• Asaba Genocide has no room for forgiveness
• Biafra is every Igbo man’s obsession
• 40% of youth, 30% of elders (i.e 70%) want an independent Biafran State
• Biafra has to exit for Nigeria to work
• Asaba can’t abandon Eastern Igbo; they were kind to us during the war
• The butchers of Asaba must face ultimate justice
Emma Okocha is the author of the classic “Blood on the Niger,” the first book that opened the world’s eye to the bestial killing of thousands of unarmed males of Asaba origin by Nigerian soldiers during the Biafra-Nigeria War of 1967. He is also a human rights crusader and conflict studies expert. For his pioneering work on AsabaMassacre and for accurately telling the story of the genocide,he was recently honoured by the Asaba community.
In this chat with JONATHAN AWANYAI, the author recounts blood-chilling events of the Asaba Massacre, which form the thesis of his book, “Blood on the Niger”,explaining why he feels the massacre is unforgivable.He also speaks on some exigent national issues and the re-emergence of pro-Biafra agitations 50 years after the Civil War.
Why do u feel that the Asaba genocide is unforgivable?
I was a member of the committee that hosted the 50th anniversary of the Asaba massacre but some of us in the committee do not share the views of the Chairman and his group, especially his unwarranted outbursts and pronouncements on the Asaba genocide. Without any mandate and lacking in the understanding of what our community went through, the gentleman said Asaba has forgiven the genocide. That was undermining our strenuous 30-year cliff mountain climb to establish Asaba as world recognized genocide victimized community.
There are several principled differences and colliding definitions of the Asaba genocide narrative. What are those differences? The chairman argues that for the community to resurge and experience rebirth, the people should forgive the butchers. We on the other side, reject that stand because there is no place for forgiveness in the genocide register. It is not a matter of choice. Come to think of it, one murderer is never forgiven whenever our legal system declares a suspect a murderer.Now, compare that to the extremity of the deliberate killing of one group, like in the case of Asaba. Can you now imagine a situation where over 5,000 people fell on the day the Second Division landed in town?
There is nothing like forgiveness in the proven cases of genocide by victimised communities all over the world. Since the proclamation of genocide as a crime against humanity, there is nothing like forgiveness in that register.
Genocide is not like a communal crisis; it is not even a case of nation against nation in a war but a deliberate killing on a massive level by a group aimed at exterminating another group.
The soldiers were told that Asaba was the home community of Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, the man who carried out the revolution of January 15 1966, so Asaba was planned out. There was a deliberate concession by the army to wipe out Asaba and they did. There was also the issue of our neighbours, the Urhobos and the people of Benin who saw the opportunity to level up with the educated western Igbos–talking about the master plan. These are proven cases of deliberate co-plan.
The crime, because of its savagery, is unforgivable and unforgettable. What is happening today in the Korean peninsula in many ways can be traced to World War 11. Korea has not forgiven the Japanese atrocities, including the rape of their women. Christian Armenia is not contemplating forgiveness for the Turks that decimated their population. Ditto for the Jews. The Israeli Intelligence would haunt you down even if you are about to die until you answer for your holocaust extremities. In Africa, Rwanda will retain the Tutsi President forever as the Hutsi Genocide that took out thousands of people is never going to be forgotten or forgiven.
The people who went about preaching “forgiveness” were never authorized to do so. They were not given the authority to step into such sensitive area. We cannot forgive such deliberate attempt at exterminating us.
The Chairman made the declaration without any authorisation and with that pronouncement of forgiveness attempted to destroy our over 30-year struggle establishing Asaba as a genocide victimized community.
Will the victims of Asaba Massacre ever get justice?
The people of Odi in Bayelsa got justice after their genocide attack.However, compared to the victims of Odi attack who were mostly fishermen, the victims of Asaba massacre had doctors, lawyers, accountants among them.My father who was killed during the genocide was a chief accountant, so also was the man who started import and export business in West Africa, the father of Maryam Babangida and many others who were killed and we never received any justice.
The question is “why is it that Asaba that has proved its case beyond any reasonable doubt and has been admitted into the United Nations Committee of genocide communities yet to get justice?”
We will continue in the struggle to get justice. We have been to Oputa panel over our issue, and we are also worried that other victimized communities have been compensated and Asaba remains forgotten even after 50 years of the incident. The butchers must face the ultimate justice. The story of Asaba massacre during the Nigerian Civil War remained untold for long due to the concerted plan to carpet the story after the heinous crime was committed. The story was carpeted over the years.
I was the first to un-carpet the story through my book “Blood on the Niger”. For anybody to preach forgiveness shows that that person is not properly informed and nobody can change the over 50 years of Asaba genocide narrative.
Why do people keep talking about peace without mentioning the word ‘Justice’? Asaba will never be stampeded into supporting any new narrative that diminishes the calamity that was the genocide of October 7, 1967. Before the arrival of the two Human Rights Crusaders, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka and Archbishop Kukah, Barrister NdukaEze and I were in the minority opposing the frightening new narrative being imposed on our people. The two giants won the debate back to us. Finally, the Asagba of Asaba, Prof.ChikeEdozien, ended the debate when he decreed that Asaba would seek and stand for justice.
Exact casualty figures involved in the genocide?
I forgive some ill-informed members of the committee who postulate that 700 youths were killed. The correct figure is far from this conservative estimate awarded to Ogbeosowa. The killings at Ogbeke Square were more than 500. The killings at present day NECAB/St. Joseph’s Catholic Church were more than 800. At AGGS and SPC Asaba, you could count over 1,000 dead. This was confirmed by the Nigerian Chaplain of the Nigerian Army, Rev. Pedro Martins and the late Father Ossai from Obamkpa. The killing that happened opposite the present Police Headquarters recorded more than 500 shot victims. That is why that piece of property is uninhabitable till this day. Every 4am, eerie, terrible voices disturb the peace of the night because the thousands buried there were victims of the same genocide.
Before Ogbeosowa, the killings at SPC, opposite the Police Headquarters, etc., the whole town was a bloody mess with corpses of the murdered lying on every street, meat for dogs and pigs. Those numbers are uncountable. There were those who were not Asaba people, who didn’t participate in the procession from the villages to Ogbeke and finally to the slaughter ground of Ogbeosowa. Those victims were uncountable. These Nigerians were mainly from Ndokwa, Aboh and Ukwuani areas and have been here since the turn of the last century, trading in fish and were slaughtered near the Brigade areas down the river.
Of course, in the Cable Point area, there were massive killings and burning of houses. Many died when their houses and properties were burnt to ashes. It was at Cable Point that my father and two of my brothers were shot into the River Niger after the soldiers identified his name in the Master list from Benin City. The greatest number of death was registered when soldiers were killing and dumping bodies into the river. When the Biafrans collapsed the bridge, hundreds of fleeing Asaba refugees were buried down the river together with falling debris from the bridge. So, I feel insulted when some of my own brothers are pleading for the perpetrators and spewing out numbers that don’t match the scope of the calamity that was the plight of our people on October 7, 1967.
Indeed, many Asaba families as a result of that war have ceased to exist. Families like the Ezeadiefe, Wemeambu, Ojogwo and the Chukwuras, who suffered over six dead in one day, may never forgive anybody that is singing the forgiveness anthem. Many people who survived the bullets did not make the gory aftermath. The trauma of losing bread winners, life partners, beloved little children and the anguish of staring every day at the burnt debris of your home, etc., these are the unrecorded trauma that killed most of the victims even after the war had ended.
What is the major thesis of your book, Blood on the Niger?
In his foreword to the book, Chief P.C. Asiodu, who was a member of General Gowon’s war Cabinet stressed that our account of the tragic event at Asaba, Ibusa, Ogwashi-Ukwu, Isheagu is succinct, and that the narrative is based on a long painstaking research. He had in his own introductory lines concurred with the thesis of our study, when he explained that “at Asaba and environs from October 2 to October 7, 1967, horrible massacres were committed by the Federal troops, hundreds of men were slaughtered as a result of cold, deliberate planning. Men of all ages, teenagers and septuagenarians were shot in cold blood.”
I am fulfilled that we were able to document the names of these victims, the villages, the communities and for every year, a new edition comes out with fresh names that were not included in the last edition.
Your view on renewed pro-Biafra agitations.
I strongly believe that Biafra has to leave for Nigeria to survive. Biafra has to exit so that Nigeria will be a working nation. Look at little North Korea; when they sneeze, the world catches cold. Is Korea more powerful than Biafra? Is Korea more scientifically inclined or do they have more potentials than Biafra?
It is unfair to say that Biafra will not be free. Biafra is the obsession and major interest of every Igbo man. It is sacred.
We from Asaba, even though geographically tied to Nigeria,cannot abandon the Igbo of the East. During the civil war, our people didn’t run to Benin or Warri but to the East. That is because the refugee passage from war zones determine where they come from or where they have their sympathies during the war. The Igbo were very friendly to us.
From my perspective, Biafra means the inability of Nigeria to become a nation.I also don’t believe in restructuring. What are we going to restructure: the executive, legislature or judiciary, or the bureaucracy that is totally corrupt?There is absolutely no need for any restructuring.
Once Biafra leaves Nigeria, I strongly believe that they will perform excellently because they will want to prove that they made the right choice and that will awaken other components of Nigeria towards striving for their development. From my research,over 70 percent of those living in Biafra want independence and 30 percent of them is not young people.
If the IPOB leader cannot be found, that means his mysticism is still on.
I suggest that there should be a meeting of Igbo stakeholders to decide what becomes their fate under Nigeria.Such meeting will avail Ndigbo an opportunity to examine the 1945 blueprint by NnamdiAzikiwe, the ground breaking Aburi Accord and what exactly Ojukwu wanted for the Igbo, the Ariaria Declaration among other iconic papers and policies that will advance the cause of Biafra.
It is unfair for the South East governors to proscribe IPOB. The governors made a wrong decision in the proscription of IPOB. The Biafra obsession is beyond any governor’s reach. The army came into the South East when they saw division among our people.
Leadership of OhanaezeNdigbo
OhanezeNdi Igbo, without the intellectual fertilisation of people like UcheChukwumerije, Clem Nwankwo, Prof.Ikoku, among others is just a mega phone of the Igbo governors.
It is also expected that the present leadership of the OhanaezeNdigbo does not attempt to disturb the activities of the IPOB, MASSOB and other Biafran groups as we are all Biafrans and our children will continue to be Biafrans just as the Bight of Biafra has been there even before Nigeria was created.