For years, the Federal Government of Nigeria avoided the issue of compensation for the Nigerian Civil War victims despite the proven cases of criminal engagement by the Federal Army in Asaba and other parts of the South Eastern States. Recently, the Government announced its decision to pay the war victims N88 Billion as ruled by West African Court of Appeal. Here, Emma Okocha, Human Rights Crusader and Author of the book “Blood on the Niger” speaks with OSA AMADI, analyzing this development:
His reaction to Government’s decision to pay war damages
I was not surprised. On the strength of our work, shouting out, uncloaking the hidden 50 years old genocide story to the world, we were sure that before long the ship would find its anchor. Whatever, I must admit that the Asaba 50th year Genocide Anniversary event shook the land and coupled with the expert foreign and Nigerian leading Human Rights participation in the event the country and her leaders felt for the long suffering Asaba and the other forgotten Igbo war victims.
On memories and forgiveness
My few brothers and sisters who betrayed our over 30 years strident campaign to identify the perpetrators, bring them to justice, and push for the victims’ overdue indemnities have because of the latest development, confessed their sins.
I’m a proselyte and a chronicler of the Non-Fiction Prose. Unfortunately, I’m fascinated and interested in reversing the fables that thread the actual true stories of the Nigerian civil war. Most of the plot lines are cluttered in blood, and the genocide chapters are overwhelming stories in human pathos.
I don’t strive for popularity or heroism researching on the gruesome death of my kith and kin. In this terrible journey, I have witnessed death centers like Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau in Europe. These centers of death are always imprinted in my mind’s eye and each time I go to sleep the deadly visions are reincarnated like the Ogbeosowa procession of the dance of the dead. I cannot sleep or forget the Isheagu crematoria aglow with the fire of burning flesh. I have sniffed and peered into the Cable Point inferno and have experienced the hell fire that is Hell!
To me the heroes of that Asaba event no doubt should be Professor Wole Soyinka and Archbishop Mathew Kukah. As far as I’m concerned, I think the speed by which the Federal Government reacted to these lingering Igbo civil war compensation after that Asaba event, testify to the courage of these two internationally celebrated Literati and writers of conscience.
Wole Soyinka’s contribution
First of all, it may be true I wrote the first book on the genocide and the civilian bloody travelogue during the civil war… but it was the Professor who initially in his book, The Man Died, drew the eyes of the world to the massacre when he wrote about the Yoruba soldier boy who massacred people in Asaba prison simply because they were speaking Ibo.
Wole Soyinka is influenced by his life revolutionary inclination which in dedicating his struggle to the Nigerian people, hopes he would affect revolutionary changes for the country in his life time. Hence when Segun Sowemimo, was brutally beaten up by soldiers on the orders of the then Military Governor of the West, he followed Sowemimo’s case with keen interest. When the poor Journalist died of his wounds, the news came back to him with the title of his celebrated book, The Man Died.
With that revolutionary aptitude, he was the first Nigerian that asked the question; what community of intelligentsia is it that accepts without a squawk, the disappearance of a Trade Union Leader without a trace? What sort of Labour solidarity is exhibited when the Secretary General of the huge Army of the Post and Telegraph workers is allowed to die like a dog in the dungeon of Dodan barracks, without a voice raised in protest?
Soyinka, for the records, told Nigeria for the first time how the handsome Gogo Nzeribe was starved to death in 1967! It was the same Professor Wole Soyinka who reported of the disappearance and death of an Ibo photographer, Emmanuel Ogbonna, at Odo Ona, Ibadan. Ogbonna was murdered and thrown into the bushes. Two soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, Ambrose Okpe and Gani Biban were later charged to court and somehow the Army authorities intervened for the case to be dropped. Subsequently, for everything he did for opening up the case of our people’s genocide in the hands of the Second Division of the Nigerian Army, Asaba has in gratitude renamed the Professor, Asabamaka.
“Let the sinners confess before forgiveness” – Kukah
On Archbishop Kukah, he was the Secretary at the Oputa Human Rights and Justice Tribunal. The Asaba massacre case file is not foreign to him. He was the one who when he started his opening address mentioned my name. He was also the one who admonished the forgiving disciples of the town not to run before crawling. As a Roman Catholic Priest, he would prefer sinners to confess their sins before the victims may consider forgiveness. The Reverend gentleman in the Catholic Church would always offer the perpetrators the listening ear for them to confess their sins before bringing the perpetrators and the victims together for reconciliation.
Who gets share of the N84 Billion?
Anioma/Asaba list ready for payment is with me and is very authentic. In our Press Conference over the weekend, we made it clear that our own list had been prepared as far as 1970, when several Federal Administrative Panels had looked into our case and concluded that actually our communities were ravaged and put to the sword. Those Federal Tribunals concluded and recommended heavy compensations paid to our people for the genocidal activities of the Nigerian Second Division. Whatever list the Federal Government may require to enable our people get their overdue indemnities, we are ready. We have list of the victims of the genocide per se; we have listings of victims of aerial bombardments.
Only last weekend, we escorted Journalists to take photographs of our archive center, (the former recce headquarters of the Nigerian Army in the cross River war against Biafra) where we have been preserving war instruments, materials and mementos. Despite the gentrification that is taking place in that part of Asaba, we still have those war relics as evidences of weapon intrusion and damages on civilian population. Most of the Bishop Court, Osadenis way, Osadenis Secondary School, the Open University, down to the River, contains lots of discarded weapons and bombs.
Sources of the list content
The list of the massacred dead was prepared with the aide of the International Red Cross, my own uncle, Ogbueshi S.O. Okocha, a 1940s graduate of the London School of Economics, presently at age 105, is the oldest man in Asaba. Other contributors to the list include the Catholic Mission, Caritas, Doctors without Borders and the late Dr. J.B. Azinge, Proprietor, St. Nicholas Hospital, Surulere, Lagos, and former Vice President, Ohaneze Ndigbo.