- Created on Sunday, 10 August 2008 14:28
- Written by The Nation
Boro: Secret file of Niger Delta’s famous godfather
Even in death, Isaac Adaka Boro is arguably the most revered political figure in the Niger-Delta’s history of agitation for resource control. Women and children, the young, the old, business people, politicians and cobblers adore him as a rare homo viator whose spirit continues to hang on the skies of the oil rich region. In this piece, Adewale Adeoye, Deputy Editor, who visited four states in the Niger-Delta, unveils the untold story of an icon that continues to stir curiosity, even from his grave.
When next you see an Ijaw man, or an oil-rich indigene, with a small passport photograph pinned on the chest, take a second look, it might be that of Boro. Old and young, armed and defenseless people alike mostly from the Niger-delta, seem to have rediscovered a new, enigmatic personality, with which they now think their past, present and future are like cobwebs, intrinsically linked.
Sources claim that for members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, Boro is almost to them, what Holy Mary is to Catholics. In each of the militant’s camp, Boro’s framed pictures are hung on the makeshift tarpaulins.
Last year when the Ijaws marked the Isaac Adaka Boro day, over 500,000 participants took part. This year’s might even draw a bigger crowd. A former governor who attended the last event was reported to have said it was the largest crowd he had witnessed since the days when the late minority rights activist, Ken Saro Wiwa, used to overwhelm the region with his nostalgic, spellbound rallies, drawing close to half a million fishers, seafarers, hunters, cobblers, traders and even the middle class.
Today, the man Isaac Adaka Boro seems to have taken a place in the political folklores of the people of the Niger-Delta, mostly among the Ijaws. As we sat down to share a bottle of local gin at Oporoza, a sleepy community and one of rendezvous of many of the militants operating mainly on the tributaries of the River Niger, an old former soldier who saw Boro grew up in Kiama said of the late fighter: "He was young, amiable, cool, calm and collected." But these were echoes that Rekki, who sat next to the soldier and who is one of MEND’s henchmen -a pistol poking out of its holster strapped on his waist-said he would not wish to hear. This is not because he disagreed with those attributes, but just that he did not think anyone should refer to Boro in the past tense. "He is our hero, our mini god and our savior. He lives with us today and always", he said, as he tossed grains of roasted corn through his large throat. Rekki is a thickset, but diminutive personality; his skin is charcoal black, his size when viewed from distance could be mistaken for a small bulldozer. He admits that in the creeks where he lives with some members of MEND, his fellow musketeers call him "early man." He practiced a bit of this brute force when he tore off a life chicken with his teeth before roasting the animal for our feast. "Isaac Boro is the most important Ijaw leader that ever lived, " Reeki said, beating his chest violently.
It is not that the late charismatic leader is associated with violence, but just that he was the pioneer of the liberation of the Niger-delta people, whom the people believe live in environmental shame and rancor. Politicians invoke his name to win elections. Even children swear by his name to prove a point of honesty in encounters with their peers. Yet this is the man that many Nigerians seem to know little about, except those few, who are familiar with Rex Lawson’s war time highlife rendition, when the musician praised Boro in a classical and nostalgic manner.
Leader of the Supreme Egbesu Assembly, SEA, Chief Werenipre Digifa told The Nation in his shrine located in Bayelsa: ‘Boro remains the most important figure in Ijaw and Niger-Delta after Izon’, the latter being the man reputed to have founded the Ijaw nation over half a millennium ago. To Ijaws, Izon occupies the place of Moses in Jewish mythology, but after him, Digifa says Boro ‘is next.’ Interestingly too, Boro’s popularity from his 6-feet celestial home at a memorial park in Port Harcourt, PH has continued to soar as the intensity of the militant activities in the Niger-Delta increases.
Ankio Briggs, leader of the Ijaw Republican Assembly, IRA told The Nation that his speech which she hopes to deliver this weekend in the United Kingdom, UK on ‘oil and politics in the Delta’ will be, in part, on the legacy of Boro. One source told The Nation that he knows of a former governor in the region that kept Boro’s picture under his pillow in his bedroom, and a ‘top police officer’ who ties Boro’s picture on him ‘like a necklace’. A former senator from the region, who sought anonymity said: ‘it is scandalous that Boro has not been declared a national hero,’ by the Nigerian state.
But who is Isaac Adaka Boro? Beyond the usual saying that he had the habit of removing his shirt, throwing it on his shoulders, allowing the dress to swing in the direction of the wind, there are more intriguing philosophical and political issues around which Boro’s image revolve. Our correspondent visited Kiama, where this former student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka was raised from childhood. The Nation also spoke to those who fought side by side with him during the civil war, including his room mates, at the range, and even those who watched him die on the battle field in 1968’s Okrika. "Boro was very bold and courageous. He was the first to warn the people of the Niger-Delta against the leasing of their homelands to oil companies," Pa John Amaki, 90 year old community leader who knew Boro as a teen, said. He observed that in those days, the oil companies deceived many Ijaw communities to sell their oil-rich lands in exchange for peanuts. "He was the one that led the campaign against the selling of our land for porridge." Another source said Boro loved ‘the fight for human freedom’ and thrived in the excitement of human liberty. However, Boro’s remarkable rise to fame seemed to have been anchored at UNN where he was a student. In 1966, he, Nothingham Dick and John Owonaro took up arms against the Federal Government which had then introduced a garrisone structure as against the existing confederacy. The plan, according to sources, was hatched at the Alexandra Auditorium, which now hosts the Philosophy department of the institution, and a place where the Biafran warlord, Odumegwu Ojukwu, was said to have declared the Republic of Biafra.
Sources claim that two historic events motivated Boro to embark on the uprising against the Nigerian state. First was the discovery of oil in his homestead, Oloibiri in 1956. Earlier in 1908, oil had been discovered in Araromi, Ondo state but not in commercial quantity. In 1936, came Shell D’Arcy, now Shell Petroleum Development Company. The Agynyi worse by introducing a unitary system which stifled ethnic self actualisation in Nigeria.
‘Ironsi’s regime imposed a mono-ethnic culture on Nigerians which was repulsive to Boro’, says Baba Omojola a political courier between the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and former Ghanaian President, Kwame Nkrumah. He said Ironsi’s emergence heightened ethnic suspicion among the minorities of the Niger-Delta.
Boro’s nauseating view of the emergent centralist policies of Ironsi was against earlier efforts by the colonial regime, to address fears of domination of minority nationalities in Nigeria. For instance, earlier in 1958, two years before the British flag was lowered, paving way for independence, her Majesty, the Queen of England, set up the Henry Willink Commission. The Commission drew three British experts, Gordon Hadow, Philip Mason, and J.B. Shearer. The Commission was to report its findings to the Rt. Hon. Alan Lennox-Boyo, (not Boro, mind you), a Member of Parliament and secretary of state for the Colonies. The Commission appointed in September 1957 was to ascertain the "facts about the fears of minorities in any part of Nigeria and to propose means of allaying those fears whether well or ill-founded". The Commission was also to advise what safeguards should be included for this purpose in the Constitution of Nigeria. The experts were mandated to recommend the governmental and administrative structures expected from the recommendations for the creation of one or more new states and to advice on what impact the new states would have on the regions, and the Nigerian federation in general.
Members arrived Nigeria on November 23, 1957 and stayed in the country until April 12, 1958 after holding discussions with individuals and groups across the country including the Southern Cameroon. The Commission noted in its introductory remarks that the "unity and indeed the separate existence of Nigeria are thus concepts of recent growth."
The commission noted that the Nigerian nation has witnessed several administrative changes all focusing on the programmatic problem of how to reconcile the antagonistic tribal groups.
The meeting with local folks revealed a table of woes among minorities whose major fear was the block vote of the majority tribes that form the bulk population in each of the region and also the threat it posed to the advancement of the minority tribes. It observed that there were indications or trends likely to become much more serious when independence was attained. Young and amiable Boro was said to have led a delegation of 45 youths to the commission where he boldly argued for the creation of states based on ethnic configurations, borrowing a leaf from Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s perspective. In that case, there would have been about 5 states in today’s Rivers.
Yet, in 1953 for instance, the Chicks Commission that was set up by the colonial regime, had recommended 100% on the basis of resource allocation, according to derivation. Except the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Anthony Enahoro, who argued for the adoption of the Chicks works, the Tafawa Balewa regime threw the recommendations under the carpet, apparently to Boro’s chagrin.
So, as time scurried by, Boro watched the non-replaceable resources of his people being taken away, and at will, by the central regime. The 1960 constitution only met Boro and his people’s request half-way. Under section 134(11) of the 1960 independent constitution, 50% was adopted as revenue sharing formulae, for each state or region. ‘When Ironsi came to power, he threw away this key element of trust in Nigeria by introducing the unitary system of government,’ Boro was said to have told one close associate, who is still alive.
So, one morning, Boro, in early 1966, armed with a theory he called XYZ, was at the top of a guerilla movement of Ijaw natives, that took up arms and declared Ijaw Republic. Hear him: "Today is a great day, not only in your lives, but in the history of the Niger Delta. We are going to demonstrate to the world what and how we feel about oppression". In 14 days, the group over ran all the riverside communities. The government pounced on him and the trial began amidst global outrage. On June 21, 1966, Boro, alongside two Lieutenants, Nottingham Dick, and Owonaro were charged for treason and in the twilight of that June 21, condemned to death by the federal authorities. Same year on December 5, the Supreme Court upheld the decision. He was to be hanged.
However, fate seems destined to fish out Boro, albeit temporarily, from the troubled waters. One source claimed that his release was informed by three dramatic events. In 1967, Biafra had been declared and Ojukwu had become a pain in the ass of the Nigerian authority. ‘Gowon was under siege, he was rattled and shaken by Biafran adventure’, said a source. Ojukwu had taken over Port Harcourt in a jiffy. The new regime of General Gowon needed the people of Rivers as allies. ‘Boro was then in prison, like 1995 Ken Saro Wiwa, he was the hero of all minorities across the country. His release was tied to any support Gowon could get from the oil rich region’, a retired military general who seeks anonymity said. Again, the source said four pilots of Biafran origin that were being trained in Germany had deflected to Biafra. ‘on their return, they came with bombs but were blown off in Lagos when the ‘Fokker Fighter Plane’ was shot down at the end of Ikoyi’, a soldier who was Boro’s class mate told The Nation. There was an ironic aspect to the rhapsodies: The body of a German pilot who was a ‘conspirator’ in the plane, hung on one of the plane’s body parts and landed mysteriously through the ceiling, in the private room of the German envoy at Ikoyi, who was away but whose wife was asleep. ‘The German woman fainted,’ said the soldier who was an eye witness.
The third event: one Ugwu, an engineer at the Enugu Coal Mine, according to our source, sneaked to Lagos and planted time-propelled explosives on the Presidential route meant for Gowon, and another at the main energy hub of Lagos, where the city’s main oil supplies were stored. ‘If the explosion had occurred, the whole of Lagos would have been blown off and Gowon blown to pieces ‘ claimed the reliable source who said that Ugwu, who spoke Hausa fluently, had sneaked into the presidential home, after buying Suya and prattled with the Hausa guards, but was blown off accidentally, as he attempted to plant the last of the 15 bombs meant to reduce Lagos into rubbles.
These riveting events were said to have rocked Gowon, making him to quickly grant full amnesty to Boro on August 4, 1967, as a strategy to seek realignment with the oil rich minorities. Gowon released Boro, held a meeting with him and urged him to go and ‘liberate your people in Rivers State.’ Boro, The Nation gathered, went to Ajegunle, a Lagos murky terraine, called a rally of mainly Niger-Delta nationals living in the SouthWest. ‘He was given secret military training at Ikeja cantonment and moved to Port Harcourt in a ship the source revealed. He was said to have told Gowon that he needed no boots, no uniforms except guns. Boro, our source claimed, was ‘an orator in the class of the late Martin Luther King, and he was the key pioneer of resource control among the people of the Niger-Delta.’ One soldier with whom they trained together at Ikeja cantonment claimed that on his first day, when Boro was asked to shout ‘paaaraade’, by the instructor, he was said to have, instead shouted, ‘resourrrrce controool.’ ‘The instructor was helpless nevertheless.’ On the day of their departure from the Lagos shores with his battalion, one retired top military officer who said he watched the event, claimed that Boro sang a poetic song, in Ijaw language which he said was something like,‘going home through the thicks and thins, with the sun high up, the rain beckoning, through the turbulent waterways, all in search of freedom for those who lay the golden eggs, but are made to starve and die in pains.’ With nostalgia, he said the Niger-Delta indigenes in the ship, soon chorused with him.
A retired Col who served with Boro at the 3rd Marine Commando told The Nation last week: ‘he was responsible for the liberation of Rivers State. He was the one that liberated Rivers from Biafrans, not any one else, but history has been unkind to him on his historic exploits during the war. He understood the terrain.’ He said Boro spoke the native language of the Delta, that he was a fish in the waters and a knight in pitched night battles. He said Boro ‘picked Biafrans from the creeks like wet frogs’ and that he would assemble them and hand them over to his seniors. . To placate Boro and his kinsmen, the FG created Rivers State in 1967. Boro had this say when the state was created: "My men and I, with the creation of our State, are now free to help not only my people, but also Nigeria, to Peace, Unity, Stability and Progress,". He was said to have signed an agreement with the FG with a proviso that after the war, ‘the Niger-Delta will control and manage their resources 100 percent.’
Boro, who attended Proccorl Primary School in Kiama and Henry College, Warri before proceeding to UNN, to study chemisty died in mysterious circumstances in Okrika. ‘The trees went dead, the skies cried, the moon was downcast and the birds did not sing,’ says Maraye, who witnessed Boro’s corpse being lifted from the ruins of a building in Okrika after a dawn raid by the enemy forces. Debby, one of his children who now runs the Isaac Adaka Boro Foundation, in Port Harcourt, told The Nation last week that his father ‘died for humanity and for the unity of Nigeria based on justice, respect for minority rights, and fairplay.’ But she regretted that her father has not been accorded his rightful place in Nigeria. Boro had three children, the first, a woman, is in Denmark, the second, a musician boy, is in Bayelsa and the third, that is Debby, Waritimi never met Boro, because she was two weeks in her mother’s womb, the day Boro’s lifeless body, amidst military salute, was being lowered down the eternal six feet, amidst military salute, on a day witnesses claim was soaked in lightening and torrential rainfall.