By Mariam Kareem
Asaba natives have been enjoined to eschew hatred and to forgive the grave wrong done to them during the Nigerian civil war.
The call was made by Alban Ofili-Okonkwo, Chairman, Asaba 7 October Memorial Group (The Taskforce), during this year’s commemoration of the 1967 massacre, at which more than 700 unarmed indigenes of Asaba were killed; a sordid episode that signposts one of the most tragic chapters of the Nigerian civil war.
Ofili-Okonkwo observed that the people of Asaba have “carried our blood-splattered Akwa Ocha for half a century, mindful that children of victims have not only inter-married with the children of the accused, but have given birth to children of their own who bear Asaba blood in every sense”.
According to him, two generations have passed and the decision of the Asaba community, “to rinse our Akwa Ocha in the waters of the Niger after 50 years does not dissolve the crimes, cannot quench the engines of the Nigerian or international legal system, nor does it relieve those whose job it is to secure justice from the responsibility of so doing”.
As to the communal Asaba position, he noted that after consultations, the Asagba of Asaba, the Asagba-in-Council and the Asaba Development Union – the umbrella association for all Asaba communities – approved the theme of Remembrance and Forgiveness for the 50th commemorative event. Drawing inspiration from the Asagba, Prof Chike Edozien, who said: ‘We have forgiven, but we can never forget’, he stated that true forgiveness comes only by grace and that “there is no prescribed number of apologies guaranteed to heal the wounded soul.
Ofili-Okonkwo observed that “questions have been raised as to the propriety of forgiving an evil for which the perpetrators have ‘neither apologised nor shown sufficient contrition’”, saying: “There is no statutory quantity of tears that must be shed to melt an embittered heart. Yet, victims of a massacre do themselves no favours by conditioning their closure, their peace of mind, on the decision of the killers of their kin to apologise. That is too much power donated to the guilty. No murderer should have that much power over a victim – first to cause pain and second to end grief.”
Waxing lyrical, he quipped: “For every Gen. Yakubu Gowon who chooses to express his regret at the massacre, there is the General I.B.M. Haruna who asserts the legality of the massacre as an act of war. That combination of contrition and provocation is enough to keep emotions aflame for generations.” True heartfelt forgiveness, he observed, may release a victim from pain and despair, but it cannot release the unrepentant offender either from the strictures of law or the shackles of his conscience.