ASABA MASSACRE: SEEKING HEALING 50 YEARS AFTER (AN ADDENDUM) (1-2) (PICTORIAL)
We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility (Rabindranath Tagore)
The parents eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? (Ezekiel 18:2)
The thought that really crushes us is the thought of the futility of life of which death is the visible manifestation (Giacomo Leopardi)
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (William Shakespeare)
fter reading Azuka Onwuka's heart-rending masterpiece on the Asaba massacre (link below), I started soliloquizing, wondering why Lt. Col. Muritala Mohammed, assisted by Major Ibrahim Taiwo, and their men of the Second Division of the Nigerian Army, during the genocide called civil war, were so callous and evil to massacre unarmed Asaba civilians even when they declared they were for peace; pledged their allegiance to Nigeria; and renounced any support for Biafra?
Then, I started looking for answers why the second battalion of the Nigerian army, under the leadership of Muritala Mohammed, isolated Asaba town, and why the Asaba people were marked out for elimination, afterall, Asaba is not inside the Igbo mainland? It then occurred to me that the calculated effort to massacre Asaba people was vindictive.
A year before the massacre, some junior army officers sacked the First Republic government of Nigeria through a failed bloody coup. One thing leading to another, few prominent Northern leaders were killed, and a military government was enthroned - the then Nigeria's Prime Minister, two Premiers, politicians and top ranking soldiers were killed, and that coup later led to that civil war of 1967-1970. The northerners termed that coup an Igbo one, despite the fact that the officers who carried it out came from all parts of Nigeria. The leader of that coup was Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, and was from Asaba. The massacre was a payback for Asaba for producing Nzeogwu who led the coup that killed some northern leaders.
The government that took over Nigeria after the failed first coup, but was sacked by the northern counter coup led by Muritala Mohammed, TY Danjuma et al: Head-of-State and Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (centre) with his Regional Military Governors from left to right; Lieutenant-Colonels, Hassan Usman Katsina (North), Francis Adekunle Fajuyi (West), Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (East) and David Akpode Ejoor (Mid-West), 1966 (Courtesy: Alex Otti)
Muritala Mohammed; as a military officer; civil war commander; and head of state was a fiend incarnate; unfortunately, people didn't know or see how devilish he was, before he went the way of those he sent to their early graves. Tell me why Asaba people should be singled out for elimination, because Kaduna Nzeogwu was from there? Afterall, Dimka or Orka's respective towns or people were not sequestered for elimination after their own failed coups.
In 2013, I wrote: The five majors, and their co-conspirators, decided to overthrow the civilian government of Tafawa Balewa because of corruption. Although the coup plotters had good intentions for Nigeria, but, this writer sees no justification for that coup or the other ones after it anyway, so the putsch shouldn't have happened, as it set Nigeria back, and it was misconstrued to be an Igbo coup, when it was meant to release Awolowo from Calabar prison and install him as the prime minister.
On Saturday, August 15, 2015, I wrote: The five majors, and their co-conspirators, who carried out the first coup knew then that the foundation of Nigeria was shaky and decided to strike in order to stop the country from going off the cliff, but, things failed to work out as planned for them. In an interview, granted to Dennis Ejindu in May 1967, which took place just before the start of the civil war, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu said "As you know there is too much bitterness at present in the country, and in the past people had imagined that they could conveniently do without one another".
The 1966 coup had good intentions, but, along the line things went wrong with the execution due to betrayal. What the 5 majors, and their other colleagues who took part in the coup, saw and abhorred then, pales into insignificance when compared with what the politicians and government officials of today are doing.
That January 15, 1966 coup, unfortunately set Nigeria into the downward spiral into the abyss it has continued to gyrate into uncontrollably. With the benefit of hindsight; if the 5 majors and co. knew that the coup would fail, they shouldn't have carried it out, because, it caused more problems than it intended to solve. Infact, most of Nigeria's problems now can be traced to that coup. The collateral damages from that coup might still lead to the collapse of Nigeria; if care is not taken (the signs are already there). But one thing that was clear is that the coup was never a tribally organized or a tribally oriented one, whether anybody believes that or not. Nzeogwu, during the interview quoted above, said: "… initially we knew quite clearly what we wanted to do. We had a short list of people who were either undesirable for the future progress of the country or who by their positions at the time had to be sacrificed for peace and stability. Tribal considerations were completely out of our minds at this stage. But we had a set-back in the execution. Both of us in the North did our best. But the other three who were stationed in the South failed because of incompetence and misguided considerations in the eleventh hour. The most senior among them (Emmanuel Ifeajuna) was in charge of a whole brigade and had all the excuse and opportunity in the world to mobilize his troops anywhere, anyhow and any time. He did it badly. In Lagos, even allowing for one or two genuine mistakes, the job was badly done. The Mid-West was never a big problem. But in the East, our major target, nothing practically was done. He and the others let us down".
Chidi wrote in Nairaland: "For those of us who have been falsely claiming that the 1966 first military coup was led by Igbos to exterminate non Igbo leaders in order take over the country and branded it as an "Igbo coup" should go back to history and facts to help themselves out. This was the reason the whole country rallied against Igbos to wipe them out in a genocide. This is a malicious and cheap propaganda contrived to make their claims stick. But the more you try to bury facts and truth, the more the inconsistencies of your hypocrisy and lies continues to surface. You can never murder history. It's not possible! The truth is that, those who led the military putsch were motivated by the injustices, prejudice, nepotism and the lopsided nature of federal and military appointments the behemoths in power then were doing to subjugate and dominate others by force, arrogantly promoting one section over another. It was never an Igbo affair to find relevance as is being peddled. Now take a look at the list of the '66 coup plotters and render your own judgment;
Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (Delta Igbo)
Major Adewale Ademoyega (Yoruba) author of "Why we struck"
Capt. G. Adeleke (Yoruba)
Maj. Ifeajuna (Igbo)
Lt. Fola Oyewole (Yoruba) author of "The reluctant rebel"
Lt. R. Egbiko (Esan)
Lt. Tijani Katsina (Hausa/Fulani)
Lt. O. Olafemiyan (Yoruba)
Capt. Gibson Jalo (Bali)
Capt. Swanton (Middle Belt)
Lt. Hope Harris Eghagha (Urhobo)
Lt. Dag Warribor (Ijaw)
2nd Lt. Saleh Dambo (Hausa)
2nd Lt. John Atom Kpera (Tiv)
So, to an unbiased observer, what evidence can one provide to show that Igbos actually carried out the coup in order to exterminate other tribes and take over the country? It is very easy to sell falsehood, but it is very difficult to provide facts to buttress your claims. It is now clear even to a suckling, that the imperialist genocidists crammed up this murderous lies against the Igbos to find reasons to perpetually keep them down. One even wonders why the Nigerian state and perpetrators of the gruesome genocide have been preventing the proper documentation of that episode for the benefits of her posterity. Terrible!!"
Revenge, against Major Nzeogwu, was the only reason for the massacre perpetrated against the Asaba people. But how can a whole town pay for the "sin" of one man? I have maintained it that one must be careful of what he or she does in life, because "no sin goes unpunished", and "Karma's a bitch".
The three commanders of the Nigerian Army, during civil war, ordered their men to perpetrate genocide against the Igbos: They killed, maimed, starved and raped Igbo people, as the case may be. They also plundered Igbo land. But how did they end up? I have noted it, so many times, that there's nothing in life, and that power is futile. So, no matter how highly placed we're at any particular point in time, it shouldn't get into our head, rather we should show humility in all we do, because of "tomorrow". I agree with Joshua Becker that humility always begins in our heart. As a result, it offers significant control over attitude, outlook, and actions. It has nothing to prove, but everything to offer. The Bible, in Matthew 23:12, says that "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted", and, Saint Augustine warned that "It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels".
The three war commanders, who took pleasure in committing genocide against the Igbos, didn't end up well. Mohammed Shuwa, who commanded the First Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army, during the war, was killed, some years ago, in his own house in Maiduguri, by unknown gunmen, despite all the security in place to guard him; Muritala Mohammed, who commanded the Second Division of the Nigerian Army, during the genocide and who oversaw the massacre in Asaba, was dismembered with bullets (bullets were pumped into him), on February 13, 1976, in an abortive coup attempt, when his car was ambushed in traffic in Lagos; Benjamin Adekunle, black Scorpion, who commanded the Third Marine Division of the Nigerian Army, during the war, was ignominiously pushed out from the army, and he died as a wretched miserable man, few years ago.
Still on Muritala Mohammed: I noted in 2007 that as a head of state, his regime was one of the worst ever, although people who didn't really know what went on during that time erroneously saw it as one of the best. That he didn't last that long might have masked his real intentions. He had no reason to overthrow Gowon other than that Gowon was his junior when he became the Head of State in 1966. Mohammed was not the saint people thought he was; he was corrupt, he privatized a lot of multi-national corporations and the gains went to him and his friends. There wasn't much infrastructural development during his era. There was a lot of money then and he initiated the move to remove the capital from Lagos to Abuja. He set the stage for the corruption that is ravaging the Nigerian civil service, as he showed, by his actions of retiring people then without reason, that hardwork and honesty do not pay.
Someone, old2boy, wrote this: "He was a young military man who planned a counter coup with the aim of avenging the death of Northerners. He was bent on separating Northern Nigeria from the Republic. On being advised on the fact that the north would be the worse for it, he left in anger. Some years later, this same man lost most of Nigeria's armour to a band of men at Abagana. He abandoned the warfront, went to quarrel with his C-in-C and again left the stage in anger.
As Nigeria was developing, this same man came and destroyed the civil service. By sacking arbitrarily, he laid the foundation for others like him to seize power and for the workers to no longer believe in working for future gains. Because of his anger, his boys could not talk to him. They waited for him to simmer and sprayed him in their anger. MM was a man without foresight or understanding. Apart from coups, there is nothing else I know he planned and executed that marked him as a good man".
The point I want to make here is that we should be careful how we live our lives, no matter the position we find ourselves in, as those "who kill with sword will die through the sword; and those who kill with gun will die through the gun". The Christians do remember how Jesus Christ, in Matthew 26:52, admonished Peter by saying: "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword". The saying "live by the sword, die by the sword" means that "what goes around comes around." More to the point, "if you use violent, forceful, or underhanded methods against other people, you can expect those same methods to be used against you." A person who lives violently will probably at some point be killed in a violent manner. Violence begets violence. Those who practice violence will come to violent ends.