One thing many people who knew Isaac Adaka Boro as a child was that they never gave him a chance of becoming too big: they would never believe he could, one day become a head of a school not to talk of being a national figure, or freedom fighter. One, as a boy, he was too dull academically to be reckoned with, he was either the last on the list of those who passed, or the first on the list of those who failed.
Funnily enough, may be because of his age, he was so happy about it. Said he: “One thing I highly flattered myself with in the elementary school was the fact that when examination results were being announced at the end of the term, I was happy when my name was called out loudly as either last on the list of passes, or first of the failures. I remember also carrying my badly soiled exercise books with the remarks of the class teachers in red ink as either poor or very poor. I used to display them to my friends with emphasis on the red ink. But some of my teachers did not find red ink funny: I was labeled a never-do-well.”
But as he grew, things became different, and he was performing better because he did not find it difficult obtaining his First School Leaving Certificate, as he passed the examinations with distinction. This brought him to Hussey College, Warri where in 1957, while sitting for the West African School Certificate Examinations; he produced the best school certificate for the college. By this time, Adaka Boro had become aware of his environment, and was taking in the problems facing his people.
The first thing he wanted after leaving school was to get something doing, just anything that would bring some money to his pocket, for he had childishly envisaged that with enough money, he would be able to help his people. Though he liked to save money, but that would be after he had resolved all financial crises faced by the people. And for this, he needed little or no persuasion when his father, who was a renowned teacher advised him to take teaching as a profession.
Yes, this would bring money. But besides, it was something worth doing since that was what gave his father all the fame among his own people: he could tow the man’s line and still get some dough. And the authority wielded by teachers in the classrooms was tantalising enough, coupled with the respect given by all villagers to teachers, nothing could be more promising for a young man of 19. So, Isaac Adaka Boro became a teacher.
And as he moved in, he could see that all he had hoped for as a teacher was already waiting for him, even more: He stood the chances of going for further training and his benefits would grow enormously if he could wriggle his way to becoming a head teacher . These were good beginning and Isaac Boro hoped to settle down as a teacher.
Isaac was even lucky, his father had made his career smooth, for he had planned to guide the boy till he could stand on his own. For this, he worked him to a school where he was the head. So in January 1958, about two months after leaving secondary school, Isaac entered the teaching field and was posted to a mission school at Amassoma.
The school had about six hundred pupils, and it was a market of a sort. But Isaac was the second most qualified teacher in the school, for other teachers were there with standard six or primary six certificate, not many of them had seen the walls of a secondary school. And Isaac became the second master, the second in command to his own father. In fact, some of his teachers at elementary school were now his colleagues, and all under him. And there was enough power in the hand of the young Isaac. But there was a problem.
While Isaac was still in the college, something happened in far away London. On July 8, 1954, it was announced in London, through the Colonial Office, that the Queen of England had given her consent to the promulgation of a new Constitution for Nigeria. This Constitution fashioned out at the Constitutional Conferences held in London in July 1953 and in Lagos in January 1954 respectively, would come to operation from October 1, 1954.
With its promulgation, certain changes would take place in the structure of government, not only in the centre but also in the regions. For example, in the centre, Sir Hugo Marshall, the former Lieutenant Governor of Western Nigeria would become the new Chief Secretary to the Federal Government. Sir John Rankine, the British Resident in Zanzibar now Tanzania, would become the Governor of Western Nigeria and Sir John Macpherson would become the first Governor-General of the Federation of Nigeria.
In all the Regions, including the Cameroons, the Nigerian leaders of government business, would become the Premiers of their respective regions, exercising better-defined, early earmarked powers of authority which would enable them, in turn, to pursue, more vigorously and more actively, the policies of their various parties as enunciated in their action programmes. And this was where the problems that affected Isaac Boro’s life as a teacher set in.
As at the day of the promulgation of the new Constitution from London, there were only three leaders of government business in today’s Nigeria: Nnamdi Azikiwe was the leader for Eastern Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo was the leader of Western Nigeria and Ahmadu Bello was the leader in Northern Nigeria. The new Constitution was now going to make the Premiers of their Regions without any election, or other selection process very powerful. The North had no problem, but there was something in Western Nigeria.
Before the emergence of Awolowo’s political party called the Action Group, the known party in the area was NCNC, the party of Nnamdi Azikiwe. It was during the 1951 election that the AG dislodged the NCNC in the area, but the rivalry between the two parties could better be imagined. Because Nnamdi Azikwe still had a good footing in the politics of the West, he nurtured the hope that he would displace the AG soonest. But Awolowo too was very astute in his political calculation. Rather than waiting for Zik to cramp him in his own zone, he went all out to threaten Zik and his NCNC in the East.
The implication of this was that because of this rivalry, the two politicians tried to outdo one another with programmes for their people: whatever Zik did or promised to do in the East, Awolowo would quickly hatch a similar plan, and if Awolowo came up with a novelty, be sure Zik would come up with a copy in another name. The two politicians were doing this just to win more followers,
And it came to pass when Awolowo declared he was going to start a free and compulsory education for all children in the West on 17 February 1955, Nnamdi Azikwe also announced that the same programme would begin in the East the following year, or the first quarter of 1957. A healthy development one would say. But there was problem in the sense that it had taken the Government of Awolowo in the West some time to ruminate over the free education project, and to have fashioned out how it would be implemented, most especially how it would be financed. But this was not the case in Zik’s East of 1957.
The Western free education programme stipulated that a six-year child would compulsorily be taken to a school by his parents where he would be registered and he would remain there for five to six years when he would have passed his first leaving school examinations, and be given his or her certificate. He could then enter what the author of this development called a modern school for three years. Here, he strengthened his elementary school standards and acquired basic knowledge in secondary school subjects. That was the idea.
But there was a bit shade of difference in the introduction of the programme in the East. They left the former eight-year primary school education intact, but made it free from infant one to standard six, meaning that you could get to standard six without paying, after which the payment commenced again. The result was disastrous. Within a year, the Eastern system had collapsed.
Everybody wanted education for his children, most especially the male child, and there was a great influx of which the government did not plan for, for they never envisaged the great surge of wards. Owing to the influx of children, there were no funds to meet the corresponding demands such as building of more schools, staff requirements and other exigencies. Surely, the free education programme needed a review.
Various panels were set up to look into how the programme could be easily implemented by the government, without much stress on its financial stand, a situation which had made undertaking of other developmental projects almost impossible. The panels sat for long, and eventually came out with solutions which were not published, or even announced: The programme could not be pursued now; let’s charge fees for schooling, etc. And the government adjusted:
First, the Eastern Government repealed the Universal Primary Education Law. Second, the government introduced heavy levies to meet losses. It wanted some money urgently because of the comatose developmental projects begging for action. But that proved to be another very costly mistake, for the people saw it as an attack on their well-being. They had tasted the good side of progress; they were not ready for the bad side of regression.
What was the reply of the eastern public? Wide-spread rioting. It was called the tax riot of Eastern Nigeria, it was between February and March 1958, but the tension generated could not be completely doused until sometime in April. It was during this rioting that Isaac Boro came face to face with the situation that changed his life for what is now known today. He was in his school in Amassona, teaching, of course, when it happened:
It was about three months into his teaching profession. The women in the area had mobilised themselves into protesting groups, visiting schools and beating the daylight out of some of the teachers who proved stubborn. It got to a stage where the men that joined them wore female dresses so that the whole thing would look like women’s affair, since they were the worst hit by this policy of cancelling the free education they had enjoyed for a year, as proud mothers of pupils in government school.
And it was because they could not pay the new levy and could not afford not to see their wards in school that they took to the streets. Some of them who could find the money somehow were starting to pay up, but since most of the women and their husbands could not find such money, the best strategy was to disrupt the school session so that the government could see reason and rescind its decision.
Isaac Boro and his colleagues had been hearing of this rioting but they had not gotten to their school. But one morning, it happened. The women bombarded the school with canes and cudgels, driving all teachers and pupils away. The head teacher, Isaac’s father had collected some money from those who could pay, the women demanded and got it. They now gave the old man a receipt, telling him to tell his bosses wherever they might be that they were the ones who had collected the money. The money was two hundred pounds.
The news of the incident was travelling like light, everybody was aware that the Amassoma school had been attacked by the women of the town. And in less than twenty-four hours after the incident, half a unit of the Nigeria Police arrived, and everyone scampered to safety. They came in a government boat, and the people fled the town to hide in nearby bushes. The police were twenty-five.
But they were not in a hurry. First thing must be done first, the policemen were hungry, and a hungry man is an angry man. Aiming a rifle at a fat goat by the waterside, they brought it down for the cooking party. While the cooking was on, the rest now went to the headmaster’s house, asked for the home of the dare-devil woman that led the rioters, and there they went, looking for the woman. They were moving with such audacity and power that Isaac Boro hated being a teacher. There and then, he changed his mind, just three months into his one-time loved career.
Boro said: “There and then, I blamed myself for joining such a profession as teaching where you only grow old and announce to audiences that Mr. Tom, the superintendent, was my classmate; and you know Mr. Harry, the minister, was my school boy, very dull in his days! NO, the police was the place for me. Power, authority, command respect, everything. Damn the teaching profession. I must leave before it gets to my blood.”
And Isaac Boro left teaching for the police.
Adaka Isaac Boro