Prof. Emma Okocha

By Emeka Obasi

Just when we were about to celebrate this great scholar who rose from the ashes of the Asaba genocide, death came like a thief to snatch him away. Prof. Emma Okocha wrote until the worst happened. What many did not want to be exposed, he did and in the process was also an instrument of reconciliation.

Okocha lost the greater part of his family during the Civil War when troops commanded by Maj. Ibrahim Adetunji Taiwo embarked on a bizarre killing spree in Asaba and other parts of the Igbo speaking areas in today’s Delta State. His book, Blook On The Niger, painted a gruesome picture of what really transpired. The globe was shocked to read how women turned undertakers, burying their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers since it was rare to find any living male above the age of 13. They had been mowed down by machine gunfire.

Okocha and I were constantly in touch. We exchanged ideas especially on a book he was working on. It had to do with the Biafran Navy. Somehow,  he believed I knew so much about the Nigerian military. And lucky me, anytime he called to confirm a story or get additional information, I turned out useful. Something strange happened on November 10, 2020.

In his usual manner, the man called and put two questions to me. I can’t remember the first but the second had to do with  Flavour the musician. Unfortunately,  I could not give him an answer. WE laughed over it when I was reminded that I had never failed his test. And that has turned out to be the last test.

I also picked so much from Okocha, a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka who was so many things at the same time. He was exceptional in sports. Okocha played competitive soccer, was Sports Editor of Jim Nwobodo’s Satellite newspapers, Enugu and served as Chairman Delta State Sports Commission. A book on Enugu Rangers which he co-authored remains a best seller.

It was through Okocha I knew that Col. Afaha Nsudoh was the only Biafran officer who has flown abroad for treatment during the war. Brave Brigade commander, he did not give up when his belly was ripped open by enemy fire.

The story was that he packed his intestines back into his stomach and continued to fight. General Emeka Ojukwu had to force Nsudoh’s evacuation to the United States for medical help. I thought all Biafran injuries were handled by world-class doctors who performed rare feats under adverse conditions.

Okocha called me when printer’s devil caused my column to refer to Professor Okwudiba Nnoli as late. I did a story on the Political Science teacher who spent time at the University of Dar Es Salam,  Tanzania where Ugandan President,  Yoweri Kaguta Museveni studied as one of his students. Okocha met Nnoli at  Nsukka and reminded me that Nnoli and Ray Ofoegbu were socialists who lived austere lives and were known for riding bicycle to classes as lecturers.

I did not know that Ofoegbu, who later served as Dee Sam Mbakwe’s commissioner for Information, was a Biafran officer who stood behind, I guess,  General Philip Effiong as Aide de Camp (ADC).

I am sure General Yakubu Gowon will be a sad man at this moment. He was at Asaba during Yuletide last year and made some emotional remarks. The former Nigerian leader was at the palace of the Asagba of Asaba,  Prof. Chike Edozien to pay condolences over the death of the King’s younger brother. Gowon was ignored but he refused to leave. The Asagba was forced to flee during the war because the Nigerian government wanted his head. Ezenwanyi Modupe Edozien had to plead for Gowon to be allowed in.

Gowon seized the opportunity to apologise for the Asaba genocide and regretted not knowing the whole truth until he read Okocha’s book. Blood On the Niger. Gowon said if he had known that Asaba was turned to a human abattoir, he would have treated the issue as important during his tenure.

A man of humour, Gowon thanked the Asagba for honouring Okocha with the title of Ikemba Ahaba. He said an earlier Ikemba, Chief Emeka Ojukwu was his friend and it was good news that another friend had been given a similar title. The general, on realising that the Asagba’s wife, Modupe,  was a granddaughter of Herbert Macaulay, remarked that  Macaulay looked very much like his( Gowon’s ) elder brother.

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Okocha crowned Ogbueshi Mkpagbu in 2014 had been elevated to Ikemba by the Asagba. The previous holder of the Ikemba title, Col. Joe Oseloka Achuzia, was a Biafran Army General Officer Commanding (GOC). Okocha did not fight for Biafra as a soldier but he fell in love with the position of GOC which he acquired as a civilian and held on to the nickname among his friends.

Okocha and I planned to do a lot together. He tried to convince me that contrary to popular belief in Biafran circles that Admiral Allison Madueke defected from the Biafran Navy to the Federal side, the Inyi, Oji River son was a Biafran all through and remains one of the unsung heroes of the war. I was shocked to hear that. Okocha wanted me to hear it from the horses mouth and planned for a phone call by the former Nigerian Chief of Naval Staff.

There was one task I refused to carry out. Okocha needed to hear from Adm. Akin Aduwo, Chief of Naval Staff during the Shagari presidency. I told him I knew he worships at Methodist Church, Opebi,  Lagos where I had seen him twice as a guest but the 30-day governor of Western State put me off completely in an interview to mark his 75th birthday in 2013. What he said then made me see him in a different light.

In that interview,  Aduwo painted Commander Anthony Achukwu Ogwiji in very bad light. The latter was executed in March 1986 on allegations that he was part of the Mamman Vatsa coup of December 1985. In blaming Ogwiji, the former described him as an Easterner. And Aduwo said no other naval officer had been involved in coup planning. His words:”…he(Ogwiji) gave the Navy a bad name. No one,  no officer or naval personnel was ever involved in any coup planning, was ever associated with any coup plans.”

Aduwo spoke in 2013. Ogwiji was Idoma, from Benue State, there was no way he could have hailed from the East. Ogwiji too was not a small fish. He enlisted in 1969 and his last job was Commanding Officer NNS OloKunu which was NNS Beecroft before Aduwo himself changed the name. And by that time, three other naval officers had been charged with treason. Commander L.Fabiyi,  NN430 was arrested because of the 1995 coup and sent to jail in Sokoto. Lt. Cdr. N.N. Soetan, NN0739, was tried, discharged and acquitted in 1997. Lt. Olowookere was jailed in Wukari.

I wondered why Aduwo could show such disdain. His wife hailed from Obuama in the former Eastern Region and one of his pals, Commander Paschal Jacob Odu, hailed from the East. During the war, Aduwo’s warship, NNS Ogoja, bore the name of a town in the Eastern Region, not far from Calabar, where he commanded NNS Anansa in 1964. It is said that Aduwo and Odu faced themselves in one of the sea battles. Aduwo defeated his friend.

And in a show of true friendship,  Aduwo asked his friend to join him on NNS Ogoja after the Biafran warship which was the same NNS Ibadan had been neutralised. Odu walked away. After that battle, the Biafran Navy had no capacity to risk a big sea war. Okocha planned to find a way to Aduwo’s abode. That would not happen and maybe the book may be missing something.

I informed Okocha about the passage of Col. Lambert Ihenacho, the man who took part in the recapture of Owerri. Unlike Madueke, there was no doubt about Ihenacho’s loyalty. Ihenacho trained at the Hailey Selassie Imperial Military Academy, Harar, Ethiopia and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in 1965. He did not rise beyond the rank of colonel after he was reabsorbed by the Nigeria Army. Madueke was luckier. HE retired as a Rear Admiral and rose to the post on of CNS.

As usual, because Nigeria lacks the will to learn from History,  Okocha’s demise may not mean anything to those in power. I was actually looking forward to Okocha meeting Maj. Gen. Ahmed Taiwo, whose father Maj. Ibrahim Taiwo commanded the troops that bloodied Asaba. We all saw the younger Taiwo on TV speaking for the Army after the Lekki Toll Gate shootings.

Taiwo spoke as a one-star general. Many remembered the Asaba genocide. During the war, Nigeria denied there was genocide in Asaba. Recently, Nigeria denied there was shooting at the Lekki Toll Gate. There were different and discordant voices. Defence headquarters described it as photo trick. Minister of Justice talked about fake soldiers. It was when Gen. Taiwo appeared for the Army that we got to hear that soldiers did not kill but they were invited by the Lagos State Government.  Before anyone could shout Asaba, Taiwo became a two-star general. And news also came from Asaba that GOC was gone.

Okocha will reunite with his parents in the Land of the dead. He will tell them that Asaba has grown to become the capital of Delta State. That in Nigeria, blood is the river that flows beyond the Niger. Blood flows everywhere, from Niger to Benue. Lake Chad is red with blood. In Kaduna, you have a daily harvest of dead bodies. Foreigners are wondering where we left our humanity. The Lagos Lagoon is oozing with unknown bodies of protesters annihilated by unknown soldiers.

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