Niger Delta armed insurrection did not begin with MEND, Okah or Asari-Dokubo. Decades before them an Ijaw nationalist named Isaac Boro led an armed campaign for greater Niger Delta autonomy, resource control and self determination for the inhabitants of the Niger Delta. So who was Boro, and what was his story?
The Background of Isaac Adaka Boro
Boro was an Ijaw nationalist that burned within with passionate zeal to remedy the injustice that minority ethnicities in the Delta suffered in a Nigerian state dominated by the large ethnic groups. Boro noted that “most of the youths were so frustrated with the general neglect that they were ready for any action led by an outstanding leader to gain liberty…. we were clenched in tyrannical chains and led through a dark alley of perpetual political and social deprivation. Strangers in our own country! Inevitably, therefore, the day would have to come for us to fight for our long-denied right to self-determination”. He complained at the economic and material neglect of the Niger Delta:
“Economic development of the area is certainly the most appalling aspect. There is not even a single industry. The only fishery industry which ought to be situated in a properly riverine area is sited about 80 miles inland at Aba. The boatyard at Opobo had its headquarters at Enugu … Personnel in these industries and also in the oil stations are predominantly non-Ijaw,”
After briefly working as a teacher Boro joined the police and worked in Port Harcourt. However Boro’s maverick nature saw him go AWOL and start working as an instructor at the Man O’War Bay Character and Leadership Center in Victoria, Western Cameroon. He was fired from his police job for going AWOL.
Upon his return to Nigeria Boro enrolled at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to study chemistry. While there he became president of the students’ union. His itchy feet managed to stay at university for two years before he once again departed, this time on a tour to solicit support for the Ijaw cause. His journey saw him head to Ghana (in the company of Samuel Owonaru) to solicit financial aid for his mission to liberate and gain self autonomy for the people of the Niger Delta. He was also an admirer of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and made a stop at the Cuban embassy in Ghana to claim solidarity. However Boro and Owonaru’s appeals for Cuban support were unsuccessful and they were ejected from the embassy.
However Boro was not dissuaded. He and Owonaru returned home and with their comrade Nottingham Dick, and began to recruit young men to their cause under the umbrella of an organisation known as the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF). They eventually set up a military camp at Taylor Creek. Their recruits were given training in the use of firearms and explosives in the creeks and bushes. Dick served as the “chief of army staff” and “adjutant”. Eventually they managed to muster a force of about 150 men split into three “divisions”.
On February 23, 1966 the three divisions moved out from their Touton Ban camp with Boro, Onwonaru and Dick as their divisional commanders. Before going into battle the troops were given a rallying call:
“ 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 day for a very long time. This is not because we are going to bring the heavens down, but 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 to eat, remember also your poverty stricken people and then, remember too, your petroleum which is being pumped out daily from your veins, and then fight for your freedom”.
The NDVF men attacked a police station at Yenagoa, raided the armoury and kidnapped some officers including the police officer in command of the station. They also blew up oil pipelines, engaged the police in a gunfight and declared the Niger Delta an independent republic. The revolt was suppressed and Boro, Owonaru and Dick were put on trial on a 9 count charge of treason at Port Harcourt Assizes before Judge Phil Ebosie. Boro was found guilty. Before sentencing Boro made an impassioned plea of defiance. He claimed that his people:
“had long sought a separate state not because they loved power but because their conditions were peculiar and the authorities did not understand their problems. There is nothing wrong with Nigeria. What is wrong with us is the total lack of mercy in our activities.”
DEATH AND BEYOND
Despite his plea Boro was sentenced to death by hanging. In the melee of crisis and conflict in 1966 Nigeria, the sentence was not carried out and he was pardoned by then Nigerian Head of State General Gowon. When war broke out in 1967, Boro surprisingly enlisted and fought on the side of the federal Nigerian forces against whom he campaigned. He was killed in action on May 17, 1968 aged just 32. He was buried in Lagos at the Ikoyi cemetery. His widow Georeie Deyeha Adaka Boro is still alive. She was pregnant with their child Deborah when her husband was killed, and gave birth to Deborah after her husband’s death.