October 7 will continue to be a date in Nigeria’s history; for the good cause, it was the day the first indigenous university in Africa, University of Nigeria Nsukka, opened its gates “to restore the dignity of man” in 1960. Exactly on October 7, 1967, the federal troops under the command of Lt Col Murtala Ramat Mohammed committed the
greatest genocide in Africa’s history.
In a broadcast at Benin to signal what was to happen at Asaba on September 21, 1967, Lt Col Mohammed thundered, “I have already dispatched my forces to deal with the rebels around Agbor and Asaba”. Little wonder why Igbo women were raped, children maimed, pregnant women raped and their pregnancies disemboweled from Benin, Agbor, Ibusa, Ogwashi-Uku with the grand finale been the butchering of over 2000 defenseless men and male children who had rolled out their drums to rejoice with the federal troops for recapturing Asaba from Biafran forces at St Patrick’s College area of Asaba by Lt Col Mohammed’s troop for alleged “Biafra sympathy”. All these happened in total disregard to the Geneva Convention and federal directive issued by the then Nigeria’s HOS, Major-General Yakubu Gowon.
In the words of 58 years old eye witness, Ifeanyi Uraih, who was a resident of Asaba then with his nine siblings and parents, “I cannot tell this story without tears in my eyes, but I have no bitterness in my heart… They ordered everyone to come out to the town square… They were honest with us. They told us they were going to kill us. They took us to the mounted machine guns.
Then it dawned on us that it was true. I was standing with my older brother at the edge of the crowd. He was holding my hand. He had always taken care of me. We shared the same bed. He was the first to be dragged away by the soldiers. He let go of my hand and pushed me into the crowd. He was shot in the back. I could see the blood gushing from his back. He was the first victim of the massacre. Then all hell let loose. I lost count of time. To this day, I live with the smell of the blood of my brethren that night. Even the heavens wept for the victims of this holocaust. Finally the bullets stopped.” Luckily Uraih made it alive because the bodies of the people who were killed fell and buffered him.
It is indeed 45 years today but the wound is still fresh. According to Chinelo Egwuatu, another survivor of the Murtala’s genocide, “We can forgive but we should never, ever forget… There is no way you can bring the people back, but you can at least acknowledge that it happened.” Special thanks to the University of Florida Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and its team of researchers ably led by Erin H. Kimmerle, Professors Elizabeth Si Bird and Fraser Ottanelli who have elected to “break the silence, honour the dead, develop a historic record of the event and secure funding to build the permanent memorial” for the victims of the genocide.
For us, we must take up the mantle and bring to the fore-burner of international discourse, the atrocities of the 1967-70 genocide of the Nigerian state against humanity; today, Awolowo’s starvation policy is the centre stage of our national debate courtesy of Prof Chinua Achebe; how about the Oguta blood bazaar superintended by Olusegun Obasanjo? Have we forgotten about the Onitsha 300 burnt in the Apostolic by Murtala and the activities of Benjamin Adekunle, Shehu Yar’Adua, Ibrahim Taiwo, Jalo, Sani Abacha, etc during the genocide the government of Nigeria continues to call “civil war?”
On the part of the Federal Government, it is time we put this ugly part of our history permanently behind us by giving the dead a deserving state burial and proper apologies rendered to the surviving families of these great Nigerians, whose blood were wasted by bloodlust and hate-mongering soldiers. Anything less is begging the question and it behooves us all as Nigerians to seek justice for the dead.