“Before her death, my mother spent time relaying to her children the story of the Asaba massacre. Her stories on that genocide resonated everywhere with the people as I grew into a teenager and gained admission into Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State. Eventually, the Asaba massacre story moved my siblings and me to Ogbeosowa. Even though the whole killing field has attracted some buildings and small business shops, Ogbeosowa is arresting and to this day maintains its terrifying hold. You can feel it and there is no doubt about it. The bones are now surfacing in solidarity and in respectful remembrance of the many dead. I picked one of the bones of a victim’s gliding joint.”
See Ugo Chukwuedo, “Asaba the Dance of the Dead,” Gomslam Books, 2017.
Easter Sunday, as Christendom was celebrating the ascension of Christ, the son God, Asaba assembled at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral multipurpose hall to see the play, Asaba the Dance of the Dead.
As I had established in the review, before the actors jammed the stage, Ugo Chukwuedo’s Asaba the Dance of the Dead ended in a convolutional catharsis of the butcher of Asaba. Col. Nkpochapu Ibikwari Taiwo was wallowing in a trance as he skidded, beating against the rivers of blood flowing from the Ogbeosowa Golgotha mountain of bodies. The Colonel who later became the Governor of Kwara State was beheaded by his own soldiers in the 1975 coup, and this was in the fulfillment of a curse proclaimed by one of those dancing corpses.
The dancing corpses, from which last climatic scene the book took its title, drove the heterogeneous audience into uncontrollable tears. Structurally, the drama is clustered mainly on two themes: The Asaba tradition and culture and the massacre of the glittering Asaba cream generation, which was wasted on October 7, 1967, at the Ogbeosowa village square. This Asaba cream generation included :
Michael Ugoh: By 1967, Ugoh was the richest black man in the world. Former retired paymaster, Nigerian Army Pay & Records, he was a real estate mogul, when there were no Lekki, Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Ikeja estates. Ugoh was the real estate mogul who controlled vast properties from Moloney-Olonade-Herbert Macaulay, other parts of Yaba and Ebutte Meta in Lagos. He was a transport magnate who owned the former Nigerian Airmails, the first indigenous national carrier that preceded the famed Ojukwu and the Ekenne Dili Chukwu lines. Ugoh’s transport corporation was called Ike Chukwuka Transport Limited. He was the Nigerian pioneer importer and exporter and was going to build the biggest hospital in Nigeria at Ibusa, his wife’s hometown, when he was gunned down at Ogbeosowa.
D.N. Mordi: Pioneer African chief clerk at the UAC, he was the president of the Asaba Pensioners Union. He certainly was very refined and was a great influence in the branch, which registered the greatest number of pensioners in the West African region. Asaba pensioners were more than the revered Egbas of Abeokuta Pensioners Union. By 1965, Asaba Union had over taken the Kumasi Ashanti Pensioners’ Union numbers! His car number plates were MA.1 and his postal address was P.O. Box 1 and he lived at the imposing No. 1 King’s Street, Umuaji, Asaba. Presently those iconic edifices, including the 100 years old Girls’ Convent School opposite his home, are facing serious gentrification. He was number one and the Asaba literati dubbed him “His Excellency.” As the chief clerk of the most enterprising trading octopus on the Niger, he was responsible for enlisting the services of many of the Asaba and western Ibo young men into the UAC. At the hour of death, he was the hero whose voice shouted in the face of machine guns, Asaba Gbajienu! Unu na ene onwu na anya!!
Leo Okogwu: His son is Sunny Okogwu, the Black Gold, the Ojise of Asaba, who is resident in Kaduna. Another sibling of this late sacred cow was the effervescent Mrs. Ndidi Babangida, the former Nigerian First Lady. Those came from his northern wife. He had other sons. Leo Okogwu, former Nigerian Ambassador to Bucharest. He was one of the Asaba Big 12, which included Dennis Osadebay, Premier, Midwest State; J.I.G. Onyia, Minister for Navy; Chike Idigbe, Chief Justice; police guru, Ogbolu; D.N. Mordi; Okafor Edozien, of the Enugu Coal Corporation, the Ajie of Asaba; Nduka Eze, the trade unionist.
Leo Okogwu, had the biggest contacts, especially in the North, where he was the last black resident of Kaduna Province, 1963. The ‘Bigman Nwajei’ and his brother, chairman, Midwest Public Service Commission, were shot by the Second Division vermin. E.C. Philips, the late great educator, who was also shot, contributed a lot to the city’s wide and intellectual upsurge before the soldiers came into town.
Nduka Eze’s wife was among the prominent women shot dead. She was the most courageous soul of the October 7 genocide. While many succumbed to the rapacious vile of the soldiers, this proud Asaba black beauty preferred death to any of those vermin touching her hair.
There was the tragic death of Sydney Asiodu. He was the greatest Nigerian athlete in 1966. He was the fastest runner, a great footballer, tennis player and cricket player who represented his school, state and country. He had a scholarship and was reading Zoology at UNN when the soldiers came to his house. He brandished all his tons of gold medals, mementos and prizes but these tall, black executioners were “gwodogwodo” illiterate trigger-happy earthlings. They had never been to any sports festival and, worst, did not speak English. Even though Lagosians and most Nigerians idolised this Igbobi sports star, the bloodthirsty soldiers shot the Olympic star into the Niger and hauled his gold medals into the river after him. “Banza gold,” they chanted in derision.
Fifty years after the Ogbeosowa massacre, the Asaba anti-genocide agitators can look back now and smile. We have taken the discussion away from the lips of widows who before now tabled the accounts as whispers beside the crackling noise of the kitchen firewood. From the first bombshell releasing the Blood On the Niger, we have recited in poetry The Last Dance on the Niger. Fifty years after, two professors of History and Anthropology, University of South Florida, USA, have published in London the history and the legacy of the Asaba massacre. We are about to finish filming Asaba: the Revenge of the Sea Goddess. And now Chukwuedo’s bestselling drama, Asaba the Dance of the Dead.
Fifty years after Nigeria has paid N36 billion naira in compensation to the victims of the Odi genocide. What’s holding the overdue compensation and apologies for Asaba, the mother of all genocide? We have been patient, for this year’s anniversary; the whole world by October 7, in London, Florida, Washington DC, in the whole free world, would assemble to give our dead the memorial they deserve.
As the Poet wrote in The Last Dance on the Niger:
“The October 7 barbaric killings of the Asaba holy innocents
For their restless souls and their butchers we pray
From Kosovo to Soweto, Mogadishu to Monrovia Darfur Damascus, Katyn Aleppo
Asaba, Casablanca, Kigali, Katanga
We shall all converge in Everlasting Remembrance…”
Forensic experts, anthropologists visited the square
Ogbeosowa, the heap of Asaba Golgotha
A Genocide without apology
Though the General in Chief mouthed his own mea culpa
But a dancing people have no tears
No remembrance, no memorial for the fallen
In Tampa Florida, in Kosovo, in Soweto
Kigali Katanga, Asaba Casablanca, Katyn Aleppo
The people must come and bury their dead
The Egwu ota bird returns to the square
She will beat her wings, nod her head
Dancing for the dead
Sing a song and ballet on her feet
Dancing her blood to rest
Asaba will write her history
Fifty years after, the Asaba story storms the world.