Do we, for one second, think that something like the Asaba Massacre cannot happen again in Nigeria?
Permit me to tell two stories…
“I saw a town 4 hours bicycle ride up the Gerbeau farm where some 500 people had been murdered by the Germans. One baby was crucified.”
The above statement was the account of Raymond Murphy, an American navigator who was shot down over France in 1944. Murphy was describing the 10 June, 1944 massacre of the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane.
On June 9, 1944, Adolf Diekmann, an SS-Sturbannfuehrer learned that the French resistance was holding a fellow SS officer hostage. Helmut Kampfe was held in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres. Missing his way, Diekmann ended up at Oradour-sur-Glane, a nearby village where he demanded thirty people in exchange for his comrade. It didn’t happen.
What happened next, was described by Laurence Olivier, in The World At War:
Down this road, on a summer day in 1944. . . The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours.
When they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand years. . . was dead. This is Oradour-sur-Glane, in France.
The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and children were …led down this road and they were driven. . . into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were shot.
Then they were killed too.
A few weeks later, many of those who had done the killing were themselves dead, in battle. They never rebuilt Oradour.
Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands of others in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, in China, in a World at War.
Diekmann and his people killed 642 men, women, and children, in exchange for one person, Helmut Kampfe.
Kampfe was kidnapped, and killed by different people, in a totally different location.
The second story happened 22 years after Oradour, in Kaduna, Nigeria.
A man, Patrick Kaduna Nzeogwu, who happened to be a soldier in the Nigerian Army, was one of the leaders of a mutiny.
In carrying out his mutiny, Nzeogwu murdered Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, and leader of Northern Nigeria.
Nzeogwu’s ancestors were from Okpanam, a village that is 10 minutes by car, from Asaba.
It is important to note, that Nzeogwu himself, spoke Hausa as a first language, English as second, and Igbo as third. He considered himself a Northerner.
Note the difference, between how France immortalised Oradour, and how in Nigeria, you are told to shut up, for talking about Asaba. I have seen tweets, from people in my own generation, the Twitter generation, justify the following year’s Asaba Massacre, because Nzeogwu killed the Sardauna.
What happened with Oradour, and Asaba, is what the theory of collective guilt does.
Collective guilt holds individuals responsible for other people’s actions by tolerating them, without actively collaborating. In normal societies, only the individual actor can accrue culpability for actions that they freely cause. Collective guilt denies individual responsibility, and is a vehicle, by which people can hide to carry out terrible actions.
Consider atrocities that have been carried out in Nigeria since we returned to ‘democracy’.
In Odi, some people killed twelve soldiers, so the entire town was destroyed, and up to 2,000 people were killed. We saw videos of Nigerian soldiers slaughtering boys in Borno, without trial, because the boys were suspected Boko Haram sympathisers. Two years ago, between 700 and 1000 Shiites were massacred, because some of them dared to “touch a general’s chest”.
In all of these and more, in places like Onitsha, Ugep, Kaduna, Zaki Biam not one person has been punished, the guilty have gone free. That the guilty have gone free, and in many cases, have been rewarded by the Nigerian state, is message enough. Within the borders of Nigeria, more massacres will happen.
God rest the dead.
By Cheta Nwanze. This piece first appeared in the Medium.