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The Caliphate Encouraged Isaac Boro’s Action yet Betrayed Him at Last – Boro’s brother, David

David Boro, 72, is the younger brother of the late Isaac Boro, who led the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta region o...

David Boro, 72, is the younger brother of the late Isaac Boro, who led the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The declaration of the Republic of Biafra in 1967 by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, which led to the Nigerian Civil War is a story familiar to many Nigerians but arguably, not as many citizens of the country know an independent republic within Nigeria was first declared by Isaac Boro – Niger Delta Republic. The declaration was made on February 23, 1966, shortly after the January 1966 coup. It led to what later became popular as ‘The Twelve-Day Revolution’, as the fight between the Federal Government and Boro and his comrades lasted for 12 days.

He and his comrades were later arrested, tried and sentenced to death by the Aguiyi Ironsi-led military regime. Isaac Boro’s brother, David, tells DANIELS IGONI about the revolution and the unwillingness of the Niger Delta political class to appreciate his sacrifices, among other issues

Did you witness the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria, which was started by your elder brother, the late Major Isaac Adaka Boro?

Yes, I did. I was in Class Five in secondary school then. On the day they struck, I mean for what is now known as the 12-Day Revolution in 1966, we were in school – Bishop Dimieari Grammar School, Yenagoa – when we started hearing the sound of dynamite blasts all over. It was terrible. People were running helter-skelter. Later, we saw some uniformed men running into our school compound and everybody took off. They said it was Isaac Boro and I said he was my elder brother.

I waited to be sure it was him. And there he was, leading a group of young men. They were members of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force. He came to tell our principal to close the school because they had declared a Niger Delta Republic and they knew that federal troops would be coming down and there would be exchange of gunfire. So, in order not to expose the schoolchildren to danger, he told the principal to close the school. The principal complied and all of us went home. By the time I got home, everybody had run away. Our father was then a headmaster at Taylor Creek. I didn’t meet anybody. I went into the village and asked where they were, and I was told. I went to meet them. Then some policemen came and we ran into the bush.

Was the Boro family not surprised at his action?

No, we were not. We were not surprised as he had told our father about it. But our father advised him against it and told him to face his studies because he was a student. You know, after the 1963 general election, they took the Federal Government to court to seek its nullification. At that time, he came to tell our father because he was in university. And our father asked how he could imagine that kind of thing. He told him to go and face his studies. But he told our father that he had Eastern Region scholarship and they wanted him to champion the cause for them.

But later, they disappointed him and the Northern Region leadership accepted him because they saw the courage in him. Actually, the 12-Day Revolution did not happen out of the blue. It had the silent consent of the northern Nigerian hierarchy.

As a minority in this part of the country, we had always felt cheated out of our oil wealth. Because we were not many, somebody could come to your land, take your oil and if you talked, they would point a gun at you so you would keep quiet; it’s federal law.  If it were a large tribe in Nigeria that had the oil, the law would have been different. But that did not prevent us from agitating. At some point, we thought the Eastern Region was the problem and Isaac Boro went to them but during their interaction, he found out that the Eastern Region was not ready to give Ijaw people a state like the Bayelsa State we have today.

But northern leaders like Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello and others were disposed to it. That’s where the alliance between the North and South came from. So, Isaac Boro did not just start the 12-Day Revolution and decide to declare a Niger Delta Republic. There was some degree of encouragement from the North. That’s why the North and the Niger Delta, especially the Ijaw bloc, have been in close alliance all these years. It is just that the new generation of northerners is not aware of the covenant that exists between the North and the Niger Delta people.

Were your parents not afraid that the young Boro could lose his life?

Who would not be afraid? He was told not to do it because it was too dangerous. He was told to study. But he felt that there was a need to do it.  And honestly speaking, looking back today, he did the right thing. If he had not made the move at that time, the Ijaw people would not have been politically emancipated. They would not have seen the need to side with Nigeria when the Biafra War started. If you look at the history of the Nigerian Civil War, you will discover that the Ijaw bloc was more with Nigeria than some other groups because the awareness Boro created in the Niger Delta was not like what you would find in some other blocs within the South. Therefore, the Ijaw bloc wanted “One Nigeria”.

So, many young men from the South went to Lagos to enlist in the army and they were the ones who eventually liberated the area during the war. So, what Isaac Boro did was very significant for the Ijaw people and even for the survival of Nigeria. I believe that if the entire Eastern Region was united, it would have been a formidable force, but we were not because the Ijaw people did not see security in Biafra.

How did the family receive the news when Boro and his comrades were arrested, tried and jailed for treason?

We were disappointed. Everybody was disappointed at their arrests by the Federal Government. I was disappointed. But, somehow, we knew he wouldn’t die. And again events proved it because so many events were lined up. They had reasons for striking prematurely. But all that is history now. Basically, we were afraid and unhappy but we also knew God was with him.

How frequently did he visit home before and after he started the revolt?

There was no time for him to visit home regularly. But during the training of the Niger Delta Force freedom fighters, he came home only once or twice. I wasn’t around to see him, though.

But were you tempted to join him in the revolt?

First, he would not allow it because he said war was not a child’s play. For instance, when he was in prison at Ashanti Barracks, Lagos, we (my elder brother and I) went to Lagos to enlist into the army after running away from the Eastern Region. But on the day we went there, there was no recruitment. We were school certificate holders and at that time if you could not join the uniformed corps, at least you would work as a clerk. But when Isaac Boro heard that we tried to join the army, he was furious. He said two brothers should not join the army. He said one person could join the army and the other person could stay with the family because there was no guarantee that the one who enlisted would not be killed. But at the end of the day, 37 members of our extended family joined the army to fight in the civil war and 17 of them died! Imagine 17 men dying in one family. That was a big blow to the family. Isaac Boro was just one of them.

He died when he was just 30 years during the civil war near Okrika in 1968. Did the Boro family suspect any foul play in his death, given the fact that he was more of an activist than a soldier?

A lot of stories have come up concerning his death. But, you see, some things are providential. He was a brigade commander. In the army, as a brigade commander, you have at least three battalions under your command. You can send two battalions to battle and keep one around you. Or you can send one battalion and keep two. That is to guard you. But he did not see himself as a soldier and he kept saying it. He had brushes with his senior officers because they saw him as one of their own, but he wasn’t. He said he was only a freedom fighter in the army to fight to win a war and once the war was won, he would leave the army. So, he was not a regular soldier. He didn’t see himself in that light, and in the military, they didn’t understand that. That was one problem he had with the military officers. But looking at the way he operated, you would discover that he was not operating as a soldier. He was operating as an aggrieved freedom fighter who wanted quick results.  So, when you look at his actions from military standpoint, you will conclude that he was, perhaps, overzealous in getting things done.

Some people believe his killing was premeditated, are you saying the Boro family did not take any action to unravel the circumstances surrounding his death?

Nobody could have taken any action because it happened in the middle of the war. Nobody could have gone to the particular spot where he died during the war to verify anything. He had the freedom not to stop where he stopped before he got shot. He had the freedom to pass. It was not as if he was attacking a front and there was a resistance and he died in the process, no. If you are passing through a route and you see something on the shores and you say, ‘turn the boat around, let’s go there,’ you have the freedom to decide to send troops to investigate it when you get to the headquarters. So, he had that option to investigate it as a brigade commander. If he did that, he would not have died, at least, not where he died. That is why I said that sometimes, some things are providential. It is over 50 years now and nobody will investigate his death. That explains the zeal in him to execute the war.

Where did he get the weapons he used in The 12-Day Revolution?

You can ask the youth of today where they get the arms they use. But as for the explosives (used during the revolt), they got them from seismic companies. He even stated it in his book, ‘The Twelve-Day Revolution’.

What was his relationship with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu?

Ojukwu and Isaac Boro were on the opposite sides of the land. Ojukwu wanted the Igbo to secede from Nigeria on the platform of Biafra, but Boro wanted a united Nigeria on the condition that the Niger Delta would be recognised and given a state.

But Boro, like Ojukwu, also attempted secession with his revolution?

Well, this may not have been documented by him directly. But I remember that as young people, before the 12-Day revolution, we were in a boat on the river one day, going to a place called Tezuba along the Taylor Creek and he was discussing how the swamps would be sand-filled to create new cities and to achieve that, there had to be a struggle.

So, he didn’t have any relationship with Ojukwu?

No, there was no relationship in the sense that Ojukwu believed in Igbo leaving Nigeria while Isaac Boro believed in the unity of Nigeria, believing that the pact he had with the northern leaders would guarantee autonomy for the Niger Delta people within the Nigerian framework.

How about Yakubu Gowon? What was the relationship between them?

Yes, they had a relationship. Gowon was close to him. It was Gowon who released him from prison as Head of State and granted him executive pardon that enabled him to transform from being a convict to a soldier and a hero. Otherwise he would have died as a convict.

And during the administration of President Shehu Shagari, the Federal Government honoured him by awarding him as Officer of the Order of the Niger.

The Kaiama Declaration of 1998 by the pioneer officials of the Ijaw Youth Council was intrinsically tied to the concept of Boroism. In your assessment, do you think that the activities of the present day IYC operators are in line with the tenets of the declaration?

Isaac Boro was one person so it is easy to look at him and assess him. He had a mission and he pursued it. When you talk about Ijaw youths, you are talking about thousands of people. Definitely, some among them may not be seen to be acting in line with the concept of Boroism. Again, when we say Boroism, what are we referring to? Opinions are divided. Some think that Boroism means bearing arms. But my elder brother (Boro) had two sides. One side (of him) was: source the change, then if it will not come, force it to come quickly. Secondly, if you succeed, and you are there, what will you do? And that’s where a lot has not gone well, and it is not strictly an issue that concerns youths. It is an issue that has to do leadership and the elite.

Now, we have some degree of autonomy. We have our own budgets. What are we doing with these budgets? That is the issue. So, Boroism is also about empowerment. For many, Boroism has nothing to do with war or bearing arms because they are already in power.  If you are disbursing state resources as one of the outcomes of the struggle, then you are in the second part of Boroism. It is not about engineering suppressive structures, no. It is about empowerment. Is the money reaching the people? What structures have you put in place? Take Yenagoa, for example, how many shops are owned by Bayelsa people? How many market stalls are owned by Bayelsa people? There are a lot of people who want to go there and sell but they don’t have the opportunity because most times these things are just revolving around one cartel or a cabal and it never really trickles down. So, in that regard, Boroism has been misplaced. When there is trouble, they want hungry people to come and fight for them. Therefore, it is not about Ijaw youths.

A lot of persons thought that Kaiama would have been transformed by now due to Boro’s struggle. But the community has yet to witness rapid development in terms of provision of basic social amenities, health and educational institutions. How would you react to that?

It all goes to show the development strategies of the political class. It is not only about Kaiama. Agreed, Kaiama led the struggle but that does not make others less relevant. They are equally relevant. The struggle led by Kaiama was for everybody. I agree that Kaiama, being the arrowhead, should have been developed beyond what we have currently. But, like I said, it is a general problem. Anybody who occupies public office wants to take things to their villages. They believe that by doing so, they have achieved and this is not helping matters. They are not being holistic.

How have his legacies impacted on the family?

I would say there are two sides to that question. If you asked how it impacted on Isaac Boro, I would say that after many years of delay people are gradually beginning to see the value of his activism.  A lot has been done in terms of recognising Isaac Boro in that direction. But if you look at the family, the other side of your question, there is very little gain. If you talk about what the family has gained, you are talking about special privileges or benefits that have come to the family as a result of his struggle. I say, very little. People want to recognise the hero, the legend, but when it comes to his children, the question will be: what tangible things have you done for his children, who are now adults but grew up without a father because of you?

His struggle has brought something which you are enjoying, but what about his children? He also left brothers and sisters. Most of us are dead, it’s just me and my younger sister, who is based abroad, that are still alive among his direct siblings. Then, he has an extended family. Now, which of these groups – his children, siblings and extended family – has anyone chosen to ensure they don’t suffer again considering the annual budgets executed since the old Rivers State till today?

So, in that regard, not much has been done. But we have enjoyed some recognition here and there, especially during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan as Governor of Bayelsa State. He was the first governor of Bayelsa State to visit the Boro family in our home.  He came to our Kaiama home and sat with us and assured that he would support and assist us, but he did not stay long enough in office before he was asked to serve as Vice President. Then Governor Seriake Dickson came in strongly and along the line, well, he tried his best. He exhumed the remains of Isaac Boro from Lagos and brought them to Yenagoa. Now we can go and visit Boro’s grave in Yenagoa. The Boro Day celebration used to be a jamboree in London and the United States of America and some of us could not always attend.  Dickson did a great thing by bringing the Boro Day celebration home to Bayelsa. It is no longer celebrated abroad.

I hope that successive administrations will maintain it because it is better for it to be celebrated here. It creates more unity and awareness even among the generality of the people. Nigeria is till metamorphosing and people should not think that the sacrifices of people like Isaac Boro are no longer relevant. They are still very relevant. The way you handle past patriots will either encourage or discourage others to be patriotic. If those who have demonstrated patriotism are neglected and they suffer while others enjoy, then it makes patriotism unworthy and a mockery.

Boro’s children were still very little when he died. How did the family cope with their upbringing?

They were children that should have enjoyed scholarship. But not one of them got scholarship. Though, during the administration of the late Melford Okilo, we got good attention. He was so close to us that if you wanted to pay your fees, you could walk into his office and he would not stop you because of Isaac Boro. We enjoyed that privilege. All I am saying is that there should have been some formal arrangement for the welfare of his children, but there was none. Apart from Okilo, Alfred Diete-Spiff (first military governor of old Rivers State) also did his best. He gave us – Isaac Boro’s siblings – scholarships to study abroad. So in the area of education, Diete-Spiff did very well because then my brother’s children were very little but by the time they grew up, his administration had ended. After that, there was no direct care for the children and there was no official arrangement for their scholarships. But if nothing was done for them at that time, how about now since it was their father’s struggle that brought about what we have today? Their father died and they became orphans. I pray that the political class will address these issues so that we will not keep harping on about them over and over again.

If Boro were alive, do you think he would have gone into politics?

Yes, he would have. That is the reason why he had problems with some of his military superiors. He was not a soldier. He was a freedom fighter who joined the army because that was the best platform upon which to achieve a political end. That was the reason why he joined the army. It was his plan that after the war he would quit the army and go into politics because that is where there is always the power to develop. He would have not remained in the army.

Did he read books on revolutionists and related literatures?

I wouldn’t know about that but the evidence was there. Anybody at that time, even now, a child growing up is aware that the Niger Delta people are not given fair treatment regarding the oil and gas wealth in this area. This consciousness started even before Isaac Boro. That was why the Niger Delta elders at that time wanted a state. Even the 1958 Willinks Commission that was set up to look into the predicament of the Niger Delta people before the creation of Nigeria showed there was agitation for better recognition but that recognition did not come. So that gap was there.

Our father was a member of the Niger Delta Development Board, which was like the Niger Delta Development Commission of present day. They were the people who went abroad and brought foreigners to assess the region and they came up with their findings on how the area could be developed. All those things were done, but there was no implementation. Isaac Boro had enough reasons, first, to be aware of what was happening and, secondly, to be aggrieved and, thirdly, because upon becoming an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka on the scholarship of Eastern Nigeria, they tried to use him to engage the Federal Government. Then, when he brought up the issue of a state for his people, the Eastern Government rejected it outright. But, like I said, he discovered that the northern leaders were aligned to helping the Niger Delta people to have greater autonomy. Based on that, he had a pact with them on mutual protection. So, he had all the reasons at that point to do what he wanted to do. All that was needed at that point was courage and as for courage, Isaac Boro had it.

What do you miss about him?

He was my elder brother. It is not easy to lose an elder brother and not feel it. We felt his death. He was coming up as a pillar in the family to support our father, but his death cut short all of that.

When he was not engaged in activism or military duty, how did he relax?

His peers will be able to answer that question better. But, at least from the point of view of a younger brother, he was very loving. In fact, it was from him I first knew about Greek mythology and the stories under Greek mythology. He loved literature a lot. We knew a lot about Greek mythology through him.


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