The Tony Enahoro I Knew

THE mere mention of his name and the knowledge that he was around sent shivers into us. We were pupils of St. David’s Anglican School , Akure. Our teachers literarily trembled with fear. Even our amiable and most respected headmaster, Mr. Abiodun, was visibly nervous. Pa Enahoro, (for who dared call or recall his first name?) was the supervisor of schools in the early forties at Akure and its environs. Not the now familiar “Pa Tony Enahoro”; but his father. Tony Enahoro’s father was a stern disciplinarian; stricter than most of his peers, then entrusted by the British colonial masters with the responsibility of moulding our young minds, in those days, in the early forties. Pa Enahoro (Snr). belonged to that rare and privileged breed of Nigerians, who dared stand shoulder by shoulder, and looked at the white man, right straight in the face.

I did not know Tony Enahoro in those days. Not even his younger brother, Edward, a keen lover of sports in all categories (Eddy, to most of us) who later became, by an ironic twist of fate, a colleague in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We both joined the Ministry in 1958. I have just heard, with great shock, that he died in Devon, in the United Kingdom , on 4th January, 2011. Both Tony and Edward were far far away in Lagos ; I learnt in King’s College. We felt excited to catch a glimpse of them, when they visited their parents at Akure on vacation, clad in their immaculate white uniforms. Giants then; and giants they will always remain to us!


I, however, knew their younger brothers – Henry and Benjamin (Benji) as well as their sister, Bessy. Both Henry and Benji were pupils of St. David’s, Akure. Henry would carry his books, in a fairly over-sized wooden box, on his head; trudging from home, near the general hospital, to school in our light-green shirt and knickers khaki uniform. It presaged the intellectual he, eventually, turned out to be. An engineer by profession, he now lives in Australia with his family. Through them, I was privileged to meet a rotund, round-faced, dignified, handsome matron, who was their mother. Tony was a carbon copy of his mother. Later, I was to meet Benji and Christian, (a lover of cricket in the days of our renowned wicket-keeper, Kwesi Sagoe) Peter, (who did not know Peter Pan?) and Mike, the baby-faced broadcaster. I almost added, the nemesis of many attractive Lagos damsels. A few others, I hardly knew; possibly, because they were rather too young.  Regrettably, I have not met any of Chief Anthony Enahoro’s children.
Benji, who later worked in the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Lagos , and I were students at St. David’s. I am not now too sure whether we were class mates. I, recall, however, that we were some what bonded; I hope not, in mischief making.

I vividly recall this particular bazaar festival on the grounds of St. David’s, Akure. We had so much fun that we decided to crown it all by sampling the taste and flavour of a cigarette. We never knew that we were under observation. I was convinced that no body had seen us. Unknown to us, the vigilant eyes of Pa Enahoro had spotted us. That was on a Sunday. The following Monday, he arrived early at the school, just after our usual morning prayers on the lawn of St. David’s. He instructed that a long wooden bench be brought forward. To my astonishment, he called out my name and Benji’s. He then openly narrated to the entire school the incident at the bazaar which I thought had not been noticed. I was laid flat on the bench and six strokes of the cane administered on my bottom. So was Benji, with even greater force. It was intended to teach the humiliating lesson of not indulging in vice. Whether or not the cane served that purpose, remains a moot point. That was my earliest personal recollection of the family into which Chief Anthony Enahoro was born.

I heard of Tony Enahoro, once again, during the King’s College strike episode. He was one of the students rusticated. I heard even more of him as a journalist in Zik’s chain of newspapers. He was a man with the provocative, taunting pen, who made the British colonial rulers look silly and uncomfortable. He ridiculed them with caustic and witty sarcasm – hardly at any time crudely offensive, which would have given the British obvious excuse to nail him. They, nonetheless, still did; jailing him on several occasions. I recall that as school boys in Lagos , in the mid-forties, Tony Enahoro regaled us with mocking jokes at the colonialists in huge political rallies on Oko Awo grounds, Campos Square , and in the Glover Memorial Hall. Those were the heady days of the nationalist movement under the umbrella of the Zikist Movement; and later on, the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns (NCNC). We admired him for his good looks, eloquence, erudition and courage. Yet, I never had the privilege of meeting him on a one-to-one basis. Fortunately, I had that opportunity in the course of my career in the Foreign Service. Duty brought us together.

I believe it was during the Civil War with Tony Enahoro as one of the envoys of the Federal Government sent to canvass the case against Biafra and support for the unity of Nigeria . He was then the Federal Minister of Information. I, subsequently, met him at different times in a few of the Missions I had served. During those meetings, he struck me as a relaxed, urbane patrician. He did not have the toughness and ruggedness, often associated with African politicians. I often wondered what took him into politics. There was nothing rough, at least, externally, about him. Nor did I decipher in him an inner burning zeal or passion for reform and revolution. On the contrary, he looked every inch a mild, gentle figure, who loved a life of cosy comfort. I noticed that he relished staying late in bed and required some effort to rouse him to keep to an appointment. He was a diplomat’s nightmare when it came to keeping to pre-scheduled appointments with the host authorities. He was never in a hurry. Not that he was in any sense, in my judgment, unaware of the value of time; I thought he deliberately cultivated the habit of lateness as a strategy for making an impression on his hosts; probably, to throw them off their guard. He would then mutter a few words of apology for being late; beaming a contrite, engaging smile, which immediately earned him forgiveness.

With all the claims of being an astute politician, I was in no doubt that he was often taken advantage of. I once had the honour and privilege of doubling up with him one late evening at the Ikoyi golf course, hitting the balls leisurely as we walked and talked. He was, of course, a practised golfer, with an amazingly low handicap for a busy man! Our conversation shone some telling light on his inner feelings as a politician. He had then been associated, at different times, with the two dominant political parties of the day, the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns (NCNC) and the Action Group (AG). He could, obviously, not have belonged to the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC); or to Aminu Kano’s Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU).

It was clear he was not accorded his due and merited recognition in any of the two political parties. I formed the impression that while his days in the Zikist Movement gave him immense satisfaction, his association with the NCNC was less fulfilling. Even much less so, with the Action Group. “If you do not join them you are in trouble; if you join them, you are equally in trouble”, he wistfully and pointedly confided with reference to his association with the Action Group; implying the same with the NCNC. This reinforced my observation that the main political parties controlled by the dominant ethnic groups were ruthless in appropriating influential positions of power to themselves, while remaining insensitive to the claims of minority ethnic groups.

I believe that as a result, in latter years, Chief Anthony Enahoro desperately needed a platform on which to assert, a leadership role, as specific historical and challenging political developments arose and unfolded. Since none of the dominant political parties gave him that opportunity, he made do, with undoubted deep conviction and principle, in leading fringe, progressive, pressure groups like PRONACO, NADECO and the rest. Even then, he must have found himself among strange bed-fellows with questionable, elastic ideological leanings.

How one had wished that the Enahoros were a political family, with his talented siblings providing the prop he needed to attain his political ambition. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Enahoros were never a political family. They were all, in the main, distinguished in their various professional callings and very individualistic in their ways. Chief Anthony Enahoro was essentially a lone voice crying in the political wilderness of Nigeria . He had no mass ethnic support and following to back his progressive views and political ambition. His greatness lies in the fact that he avoided the temptation of appealing to parochial sentiments to gain political ascendancy as most successful Nigerian politicians had done. Even if he had tried, he would have failed, as his own part of the country could not have mustered the demographic support he needed to succeed.

Looking back at his political career, I believe that deep down in his heart, he admired the British, the English, in particular, even when he vigorously fought them to gain independence for his country and ‘freedom’ for his people. He admired them not as oppressors, but for the values, discipline and high standard he thought they stood for, which, undoubtedly he was convinced his own father personified. His tenacious advocacy and preference for the British parliamentary system, may well be as a result, not only for its intrinsic worth and merit; but, I suspect, because of his admiration for British values and standard. Without attempting to draw any comparison, Tony Enahoro was in the mould of Jawaharlal Nehru of India , who fought the British to a stand still for independence; but admired the values they stood for. He inculcated in them British values and the system of parliamentary government, while essentially retaining India ’s cultural roots.  It was not for nothing that we were often reminded that Nigeria gained independence ‘on a platter of gold’. Men like Tony Enahoro made that happen. Our struggle was never like Kenya ’s Mau Mau, under Jomo Kenyatta, even though the circumstances were significantly different.

Tony Enahoro affected British mannerisms, but detested their hypocrisy. He was an accomplished gentle man, courteous and correct; never a smear or dirt on his character I knew or ever heard of. He was not a grass-root politician. He could never have been caught sharing a bowl of gbagi or amala with a garage hand, as Adegoke Adelabu often did. I could never have imagined him squatting and sharing jokes with market women and traders in Lagos or Benin City , however the lure for votes. I wonder how many market women in my village, Ibusa, and in many villages across Nigeria ever heard of Tony Enahoro – then and now.

Although once a political ‘son’ of Zik, I am not sure he could ever attain, in the popular mind of our people, the same stature as Zik, the Sarduana or Awolowo. Yet, to his credit, he never used the tools they did to gain political preeminence. He was, probably, at par, had he been given the opportunity, with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. We could never ascribe to Tony Enahoro the delay of independence from 1957 to 1960; nor the enthronement of mediocrity in government and society, what ever the justification, and how ever well meaning.  Nor could we ascribe to him the legacy of tribalism that has eaten deep into the psyche of our people, now manifest in all its disturbing mutations. My prediction is that, considering the manner and speed the facts of history are being twisted and revised, even in one’s lifetime, a deity would soon be created, to join the ranks of the mythological gods of our land, in mimicry of the hallowed tradition of beatification in the Roman Catholic Church. We could not even place at Chief Anthony Enahoro’s doorstep, the lack of consistency in the exercise of supreme statesmanship that has, probably, robbed the nation for ever, the image of a father figure, such as an Nkrumah or a Mandela.

To pay him tribute is to honour, along with him, a long list of heroes, young frontline nationalist freedom fighters, like him, whose memories may have been dimmed or obscured, but hopefully, not forgotten.

Tony Enahoro played his part very well in the service of his country men and women. He will always live in the hearts of those who admire him and his distinguished family. His legacy in the history of Nigeria remains imperishable.

Amb. C. Olisemeka is former Minister of Foreign Affairs

SOURCE: The Guardian

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