The death of Chief Anthony Enahoro, a man whose democratic struggles started early in life, marked the end of a chapter in Nigeria’s history.
As a journalist, nationalist and politician, Enahoro’s life was a study in commitment and selflessness. For daring to fight the colonial government, he was hauled into prison on many occasions.
Born on July 22, 1923, Enahoro, an indigene of Uromi, Edo State, was the eldest of 12 children of his parents, Anastasius Okotako Enahoro and Fidelia Inibokun. After passing out from the prestigious King’s College, Lagos, he worked as a reporter in the West African Pilot (owned by the late Nnamdi Azikiwe) for two years.
In 1944, at the age of 21, he became the editor of the Southern Nigerian Defender, also owned by Azikwe. In 1945, Enahoro was transferred to Lagos to serve as editor of the Daily Comet, another newspaper published by Zik. As a journalist, he was jailed several times by the colonial government for sedition and incitement .
Although he worked with Zik, the late nationalist did not join the Zikist Movement, a platform used by the late Azikwe to fight the imperialist government. In spite of not being a member of the movement, Enahoro presided over a revolutionary lecture organised by the group in 1948. For that, he was sent back to prison.
The late nationalist was a staunch member of the Action Congress founded by the first Premier of the West Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. On March 31, 1953, Enahoro moved a motion for independence, which was shot down by the Nigerian parliament dominated by Northern lawmakers.
In the motion, the nationalist, who was barely 30 years old then, proposed 1956 as the year Nigeria should become an independent nation. In the historic motion, he said, “The question for independence for Nigeria is not controversial. Every well-meaning Nigerian wants this country to become independent. Why then do I choose 1956? There are only three reasons that I can give right here.
“The first is that 1956 is a convenient date especially when the other two reasons are added. These are the factors of previous commitments by the various regional governments and the Federal Government as well, and the fact that 1956 marks the end of Macpherson Constitution. I, therefore, beg to move.
But the North rejected the motion. The late Saudana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who led the region in a counter-motion, said, “Since my honourable colleagues do not wish to withdraw the motion, I hereby move an amendment substituting for 1956, the phrase ‘as soon as practicable.’
The Sardauana’s counter-motion was passed, thus signalling the death of Enahoro’s motion. For rejecting the motion, northern parliamentarians were booed in Lagos that day.
The rejection of Enahoro’s motion led to the resignation of AG ministers from the federal cabinet, of which the late Ooni of Ife, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, was a minister without portfolio.
On his return to the Western Region, he joined the Awolowo government, which implemented welfarist programmes, including free education. He was the government’s Minister of Home Affairs. In 1959, he returned to Lagos, where, as a member of the House of Representatives, he was the opposition’s spokesman on foreign affairs.
Less than 18 months after independence, the AG leaders were arrested, tried and imprisoned for treasonable felony. But Enahoro managed to escape to London. He, was, however, brought back to Nigeria and imprisoned in 1963.
In 1966, Enahoro and other AG leaders were freed by Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s government. During the civil war, the late nationalist was a diplomat and spokesman for the Federal Government.
In 1979, many people were surprised that the nationalist parted ways with his political leader, Awolowo. Rather than join Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria, he, like S.G. Ikoku, Tayo Akpata, who were also Awo’s disciples, became a member of the ruling National Party of Nigeria.
But in 1993, when the freest and fairest election in the country’s history was annulled, Enahoro was in the forefront of the struggle for the actualisation of the results of the poll. He became the chairman of the National Democratic Coalition, a pro-democracy group that fought dictator Sani Abacha.
Since 1999, in spite of his old age, he had been mobilising Nigerians for good government, through the establishment of the Movement for National Reformation and the Pro-National Conference Organisation.
Many prominent Nigerians have been paying tributes to the late elder statesman. The Afenifere leader, Chief Rueben Fasoranti, said the late Enahoro was a “true nationalist whose political activism started while he was in Kings College, Lagos.”
He said, “Enahoro fought against political oppression throughout his life and till his last days, he was still politically active. The younger generation should borrow a leaf from his life.”
Also, the retired Bishop of the Akure Anglican Diocese, Rev. Bolanle Gbonigi, said that the deceased lived a productive life. Gbonigi said, “I thank God for his (Enahoro”s) positive contribution to this country. He was dedicated to service, was industrious, active and was concerned for the welfare of the people.
“He fought hard for the liberation of Nigeria from colonial domination. His name will be written in gold in the history of Nigeria.
“Chief Enahoro left positive footprints and the greatest thing to immortalise him is to still fight for a Sovereign National Conference for us to have a true and genuine federal system in Nigeria.”
Source: Punch on the Web – 16 Dec 2010