– The Sun News

Asaba beckons on history (2)

In history a few grand speeches have commanded as much greatness, perhaps even more, than the events that spurred them. Examples abound all across the world. One of the most signal is the speech president Abraham Lincoln gave at the end of the battle of Gettysburg.

Today, Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech is taken not just as a piece of literary excellence. It is, but more importantly it is considered something of an act in itself, as ‘’a monumental act’’, to quote Senator Charles Sumner. Perhaps that will give us an insight into the ways and means of words in defining not just communications, but our very humanity.

And Asaba Genocide happened. It was a grisly moment in time and as records go. And 50 years after that dreadful inhumanity, it is time, however belated, to begin to rebuild, to rebirth. And many were up to it. But of the several speeches that were made to mark the occasion, one stood out like a full moon in the dark night of our memories, memories of genocide. Given by the industrialist-statesman, A. Ofili-Okonkwo, Chairman of the October 7 Memorial Group, it is a speech as historic as Lincoln’s most famous oration. And both are about the tragedies of war and rebirths.   

Of course, what distinguished the Lincoln speech was not just the literary excellence. Though it had it. What distinguished Lincoln’s words was that they shone through and through with a sense of shared humanity, a sense of hurt forgiven…. A sense that the future, not the past is our grandest purpose.

Okonkwo in his speech rose to such heights, that only a few statesmen like Lincoln have attained in history. His ‘’A Memory of Genocide’’, will remain one of our most poignant humanistic documents ever. Like Lincoln’s, Okonkwo’s speech, was short and no less as quotable. Below are excerpts.

I listened to Prof Wole Soyinka yesterday when he talked about “the gamut of mixed emotions”. My emotions today are certainly all mixed up but pre-eminently I feel elated. I am elated because for the past two days, Asaba has mourned her dead in a manner that Asaba should have done the past 49years. It has taken 50years to do so but we have done it, and we have done it proudly.

On the 7th October 1967, soldiers of the 2nd Division of the Nigerian Army entered Asaba. They corralled a parade of boys and non-combatant men who had come dancing in ceremonial white to welcome them. They pulled old men from their homes. They gathered them all in a village square at Ogbe Osowa and shot them in cold blood…

While nothing will ever make up for these acts of inhumanity or the hole it ruptured in the heart of the nation, we, the survivors and victims of the ghastly incident are seeking closure  through measures aimed at ensuring that nothing like this ever happens again. Majority of Asaba people have chosen to forgive and desire -to move forward as proud Nigerians. All we want is to remember our Dead and ensure that future generations of Nigerians know that no good ever comes from war.

It is on account of the fore-going that we wish to create a memorial space for our dead that is imposing in stature but humbling in spirit. A place that blunts our painful memories of death with the daily cries of new-born babies coming from all over the world to be born in Asaba. We wish to transform the killing fields of Asaba from a Land of Death to a Place of Life. We wish to build a memorial space that evokes the spirit of a shared humanity in all who are touched by our story of loss…. As a Place of Life it will underscore our desire to “deliver and celebrate” Life, where others wish to take or extinguish it. And it shall be called: My Place of Birth Hospital, Asaba. This is so that as we count down to the centennial of the massacre, the cries of new-borns coming into life in Asaba might grow in volume, as a fitting condolence for the loss of our kindred cut down in their primes in October, 1967. Let us therefore engrave these modest jottings on the permanent memory of History,

That: “We came in our best Traditional White. To Welcome Soldiers we called our OWN. With Chants of “ONE NIGERIA” on our Lips. Seven Hundred of Us fell under the fire of Machine Guns. That our Taxes paid for. Fifty years have passed, and our communal memory is GENOCIDE. Today, We Remember, so that the World may never Forget…


Before we demonise the wealthy who are innocent

I was listening to Bismarck Rewane who is something of a commercial sage at Channels Sunrise.

Rewane is also something of a consultant. That is he sells knowledge, wisdom, to earn his fare here on earth. The Channels clip was from an earlier interview. And he was mouthing the usual, if unstudied buzzword. To him a guy who drives a Mercedes, gives parties, etc. and has no visible means of incomes should be questioned or things to that import. That is bullshit.

What really is a visible means of income? Has Rewane himself any? The answer is no. And I explain.

Rewane is probably an heir of one or all of the legendary Rewanes from Ishekiri land. So he has some unearned and thus largely non-visible, even rentier income. These things often come in the form of stocks and shares. And since the really big Rewanes have all died and are off the radar, only those of old enough would suspect the source of that Bismarck Rewane income is legit.

Unlike in Europe there are no popular histories of Nigeria’s former rich. So a Rewane is just another surname save to those old enough to know.

But more importantly, Rewane sells intellectual assets, stock and shares. And there are no price limits to the charges. And it becomes even more so because this happens at the far end of intellectual analysis of the markets.

That is to say that for a ten page memo, a Rewane, can bill and be paid ten million dollars. And that is fair and that is legitimate. But the point is that to the observer who is not privy to his invoices – and a lot of us won’t – a Rewane is really living beyond his means, is living large, without visible means of income. And the narrative looks real. A Rewane does not need more than an office to rake in billions doing consulting. That is at eyes-level observations his wealth may be from sources known and unknown. Ahiazuwa.

The greater issue is that his income is not visible whatever that means. But it is legitimate. This brings us to the tale of Dr. Pius Okigbo. Okigbo was a stupendously wealthy Nigerian economist. He ran Skoup Consulting in Enugu. And I used to frequent there. Nothing really was ‘’happening’’ and there was nothing to recommend the office. The office was desert drab. But they were raking in billions of naira or equivalent. How? Being one of the best and brightest economists, he and his team were on hot demand all over the world. And he was consulting not only for international bodies like the United Nations, he had whole sovereign governments jostling to be his clients.

Now the story. Okigbo is from Ojoto in Anambra State. When he died he willed a total value of 12 billion plus naira to his inheritors, I was told. And all of his heirs became on the instant of the death of their patriarch, billionaires. At the time a dollar was pretty less than 100 naira or about. Perhaps, you can imagine the mountain huge money he made – invisibly – as it were.

Anyway a young billionaire friend of mine from Ojoto, a successful trader was scandalized. He knew Okigbo was rich, but only as rich as could be. And now it appeared that Okigbo was not only rich he was one of the richest Igbo alive then and almost certainly the richest from Ojoto of that time. To him it amounted to a fact. It was that Okigbo was earning money from no visible means of income. And he was correct.

Okigbo’s money was largely invisible but all legit. And legit? That was all that mattered. Whether the means is on display or not is of no consequence and should not be demanded.

So we cannot leave to the mob or neighbors, the metering of how money is made or what is and or is not visible means of income. Being wealthy is not in having visible warehouses like my Ojoto trader or in having road running fleet of buses like ABC motors promoters, Nneji. These guys are all wealthy but theirs is not the greatest or finest definition of what wealth is.

And those whose businesses are on display are not necessarily more innocent by the fact of that. The point is that Evans the notorious kidnapper has outlandish shell businesses that suggested he is living within his means of visible income. No one neighbor of his suspected him at the least. And that is fact enough.

And I can recall, the last time journalists from Forbes drove up to Sam Walton he was shocked. What’s the matter he asked? And he was told: you are the richest man in the world. And he didn’t even know. So things happen. And we must leave spooking on crooks to professionals, not neighbors and the mob.

A man is not guilty because he or his sources of incomes are not on display. It is troubling, perhaps silly, to have educated peoples want to join in this lynching. Ahiazuwa.

STOP-PRESS: This is to invite the general public and 2TG readers especially, to the Lagos Book and Arts Festival holding from the 6th to the 12th of November. Venues is the Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos. The Stone Press, will join other frontline publishers to exhibit her titles from the 9th to the 12th. The Stone Press are the publishers of my books. My latest title: Nigeria, The Unreported Genocide Against The Igbo is one of the dedicated titles of the festival to be discussed. So let’s see at the great book festival.


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