The Asaba Massacre is the story of Sorrow, Tears and Blood which happened on October 7, 1967 in Asaba town, which was part of the defunct Mid-Western State during the Nigerian Civil War.
In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War, which was fought over the secession of Biafra, formerly known as the Eastern Region of Nigeria, Biafran troops invaded the Midwestern Region of Nigeria, to the west of the River Niger, in early August, 1967. The Biafran troops then spread west, progressing towards the Western region, taking Benin City in the process and reaching as far as Ore, in present day Ondo state. It was at Ore that the Biafran troops were pushed back by the Nigerian Second Division, under the command of Col. Murtala Muhammed.
The Federal troops, pushing back the advancing Biafran troops gained the upper hand, and forced the Biafrans back to the Niger, where they crossed the River Niger via the Niger bridge back into the Biafran city of Onitsha, which is directly across the River from Asaba. After crossing the Niger river, The Biafrans troops blew up the eastern spans of the Niger bridge, so that the Federal troops were unable to pursue them.
On October 5, 1967, the Federal troops under the command of Col. Murtala Muhammed stormed the city of Asaba in pursuit of Biafran soldiers who had earlier crossed Ore after taking Benin and dislodging Nigerian troops there. But because the Biafran soldiers had blown the Niger bridge to make it impossible for the Nigerian side to pursue them, the Nigerian Federal troops simply settled in Asaba where they started going from house to house, killing people of the town who they accused of aiding the Biafran soldiers and began ransacking houses and killing civilians, claiming they were Biafran sympathisers.
Leaders summoned the townspeople to assemble on the morning of October 7, 1967, hoping to end the violence through a show of support for “One Nigeria”. Hundreds of men, women, and children, many wearing the ceremonial akwa ocha (white) attire paraded along the main street, singing, dancing, and chanting “One Nigeria”.
At a junction, men and teenage boys were separated from women and young children, and gathered in an open square at Ogbe-Osawa village. Federal troops revealed machine guns, and orders were given, reportedly by Second-in-Command, Maj. Ibrahim Taiwo, to open fire and the men and boys were pelted with bullets. At the end of the bullet festival, not less than 700 people of Asaba lay lifeless. There were dead bodies everywhere. Most of them were later buried in shallow mass graves while the Nigerian troops still occupied the town afterwards, hunting down men and boys who escaped the October 7 massacre, raping and forcefully ‘marrying’ off women and young girls in the process. It is said that even 12 year old boys were killed in the process, in addition to many more killed in the preceding days.
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 and large numbers of citizens fled, many not returning until the war ended in 1970.
Asaba Massacre Perpetrator
According to Wikipedia, Ibrahim B. Haruna has sometimes been named as the officer who ordered the massacre, following a report of his testimony to the Nigerian Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission, known as the Oputa Panel (Vanguard, Oct. 10, 2001). This article quoted him as claiming responsibility (as the commanding officer) and having no apology for the atrocity. However, Haruna was not present in Asaba in 1967. He replaced Murtala Muhammed as C.O. of the Second Division in spring 1968. While there are no eye-witness reports of Muhammed ordering the killings, he was the Commander in the field, and thus must bear responsibility.