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The Biafran war may have come and gone but to the victims of the war, especially the people of Asaba, delta state, the pains and agonies as well as the scars left by the war have created a permanent box of memory inside of them. To them, October 7th, 1967 was a day they had continued to rue and will forever do so for generations to come.
It was the day soldiers of Nigerian 2nd division under Murtala Muhammad, Ibrahim Taiwo and Ibrahim Haruna carried out one of the worst crimes against humanity in human history.
The Nigerian troops had entered Asaba on the 4th day of October, 1967, in pursuit of Biafran soldiers who had earlier crossed Ore after taking Benin and dislodging Nigerian troops there. But because the Biafran soldiers had blown the Niger bridge to make it impossible for the Nigerian side to pursue them, Mortala Muhammad and his boys simply settled in Asaba where they started going from house to house killing people of the town who he accused of aiding the Biafran soldiers.
On the 7th day, after the house to house killing had gone on for days, the leaders of the town, in a bid to convince the Nigerian troops of their loyalty and support, summoned their people to come out in the street. Hundreds of men, women and children had obeyed the summon and came out, mostly dressed in ceremonial white attire, singing, dancing and chanting “One Nigerian” to the hearing of Murtala and his boys. But the moment they got to the Ogbe-Osawa village square where the Nigerian troops were gathered, the soldiers separated the men and teenage boys of 12 years and above from the women.
Orders were shouted. And the men and boys were pelted with bullets. At the end of the bullet festival, not less than 700 people of Asaba lay lifeless. There were dead bodies everywhere. Most of them were later buried in mass grave while the Nigerian troops still occupied the town afterwards, hunting down men and boys who escaped the Oct. 7th massacre and raping and forcefully ‘marrying’ off women and young girls.
Today, the war criminal, Murtala Mohammed is celebrated as a national hero even in death. Only in Nigeria!
After the Asaba massacre, people living across the river were constantly threatened with the Asaba treatment should they help the Biafran soldiers in anyway. And because man’s first rule is Self-Preservation, some of them started cutting off ties with the Biafrans. Niger Delta leaders were told by Nigerians that the Igbos only wanted to dominate and enslave them just so they would take over their oil. And they swallowed this tale.
After the war which the Biafrans lost, the Nigerian state came up with demonic policies to further humiliate and impoverish them. And even though Effiong, a non Igbo was Ojukwu’s 2nd in command in Biafra which proves that Biafra was not for Igbos alone, Nigeria believed it was engineered by the Igbos. So the demonic after-war policies were targeted at the Igbos. Your only chance of escaping the devilish policies like seized properties, seized job, seized monies in the bank etc was to cut off every ties with the Igbos.
In a bid to survive, some Igbos from across the river –Ikwere, Delta, etc– started denying their Igbo ancestry. Towns and streets in Port Harcourt bearing Igbo names were renamed and the original Igbo names hugely corrupted. Full-fledged Igbo men and women with Igbo culture, Igbo name, Igbo food, Igbo everything including language, would look you in the face and tell you, “Aburo m onye-Igbo” just for purpose of self-preservation. Some Niger Delta communities seized Igbo properties in a bid to prove their loyalty to Nigeria.
And so, the seed of rancour, strife and enmity was sown between brothers and neighbours who are not enemies and have absolutely no reason to be enemies.
The trend continued and was inculcated into children born after the war all through the period of 47 years and still counting. And because, the murderous Nigerian state removed history from school curriculum, the younger generation of some Igbos across the River who only heard their parents tell them they were not Igbos without knowing what informed the denial now strongly believe what they heard from their parents. And the fear of Igbo domination, enslavement and coveting their oil is still very much alive among many people in the Niger Delta even as I write this.
The biggest tragedy of this whole thing is that some scions of the victims of the Asaba massacre are not angry with Nigeria for murdering their fathers and brothers and raping their mothers and sisters. Rather, they are angry with the Igbos whom they blame for everything.
On the other hand, in the Niger Delta, the Fulani Oligarchs have always owned the oil there. They have hanged notable sons of the region and made the environment uninhabitable for the people. They live in opulence with monies from the Niger Delta oil while the Niger Delta people live in penury.