July 11, 2005
Major Isaac Adaka Boro (1938-1968) is perhaps the
most celebrated Ijaw nationalist. I knew that name before I began my
elementary education at the age of six. Then I used to think that he was
alive; I hoped to meet him one day. I actually met him, not physically. He
died a few years before I was born but I was confronted with his enduring
legacy, elegantly contained in his classic autobiography: The Twelve Day
Revolution, released by its editor, Tony Tebekaemi, 14 years after his
My fixation about him stimulated me to investigate him further but I
discovered that since his martyrdom in 1968, no serious study has been done
about this great man. The few public lectures, drama sketches, newspaper
articles and political statements available have only repeated what the man
said about himself in his book. Most of these papers have only romanticised
his guts and characterised him as a great man. This is hardly new.
Great men are complex to understand, and it seems the less their admirers
know about them, the more they appeal to them. We know very little about
this man, and even those who claim to be his followers understand him only
but a little because Boro remained an enigma even when he lived.
Consequently, the essence of Boro - his doctrine, thoughts, actions and very
importantly his place in contemporary political thought, particularly now
when the issue of resources control has gained popular currency - has
continued to elude our grasp.
Boro represented James Aggrey's analogy of the black and white keys of
the piano - both must be played together to produce musical harmony. He
signified a harmony between thought and action, between space and time - an
almost flawless harmony, the depth of which is still too difficult to
understand by this generation. Essentially an embodiment of action, Boro
rebelled against two things. He rebelled against the prevailing deficit in
the nation's body polity. Second, he rioted against his Ijaw political
leadership for ineptitude. He attempted to dismantle the foundation of what
he considered to be a decaying institution, and enforce the will or essence
of his thoughts to create a brand new structure.
Three experiences might have profoundly fashioned his thoughts and
distinguished him as the leader of his age. First, he experienced,
first-hand, the travails of belonging to a minority ethnic group in
post-independent Nigeria. A second-class citizen in his own country, Boro
discovered that his entire life depended on the goodwill of his 'superior'
neighbours. A young man of great ideas, dreams and abilities, Boro was
disillusioned at his experiences in the police force in Yorubaland, his
studentship in Igboland and his citizenship in Ijawland, all constantly
reminding him that he (and his ethnic nationality) had no stakes in the
emerging state. He wrote: "Year after year we are clenched in tyrannical
chains and led through a dark alley of perpetual political and social
deprivation. Strangers in our country!"
The second experience he had was his apparent whirlwind romance with
socialist ideals at the University of Nigeria. In the 1950s, the western
world witnessed its greatest threat since the modern state appeared with the
Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, as socialist ideas swept across the world. Old
Europe lay comatose, crippled by the vagrancies of unbridled capitalism at
the end of the Second World War. Africa became the battleground of the
West/East phony war, with the East making more inroads. Nkrumah, arguably
the finest African nationalist demonstrated that a total de-link with the
West was the best option. In spite of Balewa's Nigeria's policy on
non-alignment, the Lagos/London tie flourished. But socialist ideas knew no
boundaries: oppressed people are the same despite country, colour or creed.
Free socialist pamphlets and scholarships became commonplace in southern
Nigeria, with Enugu, the headquarters of the Eastern region government,
flocking its holy devotees. Great minds like the Nzimiros walked tall,
fighting all capital freaks to a stand still and amassing any army of
socialist aficionado. The existing thing about Marxian philosophy is that it
offers the most scientific explanation of social relations in our society
but its 'nuisance' is that it has the capacity to revolutionise its convert
and sets him on a coalition course with the authority, fired by the firm
assurance that 'the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains'.
Socialism taught Boro both its exciting and nuisance elements. Boro
realised that Nigeria was just a self-governing periphery of the Western
dominated international capitalism and its ruling elite or bourgeoisie were
the machinery of exploitation, executing the functions mapped out to it by
the world capitalist system. Boro reported in his biography how he literally
trekked the West African coastline exploring collaborations with President
Nkrumah as well as the Russian, Chinese and Cuban embassies for socialist
revolution in Nigeria.
The third and most profound experience was the 1959 general elections in
Nigeria. The regional policy enforced in 1944 by the Richard constitution
sandwiched the Ijaw people between the western and eastern regions. The
experience of the Ijaw peoples in these two regions was very unpleasant. Dr.
Okorobia, in his doctoral work has critically examined the condition of the
Ijaw people in the eastern region and concluded that it was the 'single most
effective policy used to internally colonise and under-develop the erstwhile
virile and progressive city-states of the Niger Delta'. Modern Ijaw
nationalism also sprouted at this time, markedly different from the agenda
of the Ijo Rivers People's League (1930), and the Ijo Tribe Union (1943).
With the inauguration of the Rivers Division People's League and the
Rivers State Congress from 1944, the campaign graduated from self-identity
to a separate Ijaw state. State creation became important to the minorities
because it gave them self-identity and space in the polity. To be denied a
state was to send a people to eternal damnation without remedy. Given the
bitter resistance these bodies received from the Eastern regional
government, Ijaw leaders reached an understanding with the Action Group
(AG), a major opposition party in the East to give support for the creation
of Rivers State.
The Ijaw/Yoruba compromise instigated a mass movement of NCNC faithful to
the opposition, AG in the Federal Elections of 1954. Chief N.G. Yellowe
contested and won as the AG candidate for the Degema Division, using as his
key election issue, the creation of Rivers State. The NCNC's loss in the
Degema Division to AG triggered more antagonism from Enugu, as some
developmental benefits were withdrawn from the Ijaw area.
Ijaw leaders pressed on and formed the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples
Conference (RCPC) on July 4, 1956 to strengthen their emancipation from the
tyranny of their neighbours. A year later RCPC received invitation from the
Colonial Office to present its case in the 1957 constitutional conference in
London. RCPC's demand for a separate state was rejected and the Conference
referred this simple matter to a special commission headed by Sir Henry
Willink. The Commission also rejected the demand for a separate Ijaw state,
feigning non-existence excuses.
The failure of the London Conference to recommend an Ijaw state, combined
with the ever-increasing weight of oppressive measures from the regional
government provoked the Ijaw leaders to take more pragmatic measure to
achieve a separate state. RCPC was discarded for its non-partisan status and
more radical moves were initiated. A new political party, the Niger Delta
Congress (NDC), was inaugurated to field candidates for the 1959 general
elections. The NDC's manifesto was perhaps the most significant statement
the Ijaw people made since the Akassa War (1895). A careful study of the
manifesto will show that the people had reached the final constitutional
stage for their struggle for self-determination.
If this effort failed, violence was inevitable. One of the statements of
the manifesto read: The Niger Delta Congress is now warning all citizens in
the Niger Delta, that any single vote which they may cast for the NCNC or
the Action Group in constituencies in the Niger Delta is a mandate for these
enemy parties to neglect and abolish the Niger Delta tribes. The only
approved way of expressing your resentment against these atrocious plans of
the NCNC and the Action Group is to vote for the Niger Delta Congress now
and for all time. Away! Away! Away! With the NCNC. Away with the Action
Group. Vote for the Niger Delta Congress'.
The NDC formed an alliance with the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the
largest political party in the country with an understanding that the
relationship would mutually benefit both peoples and address the age-long
neglect of the area. The 1959 elections was a disaster for the Ijaw people;
only one candidate won on NDC platform. The NDC/NPC alliance was a fraud.
Meanwhile the younger generation was observing with absolute consternation
the lack of commitment of the Nigerian state and the Ijaw leadership to
address their lot. In struggling for self-determination through a
constitutional process, the Ijaw people seemed to be getting to their wits'
It is at this point that Boro, the most visible expression of the youths
arrived. He described the NDC as a failure and set the agenda for a violent
struggle for self-determination. His thoughts reflected the general level of
apprehension and disillusionment among the younger generation. He wrote:
'The only success of the Niger Delta Congress was that it was able to send
Milford Okilo from Brass Division (Yenagoa Province) to the Federal House...
Inevitably, therefore, the day would come for us to fight for our long
denied right to self-determination".
The coming of the 'January boys' in 1966 and the near collapse of the
Nigerian project orchestrated by the Biafran threats snowballed the
discontent of the Ijaw youths and in February, Isaac Boro led a squad of 150
volunteers to pullout the Ijaw people from Nigeria under the new state
called The Niger Delta Republic.
Banigo lives in Yenagoa, Bayelsa