Oct 10, 2017, 1:59:46 PM News

When one of the guests at the book reading I attended the evening of Wednesday the 4th of October at Quintessence, Ikoyi, Lagos, mentioned that his friends dissuaded him from attending because of the present Nigerian government’s unfavorable attitude to discussions or anything pertaining to Nigeria’s civil war, I felt he and his friend might have been overreacting, and overplaying government’s censorship of free speech, even though earlier that day I’d agreed with a friend on Facebook about noticing that most morning shows on radio have cutoff the phone-in component. Something that was interestingly corroborated by many on cyberspace. Not until Cheta Nwanze, a popular radio analyst tweeted the next day, that a program he was on, discussing the Asaba Massacre, a prelude to the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre scheduled for Asaba by the end of the week, was pulled off air, right in the middle of the radio show, after a call allegedly from the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC did I begin to pay the assertion the attention it deserved. Days before, Cheta had tweeted in sequence a series of stories related to the Asaba Massacre, and I guess the NBC feared he might go on a live rant on radio, and therefore decided to rein him in.

The book reading I attended was of a new book titled, “THE ASABA MASSACRE by Elizabeth Bird and Fraser Ottanelli, British and American (historian) respectively, in a week that started with an (un)Presidential Speech, characterized by a talk down by President Muhammadu Buhari on Igbo leaders for not calling hotheaded youths, with secessionist agenda to order, amongst other contents of the speech, that’s been met with criticisms (including from the Yoruba sociocultural group AFENIFERE for equating the call for restructuring with secession) widely, except from members of his government, and others who still see his second coming to power as the next best thing after jollof rice and therefore could never find anything wrong with any of his words or deeds, regardless of the odium. This, following from the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB group, as well as it’s labeling as a terrorist group by the military authorities after the clash of soldiers engaged in OPERATION EGWU EKE/PYTHON DANCE with some members of IPOB in Abia State; with the federal government in tow, subsequently going on to gazette same, of a group that’s not been known to shed a single Nigerian blood, but rather had been at the receiving end of atrocities committed on its members by men of Nigeria’s security agencies. Not forgetting the outrage by government to the one-day sit-in ( by the Igbo in the Southeast and some parts of the Niger Delta, earlier this year to remember the dead on the fiftieth anniversary of the commencement of the Nigeria-Biafra War, just because it was called by IPOB, the compliance of which must’ve startled the government.

The book reading was moderated by Ed Keazor who I’d been following from a distance on social media only, till that evening. Interestingly, he sought me out for a handshake to my admiration, even when it was my intention to stay under the radar at the event. Regarding his job that night, I’d honestly say I hadn’t seen any better, though you could also fault me for having attended just a few book readings, but you could tell from the way he comfortably handled his role, that he knew what he was doing like one who’d honed his skill doing same from years of practice and experience. Liz Bird was quite the story teller and easily linked events within the short time she had to preview the book, while Professor Ottanelli was the pragmatist.




Like Liz Bird, I had come across the Asaba massacre years back when a friend told me about Emma Okocha‘s “BLOOD ON THE NIGER“. What it did for this duo, was make them dig deeper for more information, over a couple of years, with several visits to Nigeria, and Asaba in particular to get firsthand witness information, and not so firsthand from those retelling what they’d heard of that unfortunate event in the history of Nigeria. Though not much is different from what is already in the public domain, and the stories, comments and narratives remain largely consistent with what is known about the sordid events that occurred between the 5th to 7th of October, exactly fifty years ago, one thing that has come to light is the very deliberate effort, not just of the Nigerian government (even till now, evidenced by the treatment meted out on Cheta by the NBC to thwart any attempt at discussing this very dark part of Nigeria’s history, nay the Nigeria/Biafra- civil war on radio, and the fact that the memorial event in Asaba is low key and not availed national attention and coverage, even though eminent personalities are billed to attend), but also the British government who were aware, and were appalled by the activities of the second division under the command of then Colonel Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who would later become Head of State following a coup that overthrew General Yakubu Gowon under whose rulership the civil war was fought and “won” (for that is what it was).

Before attending this book reading, it hadn’t occurred to me that what the federal forces did in Asaba could’ve been motivated by revenge, especially by the northerners, against a people they consider to have birthed the mastermind of Nigeria’s first Coup (which saw to the elimination of the creme of northern political and military elites in what will be one of Nigeria’s bloodiest coup on the 15th of January, 1966, and will go on to orchestrate other events that heralded the civil war, and then to the incursion of the Biafran army into Nigeria’s Midwest region, the retreat and then the Asaba massacre after Murtala Mohammed’s division failed to make headway into Biafra from Asaba via the Niger bridge, after it was blown up by retreating Biafran soldiers), Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who interestingly isn’t from Asaba but from Okpanam, living much of his life in Kaduna. Though the writers of this book, couldn’t outrightly say that there was a specific intention to commit the act of annihilating adult males (which included boys as young as twelve and even less) they claimed were either Biafran soldiers or spies, there’s no record that suggests that once the killings (also of females who were caught in the crossfire, while many were raped, amongst other acts of dehumanization that many cannot still bear to explain even fifty years after) began an attempt was made to halt the carnage, by those (or the one particularly) in charge. Just a few stories here and there, of some soldiers (not only from the north, but recruits from Western and Midwestern Nigeria who felt they had some axe to grind with Igbos, or their nearest cousins, the Anioma, following the way the Biafran army, led by Colonel Victor Banjo, a Yoruba, treated them in the few days following the incursion into the Midwest in the early days of the war), letting some of the men with whom they had some acquaintances with in the past go, only to return religiously to their business of dispatching the unlucky ones to the great beyond, via a hail of bullets, sometimes execution style. Sadly, those killed in Asaba in those heady days, intended to show the federal forces, even with song and dance, that they were Nigerians, and were with Nigerians, and not on the side of their rebellious brothers just across the Niger, with whom they shared same language and perhaps culture, but not considered by them when it seems convenient so to do, as one of them; though following from the Asaba Massacre such misgivings have given way such that at some point, an uncle to my classmate from Anioma even rose to become President of the Igbo sociocultural group, OHANEZE NDI IGBO some while back.




I came off that book reading, happy that more people are talking about the events of that day today, despite efforts to have it buried. The fact that foreign authors who naturally shouldn’t bother about a small place as Asaba in the scheme of things in the world, have not only bothered but lent their voices to those already been stifled here in Nigeria, in the need for this tragedy not to be swept under the carpet is encouraging to say the least. For once, seeing as these ones could possibly have nothing to gain from their scholarly activity on the Asaba Massacre besides etching their names on the concrete of time for not remaining silent when they came across a history of atrocities, perpetrated on a mass of voiceless humanity, even from one with which they were far removed, they have in this work, also lent some credibility to the works of many Asaba people, and their Igbo brothers who’d long been saying the same things, but got simply brushed aside as purveyors of misinformation, playing the victim for no just cause. Sadly, still not many Nigerians know about this sad event, and that is even worsened by the recognition and hero-worship extended to the former Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed (who was assassinated months after attaining power through yet another coup), who bought the heart of Nigerians in his so called fight against corruption, as well as the Afrocentrism of his foreign policy, especially as regards apartheid in South Africa in the late 1970s. At a time when people who committed or superintended over lesser crimes have been made to have their day at the International Court of Justice, ICJ at The Hague, or have had their memories, in the case of the dead struck off the good side of history, or worse still had their statues pulled down, as with that of Robert E. Lee in the United States, as history is being revisited; Asaba people, and in deed well meaning Nigerians (and non-Nigerians) with a good sense of history, leaving or returning to Nigeria through Lagos have always to bear the indignity of going through the Monument To Infamy that’s the international airport there, because the majority of us, not just the Nigerian government, loathe truth.





Published by m'khail madukovich

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