Asaba celebrates its war memories

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THE memories cannot fade. How would then? How can they? Families whose members became decorations on a killing field? A peaceful place by the bank of the River Nigeria became a field of blood, in one day, in October 50 years ago. Tears that never dry up, young people have become elders, bullet wounds that could have healed.

Scars are there. There is nothing anyone could do after the scars, nor the deeper wounds in the hearts of those who watched their relations killed, in the most dastardly manner. Men dressed in their best trooped out to welcome federal troops on their way to the Biafra. They were encouraged to appear at the square where a special message awaited them.

They did. What a special message awaited them. The men were separated and shot. The shooting continued until they were all presumed dead. Not all were dead. They are telling the story. It is a chilling story, it still brings tears to the eyes. Many are undecided on where to stand on it?

Is it a massacre? Is it genocide? The stories are not bothering with the niceties of definitions. The dead were men who had achieved, some killed with their young sons. When the shootings were finished, the dead could be counted, but the dead were not the issue as much as the living, who bear the burden of an issue they are learning to understand.

Men were marched to a point, orders given and the shoots kept ringing until they died. Who gave the orders? Why the killings in Asaba? Why are the killings being waved aside? Why did Nigerian soldiers shoot people who trooped out welcoming them, shouting and celebrating the arrival of Nigerian soldiers? Who can explain the killing?

Who gave a thought to the widows? What happened to the families of the killed? Who cares about their children? Why are some of perpetrators still gloating about the killings in Asaba which have a distinctness in their executions.

The killings, burning of the houses, the destruction of Asaba, are deeply ingrained in the hearts of the living. The people have opted for a peaceful resolution of their sad memories without revenge, without seeking compensations. They want history to properly document what happened. The scope of what happened in Asaba remains on the sides of history, more like on the fringes.

No family was spared of the memory of the genocide that almost annihilated whole families. Asaba people are building a memory centre within the hospital that would serve as the major memory of the dead. The history of the 1967 massacre are being preserved through books, documentaries, and a College of Midwifery that train some of the best deliverers of life, to preserve memories of October 2017.

Dr. Ofili Okonkwo, who is heading the committee for the memorials, explained that it would be a week of remembrances for the dead and for the living to heal from the bruises of the Asaba Massacre. Among those who confirmed their attendance at the colloquium include John Nnaia Nwodo, President Ohanaeze, Prof Wole Soyinka, Bishop Matthew Kuku, Donald Duke, former Governor of Cross River State, and Maj-Gen Ike Nwachukwu.

Some wish the memories were better as 5-7 October are dedicated to the events that wasted Asaba, so badly that the the best descriptions some have of them is “senseless”.

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