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A final interview, and plans for next year

October 17, 2011

Entrance to the University of Ibadan

From Liz Bird:

On our last day, before flying home in the evening, we made a two-hour road trip for our final interview, on the campus of the University of Ibadan. Founded in 1948, Ibadan is the oldest university in Nigeria, and its distinguished alumni include the noted writers Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka.

We had arranged to meet Geography Professor Stanley Okafor, who had a harrowing story to tell us. In 1967, he had completed his first year as an undergraduate at Ibadan, and had returned to his family home in Asaba. His father was a senior civil servant in Benin City. In the fall of 1967, Biafran forces had crossed the Niger through Asaba and invaded the Midwest Region, before being pushed back by federal forces. Benin City had been over-run, first by Biafrans , and then by federal troops, who had done little to stop mass killings of Igbo people by civilian mobs in Benin.

Stanley’s father had fled back to Asaba, and was living in the family home with his mother, wife and children, including Stanley and some younger siblings. When the federal troops arrived, Mr. Okafor reassured his family that since they were civilians, they should simply be polite and wait for the troops to pass through. When soldiers came to the house, it turned out that one of them had been an employee of Mr. Okafor’s, and he welcomed them into his home – Stanley remembered that he shared some White Horse whisky with them.

Stanley Okafor's father, Ogbuefi Nma Okafor, who died at Asaba

The soldiers requested a ride, and Mr. Okafor left in his car with them. He never returned — the next day, family members found his body dumped in the road, shot twice in the chest, with the car gone. As the family mourned, another soldier moved through their neighborhood. He shot a man in the next-door compound, dumped the body in the river, and crossed into the Okafor compound, confronting Stanley with his rifle cocked. His mother pleaded for his life, offering the soldier money. Finally he relented and left, after warning the young man that the troops had orders to shoot men and youths on sight. For the next two weeks, Stanley hid in the rafters of the house, protected by his family until he was able to escape back to Ibadan. By the time it was over, soldiers had killed his father, his father’s brother, and a cousin.

For me, Stanley Okafor’s account illustrated the shock of what happened in Asaba. People never imagined that as Nigerian civil servants, professionals, and students, they would be killed in such a brutal fashion. As Stanley put it, his father and others had trusted the rule of law, did not run, and went “like lambs to the slaughter.”  He believes that after four decades, it’s time to tell their story, and give them a fitting memorial.

As we left to return home, we were pleased with the progress made this trip. Working closely with leaders in Asaba, we now plan to develop the museum exhibit, which was approved in concept by our advisory board there, and by the Asagba. By 2012, the exhibit should be in place is Asaba.

Prof. Stanley Okafor in his office at the University of Ibadan

 
3 Comments leave one →
  1. frank Ese permalink
    March 2, 2012 10:28 am

    quite enthrauling. I equally lost my grandpa during the war

  2. EmperorMero permalink
    July 24, 2015 11:37 am

    Professor, you have made your dad proud. . . I’m glad to have met you sir.

  3. Onis permalink
    October 24, 2016 3:41 pm

    my supervisor, my mentor… it still remains a privilege meeting you

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