The Asaba Memorial Project

The River Niger at Asaba

The Asaba Memorial Project is an ongoing collaboration between scholars at the University of South Florida, together with the people of Asaba, to document and memorialize a mass killing of civilians that took place in 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War.  Research began in 2009, and eventually resulted in a book that documented these events, placed them into the larger context of the war, and explored the importance of confronting and remembering such atrocities. The goal was to help “reclaim” a community's history, in a spirit of reconciliation, allowing previously-unheard stories to be told and valued, as well as to contribute to the literature of community trauma and memory.

 

Project Director Dr. Elizabeth Bird (Anthropology) along with Dr. Fraser Ottanelli (History) visited Nigeria many times from 2009 to 2017, conducting over 100 videotaped interviews with witnesses and survivors, as well as with war-time military and government leaders. They also visited important archives in the United States and United Kingdom, unearthing documents that shed new light on events. This website brings together our work over several years, during which we published newspaper articles, a wikipedia page, and several academic articles (see here, here and here).

During our research, we documented our travels and observations in Nigeria on a blog: 

 Context: The Nigerian Civil War

The Nigerian Civil War (also known as the Biafran War or the Nigerian-Biafran War) began in July 1967, after the former Eastern Region of the country, whose inhabitants were predominantly of Igbo ethnicity, declared independence  as the Sovereign State of Biafra that May. 

 

The many causes of the war were rooted in the colonial structure and governance of the country; Nigeria had gained independence from Britain in 1960.  The immediate triggers included two military coups in 1966, which had precipitated extreme violence against Igbos living in North and West Nigeria. Thousands were killed, and many more fled to their traditional homelands in the East and Midwest. The Eastern governor, Col. Chukwuemeka "Emeka" Odumegwu Ojukwu, believed Igbo were no longer safe in Nigeria, and that the new Biafra could become an independent, modern state in Africa.

Nigeria before the war, showing the four Regions.

The Nigerian Federal Military Government, under the leadership of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, launched a "police action" against Biafra, which soon became all-out war, supported by Britain as its primary arms supplier. Control over Nigeria's oil production, mostly located in the East, was a vital factor. Within a year, FMG troops had encircled Biafra, leaving it landlocked, while imposing an economic blockade that soon led to mass famine. The war ended on Jan. 15, 1970, with the surrender of Biafra, and up to 2 million civilians dead.  Many others died at the hands of federal troops; the massacres at Asaba were arguably the worst of such atrocities.  

For a list of some important academic sources and personal memoirs about the war, click here. 

 

For more information about the War, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigerian_Civil_War, or https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Nigerian_Civil_War

Acknowledgements

This work could not have been done without the support of many people and entities. We are grateful for the support of the University of South Florida (USF) in many ways. The USF Libraries hosted the 2009 Memorial Symposium, and assisted with transcribing some interviews. Several USF departments awarded grants, which allowed us to travel to Nigeria and elsewhere to conduct interviews and archival research, including:

  • USF Office of Research

  • USF College of Arts and Sciences

  • USF Humanities Institute

  • Former USF Vice President for Research Karen Holbrook (discretionary funds)

 

We were fortunate to be awarded a Collaborative Research Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), which funded research expenses and release time for writing.

 

These friends and respected partners (and many more) in Nigeria facilitated our work in numerous ways:

Chuck Nduka-Eze, esq., Isama Ajie of Asaba - critic, adviser, trusted friend

Dr. Ify Uraih and Mary Uraih - steadfast friends and allies

Chief Dr. Louis Odogwu and Marcella Odogwu

Chief Philip C. Asiodu, the Izoma of Asaba

Martina Osaji

Rev. Father Patrick Isichei

Victor Izegbu and Juliana Edewor

Renny Nwosa

Richie Omo ("Proudly Asaba")

Emeka Okelum Okonta. 

Emeka "Ed" Keazor and Muni King-Keazor

Emma Okocha

 

 

HRM Prof. Dr. Joseph Chike Edozien, CFR, the Asagba of Asaba, who received us at his palace in Asaba several times and gave his official approval to conduct interviews in Asaba.
 

Chuck Nduka-Eze, Liz Bird, Ify Uraih, Fraser Ottanelli, Asaba 2011

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