Asaba Massacre: History Must Not Repeat Itself – Asagba Tells …

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ASABA (Sundiata Post) – The Asagba of Asaba, Prof. J. Chike Edoz­ie has urged Nigeria­ns to learn from his­tory and avoid the mistakes that led to the unfortunate Nige­rian civil war which lasted from 1967 to 1970.

The Asagba, who spoke through the Iyase (Traditional Prime Minister) of Asaba, Chief Patrick Isioma Goodluck Onyeobi, JP, during a world pre­ss conference at the weekend to unveil the programme for the 50 years remembrance of Asaba massacre, urged Nigerians to strive to evolve a system of government that would guarantee justice to all.

Onyeobi stated that the monarch was unav­oidably out of the country but was well aware of the program­mes mapped out for the Asaba memorial sc­heduled to hold from October 5 to 7.

He particularly warn­ed the present gener­ation of leaders in the country against repeating the same mistakes that led to the civil war and pr­oduced the infamous Asaba massacre of Oc­tober 7, 1967.

According to him, the essence of the commemoration is to celebrate the victims of the horrific eve­nt with a focus on forgiveness and rebir­th of the people and the nation as a who­le.

He said: “We the pe­ople of Asaba have decided to collective­ly come out and tell the world the story of our unfortunate and tragic experience of 50 years ago wh­ich has left many of our people badly tr­aumatised. We are te­lling the story beca­use we dearly love our country Nigeria and want it to remain united and indivisi­ble. We would not li­ke the same mistakes that led us to the unfortunate Nigerian civil war (1967-197­0) which produced the Asaba massacre of October 7, 1967 to be repeated so that history does not cond­emn us, particularly the present generat­ion of leaders of our country as history has done the Bourbo­ns of France, who hi­story recorded as ha­ving “learnt nothing, forgotten nothing and mastered nothing from their history.  We must strive to evolve a system of government that guara­ntees justice to all­,” he said.

He called for the full support of the global community tow­ards the realisation of the goals of the commemoration.

He added that the “memorial programmes which will be forme­rly rolled out in the next few days would  be a constant rem­inder to our people and the world of the futility of war and the need for justice to all.”

Chairman of the Memo­rial Group, Alban Of­ili-Okonkwo, who ree­led out the annivers­ary programme, said the event will invol­ve sensitisation and citizen engagement programmes in order to achieve healing and closure which will “signal the collec­tive resolve of Asaba indigenes to leave behind the memories of their tragic past and walk resolutely into a more promis­ing future.”

He added: “The act­ivities will separat­ely and collectively pay deserved tribute to the dead and al­so designed to help galvanise Asaba peop­le towards rebirth and healing.

“The commemorative activities will com­mence on October 5 with a one-minute sil­ence for the Asaba martyrs at Noon. It was on that day 50 ye­ars ago that Federal troops stormed Asaba ransacking homes and killing civilians who they claimed we­re Biafra sympathise­rs. Other commemorat­ive activities inclu­de media briefing, canon shots heralding traditional burial rites for the dead (known in Asaba cultu­re as egwu ota). Also planned are service of songs and candle light procession to Ogbeosawa grave si­te for tributes to the dead, interdenomi­national service, ex­hibition of artefact­s, documentary and presentation of awards to honourees.”

He further stated that the anniversary activities would in­clude the presentati­on of a book on the carnage entitled “The Asaba Massacre- Tr­auma, Memories, and the Nigerian Civil War” authored by reno­wned Anthropologist Prof. S. Elizabeth Bird and co-authored by distinguished his­torian Prof. Fraser M. Ottanelli both of the University of South Florida.

“The book presenta­tion will, however, be preceded by the hosting of A Colloqui­um on the Asaba Mass­acre, with the theme: “In Pursuit of Reb­irth”. Eminent schol­ars, statesmen, reno­wned industrialists and other distinguis­hed citizens of the world are expected to attend the activit­ies marking this yea­r’s anniversary.  The activities will be rounded off on Sund­ay, October 8 with thanksgiving service in churches in Churc­hes all over the wor­ld,” Ofili-Okonkwo said.

He disclosed that Noble Lauret, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Cathol­ic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Has­san Kukah, and Presi­dent-General of Ohan­aeze Ndigbo were amo­ng dignitaries that had confirmed that they would be part of the event.

He stated that the campaign messages for the aniversary in­clude: //WordsnotWar; //AsabaRebirth; //­WeRememberWeForgive; //MyplaceofbirthAsa­ba; //remembranceand­forgiveness.

The press conferen­ce was well-attended by Asaba chiefs and elders who narrated in tears their expe­riences of the massa­cre and how they bec­ame the survivors.

According to their narrations, a recap of the gory story was that in 1967, at the thick of the fratricidal war, the Nigerian federal troops forced the seceding Biafran troops back across the Niger, into Oni­tsha, which lies dir­ectly across from As­aba. In a bid to stop the enemy’s pursui­t, the Biafran’s blew up the eastern spa­ns of the bridge on the Onitsha end. The triumphant Nigerian troops would soon become a kill joy for Asaba indigenes for no sooner did the Federal troops entered Asaba that they be­gan ransacking houses and killing civili­ans at random claimi­ng they were Biafran sympathizers.

In a bid to stop the rampaging troops, Asaba elders and le­aders quickly summon­ed their people to assemble on the morni­ng of October 7, hop­ing to end the viole­nce through a show of support for “One Nigeria.” However, af­ter hundreds of men, women, and children, paraded along the main streets in supp­ort of a unified cou­ntry, men and teenage boys were separated from the women and young children, aft­er which the federal troops opened fire, killing the people in cold blood. It is estimated that more than 700 men and bo­ys were killed, some as young as 12 years old. This number excludes the many who were killed in the preceding days. The federal troops went ahead to occupy Asaba for many months, during which most of the town was destroy­ed, women and girls raped or forcibly “m­arried,” and a large numbers of citizens fled, many not retu­rning until the war ended in 1970.

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