By: Godknows Igali, PhD
Until the Treaty of Paris of 3rd September 1783, General George Washington and the other Leaders of the thirteen colonies who waged and an Eight-Year Revolution against King James III of England and the British Empire were regarded as rebels; with prizes on their heads. Typically revolutionists are often regarded as villains by establishment, but often esteemed as heroes by those whom they stand for. But it is very few, like the name, Major Isaac Jasper “Adaka” Boro, who combine both accolades of honour and appreciation from both sides. It was impossible for one with fire in his bones like Major Boro to keep quiet in the face of the atrocious drift in post independent Nigeria at the time. One common character of revolutionist is that they place their beliefs and commitments before their lives. So idolized, venerated and immortalized in the South-South of the country as a revolutionist of first grade, especially amongst the Ijaw ethnic nationality, yet within the annals of Nigerian history, this soldier’s heroic and life sacrifice in the search of unity of the country, at the most critical hour, remains indelible and casted on steel.
So the date 16th May is no ordinary day for the people of the Niger Delta and Nigeria in general. On that date, fifty years ago, the sun came to stand still as gloom, darkness and despair blew over Federal troops as one of their own, Major Isaac Jasper Boro nicknamed “Adaka” (which means Lion in Ijaw)- a budding hero of the Nigerian Civil War had fallen in the theater of war. Fearless, audacious and visionary, he succumbed to the lone bullet of a mystery killer, likely, from friendly fire in Ogu town, around Okrika in present Rivers state. The true story of the plot, conspiracies, intrigues are still shrouded in the recesses of the wicked hearts of some evil men.
Fifty-one years gone already gives not just the Niger Deltans but all of Nigeria a great opportunity to properly discuss, the intellectual and ideological foundations of the Isaac Boro Revolution and his gallantry at death. The story goes that Boro and his lieutenants were appalled by the political, social and economic order which prevailed in Nigeria in the dawn of the country’s independence and decided to embark on the first futile effort on self determination and secession. This was in 1966. Before he later become a Nigerian wartime hero.
Though power had been wrested from colonialists, the 56 year experiment by Lord Lugard of forced marriage between very diverse and heterogeneous peoples in 1914, had only produced a country where ethnic, religious and social divisions as well as internal suspicions and antagonism were rife and palpable. At independence, leading political movements such as Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), Action Group (AG), National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) were ethnically entrenched or tended to follow religious proclivities. At another level, the scenarios in Nigeria even from the beginning typified George Orwellian ‘Animal Farm’ situation, where “some pigs were more equal than others”. Although the Willinks Commission Report on Minorities of 1957-1958, set up by the British, had clearly adumbrated the fact that “the fears of the minorities around the country, were well founded and that the case of the Ijaws who live in the swamps of the Niger Delta was peculiar”, dominant political interests by the larger ethnic groups did little to assuage such concerns. The Minorities, from the very beginning of the life of the new country, therefore, nursed feeling of being treated as second class citizens, indeed in biblical allegory of “hewers of wood and fishers of water”.
The case of the Niger Delta was a sui generis. Commercial quantities of Crude Oil had been found all over the area, and first shipments had left Oloibiri in present Bayelsa State where Boro was actually born on 10th September 1938. The mega dollars which now come with oil boom had not started to register at the time, but the numbers began to make a modicum of impact in the Eastern regional and federally distributive pool. Alas, nothing came in to the areas from where the crude was coming more. More debilitating was the realization that this new found source of wealth which was not benefiting the area from where it was being carted away, started to unleash dire environmental footprint on the area; leaving an ominous trail of human habitation and livelihood as far back as the early days.
Isaac Boro was actually a trained teacher, who later migrated to have a secured career in the Nigerian Police Force. He later resigned to enroll at University of Nigeria, Nsukka to read Chemistry and was already on honours roll and about to graduate. After three attempts, he finally became President of the Student Union Government and embarked on some of the greatest welfare programmes, including Campus transportation, not seen before in that institution.
He was a radical and very restless. He followed the unending political crises in Nigeria and the corruption and fratricidal instinct of the political class. He spent more time reading the thoughts of doctor turned revolutionary, Ernesto Cheguevera and Dr. Fidel Castro. The last straw that broke the Carmel’s back was the January 15, 1966 military coup and the gruesome killing of the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, whom he regarded as a symbol of moral rectitude and moderation, along with Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Okotie Eboh; Chief Samuel Akintola and many others. Boro questioned the legitimacy of such a violent change and needless show of disrespect for the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions. In his view this was the height of political intolerance and the trend towards imposition of unitary system of governance, a direct affront on the covenant of federalism agreed to by the founding fathers of the country.
So about five weeks after that military coup, i.e. on 23rd February 1966, Boro declared the secession of the Niger Delta from the rest of the country, i.e. he proclaimed Niger Delta Republic! Typically, he recruited his army of young volunteers (Niger Delta Volunteer Force), mostly from his kith and kin from Kaiama town in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area, Bayelsa State and along with few close friends, decided to take on the Federal might and the largest army in Africa. His career, comfort, young family, including a young pregnant wife and even his own life were nothing compared to the common good and interest which he sought to pursue. Boro and his comrades in arms were determined, resolute and totally self abnegated. They envisioned a Niger Delta which will one day become the beacon of true human civilization and progress.
In his auto biography he entitled “The Twelve Day Revolution” which lasted from February 23 to 6th March, 1966, he avowed his commitment to truth and justice. It was not only the first challenge to the lack of equity and fairness, but also a protest against political recklessness and unnecessary bloodletting in Nigeria. To Boro and his close associates, including Capt. Sam Owonaro (the only survivor of the ring leaders still alive), Captain Nottingham Dick, Capt. Boardman Nyanayo, Capt. George Amangala, etc, there was no possibility of failure. Despite the superiority and sophistication of the Nigerian Army and political establishment, they were sure of victory. Even in the face of death, they were unruffled and fully committed. They knew that if the death was not by the bullet, they will have to face the hangman’s rope for treason. Not surprisingly, after their defeat and capture, those who were alive were sentenced to die; though later commuted to life in prison.
The Nigerian Civil War broke out shortly after their arrest and conviction. By twist of destiny and irony of history, Major Boro accepted amnesty in the hand of General Yakubu Gowon, to fight “to keep Nigeria one, a task that must be done”. He and his comrades-in-arms numbering 150 young men were made to enlist in the Nigerian Army and due to their knowledge of the creeks of the Niger Delta, fought gallantly to liberate the most critical Oil and Gas belt of Nigeria. Major Boro liberated the very important export terminal town of Bonny, needed to nail a death-knell on the rebel efforts. His next move was to take on the liberation of Port Harcourt which he had already planned out. Sadly, this same Boro who took up arms to liberate his Niger Delta, ended up paying with his life and those of over a hundred of his men on behalf of Nigeria at the age of 30 years.
Fifty-one years down the lane is a good time to take stock. Evaluation of how we have faired as a nation and how the Niger Delta has evolved. Yes. A lot has happened since then. From twelve states, we now have thirty-six states. But then, cries of marginalization, political intolerance, political violence, political exclusion and over centralization of political power in the centre are still loud and re-echoing. We have just concluded election 2019 and it represents a fresh watershed in the history of Nigeria. It is symptomatic of the mood during the days just after Nigeria’s independence, when each political, social and ethnic cluster had to convince all of their plans for the future of the country and particularly of their constituent parts. Indeed, Bayelsa State’s Governorship Election 2019 is just months away. Quo vadis?
Fifty-one years after Major Boro’s death, do we have a mindset as a generation of political elite to ensure the building of a new Nigeria where truth, equity and justice truly reigns? The sing-song now is return to the original federalist dream of the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe- Zik of Africa, great Sir Ahmadu Bello, great Sarduna of Sokoto and great Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the likes of Dr. Michael Okpara, Chief Tony Enahoro, Chief Harold Dappa-Biriye, etc. That is lets Restructure. But are we prepared as patriots and civilized people whom we claim to be to jaw-jaw and do away with the politics of threat, atavism and division?
Economically, Crude oil which was just beginning to bring in single digit figures in 1968 when Boro died in service, is now mega money spinner. According to Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), it has raked in over 96 trillion Naira to Nigeria since 1958. Gas which has continued to be flared in sacrilegious abundance has itself brought in over $11.8 billion in ten years of Liquefied Natural Gas exports (2004-2014) and about same amount in domestic gas sales. Today oil sells for $70 per barrel with a production level of 2.3 million barrels per day or about 65 billion Naira daily. Petrol-dollar has built Nigeria, built a brand new Federal Capital city and proceeds continue to keep Nigeria together, with monthly sharing of money. But the oil money itself is a metaphor of “resource curse” as we have abandoned agriculture, mining and other viable sectors. At another level, the Fiscal and Resource Allocation Regime remains contentious, a far departure from what was agreed at independence and were entrenched in the 1960/1963 Constitutions for which Boro died for.
At another level, oil bearing communities continue to cry of estrangement from the sector in terms of allocation of oil blocks and presence in the bureaucracy of the National Petroleum Company – Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its parastatals. The oil companies themselves tend to operate parasitically, preferring to keep their administrative and operational offices outside the Niger Delta, but fly in daily to carry out upstream activities in choppers and fly out at the close of work. No community impact, no downward integration, no local/community content and nor spread effect. The most devastating aspect is that the Niger Delta with a fragile ecosystem and biodiversity is today regarded as the most polluted territory in the world, with unceasing oil spillages and continued gas flaring.
If Major Boro were alive today, he would have been merely 81 years of age so possibly young and cerebral enough; and would have remained one of the moral consciences of Nigeria. He is likely to have been restless, uncompromising and fiercely incorruptible. He is therefore likely to have taken a good reflection and raised many questions, concerns and heartaches. The answer to these questions is what we owe to many other fellow countrymen and women who at different times poured out every drop of blood in their bodies to water the Nigeria of today. Their spirits may be talking from the land of the dead, to beckon on us to leave enviable legacies for those beautiful ones still natal or yet unborn.
Oga Major, the Lion, be sure that your patriotic flame glows within the hearts and souls of many Nigerians, especially the youth of the Niger Delta and will one day fully consume us all for collective good.
Amb. Igali, is a Diplomat, writer and a Fellow Historical Society of Nigeria.