by lucy ezeliora
OCTOBER 7, 1967 was one of the saddest chapters of Asaba history, a day when hundreds of Asaba men, woman and children trooped out with drums and dances to welcome their brother Federal troops during the Nigeria Civil war because of their belief in the Nigeria Nation as one indivisible entity, but instead they were surrounded with machine guns and other weapons of war at Ogbeosowe Square inside the town and moved down in their hundreds for reasons Asaba people are yet to fathom 50 years after.
Speaking with the iyase of Asaba, Chief Patrick Onyeobi, the monarch who was represented the Asagba of Asaba during the 50th Commemoration of Asaba Massacre held at the palace, when Prof. Wole Soyinka and other professors, paid a courtesy visit to the Asagba of Asaba. He said, war does not solve any problems and that dialogue is a better option.
According to him, Asaba lost its men, extended family members and friends in one fell swoop. Those who could retrieve corpses of loved ones from the ‘slaughter slab’, did so. Most of the corpses ended up being buried in mass graves.
Despite the senseless massacre of Asaba people, the iyase of Asaba said that he was detained in Benin Prisons for a crime he knew nothing about for 16 months and later taken to Kaduna Prisons in 1969 where he and other Asaba men spends several months and they finally settled in Bauchi State.
The traditional prime minister of Asaba clan, also recalled the sad incident where he was shot almost dead but survive and was kept alive by a good Samaritan
According to the former Head of Service and Secretary to the Government of the defunct Bendel State, “it has been a long journey filled up with the good, the bad and the ugly and more than 700 young men and adults were killed. Among the dead were boys as young as 12 years of age.
He said, the senseless killings traumatized the living and left many of them homeless and devoid of hope but the tragedy did not undermine our belief in the concept of one Nigerian Nation, United and indivisible and we have continued to match on.
He lamented the sad and pathetic event, saying that it was the height of injustice to kill innocent and peace-loving people of Asaba.
“We the people of Asaba Kingdom have decided to collectively come out and tell the World the story of our unfortunate, sad and tragic experience of 50 years ago which has left many of our people traumatized. We are telling the story because we dearly love our country Nigeria and want it to remain united and indivisible”.
The monarch averred that “we would not like the same mistakes that led us to the unfortunate Nigeria 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 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”.
He lamented the Nigeria Civil War and the senseless Asaba Massacre on October 7, 1967, saying that it has not been easy as there has been a lot of sufferings in the land.
On the agitations in some parts of the country and clamour for restructuring, the traditional prime minister of Asaba, advised that restructuring should be done in such a way that every Nigerian should feel a sense of justice, even as he opined that dialogue remains the best option and antidote to the agitations from some parts of the country.
In his remarks, the Chairman of the Planning Committee, Ogbueshi Albert Okonkwo, equally lamented the massacre, saying that the peaceful land of Asaba was turned into a killing field by the Nigerian troops.
According to him, “Nigerian soldiers came to Nigerian territory and killed Nigerian citizens”, adding that “we carry a tragic memory but we want to move forward and we will never forget the sad incident”.
He disclosed that a monument would be erected in memory of the dead as well a hospital to be called “My place of birth Hospital, Asaba”
Going down memory lane with emotion-laden voices and tears, Chief (Dr.) Ngozi Allanah, Chief (Dr.) F. Edozien, Chief Ashiofu, Ogbueshi Nicholas Chizea, Obi Ngozi Konwea, among others, lamented the killing of prominent sons of Asaba, saying that they would not forget the sad event.
On the way forward, the High Chief enjoined political leaders to have a proper sense of direction, be selfless and have the interest of the masses at heart, affirming that good leadership has been the bane of the country.
He disclosed that he attended the same school before the war broke out with Prof. Wole Soyinka .
His words, “Nigeria must remain one united and indivisible entity but there must be justice for all. Justice, according to a Greek Philosopher, Plato due”. He added that trust that Nigerians history to the effect any problems and option.
He also urges the continued spirit of brotherliness among Asaba people while assuring of his commitment towards the pursuit of the interest of the people of Asaba
This high profile event, which was graced by famous leaders, includes, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Formal Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke “Dr. Edozien Dean of Melaney Hall, University of Ibadan, Bishop of Catholic Diocese, Dr. Hassan Kukah, Prof. Elizabeth Bird and Prof. Fraser Otanelli of the University of Florida and others
At the palace of Asagba of Asaba, the main hall was pack full of traditional rulers, including guests from outside the state, who have come to witness the ceremony marking the 50th Commemoration of Asaba Massacre with theme “In Pursuit of Rebirth . The anniversary has remain one of the biggest events for the people of Asaba since the creation of the state.
The event was later moved down to the main auditorium of Grand Hotel where guest from all works of life were entertained with assorted drinks and Continental dishes.
While enjoying different performances from grief-stricken drama centred on the dead to songs that cut across genres, guests, including students, sorrowfully tapped their feet along, soliloquizes, nodding their heads and snapping their fingers and intermittently feeling so bad and applauding the musical groups on stage.
“In the same vein, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka has frowned at the practice of naming national institutions and infrastructures after leaders known to have committed grievous harm against humanity.
Prof. Soyinka bared his mind in Asaba, Delta State capital as special guest of honour at the ceremony marking the 50th Commemoration of Asaba Massacre.
He rallied against the situation where the perpetrators of the Asaba Massacre were rewarded; adding that one of the commanders was made governor of a state and others had streets named after them in Abuja, the nation’s capital.