#Pulse36 Day 10 Nigerians might forget, but Asaba remembers Oct. 7 1967

Today, we set out with only one person in mind; Augustine Ndili. He's the Ogbueshi of Asaba.

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As you'd expect, it's managed by the Federal Government at the moment, which automatically means it will be falling apart. play

As you'd expect, it's managed by the Federal Government at the moment, which automatically means it will be falling apart.

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Today, we set out with only one person in mind; Augustine Ndili.

He's the Ogbueshi of Asaba. The Onuohi promised us yesterday that he'll have loads of stories for us.

And he did. He did have stories.

Ndili looks frail from age, but his mind is sharp, he has sarcasm at the tip of his tongue, and he knows how to crack a good joke.

“I'm not a journalist,” he says after we've introduced ourselves. “Although I always dreamed of becoming one. An uncle told me back then that ‘If you don't have the guts for prison, then don't become a journalist.’

He laughed saying it, but it also says a lot about what it must have been like to work in the media in the 60s.

He didn't have much time to waste, and neither did we. So we threw the first question at him.

What happened on October 7, 1967?

He sighed. He sighed like every elderly person we'd asked or spoken to about the events of that day.

We asked him because he survived it.

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“I was in Benin at the beginning of October,” he began. “My brother and I were working as civil servants and living in the same house.”

When the Nigerian Army entered Benin, everyone ran home, he said.

The next thing was to pack. Pack and run home, back to Asaba. And that's what they did.

“It was in Asaba I first saw the real war,” he said. And it was at the expense of a family member's life.

The Nigerian Army had started shelling Asaba the night before, and his uncle was a casualty.

So early that morning, they had set out to bury him. When they were returning, something happened.

“We were arrested by some Nigerian soldiers.”

Meanwhile, around Asaba, families were waking up to new day.

Dance of Death.

When the Nigerian forces first entered Asaba, the people received the warmly, saying that they were willing to cooperate for ‘One Nigeria’.

So that morning, they came out in their ceremonial white regalia, to dance in celebration.

Ndili, on the other hand, was still being held by the Army.

As the people of Asaba danced past them, they'd beg to join the procession.

“Everytime we tried to join the procession, one of the soldiers would say, “If you join them, anything wey your eye see, you take am. But if you stay here, nothing go happen.”

When the procession had passed and they tried to join again, that very soldier hit the first one of them with the butt of his gun and the others ran back again.

“God bless that soldier.”

A small argument started among the soldiers. Some said that they should allow them join their people, because they were all “Ojukwu’s brothers”. The other soldiers wanted to spare them.

Meanwhile, at the other end of town. Men were getting rounded up. A significant number of boys 10 years and above too.

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The soldiers opened fire. Bodies dropped. Gun cartridges emptied and were refilled. More gunfire. By the time the guns were smoking. There was no man standing. Only bullet riddled bodies lying on top of each other.

“The few people who survived that day were the people who fell to the ground as bodies fell on them.”

But many of them still suffered bullet wounds.

The bodies were carried away in wheelbarrows by the women to bury. It was at this moment Ndili knew that being held was a blessing.

This is how he survived one of the greatest atrocities in our country's history.

The Onuohi told us yesterday that only 2,000 dead could be accounted for, because their families could be traced.

But what about the ones who couldn't be accounted for?

The dark shadow hovers till this day.

Before the Civil War, the people of Asaba were some of the most educated people in what is now Nigeria. They embraced Western influence early. They weren't just educated partially, they were mostly doctors, and lawyers, and engineers, and public servants.

So when this men were massacred, it wasn't just an age group that was killed. It was an entire class.

What happened was a Classicide.

Most women left behind could barely afford to even feed their children, not to talk of sending them to school.

“What this did was create an age group of people who were growing but were not developing.”

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“I hate talking about these things because it fills me with ugly thoughts. This story has been told over and over.”

We know this is his account as we know every family's account is different. I wonder what it must have been like to have lay still between the bodies, while people cried in agony as their bullet-ridden bodies bled out. I wonder what it must have felt like for mothers who had to mourn the men in their lives. Women who lost husbands, and fathers and sons in one day.

Women who had to learn to heal on their own. Nigerians might have forgotten what happened that day, but Asaba remembers.

We talked about the current political landscape in Nigeria and the future for Nigeria as a country.

“You know when you tell someone goodbye and you realise it might be the last time you see them?” Ndili jokes.

We panic a little at the thought of it. Then we laugh too. A man must not die with so much knowledge. Then I remember again, he's a writer with three of his books sitting on the table in front of him.

Although I also admit, it is after a writer has fetched an ocean that he can share just about a cup’s worth of water.

“Will you promise me that when you're done, you'll share with me the entire body of your travels?”

He's the first to ask, and I make a promise. We promise.

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And so we left, and headed to the Mungo Park House, spending a few minutes at what is perhaps the first unofficial Government house of what is now Nigeria.

As you'd expect, it's managed by the Federal Government at the moment, which automatically means it will be falling apart. play

As you'd expect, it's managed by the Federal Government at the moment, which automatically means it will be falling apart.

 

It used to serve as a warehouse of farm produce for the Royal Niger Company. It's not called Mungo Park House because the explorer lived here. Park never even made it to Asaba. He died in New Bussa, Niger State. It's named Mungo Park House because, you know, someone thought it'd be nice.

We left there and headed for our next destination, Anambra State, Onitsha to be precise.

We tried to take photos at the Niger Bridge but the soldiers at the foot of the Bridge at the Asaba end, politely told us they couldn't allow us take photos for security reasons. Or even walk across the Bridge. So they hailed a bus for us, and off we went across the Bridge.

At the other side too was another police checkpoint.

Clearly, there are things the Army doesn't want crossing the Bridge.

Our first stop in Onitsha was its most famous address; 51 Iweka Road Onitsha.

The Old Nollywood was built on three streets, Epinpejo Lane, Idumota and Pound Road, Aba. Iweka Road is the third.

But there was a heartbreak waiting for us. 51 Iweka Road as we know it, is now extinct. We learned that the Unions decided they needed more space, and so the filmmakers moved to a new address, Site Electronics.

It was much bigger, but it didn't fill me with any of the magic 51 Iweka Road filled me with.

We did find out some interesting things. When we spoke to the President of Marketers at Site Electronics, we learned that in a week, between 8-10 movies are made here weekly. We learned that the budget for a Nollywood movie will most likely be anywhere from 2-7 million.

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We also learned that there might be someone who'd lead us to Nnamdi Kanu.

The first thing you notice when you cross the Niger Bridge into Onitsha is that, there's a Biafran flag or neckpiece, or sticker or something everywhere you turn. The Spirit of Biafra is alive and raging in Onitsha. Especially since we heard that he was in Onitsha the previous weekend. We met with some members of the Independent Peoples of Biafra.

I referred to Nnamdi Kanu as Kanu while asking questions and one of them corrected by quickly.

“When you refer to him as Kanu, it sounds like the Hausa Kano. He's our Supreme Leader Nnamdi Kanu.”

In their eyes, you see conviction. In their conviction, you see a resolve to stop at nothing but Biafra, under the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu.

We ask for how we can get to see him. We know he's in Umuahia.

When they told us, explained to us, and apologised in advance for the scrutiny we'd have to experience, we knew we were up to something.

We knew that maybe, just maybe, we might run into the most important man in the Nigerian political landscape today.

*All photos were shot on the Samsung Galaxy S8+.

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