Ilenre: Enahoro, victory in death

THE elder statesman, Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro, one of the eminent Nigerian nationalists who died on December 15, 2010, will be remembered for the many roles he played in the cause of the struggle for Nigerian independence. At 30, he moved the 1953 crisis motion for independence. The colonial administration jailed him three times in 1946, 1947 and 1949. At age 40, in 1963 he was a fugitive offender extradited from exile in Britain to face a false charge of treason.

The Alhaji Abubakar Balewa regime clamped a 15-year jail term on him after a padded trial. At 71, in 1994, the Abacha regime detained him at the Port Harcourt prisons for his pro-democracy advocacy, calling for the revalidation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Chief M. K. O. Abiola, and annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida. At age 73, in 1996, Chief Enahoro went to his second exile in the United States of America, returning to Nigeria in 2000

The activities, times and life of Chief Enahoro in Nigerian politics portray the story of trauma, anguish, pain and torment in a country in search of an identity, doubting its chance of survival as one entity. By peacefully passing away in his home, not a victim of hired assassins; not claimed by any accident; no scandal of any sort and not killed by gun trotting coup makers, Chief Enahoro lived a fulfilled life and has achieved his greatest victory in death.

Sometime in May 1996, one of the principal character ‘movie’ of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Dr. Amos Akingba telephoned me at a guest house in Surulere where I was underground after my international passport was impounded by agents of the Nigerian state under General Abacha, if I could report in his place immediately. I obliged. The person I met with Dr. Akingba in his Ikeja residence was Chief Olu Akinfosile, a federal Minister of Communications in the First Republic. He inquired if I could reach Chief Anthony Enahoro immediately. The chief was then underground after the failed assassination attempt on his life by agents of the Abacha despotic regime at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, in May 1996, at a hideout known only by a few of his political associates.

Chief Akinfosile’s single message was straight-forward. “Alfred go, tell Chief Anthony Enahoro to leave the country within the next 10 days. I did not say within nine days nor did I say within 11 days, I say within 10 days”, were his firm words. Chief Enahoro received the message promptly as instructed but he resisted, saying, it would look like a General abandoning his troops. It took the combination of notable Nigerians including some Christian and Islamic clerics to persuade him to leave the country. Dr. Fred Fasehun the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) leader and Alex Ayatolamuo, the Chief’s political secretary were the two persons that piloted him through what students of history today refer to, as the NADECO route.

The night of departure was solemn and I wept as I observed the Chief slumped into the back seat of a saloon car, heading to the unknown in exile, running from armed killers in control of a country he fought vigorously for its independence. Chief Akinfosile later narrated how a man he had not seen for a long time showed up in his place to give the warning that Chief Enahoro must leave the country or they would kill him like his close political associate, Chief Alfred Rewane who was assassinated late in 1995 by people suspected to be agents of the Abacha government. He went on to tell me the story of how the Nigerian independence struggle was fought and won and that Chief Enahoro belonged to the group of front line nationalists who fought with all sincerity.

He further related to me in confidence what a local Okitipupa “Seer” told him would happen to Nigeria after the rigged election under the NNDP government in western Nigeria in 1965, at a time Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Enahoro and other Action Group leaders were locked up in prison. All the predictions that Nigeria would move from circles of violence to circles of violence from 1965 until the 10th Head of Government, who was General Abacha he said, had all come to pass. The conspiracy of then Nigeria government to impose jail terms ranging from 10 to 15 years on Chief Enahoro and other innocent souls on false charges of treason, only three years after independence was a grievous injustice which the supreme beings were not in hurry to forgive the country, until justice is done, the “Seer” predicted.

Chief Akinfosile died in Lagos late 1996. Chief Enahoro, he told me will not die until he can produce a document as a guide on how to run the country whose independence he fought for with all his heart. Let the country accept or reject his document that would be left to them. Chief Enahoro returned from exile in the year 2000. By 2005, at the age of 82 years, he led many eminent Nigerians, including intellectuals, workers, academics, youths, students, market women; civil society organisations, politicians and others under the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO) to organise the first process led Peoples National Conference since 1960 in Lagos. The draft constitution of the PRONACO conference has been released since August 5, 2007.

On many occasions during caucus meetings at the PRONACO conference he would say humorously, “I did all the things that my mates did at youth, smoking, drinking, keeping company with the good daughters of Eve, winning and dinning. All my contemporaries have all died. God must have a peculiar reason for preserving my life.” As soon as the launch of the Draft constitution was completed in 2007, Chief Enahoro relocated to Benin City. He stopped visiting Lagos, not stepping out of his Benin residence. He stopped going for his routine medical check ups abroad and not granting press interviews. Chief Anthony Enahoro died in his sleep in his Benin residence on December 15, 2010 in the arms of his wife of over 60 years, children, grandchildren and great-grand children at the age of 87.

Jailed several times by the colonial and post-independence administrations, he went through anguish and torment for Nigeria. Chief Enahoro’s vision of Nigeria at independence was that of a union of nationalities. He never believed in the idea of a supra-national state where the component parts are treated as subordinates. He believed there could only be a peaceful, stable and viable Nigeria by mutual agreements fostered by justice and equity, where the federating ethnic nationalities will operate on equal terms. The latter-day imposition of a military constitution on Nigeria to him was an assault on human sensibilities.

The icon during his political career, spanning over 65 years, held many public offices. He was Minister of Information and Home Affairs in Western Nigeria and was leader of the regional house of assembly. He was Minister of Labour and Information under the regime of General Yakubu Gowon. He was the principal negotiator during the Nigeria-Biafra war. Chief Enahoro had the inspired idea that Nigeria needed ‘thinkers’ beyond political rivalry to work out an acceptable constitution, policies, rules, regulations, laws, treaties and commissions to guide all Nigerians inside and outside the seat of power in spite of their political differences.

There are indications supported by global trends that Nigeria will one day be restructured. By then, Chief Enahoro will be resting with his makers but posterity will remember him as a man of courage and foresight who dedicated his entire life to serving Nigeria and the black race with all his might, wisdom and talent for the enthronement of democracy in the Nigerian Union.

• Ilenre is Secretary-General, Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF).

SOURCE: Guardian News


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