The Asaba Massacre And The Nigerian Question By Charles Ogbu
For the people of Asaba, Delta State, October 7, 1967 remains a day they will forever rue, for that was the day the Nigerian state executed one of the worst forms of savagery against them.
As I sat listening to a number of survivors narrate their experience at Grand Hotel, Asaba, venue of the 50th commemoration of the massacre, I was left wondering if those men and women were narrating scenes from some horror movie they had just watched. But as it happens, I wondered wrong, for they were actually narrating event that had happened a few steps away from where we were all seated.
In the early days of the Biafran war in 1967, it happened that Nigerian troops had entered the town of Asaba in pursuit of the Biafran soldiers who had retreated into the core East. On getting into Asaba on the 4th of October, 1967, the Nigerian soldiers led by Col. Murtala Muhammad with Col. Taiwo as his deputy, wasted no time embarking on the indiscriminate killing of men and boys in the town on suspicion of being sympathetic to the Biafran soldiers.
After two days of such killings, the leaders of the town had gathered all their people, both young and old, to the village square to officially welcome the federal troops and pledge their allegiance to #OneNigeria. Dressed in the customary white cloth (akwa ocha) signifying peace, they all marched before the Nigerian troops, singing #OneNigeria.
But for Col. Murtala Muhammad and Ibrahim Taiwo, nothing short of total annihilation of all boys and men in the town would suffice. Those two military men would gather all the boys and men to one side before ordering their soldiers to shoot them all at a very close range. At the end, not less than 1500 people lay dead, according to survivors of the massacre who spoke at the 50th anniversary.
Murtala Muhammed and his men would later remain in the town where they raped many women and girls and forcefully married some.
Now this is not even the biggest tragedy of October 7. The biggest tragedy here is that the Nigerian state would later reward, not punish, those two murderous military commanders.
While Taiwo Ibrahim would later become the military governor of Kwara State, Murtala Muhammad did not only become head of the Nigerian state, a foremost international airport, Lagos airport, still bears his name till date. His face dons the twenty naira note. Asaba people use this airport the same way they have no choice but to look at his murderous face each time they spend the twenty naira note.
As for Yakubu Gowon, the Commander-In-Chief under whose watch this unconscionable act took place, he is busy gallivanting from one church to another with some prayer group known as The Nigeria Prays.
Fifty years after this clear case of barbarism was committed by a body that calls itself a nation, there has been no restitution of any kind, no explanations, not even a recognition, not to talk of attempt at reconciliation.
If Nigerian soldiers could do this to civilians in Asaba even after pledging allegiance to #OneNigeria, is it not safe, logical and reasonable to assume that civilians in the core East must have been gifted with a fate more cruel than that during the Biafran war?
How can anyone feel proud to be associated with a country that does not just murder her own unarmed citizens but equally celebrate the murderers??
How can I love a country that is deaf, dumb and blind to the sanctity of the lives of the same citizens she exists mainly to protect??
How does one show patriotism to a country that has no conscience, no sense of morality, no nothing? Just kill everything and everyone WITH IMPUNITY!
A country that feels she is too big to apologize to her own citizens!
A country where some people can commit all sort of unimaginable crimes and their names and religions would be all that would be required to ensure they are rewarded instead of being punished.
How can anyone just wake up and claim that the so called unity of such a murderous entity masquerading as a nation is non-negotiable?
It is understandable if a people chose to lie to themselves. What is neither understandable nor excusable is for a people to choose to swallow their own lies as the gospel truth. Sadly, this is the terrible situation of Nigeria today.
This country has progressed in error for far too long. Unless she turns back from this suicidal route, she can never get to her destination.
It does appear that for Nigeria as a country, the night beckons with a knife. Will she bend to escape this knife or will she be cut to pieces?
Your guess is as good as mine!