Anthony Enahoro (1923-2010) – Editorial

THE death yesterday of Chief Anthony Enahoro marks the end of an era. Enahoro was about the last of the titans that thronged the political landscape from the 1950s, fighting relentlessly for Nigeria’s independence. Subsequently he was actively involved in the principled struggle against military despotism. He was a champion of the ideals of good governance, service and common good.

A statesman till the very end, Enahoro had a long and distinguished career in the media, in politics, public service and the pro-democracy movement.  As a journalist he was shrewd.  As a politician he was dogged and as an administrator, he was astute.  He was highly regarded among his contemporaries,  who included the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the late Chief Remi Fanikayode.

Enahoro, 87, was admitted about a month ago at the intensive care unit of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) for illnesses associated with old age.  He would be sorely missed for his dogged commitment to public causes and his determination in seeking the best for the country all through his entire public career. He was a major voice of reason, either as a politician or pro-democracy activist, a thorn in the flesh of the authorities often at great risk to his personal safety, and one of the most durable defenders of the cause of the downtrodden in society.

Many Nigerians will remember him for moving the first motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953, and as one of the leaders of various political movements. He was to be found always at the barricades. He was a man of courage and conviction, and justifiably, a role model for the younger generation. In a country where many placed personal gain above other considerations, Enahoro was selfless and public-spirited.

Born in Uromi, Edo State on July 22, 1923, Enahoro was the eldest of 12 children of his Esan parents – Anastasius Okotako Enahoro, who died in 1968, and Fidelia Inibokun, nee Okoji (who died in 1969).

He was educated at Government School, Uromi; Government School, Owo (Ondo State) and King’s College, Lagos.  His distinguished career as a journalist started at an early age, as he became the editor of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s newspaper, the Southern Nigerian Defender based in Ibadan, in 1944.  He was 21 at the time, which made him effectively Nigeria’s youngest editor ever. He later became editor of Zik’s Comet in Kano (1945-1949), and associate editor of West African Pilot in Lagos, and editor-in-chief Morning Star (1950-1953). As an editor, he was an outspoken critic of the colonial authorities, and was once charged with sedition for daring to write that Nigeria would one day become an independent nation.

Chief Enahoro dabbled into politics even while practising as a journalist.  He was foundation member of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group (AG) party, secretary and chairman, Ishan Division Council; member, Western House of Assembly and later, member, Federal House of Representatives in 1951.  He was the opposition spokesman on foreign policy and legislative affairs in the Federal legislature (1959-63).

In his days at the House of Representatives, Enahoro moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953. Although this motion, which would have seen Nigeria attain independence in 1956, did not succeed, it formed the bedrock of subsequent agitations that culminated in a successful motion, first by Chief Remi Fani-Kayode in 1958; and Chief Ladoke Akintola in 1959.  Enahoro was a delegate to most of the constitutional conferences leading to the country’s independence on October 1, 1960. An orator, Enahoro was known as a diligent and hardworking parliamentarian who spoke the truth, not minding whose ox was gored.

Expectedly his active involvement in the country’s politics brought him a lot of deprivation.  During the crisis in the old Western Region, he was detained along with other AG members and charged with treason during the Awolowo coup trial.  In 1963, he escaped to Ghana and the United Kingdom, from where he was extradited and imprisoned.  The Military Government released him in 1966.

During the post-1966 crisis, Enahoro was leader of the mid-west delegation to the Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference in Lagos.  Under Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s government, he became Federal Commissioner for Information and Labour (1967-1974) and Federal Commissioner for Special Duties (1975).  In the Second Republic, he was a member of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He was also president, World Festival of Negro Arts and Culture (1972-1975).

Enahoro was co-founder and chairman of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), a pro-democracy group that was opposed to military rule, and the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, and chairman of the Movement for National Reformation (MNR); as well as the Pro National Conference Organization (PRONACO).

The University of Benin awarded him honorary a D.Sc honoris causa in 1972. He was conferred with the national honour of Commander, Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) in 1982.  A prolific writer, he was author of several books including his prison notes, The Fugitive Offender. Busy as he was in the public arena, he was also just as active as a community leader in his native Esan land. He was the Adolor of Uromi.

Enahoro was a staunch advocate of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), the outcome of which “can only be reversed or amended by a national referendum, not by any other authority in the nation”.  His view was informed by the belief that power belongs to the people.

He believed firmly in the Judiciary as holding the key to the country’s survival.  He gave the institution a pass mark in its efforts to protect democratic values, emphasizing however that if the judiciary could not stand up to the acid tests of democratic challenge, it would fail and drag Nigeria down with it. Enahoro often criticized the presidential system of government, regarding it as not truly democratic, as parties were relevant only during elections.  It was one reason why he declined to run for the presidency in 2003, saying such consideration could arise if the country ran a parliamentary system of government. He also decried massive corruption inherent in the system which he said, had turned Nigeria into a “massive kleptocracy”.

Ever an active participant in the democratic process, Enahoro was in the forefront of the pro-democracy struggle in Nigeria between 1993 and 1999. In spite of his old age, he took part in public protests and endured the violent reactions of the military authorities. His legacy and example should endure.

Source: The Guardian – 16 Dec 2010

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