Last month, YNaija.com launched its Monthly Citizenship Dispatches, which explores in detail, the lives and realities of Nigerian citizens across the country.
This month, the dispatches come from the Niger Delta, where our reporters have spent weeks digging deep into a part of the country oft reported about and sadly still mis-understood.
These are the stories we will share with you daily over the next two weeks – for the voices, the issues, the realities that fellow citizens living in the Delta have dealt with, and continue to deal with every day.
That the Nigerian civil war – triggered in 1967 by the secession of the people of the Eastern region as Biafra -which was itself the consequence of the July 1966 counter-coup – is not news to many across the country and overseas. But a far less number of people know that the Niger Delta resource control agitation began with the secession of the Niger Delta Republic in February 1966, before the aforementioned events.
Before Chukwuemeka Ojukwu who led the breakaway state of Biafra, there was Isaac Boro, the 27-year old undergraduate of the University of Nigeria who declared the independence of the Niger Delta People’s Republic (NDPR) on 23rd February 1966, forty days after the Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Kaduna Nzeogwu-led coup.
He was born Isaac Adaka Jasper Boro on September 10, 1938 to a village headmaster father and a trader mum in the town of Oloibiri where the first oil well would be discovered two decades later.
Boro was schooled first in Oloibiri, then Port Harcourt and later his hometown, Kaiama. Afterwards, he worked as a teacher in Port Harcourt, then joined the police force as a cadet sub-inspector before also working briefly in Cameroon. In 1961, Boro gained admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study Industrial Chemistry where he eventually became president of the students’ union government.
By January 1965, Boro who was now living at Kadiri Street, Surulere in Lagos and working as a technical officer at the University of Lagos had emerged as the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF). It was an organization he had formed to agitate for redistribution of the wealth accruing from the vast resources of the Niger Delta. With him were Solomon Owonaru and Notthingham Dick, his right-hand men and together they declared the Niger Delta People’s Republic – founded in January 1966 as independent a month later.
His declaration was telling of the suffering of his people. “This is not because we are going to bring the heavens down”, he is reported to have said. “…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.”
For twelve days, he and his 150-man NDVF squad fought against the Nigerian government from their base at Taylor Creek in what is now Bayelsa State, blowing up pipelines and other oil installations as well as killing policemen in a gunfight. This was until the superior firepower of federal army crushed the revolution.
Boro was handed a death-sentence by hanging for his Niger Delta emancipation struggles by Justice Phil Ebosie in Port Harcourt on 27 March 1966. In a fortunate twist of events for him, head of state Yakubu Gowon granted him a presidential pardon and drafted him into the army in June that year. And it was an ambush during the war that killed Boro; Major Isaac Boro.
The date was May 17, 1968 and he was aged just 32.
Some argue that Ojukwu was himself inspired by Boro, just like Ken Saro-Wiwa after him. What is unarguable though, is the Kaiama Declaration of 1995 signed in his birthplace by members of what became the Ijaw Youth Council – who saw Boro as their role model.
Two of the young men present that day were Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo and Asari Dokubo.