Asaba massacre

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Asaba Massacre
Asaba massacre is located in Nigeria
Asaba massacre (Nigeria)
LocationAsaba, Nigeria
Date5–7 October 1967
TargetIgbo/civilians of Asaba
Attack type
Mass murder
DeathsAt least 1,000.
PerpetratorsNigerian 2nd Division under Murtala Mohammed Ibrahim Haruna Ibrahim Taiwo

The Asaba Massacre occurred in October 1967 in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War.


In August 1967, three months into the Biafran War, Biafran troops invaded the Mid-Western Region, to the west of the River Niger. They spread west, taking Benin City and reaching as far as Ore, where they were pushed back by the Nigerian Second Division, under the command of Col. Murtala Muhammed.[1]

The Federal troops gained the upper hand, and forced the Biafrans back to the Niger, where they crossed the bridge back into the Biafran city of Onitsha, which lies directly across from Asaba. The Biafrans blew up the eastern spans of the Onitsha bridge, so that the Federal troops were unable to pursue them.[2]


The Federal troops entered Asaba around October 5, and began ransacking houses and killing civilians, claiming they were Biafran sympathisers. Reports suggest that several hundred innocent males may have been killed individually and in groups at various locations in the town. Leaders summoned the townspeople to assemble on the morning of October 7, hoping to end the violence through a show of support for "One Nigeria." Hundreds of men, women, and children, many wearing the ceremonial akwa ocha (white) attire paraded along the main street, singing, dancing, and chanting "One Nigeria." At a junction, men and teenage boys were separated from women and young children, and gathered in an open square at Ogbe-Osowa village.[3] Federal troops revealed machine guns, and orders were given, reportedly by Second-in-Command, Maj. Ibrahim Taiwo, to open fire.[4][5] Most of the killing ended by 7 October.[6]

The bodies of some victims were retrieved by family members and buried at home.[7] But most were buried in mass graves, without appropriate ceremony. Many extended families lost dozens of men and boys. Federal troops occupied Asaba for many months, during which time most of the town was destroyed, many women and girls were raped or forcibly "married," and large numbers of citizens fled, often not returning until the war ended in 1970.

Death toll[edit]

No exact death toll for the massacre has ever been calculated. In 1981, the Asaba Development Council assembled a list of 373 dead, but stated that it was incomplete. Anthropologist S. Elizabeth Bird and historian Fraser Ottanelli estimated that between 500 and 800 people were killed.[8] David Scanlon of Quaker Relief Services reported that 759 men and boys were killed, while journalist Colin Legum wrote that 700 died. Eyewitness accounts estimated between 500 and over 1,000 deaths.[9]


I.B.M. Haruna has sometimes been named as the officer who ordered the massacre, following a report of his testimony to the Nigerian Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission, known as the Oputa Panel.[10] This article quoted him as claiming responsibility (as the commanding officer) and having no apology for the atrocity. However, Haruna was not present in Asaba in 1967. He replaced Murtala Muhammed as C.O. of the Second Division in spring 1968.

In October 2017, the Asaba community marked the 50th anniversary of the massacres with a two-day commemoration, during which the new, comprehensive book on the massacre, its causes, consequences, and legacy, was launched: "The Asaba Massacre: Trauma, Memory, and the Nigerian Civil War," by S. Elizabeth Bird and Fraser Ottanelli (Cambridge University Press). This book, which draws on interviews with survivors and military and government figures, as well as archival sources, discusses how and why the massacres happened, and the impact of this community trauma, decades after the event.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Nigerian Civil War: How Asaba indigenes were massacred 53 years ago". Vanguard News. 2020-10-15. Retrieved 2021-09-10.
  2. ^ Omipidan, Teslim (2021-03-02). "Asaba Massacre: How Hundreds of Asaba People Were Killed In 1967". OldNaija. Archived from the original on 2021-04-01. Retrieved 2021-10-21.
  3. ^ "Asaba Massacre: After the killings, Asaba became a town of just women, with no men –Gwam". Punch Newspapers. 2017-11-18. Retrieved 2021-04-17.
  4. ^ says, Dr Uche Kalu (2020-01-21). "Asaba massacre: Untold story of tragedy and carnage". The Sun Nigeria. Retrieved 2021-04-17.
  5. ^ "Asaba Massacre: Terrible Blot on Nigeria's History". Vanguard News. 2020-10-10. Retrieved 2021-04-17.
  6. ^ Bird & Ottanelli 2018, p. 414.
  7. ^ "Asaba massacre: How we can heal our wounds — Soyinka". Vanguard News. 2017-10-14. Retrieved 2021-09-10.
  8. ^ Bird & Ottanelli 2018, pp. 414, 432.
  9. ^ Bird & Ottanelli 2018, p. 432.
  10. ^ (Vanguard, 10 Oct. 2001).


  • Bird, S. Elizabeth; Ottanelli, Fraser (2018). "The Asaba Massacre and the Nigerian Civil War". Postcolonial conflict and the question of genocide : the Nigeria-Biafra War, 1967-1970. Florence: Taylor and Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-34758-7.
  • Bird, SE and F. Ottanelli (2017). The Asaba Massacre: Trauma, Memory, and the Nigerian Civil War. Cambridge University Press.
  • Bird SE and F. Ottanelli (2011). The History and Legacy of the Asaba, Nigeria, Massacres. African Studies Review 54 (3): 1-26.

External links[edit]