By Iteveh Ekpokpobe
It was, not just a center for Women Development. No! It was a reminder. It was the tree planted over Maryam Babangida’s memory, the late wife of former Military Head of State, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida who died at the age of 61 from ovarian cancer on 27 December, 2009 in a Los Angeles, California hospital.
It was home to the souls of hundreds of Asaba people, lined up by the Nigerian Army at River Niger’s bank in the Cable Point Area, torn into pieces with machine guns and their corpses carried away by the river. Leaving blood on the Niger!
It was a vestige to the thousands of men, who dug three large graves on the order of the Nigerian Army, led by Col. Murtala Mohammed, Major Ibrahim Taiwo, and Major Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, October 7, 1967 at Ogbeosowa Square, ordered to enter the graves, and shot dead. The Asaba Massacre! A catalogue of butchery unending.
It was gory. “Adaobi, a 16-year-old virgin, set aside by the gods, to serve as Priestess to the River Niger was raped by three Nigerian soldiers, to death. Four-year old infants like Felix and Alphonsus Nwajei were forced to join the men, as they faced the firing squad.
Babies were yanked away from their mothers’ breasts. Their heads were bashed against concrete bitumen tar. Their little bodies strewn under and rolled over by the monstrous tyres of the army supply vehicles.” Emma Okocha, bitterly recounts the eye witness accounts in his work ‘Blood On The Niger’.
National historical amnesia is an avoidable luxury, for those who forget history, tend to repeat it, Emma Okocha, theorizes in this book. Till date, indigenes of Asaba are still contending with the reality of that massacre. That Asaba turned out to be the capital city of Delta State, was a pacification plot.
Sadly, twenty nine years down the line, the memory of ‘Esther’ (Maryam Babangida), the queen who saved the children of Israel (Asaba) from the manipulations of Haman, is threatened. Nay! Obliterated.
The Maryam Babangida Women Development Centre is no more. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, has converted the edifice to an appeal court. An exertion to placate ‘God knows who’ over his Supreme Court victory.
A whooping sum of N800 million is down the cesspit. That amount, just for chairs, tables, red rugs, a few microphones, and paints. A scandalous N800 million! Barely N200 million short of one billion. Meanwhile, the Construction Of Ogwashi-Uku/Ubulu-Unor Road with a total length is 7.5 kilometres is N839,611,741.50. Yet, Okowa is a prudent governor. He is doing well.
April, 10 Saturday, 2010, former President Ibrahim Babangida fought back tears in Asaba during the first Memorial Lecture in honour of his late wife, Mrs. Maryam Babangida. He was not alone at the Unity Hall of Government House Asaba. Emotions swept the hall when the sister of the former First Lady, Dr. Nkadi Onyegegbu (nee Okogwu) reeled out Maryam’s numerous achievements in a powerfully-crafted four-page citation.
That day, the foundation of that centre was laid. Few months later, it was completed. The road leading to the centre was also renamed after her.
Despondently, five days after wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha Buhari, former first lady of Nigeria, wife of Vice President, Dolapo Osinbajo, Victoria Ironsi, Victoria Gowon, Ajoke Mohammed, Abubakar, Turia Yaradua, Patience Jonathan and others remembered ten years of Maryam Babangida’s demise, in Abuja for her pioneering role of initiating women empowerment programme ‘Better Life for Rural Women programme.’ Governor Okowa is cutting the tape to wipe out her memories off the minds of Deltans.
The Nigerian Courts of Appeal are the intermediate appellate courts of the Nigerian federal court system. Their construction is the prerogative of the Federal Government. Is Governor Okowa saying the problems of Deltans have been effectively addressed hence like ‘Gowon’ said, ‘our money is too much, we don’t know what to do with it’? Or is there a hidden arrangement for the FG to repay the cost on a later date?
The State Commissioner for Housing, Festus Ochonogor and his Information counterpart, Charles Aniagwu, would justify the conversion by saying that the construction is to ‘bring justice closer to Deltans’. As if Justice has ever been far. Forgetting that in Nigeria, nothing goes for nothing. For a pair of sandals, justice can be averted. Delta State is shoddier. There is no fear where bags are sashed with wads of notes, both foreign and local. An exchange here and there eases the temper. Before you know it, it is over.
Gullible times! There is a new wave. It is politically driven. It is set to wipe out all traces of the former governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. All projects initiated by him are inherited and renamed. Others are better left to rot. It’s a new political order. Okowa wishes to reign supreme. It is not about Uduaghan, anyway. He is no saint, but a governor of ongoing projects. He failed everyone including himself. But then, Okowa forgets that he will bow out too. It is only a matter of time. 2023 is already knocking. Tic- tac!
Nevertheless, should in case Okowa forgets. It would have been a political woe for Delta North, if the capital of Delta State found its way to Abraka or Sapele as bickered. Senator Nosike Ikpo, absolved former President Ibrahim Babaginda of blame in siteing the capital of Delta State, in Asaba.
He said it was the stalemate between Sapele and Abraka, which scored five votes each in the battle for the capital of Delta State. The refusal of the interest groups to back down for each other paved the way for Asaba to become the state capital, as resolved by the defunct Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), for resolution.
“At the time, the military was not disposed to creating three new states from Bendel. The committee was charged to propose a headquarters of one new state for Anioma and core Delta area. Five towns were nominated, namely: Warri, Sapele, Ughelli, Abraka and Kwale. There was no nomination from Isoko and Ijaw areas, respectively. Votes were cast for the five nominated towns. Sapele and Abraka scored five votes each. None was ready to step down for the other. The committee then transferred their dilemma to AFRC to decide.”
“The siteing of the headquarters of Delta State in Asaba underlined the wisdom of Babangida as an administrator. How could a wise leader christen a state created for two areas by the name of one area and site the headquarters of the state in the same area? Naming Asaba as the capital of Delta State was not a mistake on the part of Babangida. If anything, it was intended to placate the Anioma people for forcing them to answer a name that does not belong to them.”
“It was, however, rumoured that one senior army officer of Urhobo origin influenced the adoption of the name ‘Delta’ as the name of the new state. Prof. Sam Oyovbaire’s cleared the air some time ago. He was responsible for naming Delta State as a result of his membership of the AFRC as the then minister of information during Babangida’s administration.”
Beyond the tales of (Senator) Nosike Ikpo, was an unsung but known song of the role of ‘Asaba Amaka’ Maryam Babangida in the siteing of the state capital. A fact Prof Sam Oyovbair (father of government) cannot deny. Today, he has failed his former boss. He, who cannot be grateful in little, cannot be grateful in much. The reminder of Maryam struggle is dismantled before his very eyes, in a government he fathers.
The wise thing to do is to name the edifice, ‘Maryam Babangida Complex, Asaba Appeal Court’. Indigenes of Asaba have a question to answer. Posterity will not judge them well for their silence at this point. Maybe, soon, the Asagba’s Palace will be converted to a Registry.
Let us watch. Then again, while we watch, rest with me. Rest with me on the soothing words of Molefe Mafole in the poem ‘Our Ideal’. Far ahead lies our goal… The race to them is fierce… Ours is an ideal to achieve… The burning is steady forward. Forward to the new era. The attainment of sovereignty. To fight and not to yield. To dare and not to fear. To strive and not to rest. To hope and not to despair.
All are props to our goal. We fight not for grievances. That by bread may be appeased. Ours is a noble cause. Most just and sacred. To win back our raped rights. You fools adamant and stupid. Feign not to know this. Enough let this be an eye opener. Stop the vain talk of Bantustans. For this impresses us not. Undermine not our determination. Pooh-pooh not our aspirations. Ours is a dear demand. Every square inch of this soil. And no rest till this is won. Izwe Lethu!’
Hard times! Deltans are suffering and blinded.
**Iteveh Ekpokpobe, is a Public Relations Executive and media consultant.