Asaba is easily one of Nigeria’s most historic and greatest towns. By any checklists, Asaba is a top leaguer. Ordinarily, Asaba has gifted Nigeria some of her greatest sons and daughters. And this in all spheres of life. Nigeria’s most definitive first lady, Maryam Babangida, is Asaban. A liberal crowd of some of the national’s greatest industrialists, the Odogwus, Okogwus, Ofili-Okonkwos, Henry-Okolos are all Asaban. And some of Nigeria’s finest bureaucrats and scholars, Obi Professor Joseph Edozien, Phillip Asiodu etc. are Asaban too. Nigeria’s greatest poet Chris Okigbo took his inspiration from Asaba – cable point and all. Dr Ike Okonta, author and journalist, is certainly one of the smartest stars of the new dawn. He too is Asaba amaka. And it is worth remarking, one of Nigeria’s greatest writers, is also Asaba Amaka. Emma Okocha, history will rewardingly record, is one of our finest men of genius who ever pushed the pen. What makes for genius you may ask? The first is revolutionary insight. Its obverse side is a bandit’s courage in the hands of an angel. Necessarily the two go together.
And what makes Okocha one of our greatest writer, certainly Nigeria’s greatest historian? Subject matter. At a time when the official federal government narrative is that nothing happened and that nothing must be reported, since it didn’t happen, Okocha against the run of play risked his life, his fortune, to carefully track, establish and record for posterity the fact of genocide. Today it is not just a fact of life, it is a historically documented fact, that Asaba was subjected to genocide. And historically that was the first genocide in Nigeria. It was exacted, it was conducted by the Nigerian army under the obnoxious command of Taiwo Ibrahim and Murtala Mohammed. And the two like their kindred souls, the Nazis, especially the notorious Adolf Eichmann, remained remorseless over their abhorrent inhumanity.
Okocha’s historiography it is well to remark is almost Biblical, it is written like some of the greatest works of the Jews. It is written with the blood of victims, with the tears and torn souls of the survivors. ‘’By the rivers of Babylon where we wailed….’’ Okocha’s genius is in the line of this perspective. And works like this become immortal by the very fact of this.
And we are heading towards the 50th anniversary of that heinous and inhumanly despicable record of the Nigerian army and its men and officers. And history is moving on.
Asaba welu awele. It is important at this point to state the following. In the words of Chief Henry Okolo, a Lagos based industrialist, the remembrance is not to seek revenge. The remembrance is not to campaign for secession. It is a historical duty of the living to record man’s inhumanity to fellow man and forewarn our future humanity.
This is where the point of welu awele comes in. Awele, an Asaba and riverine Igbo word, means the pursuit of harmony, a journey or striving into or through harmony. In a sense, it is Daoism before the Chinese sages hit on the idea. So what the Asaba are asking is that we remember, but that we do not recriminate, that we do not seek revenge. That very concept of awele is in a restoration of our humanity, not its desecration by revenge.
And this is in keeping of the ancient custom of the ancient Asaba kingdom. If Igbo are the greatest hosts for visitors, Asaba is their model. There are no persons known to this writer who has ever lived in Asaba without becoming a son, a daughter, a friend of the city. Perhaps it has something to do with the river that washes Asaba spotless in mind and ubuntu, to borrow a wonderful Zulu phrase. Perhaps it is the fate of most cultural entrepots, that they have open hands, open hearts, sharing palms and forgiving spirit.
It is in this spirit that we may recall Ogbueshi Alban Ofili-Okonkwo, who is the Chairman of the 50th anniversary task force, spoke as follows: part of the commemoration is to build a world class maternity center. The idea is that the descendants of those who committed the massacre and the children of the survivors will be born in the same hospital. And that those medics to be trained to the best world standards in the proposed health complex, will be spreading, scattering the practice and sense of awele, of harmony and our shared humanity all through the world, wherever they are employed.
The formal 50th anniversary ceremony will literally attract the world, all humanists, both persons and body corporates to Asaba. From Professor Wole Soyinka to Ford Foundation, from Ohaneze to Chief John Oyegun they all will be there. By the way Oyegun is one of the sons of Asaba. His formative years as a young scholar was out there. And Asaba welcomed him a son, which he has forever remained. They all will come to join Asaba to forgive, to remember and to preach awele to the world. And lest we forget, one of the greatest Chinese chefs, certainly the greatest in Nigeria by my metrics, is based in Asaba. In fact he has taken on the grand name, Asaba Amaka – roughly, Asaba a thing of beauty.