By Akoma Chinweoke
Global attention was recently drawn to the October 1967 carnage, the Asaba massacre in Midwestern Nigeria via a one-minute informercial placed strategically mid-way into the highly informative Global Public Square (GPS) anchored by the erudite Fareed Zakari on the Cable News Network (CNN).
The day was Sunday November 5, 2017. On that eventful Sunday, the Asaba October 7 Memorial Group; the committee saddled with the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary hit the bull’s eye in arousing global consciousness to a grievous and mortal injury done to a graceful people.
An encore is bill to be aired on Sunday November 12, 2017 on the same Fareed Zakari anchored Global Public Square on CNN. The Asaba massacre connotes the killings of unarmed and defenseless indigenes in Asaba, one of the ugliest episodes of the Nigerian civil war, which attracted international condemnation of the Nigerian authorities.
The victims were innocent Nigerian citizens who had trooped out to welcome Nigerian soldiers that had reclaimed the vital town of Asaba in Midwestern Nigeria from Biafran troops in October 1967.
Ironically, although it was an event bound to over awe decent people, it did not, for not many people were aware that it happened. By its sheer barbarity it was an event that was bound to shock the world but its perpetrators deploying their proximity to power ensured that it could only be discussed at best in whispers and at worst swept under the carpet. But like most evil perpetrated against a hapless people there will always be a time of reckoning.
The real day of remembrance was Saturday October 7, 2017 when the injured people of Asaba marked the 50th anniversary of what has now become known as ‘The Asaba Massacre’. A day earlier, as part of the four days activities lined up to mark the anniversary, Asaba had hosted a galaxy of global personalities including the irrepressible Nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka and the eloquent cleric Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah.
In a profound statement that pungently captures the essence of the commemoration of this cardinal civil war carnage the Asagba of Asaba Obi J C Edozien, a renowned professor of medicine whose reign has sustained peace and progress in the burgeoning Delta State capital, noted that “October 7 is a landmark in the history of the people of Asaba – with sad memories.
We have forgiven, but we can never forget.” To Soyinka “It is never too early to forgive, and it is never too late to heal but there is never a time limit on memory and restitution.” Asaba people are apparently very pleased that the world is now harkening to their cries. For Mr. Alban Ofili-Okonkwo, the chairman of the Memorial Group, “It took 50 years to tell our story, that is why we are eternally grateful to you for sharing our grief long before we told our story.”
He underscored the essence of the commemoration of the massacre thus “We wish to transform the killing fields of Asaba from a Land of Death to a Place of Life. We wish to build a memorial space that evokes the spirit of a shared humanity in all who are touched by our story of loss.
We must create a gallery that gathers testimony and memorabilia to educate future generations of the perils of war and the harvest of peace. We must raise a memorial maternity hospital, built to the highest standards in the world with the best labour rooms. As a Place of Life it will underscore our desire to “deliver and celebrate” Life, where others wish to take or extinguish it.
And it shall be called: My Place of Birth Hospital, Asaba. This is so that as we count down to the centennial of the massacre, the cries of new-borns coming into life in Asaba might grow in volume, as a fitting condolence for the loss of our kindred cut down in their primes in October, 1967.”
Ofili-Okonkwo observed that history usually keeps a good record of events but the Asaba massacre was largely overlooked by history.
Today, Asaba and her proud people are reassured that with the earlier book ‘Blood on the Niger’ by Asaba born Emma Okocha and the recent scholarly publication 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 and the exposure of the Asaba massacre informercial on CNN’s Global Public Square the world will not only be aware of a heinous wrong done to a peace-loving people but will rise in support of their noble quest to transform the hitherto killing fields of Asaba to “a place where human life is born”.
Today, as the people of Asaba seek rebirth through healing and restitution, all we can do for these deeply injured people, is to lend them “a piece of our humanity”. And as the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka wisely posits, “it is never too early to forgive; and it is never too late to heal; but there is never a time limit for memory and restitution”. And so shall it be with Ahaba!
*Akoma, a journalist, is resident in Asaba