Gentlemen of the Press, I welcome you all
The 40th Anniversary of the 1975 Ugep massacre is the 1st commemoration event of an attack by the Nigeria Army on the rural town of Ugep on Wednesday, 24th December 1975. Ugep was then under Obubra Division, South Eastern State of Nigeria, before the creation of states and local governments in 1986. It is presently the headquarters of Yakurr Local Government Area of Cross River State.
The attack was borne out of an erroneous assumption that the people of Ugep had killed a soldier serving in the 8th Battalion of the Nigerian Army that was then in Ugep. Consequent upon that unsubstantiated allegation, soldiers from the battalion attacked the town at midnight, killing, raping and setting houses ablaze. It was however not clear whether the order for the massacre was given in an official capacity, within hierarchy of the army battalion in Ugep or Calabar or with orders from above as it is often said or whether the soldiers just ran amok.
From official reports, 13 people were killed, 100 injured and 7,500 houses were burnt. But the claim in the official report published in the Nigeria Chronicle, the newspaper of choice in the state then, was however debunked by the people, who claimed that the casualty figures were under reported.
Prior to the massacre, a soldier of the 8th Battalion in Ugep, which was under the 13th Infantry Brigade Calabar was said to have been found dead by the road side with the soldiers claiming that he must have been killed by the Ugep people. Events later showed that the soldier was a drunkard, epileptic, even more a chronic debtor. In revenge, the military on Christmas eve, December 24, 1975, invaded Ugep in a commando-like style, chanting war songs, and brutally killed our loved ones, raped our sisters, wives and mothers, while the men were beaten, clubbed, maimed and killed in the most gruesome manner. Large portions of Ugep were also set ablaze.
However, the autopsy carried out by the Military at the time showed that the said soldier that was purportedly killed was drunk, had an epileptic seizure in the process and swallowed his sputum which chocked him to death.
There are also reports that, there were pockets of disagreements between the soldiers and members of the community, especially in the way and manner the soldiers treated the farm products of the villagers; harvesting their crops even before they are ready for harvest, even forcing their girls into unwanted relationships.
There is evidence to show that the soldiers were in the habit of accumulating debts, either by eating and drinking or buying goods on credit. They also borrowed money from their landlords and other men of means in the community. Indeed, there was some level of subtle animosity between the soldiers and some people of Ugep.
When the soldiers marched into the town at that time of the night, on a Christmas eve, it definitely was a pre-meditated action against the community.
Elders in the community to date say, prior to the December 24 1975 massacre, the soldiers had what can rightly be referred to as a dress rehearsal. The soldiers marched through the town and harassed people on the streets, just about two days before their dastardly act was carried out.
A wide range of estimates have been given for the number of civilians killed. The Nigerian Chronicle at that time reported with the front page headline, “13 Killed, 100 Injured, 7,500 Homeless”. The pictures of the massacre showing the official visitation by the then governor of the state, the dead, the wounded, the internally displaced persons and the destruction of property in the center spread of the Newspaper were named “Pictures of the Year 1975”.
Besides what The Nigerian Chronicle reported, there were other reports given by the Ugep Development Union then that about 65 were killed, over 300 injured and property including buildings, homes, businesses, goods etc, destroyed.
A report by a TV station in America reported that hundreds were injured and scores dead while it referred to Ugep as “a ghost town”.
At the time of the massacre, General Murtala Mohammed was the Military Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria while the then Brigadier Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma was The Chief of Army Staff.
At the state level, the then Col. Paul Omu was the Governor of the defunct South Eastern State while then Colonel Mamman Jiya Vasta was Commandant of the then 13th Infantry Brigade of Nigerian Army based in Calabar. The 8 Battalion in Ugep was commanded by one Mohammed Shuwa, under the control of the 13th Infantry Brigade in Calabar.
Ugep then was administratively under Obubra Division which operated as the local government of the time.
Panel of Inquiry:
A panel of inquiry was set up by the then Head of State, Maj. Gem Murtala Mohammed and it was headed by late Justice Okorobidu. However, the report of the panel is in a government archive somewhere between Calabar, Enugu, Jos and Lagos. We are still making efforts to get to it as there is no deposit of the document in the archives in Ugep or in the archives of the Palace of the Obol Lopon of Ugep.
A number of activities have been scheduled to mark this 40th Anniversary. Lectures, poetry, traditional dances, exhibition and a lot more, have been lined up.
The event proper will commence on December 21, 2015, with a walk in honour of the departed souls flaging off in Calabar the Cross River State capital. In Ugep, the walk will go round the town and end at the Palace of the Obol Lopon of Ugep, where the Obol Lopon will address the people.
On the 22nd December 2015, a day after the walk, the Obol Lopon of Ugep with other dignitaries will open the photo exhibition on the massacre to the general public, while on December 24, 2015, a screening of the documentary on the massacre to be followed by lectures from eminent scholars including Professor Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman, Nigeria Human Rights Commission, Professor Oka Obono, Director Center for Conflict Studies, University of Ibadan among others, will take place.
There is also an Umor Otutu Heroes Award that will be given to some key personalities that played very crucial roles in the restoration of peace and order among other steps taken that saved lives. Prominent among those to be honoured are Maj. Gen. (rtd) Paul Omu, who was the Military Governor of the defunct South Eastern State and his amiable wife, Senator Stella Omu, a Senator of the 6th Senate of the Federal Republic. Others include Maj Gen. (rtd) Ibrahim Aliyu, who took over the command of the barracks and was instrumental to the restoration of peace, Chief (Barrister) Eteng Okoi-Obuli, a former Minister of Agriculture in the Shehu Shagari administration. Obuli was then a young lawyer who defended the people in the law suit that ensued, among other prominent sons and daughters that played key roles.
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