Bitter Truth: THE RIVERS OF BLOOD IN ASABA – Femi Fani Kayode

This essay is about one of the most horrific events
that has ever taken place in our history and one of
the most graphic examples of ethnic cleansing that
took place during our civil war.
It is an event which mortified the civilised world
and which brought our nation and Armed Forces
opprobium, disdain, contempt and shame.
It is an event that turned the earth red with blood
and the sky black with death on the accursed day
that it took place.


It is also an event which successive governments
have attempted to brush under the carpet, forgetting
that we owe it to God and to the slaughtered
innocents to establish the facts, set the record
straight and let the truth prevail.
Whether anyone likes it or not what happened in
Asaba on October 7th 1967 will constantly be
revisited and one day, when history is taught in our
schools, it will be a reference point for all that is
sordid, unclean and reprehensible about our
turbulent and ugly past.
One day it will remind us of the depth of the
brutality and sheer callousness that often prevailed
in the old Nigeria and hopefully we shall garnish
that reality with the firm resolve that such a thing
will NEVER happen again.

The facts are as follows. The Commanding Officer
of the Second Division of the Nigerian Army that
retook Asaba from Biafra was Lt. Colonel Murtala
Mohammed. He was to become Major-General
Murtala Mohammed and our nation’s Head of State
within the next eight years.
One of his key officer’s and the man that actually
led the soldiers into Asaba on that day was Lt.
Colonel Ibrahim Haruna (better known as Lt. Col.
IBM Haruna).
He was the commanding officer whilst one Major
Ibrahim Taiwo, who actually gave the orders for the
massacre to commence, was his second in

According to Wikipedia,
“the Federal troops entered Asaba around October 5
1967 and began ransacking houses and killing
civilians claiming they were Biafran sympathisers.

Leaders summoned the townspeople to assemble
on the morning of October 7 hoping to end the
violence through a show of support for “One
Nigeria.” Hundreds of men, women, and children,
many wearing the ceremonial akwa ocha (white)
attire paraded along the main street, singing,
dancing, and chanting “One Nigeria.” At a junction,
men and teenage boys were separated from women
and young children, and gathered in an open square
at Ogbe-Osawa village. Federal troops revealed
machine guns, and orders were given, reportedly by
Major Ibrahim Taiwo, to open fire. It is estimated
that more than 700 men and boys were killed, some
as young as 12 years old, in addition to many more
killed in the preceding days. The bodies of some
victims were retrieved by family members and
buried at home. But most were buried in many
mass graves without appropriate ceremony. Many
extended families lost dozens of men and boys.
Federal troops occupied Asaba for many months,
during which time most of the town was destroyed,
many women and girls were raped or forcibly
“married,” and large numbers of citizens fled, many
not returning until the war ended in 1970″.
Permit me to give a more vivid account.

When the Federal troops “liberated” the town of
Asaba from the Biafran Army, they invited all the
young boys and old men into the town- centre for a
Most of the men that were of fighting age had fled
the town and retreated into the east with the Biafran
army. The people left behind were mostly women,
children and the elderly.
At Ogbe Asawa the old men and young boys were
asked to come out and report in the town square.

Consequently no less than 1000 boys, some of
whom were as young as 10 years old and elderly
men, some of whom were as old as 80, left their
homes and proceeded to the town centre for what
they believed would be a pep talk and a happy
reunion with Nigerian soldiers.

They neither carried nor possesed any weapons and
they offered no protest or resistance. As a matter of
fact history records that many of them went to the
town centre with great hopes of reconciliation and
big smiles on their faces believing that they would
find favour with their Nigerian “liberators”.
When they got there they were lined up in neat rows
and, within the space of one hour, every single one
of them was dead.
Those that were not shot to death were hacked to
pieces and bludgeoned to death with knives,
cutlasses, cudgels, axes and bayonets.
Some were beheaded whilst others had their organs
and private parts cut off and were badly mutilated.

Worse still many had their eyes removed.
Rivers of blood flowed through the town square as
swarms of flies and hordes of vultures nested and
feasted on the bloated corpses of the slaughtered
The stench of death and rotting flesh was
compelling and overpowering whilst the entire
community was stunnned with horror, frozen with
fear and gripped with terror.

Each and every one of them lost someone on that
day and, as the bodies of both the young and old
were thrown into mass graves, the entire town was
thrown into weeks and months of weeping, wailing,
mourning and gnashing of teeth.
Other than the pre-meditated, cold-blooded and
utterly callous “murder by starvation” policy of
Gowon’s Federal Military Government which led to
the death of over one million Biafran children, this
event, which came to be known as the “Asaba
massacre”, was undoubtedly the single most horrific
and brutal act of genocide in the Nigerian civil war.
Clearly those that were behind it forgot that the
blood of the innocents and martyrs never goes to
waste. They also forgot that the Lord of Hosts is a
God of vengeance and the Ancient of Days always
rewards and repays.

34 years later, in 2001, during the tenure of
President Olusegun Obasanjo and in front of the
Justice Oputa-led Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, Colonel IBM Haruna (who by that time
had become a Major-General and was the Chairman
and leader of the Arewa Consultative Forum), said
the following words under cross examination in
front of millions of Nigerians who watched the
event on live television.

He said, “as commanding officer and leader of the
troops that massacred 500 men in Asaba, I have no
apology for those massacred in Asaba, Owerri and
Ameke-Item. I acted as a soldier maintaining the
peace and unity of Nigeria”.
He went further by saying:
“If General Yakubu Gowon apologised, he did it in
his own capacity. As for me I have no apology”.

The fact that these were mostly defenceless little
boys and elderly men who bore no arms, who
carried no weapons, who offered no resistance and
who were non-combatants during the war had no
bearing or impact on the reasoning or thinking of
this man.

He expressed no remorse and no regrets for his
reprehensible actions and he offered no
compassion or sensitivity towards his harmless and
trusting victims.
And neither did he have any empathy with or
sympathy for the families that they left behind.
His mindset and attitude was sociopathic in nature.
He refused to recognise or accept the fact that his
actions were not only barbaric and utterly evil but
also completely unnatural.

This was a man who, under the administration of
General Yakubu Gowon, was bestowed with the
distinct honor and privilage of being appointed as
Federal Commissioner of Information and Culture
(the equivalent of Minister of Information and
Culture) in our country, yet he openly expressed his
pride and joy in slaughtering hundreds of innocent
children, defenceless elderly men and helpless
senior citizens in the name of “keeping the peace”
and ensuring “Nigerian unity”.

Such impunity and callousness has rarely been seen
in the annals of world history. Not even Hitler’s
Nazis that gassed 6 million innocent Jews and
Gypsies to death in concentration camps during the
Second World War spoke with such pride and joy
about their sheer barbarism and horrendous
atrocities either at the Nuremberg Tribunals where
they were put on trial or at any other time after the
conclusion of the war.

Worst still the open and public expression of this
inhumane and utterly primitive attitude and
sentiment by IBM Haruna proves more than any
other that ever since the beginning and indeed right
from the start southern Nigeria has been under the
cruel yoke and bondage of the most inhuman form
of subjugation, slavery and repression.

We were (and still are) held together as a nation by
nothing other than the fear of heartless and ruthless
men like IBM Haruna and the force of arms.
I sincerely hope that one day this wicked man who
has no milk of human kindness flowing through his
veins and who is incapable of harbouring any
compassion faces jusice for his heinous crimes.

That is the least we could do to appease the souls
of those that were so cruelly and brutally murdered
in Asaba and give them the justice that they are
screaming for from their graves.
Interestingly, Major Ibrahim Taiwo, the officer who
actually ordered the soldiers to shoot the civilians
and who reported directly to Lt. Colonel IBM Haruna
on that fateful day, was himself murdered nine
years and five months later on February 13th 1976.

He was killed alongside General Murtala
Mohammed, the then Head of State and the civil
war Commander of the Second Division to which
they all belonged, during an attempted coup by
Colonel Bukar Dimka.
What an irony and strange twist of fate this was.
Surely there is a lesson to be learnt there.

May the souls of those that were massacred in
Asaba on October 7th 1967 continue to rest in
peace and may the Lord continue to strengthen and
comfort their families and loved ones.