When Chief Anthony Enahoro died on 15 December 2010 at the age of 87 – he was born on 22 July 1923 – he could not have been a happy man. A foremost nationalist who first moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence from British colonial rule in 1953 when he was just 30, he died with his vision of a strong, united and federalist country on the verge of disintegration after the long years of military rule and a Fourth Republic in which the dividends of democracy were to be enjoyed only by a venal political class.
It couldn’t have seemed that way in the beginning. When the Union Jack was lowered for the last time on 1 October 1960, there was everything to hope for. The then three regions – soon to be joined by Enahoro’s own Mid-West – were solvent and in charge of their own affairs. Each could set their own agenda and develop at their own pace. That the Western Region emerged as the most dynamic of the three was borne out by the number of ‘firsts’ it was able to achieve in Africa: the first television station; the first to introduce free, universal primary education; the first to have a suitably integrated and coordinated industrial strategy and all this in part thanks to Enahoro himself, who served in various ministerial positions under Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group going back as far as 1951. It is a startling fact that Malaysia, another ex-British colony also struggling to develop, even sent its civil servants to understudy their counterparts in the Western Region government. Fifty years later, Malaysia is knocking on the door of the First World while Nigeria appears intent on tuning itself into the Fourth World, a new category of its own invention where maternal and infant mortality rates are worse than in Liberia or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
That true federalism was seen by Enahoro as the panacea for such a complex collection of languages and religions was evident in his later struggles against the military. In 1992, he became chairman of the Movement of National Reformation, which campaigned not merely for the return of civilian rule but for equity and justice for all the different stakeholders that made up the conglomerate. Later, under the regime of General Sani Abacha, he was one of the principal forces behind the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), for which he was detained three times without trial before he made a daring escape into exile in the US. On his return following Abacha’s death, he was a prime mover behind the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO), which produced an alternative to the 1999 Constitution that would deliver true federalism.
The fact that he continued the struggle right up to his death is testimony enough of his unfailing commitment to the ideals he had started out with as a young man, although some might argue that he inadvertently helped bring about the unitary structure that he fought so fiercely against in his old age. His mistake, in their view, was in allowing himself – along with Awolowo, his mentor – to serve as Minister of Information under the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon during the 1967-70 Civil War. It is in the nature of the military as an institution to centralise command, as others understood better at the time, for instance Chief Richard Akinjide, who rejected all offers by the military, or the imprisoned Wole Soyinka, who was later to class Enahoro among the ‘poor ignorant tools, tools today…in the hands of unscrupulous power,’ as he wrote in The Man Died, his prison memoirs. It is a fact that the military cannot rule without the active support of politicians and civil servants, and it is at least arguable that the country would have been spared the subsequent bastardisation of all values that saw one of the country’s leading nationalists hounded into exile in old age.
But no life is without blemish and we can be certain that, whatever his motives, he was never propelled by vanity or greed, the twin cancers in our body politic today. Where our current federal legislators think only of feeding fat off the land, Enahoro was never accused of owning choice properties within striking distance of Buckingham Palace or otherwise enriching himself. On the contrary, up until his death he lived a modest life, all the more remarkable for one who rose so high so early: the youngest-ever editor of a national newspaper at 21, Minister of Home Affairs, Transport, Information and Mid-West Affairs between 1954 and 1959, Opposition Spokesman on Foreign, Internal and Legislative Affairs between 1959 and 1963, amongst so many others. For Enahoro, the nation always came first. That we cannot now point to a single politician who believes in the dream of a prosperous Nigeria is a sad commentary of where we have arrived at fifty years later, which must have tormented Enahoro even on his deathbed.
SOURCE: Daily Independent