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Uraih, Medua Chuma,
Medua Chuma Uraih oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by S. Elizabeth Bird and Fraser Ottanelli.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (29 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (19 p.)
Asaba Memorial oral history project
Interview conducted December 13, 2009.
Oral history interview with Medua Uraih, a survivor of the Asaba Massacre, a mass killing of civilians which occurred in 1967 during the Nigerian Civil War. Uraih, who was twenty when the massacre took place, had been attending school in Asaba before the war started. When the Nigerian soldiers entered the city, he and his family were taken to his school for a few days, then allowed to return home. They were part of the crowd that went to the town square to welcome the troops; the men were separated and taken away to be shot. Uraih was wounded but managed to escape with a friend. He then hid in the bush for a week. His father and two brothers were killed in the massacre. The soldiers remained in Asaba for several weeks; some stayed in the Uraih home. Uraih left Asaba in 1968 and got a job in Lagos. In this interview, he also comments on why the massacre took place.
Uraih, Medua Chuma,
Crimes against humanity.
y Civil War, 1967-1970.
Civil War, 1967-1970
v Personal narratives.
Bird, S. Elizabeth.
Ottanelli, Fraser M.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Asaba Memorial oral history project.
USF ONLINE ACCESS
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Elizabeth Bird: All right, this is Sunday, December 13 . Â This is Elizabeth Bird with Fraser Ottanelli, and we are interviewing Mr. Medua Chuma Uraih.
Medua Chuma Uraih: Uraih.
Fraser Ottanelli: In Asaba.
EB: In Asaba.
MU: In Asaba.
EB: All right. Â Well, we'd like to start just by talking a little bit about you and your family before the war: who was in the family, how did you live, what did your father dojust setting the scene.
MU: My father was a contractor and he was teaming, kind ofbefore the pogrom came up, 1966, he has tosome of us were in secondary school down south, like me, I was at St. Patrick's College Asaba here, where I attended my secondary school. Â I did my secondary school career there. Â Then, unfortunately, the pogrom came up in nineteenbit of a familywith her mother. Â When the crisis came up, 1966, they have to run down home, and they were home. Â Most of us that are coming now fromI left St. Patrick's school [in] 1966. Â They came back then. Â By sixty-seven , the war started in earnest. Â All of us, we are down home. Â And with the war, we started managing or praying to look if we can survive. Â Eventually, on Wednesday, fourth of October, the war came to Asaba.
When the war came to Asaba, we were all collected from the house to St. Patrick's College, where we all camped. Â The soldiers by then were lodging there. Â Then, on the seventh, they told us that the whole town was all right, that we should go back. Â We came back to Asaba, Asaba town, stayed till around twelve o'clock. Â (inaudible) have started shooting everywhere. Â Then somemy father and some group said that we should go out and welcome the soldiers. Â So we all went out, started singing, dancing, welcoming the soldiers: till we got to a certain point along the Nnebisi Road, where we met some group of soldiers who said no, that this is not a reason, that there are many men. Â Parked us to the corner, separated us, the women to one side, and all the men from seven years old and above before somebody can say no, that they should bring out the little kids. Â They took us to certain quarters and they eventuallythe man was a captain, though hes late now, (inaudible). Â He ordered them to start shooting us, and they started shooting us at Ogbeosowa there. Â (inaudible)
EB: So you wereyou'd gone to that place and you were sitting down waiting to see what happened, or?
MU: Were all standing.
MU: When they started selecting us, we refused, and they starting bullying, pumping in bullets into us. Â Eventually, I was shot on the pelvis region.
EB: And then, what do you remember after that?
MU: After that, I jumped out; most of us jumped out. Â Theres a brother I met inside the bush. Â I presume you must have interviewed him, Mr. Christopher Mkpayah. Christopher Mkpayah was also interviewed for the Asaba Memorial Oral History Project, DOI: A34-00012. Â He led me, held me, till we got off on foot. Â We trekked the whole seven miles to Ibusa that night. Â In the middlewe got to Ibusa around 5:30, in the hours of the morning on Sunday of eighth. Â And that was where we stayed. Â I got my first aid. Â The first aid I got was just what would have been pressed on the wound and nothing again till after a week, where I gotI came to the Red Cross, and they started giving me treatment.
EB: Go back to that moment when you werefirst of all, why didhow did your father know that you needed to go out and welcome the troops? Â Why was thathow was that decision made?
MU: A friend of his called himthats Mr. Okowocalled him, because both of them are very close. Â Then they went and called another man. Â But the unfortunate part is that all the natives who were gathered at our own house, none of them was touched. Â They were all safe because there was a godly captain there in the name of Mathias. Â After the war, I havent seen him, I havent heard of him, but he gathered all of them. Â They asked them to wait and none of them was shot.
EB: So this Captain Mathias, he was one of the federal troops?
MU: He was one of the federal troops.
EB: And he took care of the people
MU: He took care of the people who were camped in our house. Â But eventually, we went to another part of the town, and all the people who were gathered from that part of the town were the people that were led to the slaughterhouse.
EB: So who was with you, the people that left the house and went to the town? Â Who, exactly? Â Describe who was everybody with youyour family.
MU: In my family?
MU: In my family, we were my father, my senior brother, my other brotheractually, all of us in the family went, all of us, the whole thirteen of us, including our father and mother. Â It was there they separated our fatherour mother, with the little ones; they brought them out. Â Then, myself, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi Ify Uraih was also interviewed for the Asaba Memorial Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is A34-00003., my senior brother, my other brother, and my father went to the shooting. Â We went to the shooting.
EB: What were the namewhat was your father's name?
MU: My father's name, Robert Chuma Uraih.
EB: Robert, okay. Â And your senior brother's name?
MU: Chike Uraih.
EB: And then, so he was the senior brother?
MU: He was my (inaudible).
EB: Then there was you?
MU: Yeah, and then my other brother, Emma Chuma Uriah.
MU: That one was killed during the war, during the crisis.
EB: And then you.
MU: Myself, I was shot.
EB: Yeah. Â And then Ify was your next brother?
MU: Ify was the next person, yeah.
EB: Ify has explained that one of your brotheryour father and your brother were killed in the
MU: Yeah, my two brothers and my father were killed in the war.
EB: So this would be Paul, your father
MU: Paul and Emma.
EB: And Emma.
EB: Emma was younger than you or older?
MU: No, we are the same age.
EB: Same age.
MU: Same age, yeah.
EB: So, what did you see of the shooting, of what happened to them? Â Did you witness the actual shooting of your father and your brothers?
MU: When they dragged them out, my older brother Emma was the one I saw when they shot himwhen they shot him. Â The four of us laid down and they started shooting sporadically on us without looking.
EB: You didn't see Paul?
MU: I didn't see Paul, but I heard his voice. Â You know, we are so many.
MU: Almost half of the town were there.
EB: And your father, did you see him?
MU: My fatherI never saw him when he was shot, really. Â But it was when I came back from Ibusa, my mother saidit was my mother who went and brought him back and buried him.
EB: Yeah. Â Did she also find your brothers, or
MU: She never found my brothers, really, because they were buried in the mass grave.
EB: Whenyou left with Christopher? Â And you went to
EB: To Ibusa. Â And he said you went to St. Brigid's? Â No? Â No, you went to Ibusa.
MU: Ibusa town.
MU: Ibusa town.
EB: How long were you there before
MU: Before we came back. Â When we got to Ibusareally, it was on that eighth, Sunday, that the federal troops came to Ibusa, came looking for (inaudible) to destroy their houses. Â Then, all of usagain with the hopenoticing the idea that they have come to kill people, we run into the bush. Â We were in the bush for about a week before we came out. Â And I started coming back to Asaba where I got the treatmentwhere I got my first treatment.
EB: And you were with Christopher all that time?
MU: I was with Christopher all along.
EB: Then, after you came back to Asaba, what did you find? Â What was here when you came back?
MU: When I came backwhen we came back to Asaba, the whole place was just a godforsaken town, because everybodymost people were not there. Â Most of the houses were burnt, were burnt down. Â Then, the only thing you see, just a little people going about here and there, as if the whole town was on holiday somewhere. Â Which later, they camelife started comingthere was no one left in the town, only soldiers. Â Only soldiers occupying most of the houses, really, even our own house; the downstairs were occupied by soldiers.
EB: How long did they stay there?
MU: They stayed there for a period of six weeks before they moved to the barracks.
EB: So that must have beenfor you and your familythese are the people that had killed your family, and they're in your house.
EB: What was that like?
MU: Excuse me?
EB: What washow did that feel? Â What was thathow were the family able to cope
MU: To cope.
EB: with having them there?
MU: Um, well, I would say by the grace of God, really. Â We startedbecause my mother started getting through the trauma. Â And then we started coming back. Â She started relaxing and started feeling very distant. Â Her brothers helped us by supplying some food stuffs. Â And then later, most of us who werebecause at that time, I wasn't sitting, I wasnt; but getting around, I forced myself to get up. Â We were bringing in, getting before the second occasion happened again in 1968.
EB: What happened then? Â Can you talk about that?
MU: Nineteen sixty-eight: all of the sudden they started shooting. Â There was, becauseI think Biafran people sighted Nigerians. Â If you look across the river, you'll see a town. Â From there, they sighted Nigerian soldiers moving around (inaudible), killing some of them. Â The people went back (inaudible) bullets (inaudible) and they stay in town. Â Then they fled the whole town to St. Patrick's College, and that was on the twentieth of March.
EB: So this was long after the federal troops had left.
MU: No. Â The federal troops, they are still there.
EB: They're still in Asaba?
MU: They led everybody from Asaba to the school. Â That was the second slaughter.
EB: And then what
MU: The second incidentmassacrewhich took place in Asaba. Â And it was from there most of us now got determined and left through the bush to Lagos.
EB: So that was in March of nineteen six
MU: Nineteen sixty-eight.
EB: Nineteen sixty-eight. Â And they took, again, a lot of people to St. Patrick's College?
MU: To St. Patrick's, and camped us there. Â The whole town, becausethe whole town, we are moved to St. Patrick's. Â Only soldiers remain in town.
EB: Just menmen, women, children? Â Everybody? Â Or just
MU: No, men, women, children were taken to St. Patrick's. Â Soldiers were onlyit was only soldiers in town. Â There's no other person. Â That means they were having field day, where anybody they see there, they shoot.
EB: So they again massacredpeople were gathered at St. Patrick's and they massacred
MU: No, they never massacred. Â Those who were massacred were those who remained in town.
EB: I see. Â I see. Â So those who left were safe, but those who
MU: Those who left were safe, yeah.
EB: Remained in town were killed.
EB: Do you knowhave you any idea how many people died in that?
MU: In the crisis?
FO: In the second one.
EB: In nineteen sixty-eight.
MU: In the second one?
MU: In the second one, I don't really have a number because I left. Â I left from there to Lagos, so I couldn't have any idea what really transpired after.
EB: So you went straight from St. Patrick's to Lagos?
MU: From two weekstwo weeks after we were taken to St. Patrick's, I found my way from Aboh to Lagos, where I stayed and started up a job.
EB: You were just alone then?
EB: Were you alone, or with other people?
MU: No, I was alone. Â Okay, those that left, later they come.
MU: Um, we are four.
EB: So you decided you needed to go and you wanted to get back?
MU: I wanted towe decided to leave, to come look for something (inaudible).
EB: If we could again go back to October 6 and 7, when you heard that the federal troops were coming, were arriving, what was the general mood? Â Were people pleased to hear the federal troops were coming, or how?
MU: When they were coming, because they were shooting all alongthe whole town was in chaos. Â Some people ran across the Niger [River]; some of us who never went there, going across, remained. Â So when our houses, when they came inwhen our houses andyou know, when they get to the house, they push the door open and they start picking up, looting anything that they might see, because with soldiers, everything is booty.
EB: Did you know about what had happened on December 6? Â We heardat the time, we heard that people, some people, were part of another killing that took place outside thetwo, actuallythe police station on October 6. Â We heard people
MU: October 6.
EB: Yeah, and we were told that there were a large number of people gathered who were also killed by the soldiers. Â Had you heard anything about that?
MU: Yes. Â Yes. Â Unfortunately, the very place where it happened, a house has been built there. Â The house has been built there, because they brought out the people whenthey ask you to dig your grave. Â After digging, the person who jumps in, they shoot the person, asked the other person to cover. Â So that was how they eliminated people there, how they killed.
FO: The one by the soccer field?
EB: Was this the soccer field, near the soccer field?
MU: Near the soccer
EB: Near the soccer field.
MU: Theres a big house down in there nowI wonder why, because nobodys putting any regards to the human beings that were lost there.
EB: So that killing that happened at the soccer field was the day before?
MU: On the sixth.
EB: On the sixth.
EB: And at the time, did you know about that? Â Did you know what was happening?
MU: No. Â We never knew what was happening there, but we were told later. Â Because itsyou know, the situationat times, which it plays outwith the situation, many people ran. Â Many people stayed indoors. Â That oneits only stories we started hearing, then you run very far to see what actually happened. Â So when we got there, we saw everything: what really transpired there, and how people were recovering. Â Our people dont agree we are recovering.
EB: So you had people tell you about that?
MU: Some people, who are witnesses to that, testified about it.
EB: So, on October 7, when you all left the house toon the parade through to
MU: On the parade to Ibusa.
EB: What were you thinking at that time? Â Were you thinking something terrible was going to happen?
MU: No, we never thought anything terrible was going to happen because, really, what they told us iswhen we got to the police station here, people from (inaudible), people from these other quarters, all of us, they said that we should leave town. Â We should leave town, find somewhere to go, so that when they mop up the operations, we can come back. Â And that was what made us started moving, until we got to the market, there. Â They diverted us, started separating us from theseparating the women, the children, from the men.
EB: And thats whenafter that, thats when they started shooting.
MU: Yeah, that was when they started shooting.
EB: Do you getdo you have any notion of who ordered the shooting or whathow it all started?
MU: Like I told you, the man who ordered the shooting, he is late now, because they kept us to know much about him. Â Ibrahim Taiwo.
EB: Ibrahis name was Ibra
MU: Ibrahim Taiwo.
EB: Ibraham Ta
MU: Taiwo. Â He was a captain by then.
EB: Could you spell his last name? Â T
EB: So he was captain of the
MU: He was captain that period.
EB: of the group who
MU: And he was the person who ordered them to shoot us.
EB: Do you think he was taking orders from somebody else, or was that
MU: He took orders from Murtala [Muhammed].
EB: From Murtala Muhammed?
MU: Yes. Â And eventually, they said that that was the same day thatbecause all of them were Northerners. Â You know, in the Nigerian army, by that time, you have most officers from this area, top-ranking officers, including Nzeogwu, Chukwuma, all of them now, they say they are Asaba. Â They are not from Asaba, except a very few. Â But all the rest, Oh, theyre Asaba, Asaba. Â So all of them had it in mind that they are coming to Asaba, where these people came from, and immediately they came here to destroy everything there.
EB: So this wasyou believe this was planned, it wasntit wasnt
MU: It was planned, yes
EB: on the spur of the moment or anything.
MU: No, it wasnt on the spur of the moment; it was planned, this thing. Â Because, when they were shootingit was later they started asking Wheres Nzeogwus house? Â Wheres [Mike] Okwechimes house? Â We say, No, they are not from here. Â Ah, but they said Asaba. Â I say, But they are not here, this is not their home. Â And that was when they started feeling remorse about it, say that they thought that they are from Asaba.
EB: Those two names you just said, were trying to sort out all thethe people that they thought were in Asaba, but werent, they were the people they were holding responsible for the earlier coup?
MU: Which earlier?
EB: The two you said theyre looking for, which names? Â Im sorry, we have so many names.
MU: The soldiers, they were looking for Nzeogwu.
MU: Nzeogwu. Â Okwechime.
EB: Could you spell that one?
MU: O-k-w-u-e-c-h-i-a [sic].
EB: i-a. Â Okay. Â And the first, do you know?
MU: [Albert] Okonkwo.
EB: Okonkwo, yeah.
MU: Okonkwo, [Conrad] Nwawo.
EB: w-o. Â And they were looking for them why?
MU: They were looking for their houses here in Asaba, so that they could go and destroy their houses and kill their people. Â But eventually they told them they are not from Asaba, that they are from the other side of thethey are from the hinterland. Â That was when they started feeling very (inaudible) about the whole thing.
EB: So you think some of the soldiers realized that theyd done something terrible.
MU: Some of the soldiers realized that they had done something terrible anyway.
MU: Yeah. Â Like the man who bunked with us into my fathers car was somebody who lived with us at Kano. Â Immediately, I saw him, I said, Look at this one. Â You know, they had bullets to waste, as if they wereas if you gave a small kid some of this thing to waste. Â Because they were having bullets, they started doing whatever they like with bullets.
EB: What was the attitude of the soldiers when they were doing this? Â Did they seem angry, did they seem
MU: You know, if you look at soldiers when they are doing things, they do things at the spur of the moment because, I think, in general, everywhere, they want to do it, because they want to do it. Â And just like children who would aska Nigerian soldier, you tell him go, their goal is go, destroy everything. Â When they come, they behave any way, really, until a higher officer will tell them to stop, is when they will stop. Â So its just the same thing: anything they see is to be ravaged.
EB: Just again, for the record and for the tape, the reason that the soldiers were looking for these people, Nzeogwu, Okonkwo, Nwawo, what was the reason they were looking for them?
MU: They were topNzeogwu was the one who led the coup of 1966. Â They were dead now. Â They were desperate to know his place. Â And all of them know that he is from Asaba. Â One of the top officers in the Nigerian Army beforemost of them were top officers in the Nigerian Army. Â And we endured all their madness because they were eliminatingall the Igbos talk, if they see any top officer, they kill, eventually, when they came here with the hope that they would see him, because Nwawo is a strategist, really. Â When they came here, they were looking for him, thinking that hes from here.
EB: So this was revenge.
MU: Its all vendetta.
EB: (to FO) Fraser, do you have more questions?
(to MU) AnythingId just like to ask you a little bit. Â What do you think, now, should be done? Â What do you think, what would you like to see come out of this knowledge?
MU: Uh, though its taking long, about forty-two years now, I think everything is justeverything has just come to pass that is now going to history, really. Â And we like it being on record that this is what happened to the town, at such and such a time. Â Like one, Emma Okocha, really, was writing about blood across the Niger. Okocha, Emma. Blood on the Niger: The First Black on Black Genocide. New York: Triatlantic Books International, 2006. Â Its something again; but they never give most of the details, because he was a little kid back then.
EB: Um-hm. Â We know Emma well. Â Were his, or he was
MU: He was a little kid then, really. Â But most of the accounts he gave, he was shying off from some certain points.
EB: Im sorry? Â He?
MU: He shied off from some certain points in the book, really. Â If it goes down to history, at least people will know, just likewhat do they call it?all the Jews were massacred. Â I think Asabathe massacre of Asaba is the second place it happened in the world, if you look at it. Â Outside the (inaudible), that of Asaba seems to be the second place it really happened.
EB: Yeah. Â Would you like to see a memorial, a museum, or something like that? Â Would that
MU: Of course. Â We would like it, for posteritys sake.
EB: Yeah. Â Thank you. Â We really appreciate you taking the time, were sorry it took so long to
MU: It took so long, but something, someday to come.
EB: Do you thinkthis is a difficult question, but what do you think was the long-term impact on Asaba, of this killing, all of these killings, on the whole community? Â What do you think was the impact?
MU: At first, the young ones wanted to be wild. Â But with the help of the others, they started cooling down and started going about their business. Â And that just was the way it started weighing down over time. Â The efforts started pushing them down.
EB: Well, so many men were gone, so
MU: Because right now, anybody coming in want to see if you want tothe peoplethe welcome they will get would be very drastic, because anybody coming with gun now to this town, the people will go down badly on him. Â And youll see, it will make them remember the past, and everybody will go wild.
EB: Yeah. Â Thank you very much.
MU: Thank you.
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