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By Osita Chidoka

In many fora, I had called for a definitive and official account of the First Republic, the 1966 coup, and the civil war. The issues will keep rearing their heads and causing, sometimes unintended, deeper division and backlash.

I read ArchBishop Chukwuma’s statement and my friend @renoomokri
tweet about the statement. Both statements could be termed inciteful and unnecessary but I am of the view that they represent the rich tapestry of our uninterrogated past.

My mission today is to contextualise ArchBishop Chukwuma’s statement and correct a historical fallacy.

First, Arch Bishop Chukwuma is from Asaba, in Delta state, and the people of Asaba are still bitter about the Asaba massacre reportedly carried out by Gen Murtala Mohammed. To date, no official account exists about the story that civilian men of 18 and above were rounded up and executed in cold blood in Asaba.

Gen Mohammed tried unsuccessfully three times to cross the River Niger from Asaba to Onitsha. While in Asaba, he was alleged to have killed over 2000 men. Again, reports of the number of those killed range from 500 to 900, and some say from 800 to 2000.

We need an official unbiased historical account that can at least agree on the sequence of events and what really happened.

Gov Soludo of Anambra State (2nd r-l) on a visit to Ochanja collapsed market in Onitsha

Arch Bishop Chukwuma’s statement, as insensitive as it may sound, represents the general and strong feelings of the Asaba people. They even feel that the Igbos of the current Southeast do not acknowledge their pain sufficiently. His statement is contextual as many of his people believe that Gen Mohammed and his officers should be held accountable for war crimes.

The issue he raised is not about the Civil War, it is about a perceived war crime committed against his people amongst whom, many opposed the idea of Biafra and elected to stay in the Mid West and with Nigeria only to be lined up and shot because they spoke Igbo.

Going by historical accounts Gen. Adekunle and Gen. Obasanjo did not shoot civilians in the Igbo-speaking parts of Rivers State after the fall of Port Harcourt. Neither did Gen TY Danjuma shoot the civilian men who elected to remain behind when he captured Enugu. The Asaba people to date wonder what they did wrong that unarmed civilian men were lined up and shot in violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians.

So, there is a need to verify the story of the Asaba massacre, apportion blame appropriately, and bring it to a closure through a conflict resolution mechanism. A truth and reconciliation committee or commission may be a way to go.

In his response on X Reno repeats a historical fallacy that Celestine Ukwu released a song Ewu na ebe akwa rough translation ( a goat is bleating) to mock the Northerner leaders killed in the coup. It is not true.

The truth is Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson, a Kalabari man from present-day Rivers State, released that song in 1964. It was not Celestine Ukwu, whose career took off after the war. He lived in the same apartment building 13 Peter Okoye Street, Uwani Enugu, where my parents lived. I was born there in 1971. He died tragically in 1977 in a car crash. I vaguely remember the sound of his instruments rehearsing in the evenings. After his death, Barr Jacob Ugwu moved into the flat he vacated. Barr Ugwu later became Chief Judge of Enugu State.

These kinds of fallacies, maybe unconsciously, promote hate. The almost conscious reproduction of falsehood will continue to plague us as a nation if we do not confront our past and document an accurate version of history to help dispel false narratives.

The families of those murdered in the coup of 1966 and all those killed in coups in Nigeria deserve justice. We must collectively confront our past to free our present.

Chidoka, former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps, was former Minister of Aviation during Jonathan era

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