‘WE are starting a chain of events, the end of which nobody knows.’’ That was one of the prophetic statements by the late Chief Anthony Eronsele Enahoro. It was made on the floor of Nigerian Parliament. Tafawa Balewa Square (then, Race Course), Lagos. And the occasion was at the passing of motions on May 29, 1962, to declare a state of public emergency in the Western Region. He was supporting the Leader of Opposition, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to move an amendment that the then Federal Government’s action was a dangerous precedent and a travesty of democracy. This writer was at the Gallery watching the Parliamentary proceedings. Today, Chief Enahoro, the nation’s beacon, is no more. But the circumstances that led to his prophecy are still with us. In other words, the chain of events has not ended.
It is in the light of this prophecy that Chief Enahoro’s nationalist struggles must be viewed. Writing about him is like writing the history of Nigeria. Man does not value his possession until it is lost. How much was he valued in his life time? Without Enahoro and other comrades, Nigeria might not obtain Independence at the time that it did. He was a patriot- a nationalist to the core. From the age of 23, he carved a niche as the conscience of the nation via journalism, public service, politics and pro-democracy activism. He gave more to the nation than what the nation gave to him, so that successive generations would enjoy, unlike the present leaders who reap where they do not sow.
As a Minister, regional or federal, his performance was a touchstone. Of course, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was not a leader to suffer fools gladly. A statesman, Tony Enahoro might not have passed through the portal of a university, but he proved more brilliant than any of our so-called graduates of today. His academic brilliance was beyond compare. He was a secondary school (King’s College) drop-out, not for criminal behaviour or intellectual indolence, but because he was too consumed in nationalism at an early age.
He was a parliamentarian of excellence. Having studied Erskine May, he was said to be one of the best parliamentary debaters in the Commonwealth. In Parliamentary debates, he displayed consummate mastery that was comparable to any of the British Prime Ministers. Read what Enahoro wrote on ‘‘The Future for Africa’’, you’ll be astounded by the depth of the logical analyses of a Class Four secondary school drop-out. Whilst some youths source their university’ degrees’’ from Ago-Ishofin (Oluwole),young Enahoro gave himself self-development, to make for what he lost, in terms of university education. He read everything under the Sun, from Archeology to Zoology. There was no topic that he could not discuss or write about-he would not be worsted.
His quality of statesmanship? Our so-called political elites have a lot to learn from Enahoro’s political life. He was not in politics to make money, but to serve the nation. And he did this through journalism, by which he became a jail bird on issues like the ‘‘Obnoxious Bills’’ and the General Strike organized by trade unions for better wages, in the time of Sir Arthur Richards, the Governor. His attitude to imprisonments could be summed up in his words: ‘‘I feel no sense of wrong or of injury. British Empire history is, after all, full of prosecutions and imprisonments of nationalists. What did it matter? Prison is an occasional hazard for nationalists. Others would carry on, and if I come back I should be with them again’’. He served terms in Kaduna, Kano,Enugu and other places. He was a thorn in the flesh of the colonialists.
His third imprisonment was most unjust. It was in respect of a seditious lecture that he chaired under a title, “A call for a Revolution” against British rule. He came out of prison to establish his own newspaper that was named “The Nigerian Star”, and became the Assistant General Secretary of the Action Group which stood for a welfare state and Independence in 1956. Action Group, thus formed in April 1951, was the platform on which Enahoro was elected in August as the First Member of Ishan Division in the Western Region legislature, and elected Member for Ishan at the Centre. He explained to electorate: “My immediate concerns were to secure amenities for my constituency and division and to ensure an equitable distribution of amenities between the dominant Yoruba part of the Region and the Midwest”.
His competence was manifested when he headed the Ministry of External (Foreign) Affairs in the 1967 to 1970 civil war as the Federal Commissioner, representing the country in international fora, including the UN, and Kampala (Uganda) to present our position to the Commonwealth. Remember the saying – “Kampala npa enia” (Kampala kills man) – when rebel agents targeted him for elimination, but he was missed. Instead, his secretary was kidnapped from the conference, taken to a river side and killed. A case of mistaken identity, that was
No man is entirely perfect. Like any human being, Enahoro had a blot on his record. When he was the Federal Commissioner for Information and Labour in the early war – time administration of General Yakubu Gowon, he contemplated the closure of the Federal Government’s Nigerian National Press, publisher of the Morning Post Newspapers. This writer was a staff. In his position as the Federal Commissioner for Finance, and by his nature as a welfarist, Chief Awolowo dissuaded him from doing so, arguing “You do not close down a newspaper during civil war”. Enahoro replied: “The National Press is a drain-pipe on the Federal Government purse.” Chief Awolowo countered him: “The workers there contributed to the War Funds. You must not compensate them with job losses. For every staff, there are, at least, four dependants, if not more. It is not advisable to create unemployment and hardship for the workers”. Enahoro had his say, but Chief Awo had his way.
However, as soon as Awo disengaged from Gen. Gowon’s Government, the Commissioner for Information, Tony Enahoro, disestablished the National Press – workers were thrown into the streets as job seekers. Only a few of the Senior Staff were absorbed into the Federal Ministry of Information and Labour, including the Editor, late Abiodun Sogunle. The then News Editor, Benedict Eke and his Deputy, then Prince Babatunde Akran (now, His Majesty, the Oba Akran of Badagry, De Wheno Aholu Menu-Toyi 1) are living witnesses. In the opinion of the public, what the publishing house of the Morning Post newspapers required was reorganization, not closure that created unemployment.
It is an irony that as the Western Regional Minister of Information, who in 1959, was the master-mind to establish the first commercial television – radio network on the African Continent, newspaper proprietor and Editor in the colonial past, he should opt for the closure of a newspaper house in a sovereign Nigeria. However, Enahoro was reported to have regretted his specious arguments and action later. Despite the flaw, he remained my hero.
My personal assessment of Chief Enahoro is that he was a man of his own conviction; whatever course that he believed in, he would pursue it to the logical end. If a nationalist could fight doggedly for democracy from age 23 (in 1946) till he was 87 and down to the grave, he was a man of conviction. As recently as 1992, he was for the Sovereign National Conference to restructure the country, being the leader of the Movement for National Reformation. He was never tired. In 1994, he was the leader of the pro–democracy NADECO (National Democratic Coalition) that spearheaded the pro–Abiola movement. Abroad, on exile, he led the June 12 Movement. A strident opponent of presidential system of government, he was. His aversion to presidential system stemmed from its utter disparity with the Westminster parliamentary tradition. Whilst the former is wasteful and breeds political rascals, the Westminster style is economical to be able to produce men of upright character.
Now that the nation’s beacon is out, he deserves a niche in the temple of fame with state obsequies. Institutions must also be named after him. These are befitting tributes to a worthy compatriot. May perpetual light shine on his departed soul. Amen. Adieu, Eronsele Enahoro.
Oshisada, a veteran journalist, lives in Ikorodu, Lagos State.