Tireless campaigner first for independence and then for democracy in autocratic Nigeria who was imprisoned for his beliefs

Chief Anthony Enahoro was one of Nigeria’s longest-serving political activists.

For seven decades he played a prominent role in the tumultuous politics of the country, campaigning first for independence from Britain, and later taking a courageous stand against some of Nigeria’s most brutal dictators.

He was imprisoned several times, both before and after independence. But he remained largely untainted by allegations of impropriety despite spending so many years in one of the world’s most corrupt political systems.

Anthony Enahoro was born in 1923 in what is now Edo State in south-western Nigeria. He was the first of 12 children. His political activism began early. It is reported that he ran into trouble with the teachers at the famous King’s College, Lagos, after he wrote an essay attacking colonial rule.

He became the country’s youngest newspaper editor when, at 21, he was appointed editor of the Southern Nigerian Defender, published by Nnamdi Azikiwe who in 1960 became the country’s first president. Enahoro was imprisoned by the colonial authorities for publishing seditious articles and delivering nationalistic speeches.

Enahoro became a member of colonial Nigeria’s parliament in 1951, where he gained a reputation for fine oratory and impressive debating skills. In 1953 he helped to sow the seeds of independence by introducing a motion calling for self-rule to be established by 1956. Although his motion was never debated, it set a precedent for similar moves in parliament, which eventually culminated in independence from Britain on October 1, 1960.

He became a prominent member of the Action Group, a progressive political party whose leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, led the Opposition in parliament after independence. In 1962 the Group was accused of trying to overthrow the government, and Enahoro fled to Britain. He was accused of treason by the Nigerian authorities; after vigorous debates in the British Parliament his asylum request was turned down. He was sent to Brixton prison, and later extradited to Nigeria where he faced a jail sentence of 15 years.

He was released in 1966 following the military coup of General Yakubu Gowon. He was appointed Federal Commissioner for Information and Labour under Gowon, and played an important role in peace talks that led to the end of the Biafran War in 1970.

Enahoro eventually became frustrated by the seemingly endless stream of coups and military dictatorships in Nigeria.

He left government and returned to political activism, campaigning for the restoration of democracy, and its improvement, for the rest of his life.

He established a number of prodemocracy groups. The first was the Movement for National Reformation, which he set up after it became clear that the military leader General Ibrahim Babangida, who led Nigeria from 1985 to 1993, did not appear interested in giving up power. Enahoro was particularly disillusioned by the events following the annulled election of June 12, 1993, widely believed to have been won by Chief Moshood Abiola.

Enahoroled a pro-democracy campaign during the difficult years that followed Babangida’s rule. From 1993 until 1998 the repressive military leader General Sani Abacha governed Nigeria. Enahoro was a founding member of the most potent opposition platform of the time, the National Democratic Coalition (Nadeco). This resulted in his detention in the south-eastern city of Port Harcourt and his flight into exile in Britain in 1996.

Enahoro returned to Nigeria after Abacha’s demise and continued to campaign for democracy well into his eighties. He was never satisfied with the state of Nigerian politics, even after the end of military rule and the establishment of civilian government. He set up another pro-democracy group, the Pro-National Conference Organisation (Pronaco), with the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, and in 2003 founded the National Reformation Party.

Enahoro wrote his autobiography, Fugitive Offender: The Story of a Political Prisoner. He played golf and was a passionate cricket fan. He is survived by his wife, Helen, and five children.

Chief Anthony Enahoro, Nigerian politician, was born in 1923. He died on December 15, 2010, aged 87.

SOURCE: The Times [With permission]

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