On our way to Abuja earlier this month, I and my younger siblings drove past the long River Benue Bridge before connecting the land as other commuters using that axis do. But while we were still on top of the river, I proceeded to ask them if they knew that the river carries within it about 2 big tanks of Igbo blood and a collection of Igbo skeletons. They were surprised. They've never heard such. They've heard so much about the Nigerian genocide on ndị Igbo but they've hardly learned what happened on that river exactly 52 years ago.
They didn't know that around the same July 52 years ago, many Igbo people living and working in the North fled for their lives leaving their properties and even abandoning the corpses of their loved ones who were killed by the mad crowd in the North. But upon getting to Benue using train, hundreds of Nigerian soldiers had been stationed waiting for them. The soldiers pretended to be looking for fellow soldiers from Eastern Nigeria and asked all the men to disembark while women and children continued the journey beyond the river. In the end, those disembarked men — many who were Igbo and others from old Eastern region — were lined up and shot and thrown into that river. The Nigerian soldiers who did that were mainly the minority groups of the Northern region. Such small groups from today's Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, etc.
My siblings were surprised and shocked. They're randomly in their mid 20s and early 20s but never heard this angle of what our people suffered not minding that our grandfather's first son and our eldest uncle who joined the Biafran army was shelled at Asaba and we never saw his corpse till this day. They have some fair knowledge of the war events more than many of their Igbo mates yet there are so many aspects they don't know. The carnage of river Benue is one. It's possible my siblings may live up to their 40s without knowing what I had relayed to them if I hadn't tried to. Now, pause and ponder the large volume of what many other Igbo youths do not know about their grandparents and parents' greatest life horror which they (our parents and grandparents) are often too shell-shocked to recount.
If you are Igbo and you travel through the River Benue to Abuja with your child and young ones and you know our story with that river, and you refuse to tell it, you're failing our dead ones. We must endeavor to tell them these things else we join in wasting our own blood by wasting our own memories, for when you ignore the memory of the dead, you enhance the victory of the killer.
On a sober note:.... And when several and endless killings happen in and around the same Benue, people hardly think that there could be more to them than just 'Fulani herdsmen'.... Let me leave it at that....
If I could have the resources to, I would load ten buses of Igbo senior secondary school students — 2 schools from each Igbo State — and take them near the river, tell them this story and then feed them and return them safely to their schools. If I do that repeatedly, I'd have taught a huge number of the younger Igbo generations something they are barely likely to hear or read from books, courtesy of the Nigerian educational system blanking them out from knowing history beyond the tiring tales of Kanem-Bornu empire.
July 1966 — July 2018 (52 years): May we never belittle the memory of our dead to enhance the victory of their killers!
© Chijioke Ngobili 2018