. If Nigeria genuinely repents and forsakes her evil ways and submits herself for thorough blood transfusion, she might obtain forgiveness and survive, otherwise, she must pay the supreme price – death, both of body and soul.