Renowned Nigerian journalist, author and conflict scholar, Chief Emma Okocha, passed on recently. The ace sports writer and administrator died on November 29, 2020 in Asaba, Delta State. The celebrated essayist and a man of personal conviction will be remembered for accurately documenting one of the darkest moments of the fratricidal Nigerian Civil war of 1967-1970, which claimed millions of lives on both sides of the conflict.
His chronicling of the Asaba Massacre in his definitive book entitled, Blood on the Niger, was the most revealing of the needless atrocities of the bestial war. In Blood on the Niger, Okocha skillfully and eloquently exposed the gory genocidal dimensions of the civil war with graphic details. In the book, Okocha catalogued the human rights abuses of Asaba people during the Nigerian Civil War and uncovered the truth about the heinous war crimes. Through the book, he sought justice for victims of the Asaba Massacre.
The book has been critically acclaimed as one of the best historical accounts of the unfortunate and avoidable war. According to General Robert Castor of the United States, “Blood on the Niger is, indeed, the only enquiry on the cataclysm that befell a particular Nigerian people during that country’s civil war, 1967-1970. It is the saga and dilemma of the innocent western Ibos, who because of their geographical placing, suffered the brunt of the war.” His Blood on the Niger inspired the research on the Asaba Massacre and subsequent publication of the seminal work, The Asaba Massacre, Trauma, Memory and the Nigerian Civil War, written by two American professors, Elizabeth Bird and Fraser Ottaneli.
As a cerebral columnist, Okocha had used his articles to denounce bad leadership, official corruption and social injustice. In all his incisive newspaper articles, he was bold, elegant and fearless in speaking truth to power. He also devoted most of his writings to defend the oppressed and the downtrodden in the society. He advocated for an equitable and better Nigeria where all citizens will be fairly treated.
Although an indigene of Asaba, in South South, Okocha was very proud of his Igbo roots and heritage. At home in Asaba as well as in any part of Igbo land, he played active role in the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Nidigbo.
It was unfortunate that Emma Okocha died a day before he would have been conferred with the chieftaincy title of Ikemba Ahaba by His Royal Highness, the Asagba of Asaba, Prof. Chike Edozien. It was an honoured he looked forward to and cherished, but death snatched him awsu before he could wear the crown. However, he received the title posthumously on November 30, 2020.
The deceased read Mass Communication at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), where he honed his writing skills and rights activism. Later, he attended the University of Lagos where he got advanced degrees in Political Science and Conflict Resolution. He was the publisher of the Washington DC-based USA AFRICA magazine. Apart from Blood on the Niger, other Okocha’s major works include; Angola: The Landing of the Cubans and Chad: The Coercive Outcome.
The deceased was the Sports Editor of the defunct Satellite newspaper based in Enugu. He was the chairman of Delta State Sports Commission. Reputed for playing a competitive soccer, he also co-authored a book on Rangers International of Enugu. He was given the title of Ogbueshi Mkpagbu in 2014.
It is sad that Okocha died at a time his interventions will be readily sought for national development. A social crusader and a patriotic Nigerian, he tirelessly campaigned for a Nigeria that will be a force to be reckoned with in Africa and the entire world. He will be missed by his readers and numerous friends. We toast to this good Nigerian and commiserate with his family, the journalism profession, the people of Asaba, Delta State and the nation on the irreparable loss.
May God grant him eternal repose.