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Chapter 6: Considering the Niger Delta

Contributed by Major Isaac Adaka Boro for The Adaka Boro Centre - http://www.adakaboro.org

Considering the Niger Delta


The Niger Delta we shall consider is strictly the area occupied by the Ijaws, the aboriginal tribe of the Delta. It spans the coast of the Bight of Biafra, from the Forcados River to the Opobo River and upstream to the Niger tributaries of the Nun and Forcados Rivers. Compared to other parts of the country, this is a geographical complex, with a criss-cross of creeks and a dense forest nourished by heavy rains almost throughout the year. The Niger Delta has sufficient land to accommodate four of the largest cities in the world - London, New York, Buenos Aires, Moscow more than enough humidity to bathe the extreme aridity of the entire Sahara; and a physiognomy gloomy enough to repel the most adventurous of explorers. Mary Kingsley once said: "I believe the great swamp regions of the Bight of Biafra is the greatest in the world and that in its immensity and gloom, it has a grandeur equal to that of the Himalayas."The area under discussion is about 10,000 square miles, and controls an aboriginal population of about two million. These memoirs will not discuss in detail the disputed migratory origin of the Ijaws, but will merely put aside some of the conjectures of historians.

Dr. Kenneth Dike, in his book, TRADE AND POLITICS IN THE NIGER DELTA (1830-1885), made two statements which he himself admits are tentative. First he gathers from local historians, non-Ijaws, that the traces of Benin culture in some Ijaw towns give a possibility of Benin descent. This he supports with Major A. G. Leonards publication of THE LOWER NIGER AND ITS TRIBES (London 1906), pp. 17-47. Dr. Dike further sought to strengthen his argument with a specific attack on Dr. P. A. Talbots researches published in PEOPLES OE SOUTHERN NIGERIA and TRIBES OF THE NIGER DELTA, where the latter recorded the view that the Ijaws were driven to their present position by the coastward moving Ibos. Something strikes me appallingly in these assertions. How do these historians get their facts? Obviously, Dr. Dike a Nigerian and an Ibo for that matter, would have done his colleagues a world of good by spending at least four months in a historical tour of the Niger Delta before assembling his book so that a critical examination of the materials in the British Museum could be done to make his book excellent. What is the use of a history book if the aboriginal history of the subjects under treatment cannot be traced even if it be to antiquity? In this regard, I am more inclined to agree partially with the conclusions of Dr. PQA. Talbot, that "The Niger Delta, with the exception of a few small tribes, occupied by these strange people (the Ijaws) is a survival from the dim past, beyond the dawn of history, whose language and customs are distinct from those of their neighbours (the Ibos) and without trace of any tradition of a time before they were driven southward into those regions of sombre mangrove." Dr. Talbot was lost in confusion in his trace of the Ijaw migratory origin and therefore correctly found solace in antiquity. Although historians are not aware of the aboriginal descent of the Ijaws, the Ijaws are fully aware of their origin. Perhaps it would clear the air if historians took the trouble of reading S. K. Owonarus book, SHORT HISTORY OF THE IJAWS AND HER NEIGHBOURING TRIBES, giving full account of the origin of the sixteen clans of the Ijaws. It would be an unpardonable error of judgment and a deliberate misdirection of history, if a

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Chapter 6: Considering the Niger Delta


Contributed by Major Isaac Adaka Boro for The Adaka Boro Centre - http://www.adakaboro.org

historian concludes that, because an Ibo man wears the Hausa traditional dress, the Ibos must have had the same ancestors as the Hausas. They then proceed on this conjecture, try to tally behavioural patterns only to find, when it is too late, that the patterns do not fall into place. This is the sum total of the Leonard theory, and would have been a primary task in Dr. Dikes book to disprove and not stagger in unbalanced facts. Cultural identities, particularly in the days which Talbot and Leonard wrote their books 1907 and 1926 respectively - were mainly promoted through trade and adventure contacts. At the rate in which Nigerian culture is changing, perhaps by the twenty-first century, we may be having our traditions completely fused with the culture of the Whites. Then, it would not be necessary for us to go to Texas or South Africa to be told that we are not of European descent. The Ijaws did NOT come from Benin. The question of the Ijaws being driven southwards by the coastward moving Ibos is another flat conjecture. Since there will be no space devoted in these memoirs to make a detailed proof of the ancestral origin of the Ijaws, I shall only suggest to the reader to consider the conjectures by the undependable arguments of these good historians as dissolved. The fact is that this area has been occupied by these people from pre-historic times. Already an interesting book is being compiled based definitely on this historical narrative of S. K. Owonaru backed by records and antiquities from both the Ijaws themselves and IleIfe which is the accepted origin of the Ijaws. The name Ijaw is anglicised. The original word is IZON the ancestral father of the Ijaws meaning TRUTH. The tribe is made up of sixteen clans. They are: Apoi Kolokuma Kalabari Tarakiri Ogboin Okirika Kabouowei Debe Opubu Mein Atisa Opokuma Gbaran Buseni Ogbia Okogba

There is an increase in the dialectal differences from the Apois in the west to the Okirikas in the east, otherwise the language is basically the same. A recent extensive study of the Ijaw language has been made by Dr. Kay Williamson who spent over eighteen months with the indigenes and a publication has been made on behalf of the Cambridge University. Owing to the common ancestral background, biclannish connections among communities are very widespread and worship of the native gods and goddesses are interclannish till date. There is another misguided conclusion in Dr. Dikes book where he states, "A study of contemporary literature will reveal that in the nineteenth century, by far the greater number of the Delta population were in a state of serfdom and not a few of the great chiefs were of slave descent." This conclusion he took from the single town of Bonny, a town he himself agrees was the greatest slave market on the Guinea Coast. This is a direct assault on historical accuracy. Of all the sixteen clans in the Ijaw tribe, he dwells on one town which obviously was saddled with the responsibility of rehabilitating the mass of the slaves bought from the Ibo hinterland, a duty which was very abrupt due to the emancipation acts of 1807.

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Chapter 6: Considering the Niger Delta


Contributed by Major Isaac Adaka Boro for The Adaka Boro Centre - http://www.adakaboro.org

However, it is true that the slave left-overs from the emancipation are still distinct in the Niger Delta area, and it is a predominant feature in the Ijaw culture which the emancipation, sorry to say, has not been able to eliminate. Slave families are very few and surely they do not form the majority of the Delta population. So much for the origin of the Ijaws. And now a look at the resources of the Niger Delta. The economic potentialities can be classified as tapped and untapped. Among the tapped wealth is the agricultural produce of palm oil and kernel which are by far the oldest. They are obtained from wild palm trees which occupy a considerable part of the fresh water jungles. Another forest resource is timber comprising mainly mahogany, Abura, black and white Afara, Iroko. Agricultural potentialities are vast. Owing to the astonishingly fertile soil, majority of the tropical crops can grow without using fertilisers for years. This is made possible by the rich alluvial soil deposited yearly by the floods. Pioneer experimental farms set up by the Niger Delta Development Board show that rice in the swamps could thrive all the year round. Rubber, cocoa, tobacco, sugar-cane and other moisture-nourished cash crops are especially favoured. Fisheries in fresh and brackish water are also predominantly promising investments. All these come under the untapped resources since no commercial quantities have been produced. One other forest resource which could yield enormous funds is the mangrove pulp, suitable for making paper. A special feature the Niger Delta could boast of is its vast mangrove forests. At the moment the mangrove tree is used only in the production of native furniture polish from its bark and as firewood. Specimens of the mangrove pulp were sent to a German firm by the Niger Delta Development Board and offers had been made long ago for the establishment of a paper industry. Now we come to the mineral resources, the main factor on which the famous Nigerian political dispute is based. Before the Second World War, the main energy source had been coal. Now coal is almost extinct in the fuel world and scientists refer to this era as the oil age. Oil has not only revolutionized industry but has also made others covet its possessors with the attendant conflicts and aggressions. This is not true only of Nigeria but also of the Middle East countries like Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Kudistan. Small though they are, they have attracted world powers up to the point of provoking open blows. Scientists refer to this age also as the nuclear age, but it should be clear by now that this refers, for the present, to armaments, the reason being that the cost and maintenance of a nuclear reactor are prohibitive and the supply of the raw materials, uranium and other radioactive elements, is limited. This places mineral oil sufficiently in the energy front. The trend is likely to continue. Kuwait, the greatest oil-producing state in the world, has to its credit over eleven million tons of crude oil annually. It is, therefore, not surprising that she pays her Emir ten million pounds sterling a year! Nigeria with her comparatively recent oil production stands at about six million tons a year. The bulk of this production is from the Niger Delta Area under discussion. Should anybody say less, be assured it is a misrepresentation. I shall proceed to enumerate the various oil stations, not including undrilled locations. The areas concerned are:- Oloibiri - Degema - Bori (Ogoni) - Koluama - Odi - Ogidigba - Egbedi - Polaku - Brass - Oporoma - Okpoma - Joinkrama These and other locations from Nigerias proud oil and gas republic. Another pertinent mineral is silica-sand.

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Chapter 6: Considering the Niger Delta


Contributed by Major Isaac Adaka Boro for The Adaka Boro Centre - http://www.adakaboro.org

I have undertaken a personal analysis of some of the sand found in the numerous banks and found that some contain 90% silica, about 8% silt and 2% mud. To a layman this means nothing but a scientist knows that silica is what is used in making glass and high temperature tubes. Also, in some fresh water swamps, soil conditions, gold deposits, as in Ghana and South Africa, are prevalent. It may be interesting to note that an oil company has struck certain striking minerals to confirm this belief. Another supposition is the existence of natural diamonds in some of these dreary jungles and swamps. This supposition has also been supported by some natives picking extraordinary gem stones at one time or the other. All these are not surprising as the department of Geology, University of Nigeria, made a brief analysis of the rock, that is soil sedimentations, in the Niger Delta Area and recorded that it belongs to the worlds oldest species. Let us examine with some latitude whether the state of development is to any extent commensurate with a tint of the bulk of the already tapped mineral and agricultural resources. First, we may run our eyes through the health services. For the area concerned, covering a territory of 10,000 square miles and about two million inhabitants, there are just a few hospitals of ordinary health centre status. One is at Degema, the second at Yenagoa and the other at Okrika. It takes two days to travel by canoe from most of the remote villages to any of the hospitals. I was present when a schoolboy, cutting a tree trunk to carve a paddle for presentation as his handicraft, got his shin bone crushed by the trunk. He was being conveyed by canoe to Yenagoa, but he died six hours later on the way owing to bleeding. There are a few dispensaries not better than first aid boxes scattered about in some of the villages. There are no maternity homes. How do people in such an environment survive? No wonder the high death rate. The survivors of these horrid conditions live paramountly on native herbs. In the educational field, the area is infested with many missionary elementary schools whose buildings are mainly thatch-huts or sandy half-walled block buildings, a majority of which are under water during the floods especially those on the fresh water banks. There are four missionowned secondary schools none of which can boast of a modern building. That organisation is very poor, so also is staffing. Perhaps we may leave the Okrika Grammar School as an exception although compared to schools in other parts of the country, it is also neither here nor there. There are no technical institutions. Yearly, six post-secondary scholarships are awarded by the two governments within which the area falls. This means, for the population of two million, after a century, there would be six hundred high level manpower trained out of which less than a hundred may be in active service, the rest having died or are merely existing. The Federal Government, however, supplements this number with ten special area scholarships. 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 eighty miles inland at Abat. The boatyard at Opobo had its headquarters at Enugu and had recently been sold to an overseas company. Personnel in these industries and also in the oil stations are predominantly nonljaw. In the complex network of communications throughout the country, the area is only supplied with few postal agencies. There has been no postal concern of post office status. Letters are unduly delayed and the reader may have observed in the record of these memoirs that the first setback I had arose from the impossible communication link between my place and the outside world. Added to this problem of communication is that of transport. The only available means of mobility is the canoe. Apart from the fact that it is too slow, it is too risky for natives or non-natives to engage in profitable trade. Small powered boats have been introduced to the area by private ownership but these are too few and often overloaded, causing untold disasters. There is an Inland Waterways boat travelling once a month at intervals. This does not

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Chapter 6: Considering the Niger Delta


Contributed by Major Isaac Adaka Boro for The Adaka Boro Centre - http://www.adakaboro.org

help the situation much. Its arrivals are unscheduled. Besides it takes four to five days to travel between Port Harcourt and Odi on the upstream length of the River Nun. Of all parts of the country, the Niger Delta is the richest in water and so the governments have not found it necessary to give the inhabitants pipe bone water, be it in the salt water washed creeks or in muddy fresh water rivers. People drink from the most squalid wells and so dysentery and worm diseases are rife. Given these prevailing circumstances, an Ijaw nationalist finds "that a state for his people is more of a necessity than a mere desire. A Niger Delta State is a clear case as the people concerned have a distinct historical silhouette. Such a demand becomes all the more compelling when the area is so viable, yet the people are blatantly denied development and the common necessities of life. If Nigerian governments refuse to do something to drastically improve the lot of the people, inevitably a point of no return will be reached; then evil is afoot." The quest for a state dated back to the days of the Ijaw State Movement, an organisation which was nipped in the bud by some apprehensive politicians from the neighbouring area. An outstanding work done towards the achievement of a state before the Independence of Nigeria was initiated by the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference. Its main objective was to offer a representation for the Ijaws during the pre-Independence constitutional conferences in Britain and to table the fears of the Delta minority group. This delegation was led by Chief Harold Biriye. The representatives received sympathy naturally from the British Government and a Minorities Commission was set up to ascertain these fears and suggest means of allaying them. As it happened, some of the pioneers of the Rivers Chiefs and Peoples Conference were opportunists. Many nonIjaws, misguided as they were, felt that if a state was given to the Delta area as it ought to be, the people would occupy heights they never dreamt of. Some of our leaders, too, had no plan. Their main basis of the demand was the historical and tribal distinction of our people However, when the Minorities Commission sat, many things happened. Cash, as it was alleged, flowed freely underground and the very agitators for our demand shifted grounds. Nevertheless, the British government perhaps did not want to blur totally the future of their old friends, the people of the Niger Delta, and so insisted on its being entrenched in the Independence Constitution that there should be a Niger Delta Special Area whose development was to be catered for by a board. This gave rise to the post-independence birth of the Niger Delta Development Board. The formation of this board was consequent upon the sincere efforts of the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the then Prime Minister. What happened was that, during the pre-independence elections of 1959, there was a marked political shift in the Delta. Prior to this election, the majority of the people had always voted for the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons because there was no other party in the area. In the 1959 elections, political consciousness emerged, initiated by the formation of Chief Biriyes Niger Delta Congress with fish as its political symbol. This symbol raised more enthusiasm than ever and people felt they were morally bound to partake in the activities of the party of the soil and that that would bring the Ijaws in line with other tribes which they agreed had their own parties. The only success of the Niger Delta Congress was that it was able to send Melford Okilo from Brass Division (Yenagoa Province) to the Federal House, after many innocent persons had been sent to jail for political offences and many local teachers had lost their jobs or had themselves threatened. Some of the electioneering promises made by our Niger Delta Congress leaders were that board appointments would be given to the prominent members of the area at the federal level and that a state would be created, promises which the party chiefs could not even fulfill for themselves. The disgust for their own party was shown in the next Eastern Regional elections of 1962. The epidemic of pay before I vote", which had gained ground in Nigeria then, did its work. The same applied to the 1964 Federal Elections. The Niger Delta Congress lost all grounds to the National Council of Nigeria Citizens (N.C.N.C.). Thus, backed by some political upstarts, the area was sold to outsiders for nothing, making the work of constitutional emancipation by the younger generation utterly disastrous.

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Chapter 6: Considering the Niger Delta


Contributed by Major Isaac Adaka Boro for The Adaka Boro Centre - http://www.adakaboro.org

Let me summarise the quest for a state. - Firstly, the N.C.N.C. had no interest in the creation of a Niger Delta State. This became obvious when, even before 1965, it was crystal clear that the oil rich Niger Delta had become the booty of Nigeria. - Secondly, the entire representatives of the Niger Delta, nine in number, except one, were N.C.N.C. members and could do nothing in their party circles for the creation of a state. - Thirdly, even if they belonged to an indigenous party, they were too few to control a majority vote directed towards the implementation of the creation. For instance, in the Eastern House of Assembly, the Delta membership was four against a hundred and ten other representatives. In the Midwestern Assembly, Delta representation was two against fifty-eight. - Fourthly, the provisions for the creation of states in the Nigerian Constitution were undemocratic and didnt take into account the countrys political circumstances. An area agitating for a state had to get the approval of the regional government or governments within which the area demanding the state falls as well as one other regional government and also that of the Federal government. Alternatively, if the government or governments of the area proved stubborn, it could then get the backing of the Federal government. In the state of affairs as at the end of 1965, the Niger Delta could probably get the support of the governments of the North and West and the Federal Government, but never those of the East and Mid-west. The approval of the North and the West were also extreme probabilities because the Middle Belt area of the North, too, were agitating for a state. If, therefore, these two governments approved the creation of a Niger Delta state, then a counteracting approval would be given to the creation of the Middle Belt State by the N.C.N.C.-controlled government of the East and Mid-West, to precipitate a stalemate. Either would thus require the approval of one more region. The situation was particularly annoying to the Ijaws because when the plebiscite campaign for the creation of the Mid-west state was on, the promise given to them in the West was that on the event of the creation of a state in the Niger Delta, they would be allowed to join their kith and kin in the East. Despite that promise, there was the fear as to whether the promise would be fulfilled. Consequently, during the state referendum, ballot boxes were carried away by Protestants and were only discovered four days after the rest of the results had been announced. One may be led to blame the Ibos for desiring to retain a closed territory principally to satisfy their own economic and political considerations, but they were only momentary opportunists. The whole discredit is attributable to the then British government. When the British arrived in Nigeria, they started their acquisition piecemeal. While British trade had begun with the Northern extremes and the coastal citystates, a greater part of the hinterland was still unknown to them. Their own administrators admit that the ethnic components of the Nigeria they found were astonishingly varied. When the coastal chiefs, with reluctance, opened the gates to the Nigerian hinterland to them, the British awarded them a prize of neglect and derision. Today, there is a worldwide pride of American intelligence, but what many people fail to remember or appreciate is that this is an off-shoot of British intelligence. What then surprises one is how this much envied British administrative capacity would not cope with the pre-independence arrangement of the affairs in Nigeria. Before independence was granted, eleven distinct ethnic groups stared the British in they face. They were: Hausas, Fulanis, Yorubas, Ibos, Ijaws, Tivs, Kanuris, Nupes, Edos, Urhobos, Itsekiris. What prevented them from creating ethnic states in the Federation, knowing just as well as anybody that any of these tribes would sooner or later object to domination by the other. Their attitude to the Nigerian problem, therefore, suggested that their handing over to Nigeria a political set-up of total democratic imbalance and contradictions was in truth satanical and a calculated trap to overwhelm the country with disastrous political upheavals. Surely, their reason would be that they were reluctant to leave the country and were only forced out by political pressures of certain ambitious citizens of the country. It also showed the disregard for the many tribes who embraced them on their arrival and favoured them with protective treaties. Unfortunately, those who perpetrated this outrageous crime on freedom and democracy are no longer in office in Britain. What all lovers of peace and equity would tell them was that they made a mess of Nigeria and owe a profound apology

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Chapter 6: Considering the Niger Delta


Contributed by Major Isaac Adaka Boro to the democratic world at large. The Ijaws as may be seen from the list of Nigerian tribes were thus pronounced victims of a woolly administration. Year after year 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. for The Adaka Boro Centre - http://www.adakaboro.org

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