Village leaders and witnesses share their experience
In 1967, Nigeria was riven by a bitter civil war over the secession of the south-eastern state of Biafra, whose population was predominantly of Igbo ethnicity. The war had followed several episodes of mass killings of Igbo elsewhere in the country, causing many Igbo to flee south, primarily to Delta State, which borders Biafra.
On October 5, Nigerian government troops entered the Delta State community of Asaba, having driven back Biafran troops from the area. In the chaos that followed, between 500 and 700 townspeople were killed by the military, most lined up and shot in the town square of Ogbeosowa village. Survivors buried the dead in pits on the site where they died. Lists exist of many who died, but there were no individual burials (as custom requires), no death certificates were issued, and there was no official accounting. Decades later, some survivors told their stories to the 2001 Nigerian Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC), often known as the Nigerian Truth Commission or Oputa Panel (after its chair).
Unlike Truth Commissions in South Africa and elsewhere, the Nigerian commission was not designed to attribute blame or take action. However, a landmark moment occurred when General Yakubu Gowon, the Nigerian head of state during the war, made a public apology to the people of Asaba in September, 2001. There is now a strong desire, both in Nigeria and in diaspora communities in the U.S., to reclaim the history of the Asaba tragedy and create a permanent memorial to those who died.