IT comes with a rude shock that Chief Emma Okocha, renowned author of Blood on the Niger, is no more.
Men take their places in history as soon as they pass on. As Ted Kennedy once told Barack Obama before he became President, men do not choose the time; the time chooses men – for the accomplishment of its mission.
Time chose Chief Emma Okocha to bear the burden of exposing to the world the blood that flowed on the River Niger and on Asaba land on October 6 and 7, 1967 – a burden for which he, as often happens to most true prophets, forfeited family, money, wife, children, everything, for the sole pursuit of the truth as documented in Blood on the Niger.
It is sad that Chief Emma Okocha did not live long enough to savour and celebrate his elevated chieftaincy title of Ikemba of Asaba which His Royal Highness, the Asagba of Asaba, Prof. Chike Edozien was to have conferred on him on November 28, 2020, a day before Chief Emma Okocha passed on. Instead, the title was posthumously bestowed on him officially on November 30, 2020.
Through Chief Emma Okocha’s pioneering work presented in Blood on the Niger, the Asaba Massacre, which the Nigerian government, with the complicity of Britain, did everything possible to cover up, was exposed to the international community.
After it was published in 2012, Blood on the Niger caught the attention of Professors Elizabeth Bird and Fraser Ottanelli, two anthropologists of international repute from the University of South Florida whose community-based research of the Asaba massacre in Nigeria produced the book entitled The Asaba Massacre, Trauma, Memory, and the Nigerian Civil War, first published July 31, 2017.
In a brief but powerful tribute to the late Chief Emma Okocha, professors Bird and Ottanelli wrote: “The loss of Chief Emma Okocha is a sad blow to the people of Asaba and beyond. His courageous and pioneering work uncovered the truth about the Asaba Massacre, setting the stage for the international recognition of this tragic event. He has earned an honoured place in the history of his nation.”
As a lad, Emma, who lost all members of his family in the Asaba Massacre, was saved by an Irish nun and taken to the Catholic Orphanage in Asaba from where he grew up and proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to study Journalism, and later to the University of Lagos for an advanced degree in Political Science and Conflict Resolution.
He was the publisher of the Washington, D.C-based USA Africa Magazine. Besides Blood on the Niger and countless articles, Chief Emma Okocha had authored Angola: The landing of the Cubans and Chad: The coercive outcome, as well as another work which was not completed before his death.
Chief Emma Okocha’s prominent place in history is highlighted in the fact that he holds one of the only two titles of ‘Ikemba’ in existence – the Ikemba of Asaba and Ikemba Nnewi (held by the late Biafran warlord, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu).
The Ikemba title was designated to him, and later bestowed on him posthumously by the Asagba of Asaba in recognition of the ‘battle of the pen’ he fought for his Asaba people by authoring the blood-curdling Blood on the Niger.
May his gentle soul rest in eternal peace.