Though this piece is not meant for a historical adventure, yet this writer cannot totally do without some historical references on this unique community called Asaba Kingdom in what is today known as Delta State of Nigeria.
According to a version of the kingdom’s history, the name ‘Asaba’ is the final adoption from the earlier ones. The most commonly referenced of which is ‘Ahabam’, which is translated to mean, “I have found my home” as reportedly exclaimed by one highly principled and progressively stubborn Nnebisi who angrily bade his mother and siblings goodbye. His action was prompted by his feeling a sense of outcast borne out of the segregationist treatment that was akin to apartheid melted on him by the neighbourhood.
Having confirmed that indeed, he was not an indigene of Nteje where he had hitherto grown. History says that, Nnebisi, following some spiritual instructions, had to sojourn to a point where he made the exclamation in excitement: “Ahabam” which today, has become Asaba.
The doggedness and resoluteness of the young man must have formed the background of an average Asaba man today who is noted for his industry, fearlessness, focus and doggedness- a general characteristic that has aided them into success in all their endeavours.
This virtue is exemplified in the fact that all chiefs in the Asagba of Asaba palace are not only learned but are also distinguished in their various chosen disciplines in life. In fact, such purity of cabinets as exemplified in Asaba Kingdom is hard to find in any other palace in Nigeria.
Well, perhaps this array of intellectual and entrepreneurial eggheads in the kingdom would not surprise those who know that the monarchical head of the community is not only a doctor but a professor of Medicine who, today, enjoys the honour of being the first professor to mount such traditional stool in Nigeria and arguably, Africa. Not only that, His Royal Majesty, Professor Chike Edozien, the Asagba of Asaba Kingdom is also the longest reigning monarch around us today.
MEMORIES OF ASABA MASSACRE
According to a writer, the Asaba Massacre story is that of “sorrow, tears and blood” which happened on October 7, 1967 in Asaba Kingdom west of the Niger during the Nigerian Civil War.
The war, by general knowledge, was triggered by the secession attempt of ‘Biafran soldiers’ of the then Eastern Region of Nigeria.
History has it that Biafran troops had invaded the Midwestern Region of Nigeria, to the west of the River Niger, in early August, 1967. The Biafran troops then spread west, progressing towards the Western region, taking Benin City in the process and reaching as far as Ore, in present day Ondo state. It was at Ore that the Biafran troops were pushed back by the Nigerian Second Division, under the command of Col. Murtala Muhammed.
The Federal troops eventually gained the upper hand, and forced the Biafrans back to the Niger, where they crossed the River Niger via the Niger bridge back into the Biafran city of Onitsha, which is directly across the river from Asaba. After crossing the Niger river, the Biafrans troops blew up the eastern spans of the Niger bridge, so that the Federal troops were unable to pursue them.
On October 5, 1967, a detachment of Federal troops under the command of soldiers led by one Major Ibrahim Taiwo, stormed the city of Asaba in pursuit of Biafran soldiers who had earlier crossed Ore after taking Benin and dislodging Nigerian troops there.
However, because the Biafran soldiers had blown the Niger bridge to make it impossible for the Nigerian side to pursue them, the Nigerian Federal troops simply settled in Asaba where they started going from house to house, killing people of the town whom the federal soldiers accused of aiding the Biafran soldiers and began ransacking houses even as they wrongly killed civilians who were perceived to be sympathetic to the Biafran side.
What the Ibrahim Taiwo-led troops did was to cajole Asaba community leaders to summon the townspeople to assemble on the morning of October 7, 1967, hoping to end the violence through a show of support for “One Nigeria”. Hundreds of men, women, and children, many wearing the ceremonial akwa ocha attire (white attire) paraded along the main street, singing, dancing, and chanting “One Nigeria”.
At a junction, men and teenage boys were separated from women and young children, and gathered in an open square at Ogbe-Osawa village. Federal troop reportedly opened fire on the innocent, harmless and defenceless indigenes of the hitherto peaceful land. At the end of the heartless exercise, close to 1000 people of Asaba were exterminated.
There were dead bodies everywhere. Most of them were later buried in shallow mass graves while the Nigerian troops still occupied the town afterwards, hunting down men and boys who escaped the October 7 massacre, raping and forcefully ‘marrying’ off women and young girls in the process. It is said that even 12 year old boys were killed in the process, in addition to many more killed in the preceding days.
Fifty years down memory lane, it is rather pompous, if not outright wickedness on the part of the federal government not to have done something in the semblance of apology or even sympathy visit to the deeply traumatised community.
Despite all these, the Asaba Community has decided to surprise the world by announcing that it has forgiven the perpetrators of the barbaric, off- war-zone killings. It is heart-warming, however, that a befitting memorial monument will be launched this week in honour of the fallen but unforgotten heroes of Asaba Kingdom.