Revisiting the October Massacre in Asaba. - OOU Campus Mirror

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Sunday 15 October 2023

Revisiting the October Massacre in Asaba.

 By Nuga Olasubomi. 

In August 1967, three months into the Nigerian Civil War, Biafran troops invaded the Mid-Western Region, to the west of the River Niger. They spread west, taking Benin City and reaching as far as Ore (Ondo State), where they were stopped and pushed back by the Nigerian Second Division, under the command of Col. Murtala Muhammed. 

The Nigerian troops pursued Biafran soldiers to Asaba on Oct 4, 1967, and dislodged the Nigerian troops there. The Biafran soldiers had blown up the Niger Bridge, making it impossible for the Nigerian troops to pursue them further to Onitsha. 

Col. Murtala Muhammed and his troops simply settled in Asaba where they started going from house to house killing people of the town who were accused of aiding the Biafran soldiers. On October 7, 1967, 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 obeyed the summon and came out, mostly dressed in ceremonial white attire (akwa ocha), singing, dancing, and chanting "One Nigeria"; but the moment they got to the Ogbe-Osawa village square where the Nigerian troops were gathered, the soldiers separated the men and boys from the women. Orders were shouted, and guns were held up.

The men and boys were showered with bullets, cut down in their prime. At the end of the ammunition carnival, more than 700 of them lay lifeless. There were dead bodies everywhere.

The bodies of some victims were retrieved by family members and buried at home. But most were buried in 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, often not returning until the war ended in 1970. No exact death toll for the massacre has ever been calculated to date. 

In October 2017, the Asaba community marked the 50th anniversary of the massacres with a two-day commemoration, and they named it the ‘October 7 Massacre’. 56 years after this traumatic experience, the commandant who ordered the shooting has not been identified. The Nigerian Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission, known as the Oputa Panel named I.B.M. Haruna the suspect. However, Haruna was not present in Asaba in 1967. He replaced Murtala Muhammed as C.O. of the Second Division in the spring of 1968.

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