BY Hart RexLawson Atemie
Before Biafra,there was the Niger Delta Republic led by Isaac Adaka Jasper Boro. Boro was one of the early people who began the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.He challenged the exploitation and deprivation of the region as the resources were being channeled to develop other regions of the country.It was the culmination of the injustice,political frustration and suffocation that the Ijaw and other Niger Delta people suffered in an independent Nigeria.
As a bubbling,brilliant young secondary school leaver,Boro, after a three-month stint as a teacher,joined the Nigeria Police as a cadet in 1958 with a lot of fire in him to bring about change.But he received a shock when he found that he was alone in a police force that was already corrupt and was subsequently dismissed due to ill luck,maybe,the call of destiny.Heartbroken,he dusted up his certificate and went to the University of Nigeria,Nsukka,where he suffered various degrees of injustice as a student politician.He came to the realization that the Ijaw were heading for extinction if the tide of the national politics being controlled by the big three (Hausa,Yoruba and Igbo) did not change.
Boro and other Ijaw students watched with bewilderment as the Ijaw politicians failed to break into the top echelons of Nigerian and regional politics controlled by the easterners.Boro was provoked how Year after year,the Ijaws 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.
Boro lamented the exclusion and alienation from power,How the Ijaw withered in bitterness and regret.For a then estimated two million people,he was angered there were no adequate educational opportunities,no infrastructure,no empowerment,no openings.The only fishery industry which ought to be situated in a properly riverine Ijaw 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 but more of the Igbo’s from Eastern Nigeria.
The lamentations of Boro and other prominent Ijaw leaders like Chief Harold Dappa Biriye lead to the agitation for the creation of a Niger Delta State and formation of the Niger Delta Congress. But Igbo-dominated National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) which ruled the East was not interested in the creation of Niger Delta State for obvious reasons.Niger Delta congress (NDC) could not do much as out of the nine representatives of the area, eight were from NCNC.And in the Eastern Region House of Assembly,the Niger Delta had only 5 against 110 other representatives. In the Midwestern House of Assembly, Niger Delta had 2 representatives against 58 others. “Given these prevailing circumstances,” lamented Boro…..
“An Ijaw nationalist finds that a state for his people is more of a necessity than a mere desire,Such a demand becomes all the more compelling when the area is so viable yet people are blatantly denied development and the common necessities of life.”
In October 1962,Boro,then an undergraduate of UNN,began the movement that would, in 1966, start the violent campaign to end the marginalization of the Niger Delta which he tagged “to discuss the political future of our people”.They became known as the Internal Caucus. Boro was elected the secretary-general.“Our primary objective was to organize ourselves into a strong political force to struggle for our self-determination as soon as we graduated,” Boro explained.
In 1963,Boro and his Internal Caucus took their campaign to the embassies of some countries whom they considered advocates of freedom.They did not get the desired support. In 1964, Boro and Samuel Owonaru, later to be his second in command in DVS, toured West African countries to conscientise Ijaws living in the West Coast about the plight of the their people in independent Nigeria.They visited Dahomey (Benin Republic),Togo and Ghana.In Ghana,they visited the Cuban Embassy where they hoped that Fidel Castro’s country would be keen to support the freedom of Ijaws.The ambassador gave them 60 minutes to vacate the embassy.
After graduation,Boro was employed as a technical officer in the Faculty of Science, University of Lagos.Again he, Owonaru and other youths formed Integral WXYZ “to prepare the minds of the Ijaw youths for the ripe moment”.That ripe moment was the killing of Balewa on January 15, 1966.He resigned his job, cashed his emoluments, sold his property and with £150,returned to Kaiama, his hometown, set up camp at the Taylor Creek and began recruitment.
“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 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.” – Isaac Adaka Jasper Boro
With these electrifying words,27-year-old Isaac Adaka Jasper Boro, general officer commanding, the Niger Delta Volunteer Service,DVS, declared an independent Niger Delta Peoples Republic in February 23, 1966,40 days after the historic January 15 coup. It was 3pm and the three divisions of the DVS,made up of 159 troops,were going into action at 5pm with the objective of dislodging the federal police and taking over Yenagoa at 12 midnight. It was code-named “Operation Zero”.
It marked the beginning of the “12-Day Revolution” during which Boro, an ex-police inspector,former president of Students’ Union Government of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka,and a fresh graduate of Chemistry,called “the attention of the world to the fact that the inhabitants of the Niger Delta were feeling very uncomfortable” with their fate in Nigeria.That was an understatement for some of the observers of the time.
12 days later,the revolution was foiled by federal superior fire power;the unity of Nigeria was not negotiable.Boro and all his commanders were jailed and condemned to death for treason by General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi (From the Igbo extraction) military administration.But fate favored them and General Yakubu Gowon’s government freed them and created Rivers State and Lieutenant Commander Diete Spiff, an Ijaw,was made governor.It was dream come true, the revolution had failed and yet succeeded.
“My men and I, with the creation of our state (Rivers-State), are now free to help not only our people, but also Nigeria, to peace, unity, stability and progress,” - Boro enthused in 1967.But this was not to be.The civil war started and Boro gladly became a major in the Nigerian Army. During the period leading to the Nigeria/Biafra civil War,Isaac Adaka Jasper Boro had informed and warned the Eastern Region Governor,Odimegwu Ojukwu that the Ijaws will not be a part of the Biafran Secessionist Movement.On declaration of the BIAFRAN Republic (With the Niger Delta Occupied),Adaka Boro was made Commander of 19th Brigade under Col Benjamin Adekunle (Of Blessed memory) who as at that time was the GOC 3rd Div. Boro led the Military under him,mostly Ijaws from the Niger Delta Volunteer Services (DVS) to clear the Niger Delta of Biafran Rebels,Which he successfully did within a record short period.
He was killed on April 20, 1968, near Port Harcourt and that muted the radical voice of the Ijaw Nation.The circumstance surrounding Boro's death is still not clear, Opinions was divided as to the Conspirators.While some alleged that Col. Benjamin Adekunle had a hand, however Roy Tomo-Spiff,who was among Boro's Force that fought against the Biafran Rebels at that time disputes it,claims Boro was ambushed by fleeing BIAFRAN Forces.
When stories are recounted about Nigeria and how the General Ojukwu’s declaration of the Republic of Biafra which led to the 18 months civil war on grounds of deprivation and marginalization of the eastern region,not much is said about the declaration of the first Republic within Nigeria called the “Niger Delta Republic” which also premised on deprivation, alienation and marginalization of Ijaw people. Rather the new agitator,Grand Commander Nnamdi Kanu and cohorts are trying every means possible to cajole the Niger Delta People into another antics for advance colonist theory,the labor of our heroes past shall never be in vain.
Source:The Nigerian Talking Drum.