Isaac Boro and the Niger Delta Revolution
It might interest you to note that what has come to be described today in government circles as militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta is as a result of the exploiter’s determination to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. The road to crises and conflicts date back to 1966 when Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Service (NDVS), to declare an Independent Niger Delta Peoples Republic. The journey was tough and rough but the tough got going. Boro declared the republic on February 23, 1966. In his address to his confederates, he made this thought-provoking statement: “today is a great day not only in your lives, but also in the history of the Niger Delta. Perhaps, it will be the greatest for a very long time. This is not because we are going to demonstrate to the world what and how we feel about oppression… remember your 70-year-old grandmother who still farms before she eats; remember also your poverty-stricken people; remember too, your petroleum which is being pumped out daily from your veins; and then fight for your freedom”.
It is worthwhile to throw some kilowatt of light on who was this man. Isaac Boro was of Ijaw parentage, who was born September 10, 1938. He hailed from Kaiama in what is now Bayelsa State. Boro had his elementary education in his town. After his secondary education, he taught briefly before joining the Nigeria Police as a cadet in 1958 but the radicalism in Boro manifested too early in the police service. His attempt to inject good blood into the already corrupt service earned him dismissal. But that marked a starting-point for him as he proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he bagged an honours degree in Chemistry in 1964. On campus, he was active in Students’ Union Politics which he served as Students’ Union President.
Boro began his revolution early 1966. “We discovered that most of the youths were frustrated with the general neglect that they were cherished in tyrannical chains and led through a dark alley of perpetual political and social deprivation. Strangers in our own country! Inevitably therefore, they day would have to come for us to fight for long-dimmed right to self-determination”, Boro prophesied.
His father had cautioned him, “O my son, this is not a time to think of such serious matters. The country is yet to settle, following a bloody military putsch. Please don’t undertake such a dangerous venture. You mean much to me and this family. How can you take such a risk? Boro’s father further added, “Now if you promise me to drop the idea, I will send you overseas for whatever course you want to pursue and pay all bills. The young man did not adhere to the plea because he was full of fire and had a destiny to pursue. He had made up his mind to go all out against what he considered undue oppression and subjugation of his race. Boro insisted it was too late to think of any compromise. Thus marked the genesis when youthful Isaac Boro with his men, decided it was time to shake off the yoke of oppression and carve out a Niger Delta state with force of arms. Despite all attempts by his father and in spite of all pleas by his loving wife, Boro embarked on the risky venture. The wife offered to go to war with him so that they could die together in the battle. But Boro was too adamant and resilient to be appeased by the feminine emotions.
According to available records, Adaka Boro had the kind of background that toughened his vision because, “economic development of the area is certainly the most appalling aspect. There is only a single fishery industry. The only fishery industry which ought to be situated in a properly riverine area is sited about 80miles inland at Aba. The boatyard at Opodo had its headquarters at Enugu. Personnel in these industries and also in the oil stations are predominantly non-Ijaw. “Boro had gone through some experiences which made him believe for the only way to secure emancipation for his people of the Niger Delta area to do it by force of arms.
Earlier on, the ground for the revolution to the point that in August, 1966 Boro and one of his similarly radically-minded colleagues, Stephen Owonaru, left Nigeria for Togo, Dahomey (Benin Republic) and Ghana in search and in anticipation of moral, military and financial support for their course. Boro and Owonaru had thought they would have ready support from those countries in view of the then prevailing circumstances but it was a fiasco.
Their first obstacle was that it was extremely difficult to cross international boundaries as barricades were created on Ghana boundaries. In 1963, there was assasination attempt on President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana via a bomb attack.
In reaction, President Nkrumah had ordered the closure of the border between Ghana and Togo. Besides, Nkrumah and President Gnassing be Eyadama were at daggers-drawn. Boro and Owonaru got to the border between the two countries. It was a hell to cross because of the mutual suspicion between the two countries. The Niger Delta revolutionaries were hell-bent on finding their way through thick and thin to Ghana. They sneaked through the Carmel’s eye and landed in Ghana. In Ghana, desperate massive contacts were made with the Niger Deltans residing in Accra, Cape Coast and Tema. Boro and his colleague held series of meeting with the people but the outcome was under lock and key.
Contacts were also made outside Africa given the international situation whereby ideologies had balkanized the world into two suspicious blocs-capitalism and socialism. Before returning to Nigeria, Boro and his friend tried to secure the support of Fidel Castro of Cuba. Their calculation was that since Fidel Castro was a revolutionary, he would be too willing to lend a helping hand, but they hit a brick wall as the Cuban embassy surprised them. Boro made a tactical effort by revealing details of his intention too early in the discussion. Unconsciously, he had disclosed the differences in the political purviews of his relationship. Perhaps, they did not consider it too strong an issue to make the Cuban behave the way they did. But the die was cast. The mistake had been made and before Boro could gather himself together for any fruitful talks, he had been ordered out of the embassy. Undaunted by the disappointment in Ghana, he organized a delegation of the Ijaw league to carry the sympathy of Action Group (AG) that was putting finishing touches to its plan for the 1964 December federal elections.
While in the gestation period, Isaac Boro and his men embarked on massive popularization of the ideals of the revolution. Incisive and politically inspired articles were published in pamphlets and leaflets in which they boldly condemned and openly criticized the orchestrated bondage of the Niger Delta. The damage done to crops and the general welfare of the people were not left out. Having tidied up the indoctrination with his electrifying speeches, gradually Boro’s group began to swell.
Isaac Boro carried recruitment to Agbere (in today’s Delta State), his mother’s hometown. Able-bodied youths, aged between 18 and 30 years volunteered into the service. The youths so gathered and the core planners became the nucleus of what later came to be known as the Niger Delta Volunteer Service, NDVS with the major assignment of creating a Niger Delta State, just like the Mid-Western State (present-day Edo and Delta) was carved out of the former Western Region. Isaac Boro believed that the then political situation in Nigeria would not favour their dream state through due political process. That was the object of the revolution – a state would thereafter provide a pedestal for their economic independence. But that was juvenile articulation given the political environment of Nigeria. It would be recalled that Ojukwu’s secession bid some months later suffered a devastating blow, leaving over 3 million people dead.
The base of the NDVS was at Taylor Creek, an inshore tributary of River Nun. There were 120 fighters and had basic realities to grapple with. For one, food and supplies were scanty and armoury almost non-existing. There was no known able financier. The conservatives nursed and propagated fear of success. He had issues to ponder about: should the Niger Delta people suffer as a result of the revolution what would be the kernel of public opinion? What would happen if the revolutionaries were completely wiped out? That was the lot of Fidel Castro when he made the first attempt in Cuba. How many rebels have really succeeded in an attempt to bring about radical change? If success comes at all, there is always an international support. Castro enjoyed the mouth-watering-support of Russia. When the first attempt failed he was shielded in Moscow.
Boro did not want to offend his people whom he wanted to liberate as the General Officer Commanding the Niger Delta Volunteers Service, NDVS, he warned his men against looting and plundering. Nothingham Dick was appointed Chief of Staff and Adjutant, and was in charge of training and indoctrination. Despite all odds, there was no going back in taking the bull by the horns. But two important things happened that seriously affected the course of Boro’s insurrection. First, the political upheaval, Operation Wetie that engulfed the wild, wild west after December, 1964 election brought about the rudest shock in Nigeria’s political history. Second, until then the average Nigerian never dreamt that the military could seize power, but it happened on January 15, 1966.
That development affected Boro’s plans. It was assumed that if the army had not come in at that point in time, the political turbulence would have dissipated government’s energy, thus creating some breathing space for the liberation fighters of the Niger Delta area. It was also assumed that the political upheaval would have been used to advantage to mobilize the Delta people into greater support for the war of liberation in their own land.
The emerging military rulers did not tilt Boro’s aspiration and there was no hope in the foreseeable future. And so offering farewell visits to their people, the volunteers were back in camp and oath was administered to ensure togetherness among the 161 men and officers of the NDVS. While the zero hour was drawing near, Boro added Christian element to the preparation. He secluded himself from his men for pre-battle supplication to the Almighty God. He armed himself with scent (perfume) during the prayers and came back, making the sing of the cross on the forehead of each and every one of the combatants with the scent. He made the sign of the cross “in the name of the Father and of the Son, and the Holy Ghost” and they chorused in Union, Amen. However, Boro and his men were consumed by the adventure without achieving their goal. In the early 1990s Ken Saro – wiwa (1941-1995) fought for the compensation of his Ogoni people, he ended up in the gallows.
To pacify the region, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration had tasked a veteran journalist and former managing director of Daily Times, Onyema Ogechukwu to develop a blueprint for the development of the oil-rich region. The result was the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) with Ogechukwu as the pioneer helmsman. Like other development agencies in the country, the Commission is reported to have become Automatic Thieving Machine (ATM) for some privileged persons. Even the setting up of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has not created the desirable impact in the region. All the efforts have been characterized by the usual mago mago and wuru wuru. According to report, unregistered firms executed non-existing contracts while payments were made upfront. Niger Delta has been a victim of politics of development, for instance Ogoni clean-up has received deaf-ear attention since Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration. The Black Gold has become a curse to the region and a blessing to those who control the national power structure. What is more surprising is that the collaborators, the vigilant vultures are from the region and the continue to drive more nails into the coffin of the regional development as a result the rich region is populated by the wretched of the earth. How then do we expect the militants to plant their maize in the house for fear of the baboon. The angry gods, the spirits of Boro, of Saro – wiwa and other fallen compatriots continue to weep for the homeless and the hungry until justice is done.