Master Of His Age: The Story Of Anthony Enahoro

September 10, 2011
17 mins read



PAGES: 170





Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen!

Frankly, I do not understand the reason why I was invited by Lanre Idowu to review this book. But when he called me a few weeks ago that he was presenting a few books and would like me to review one of them, I accepted the honour without hesitation, not knowing which book that was. A few days later, I got the copy he sent, and was surprised that it was a book on one of the most enduring names in the media and political history of Nigeria, Chief Anthony Enahoro. I grew up in the Nigeria of the 1960s but began to form a consciousness of life in a more socially definitive manner by the 1970s. In that period of my life, I had become aware of Chief Enahoro, as one of the leading lights of the anti-colonial movement; as a combative journalist with a very fearless pen; as a politician who was active in parliament as a member of the Action Group, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and during the Gowon administration, one of Nigeria’s Federal Commissioners. So I have known Chief Enahoro as a vital piece of the jigsaw of my being, as a Nigerian citizen, all of my life.


The professional choice I made as a journalist/broadcaster, invariably made it  imperative for me to appreciate Enahoro the journalist even better, and the remarkable organizational work he led which gave birth to Africa’s first television station, the WNTV Ibadan, in 1959. Who can doubt the militant content of his anti-colonial rhetoric and his willingness to court the wrath of colonialism in order to help hasten its demise and the consequent achievement of national independence in 1960? For millions of Nigerians, especially in Western Nigeria, Chief Enahoro’s politics was very liberating and the government which the Action Group party led during the 1950s, has entered the realm of legend as one of the most purposeful in the history of politics and governance in this part of West Africa. It is to his eternal credit, that Chief Enahoro remained active till his death at the age of 87, leaving a rich, but often very controversial, legacy. The new book, MASTER OF HIS AGE: THE STORY OF ANTHONY ENAHORO, very much comes at a point when the narratives of history have become increasingly contested as we endeavour to find newer ways to confront the challenges posed by the process of nation-building and the patterns of politicking characterized by incompetence, the absence of grand visions or genuinely patriotic exertions, and urgently calling for uplifting inspirations from the past.


I think Lanre Idowu should be commended for being able to bring together the rich cast which contributed a chapter each, to this interestingly engaging and informative work. The twelve individuals listed as contributors to the book have a very rich pedigree, many of them with roots in journalism, just like the man who is the subject of the book, and they are names that most of this distinguished audience would have come across over the years: Olakunle Abimbola; Jide Ayobola; Kehinde Bamigbetan; our old friend from THE NIGERIAN HERALD in Ilorin, Alfred Ilenre; Tony Iyare; the veteran journalist Ben Lawrence; Edwin Madunagu, our old comrade; Ayo Olukotun; Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, poet and dramatist; Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, former Attorney General of Nigeria, whose work with the media is very well documented; Ambassador Ignatius Olisemeka and Lanre Idowu himself, with another veteran journalist, Tony Momoh, writing the forward.


The technical presentation of the book was properly thought out by the publishers; and in their words, they “identified seven key areas in [Anthony Enahoro’s] life: his birth and formal education, his journalism career, his contributions to the birth of commercial broadcasting, his lifelong anti-colonial stance and commitment to parliamentary democracy and federalism, his pragmatic political philosophy, his struggle for restructuring, and his contact with and contributions to the game of golf”. It is fair to say that each of our writers labored with enthusiasm to assist us in achieving a rounded understanding of the Anthony Enahoro phenomenon, either by revealing new facts with remarkable insight, or helping to bring together in a more structured and nuanced manner, facts that we already know about the distinguished journalist; politician; parliamentary tribune; administrator and lifelong rebel. Tony Momoh described him as “our national guinea pig”.


Karl Marx, in the oft-quoted passage from his A CONTRIBUTION TO A CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, said “Men make their own history,  but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like nightmare on the brain of the living”. For me in attempting to understand the historical figure, I have been intrigued by the fact that he was born in Iromi, Ishan in present day Edo State and the fact that he also grew up under the firm and perhaps over-bearing influence of his Headmaster father, Okotako Enahoro. Olakunle Abimbola, who wrote the chapter dedicated to his childhood, “BUDDING REBEL AT KING’S”, described the father as “the hard-to-please headmaster who wanted the young Anthony to “speak (and think in) English as the English do, master Ishan, your own native tongue, and master too, Yoruba, particularly the Owo dialect of it, which was the language of the host community”. The father was certainly a man of his time, and as member of the aspirant petty-bourgeois elite of colonial Nigeria: “His father prepared him for a career at the Bar, perhaps projecting him for a key future role in the Nigerian establishment”.


Being sent to King’s College was part of that dream; he was one of the youngest in his class of 1937, and was “set to being shaped into a fine, young but black Briton, after the Eton-tradition”. It is also one of the ironies of history that a school designed to produce colonial Africans in the service of the Empire, would in fact become a crucible of ideas that will help to hasten the end of colonialism. A combination of factors which Kehinde Bamigbetan pointed out in his “STRUGGLES OF THE FEDERALIST” showed history to have had an unintended outcome.


The young Anthony was growing up in a world in ferment: anti-colonial ideas were spreading in colonial possessions, including Southern Nigeria, where a tradition of anti-colonial journalism had long been the norm. Anthony Enahoro came under the influence of two outstanding individuals: Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who owned the WEST AFRICAN PILOT newspaper under which he learned the ropes of journalism, and would become the youngest newspaper editor of his time, at the age of 21. The other was the radical lawyer, H.O Davies, one of the most radical leaders of the Nigerian youth Movement, and an early organizer of Marxist educational circles in Nigeria. Significantly, despite these radical influences, “it is sheer irony that Enahoro’s early and perhaps most famous politics was shaped by the pragmatism (or, at best welfarism) of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group (AG)”; according to Olakunle Abimbola. That early influence would come to define the last stage of his political career which was marked by a strident advocacy for a restructuring of Nigeria along ethnic lines: a platform which this reviewer disagrees with and rejects entirely!


But there were remarkable points in the life of Anthony Enahoro which I valorize and which the various authors have brought out in bold relief. We have stressed for the nth time the imprimatur which he burnt in deconstructing colonial domination and the formulation of the planks of theory and praxis for its defeat. Chief Enahoro was dedicated to the achievement of Nigerian independence and gave his all for its realization. His movement of the motion calling for the granting of self-determination certainly secured his place in the pantheon of heroes of that process in our national life. I spent the first twenty-five years of my professional life in radio and television broadcasting, and therefore was fascinated with the chapter titled “A PACE SETTER”, in which Lanre Idowu told the story which led to the emergence of television broadcasting in Western Nigeria and first in Africa. As he pointed out, the story was the result of vision and leadership as expressed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Premier of Western region and Chief Anthony Enahoro, regional minister for home affairs and Midwest affairs. The third person in the story which brought television to Africa, barely thirty years after it debuted was Chief Rotimi Williams, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Western Region. Television was seen as a vehicle to assist the drive for free education as well as the transformation of our country. It was at the heart of the statement which Chief Awolowo made, at the unveiling of the WNTV: “Television will serve as teacher and entertainer, and a stimulus to us all to transform Nigeria into a modern and prosperous nation….And I am confident that in due course, it will assist in making our country even greater”.


The emergence of television and broadcasting as items on the concurrent legislative list was itself part of the political contest which was shaping up the destiny of our country on the eve of independence. Looking back now, there was no gainsaying the fact that the Action Group was a pace setter in the entire process and the fact that it established the first station on the continent was a major statement of the ability of these pioneering politicians. It was equally remarkable, and this book tells the story, that the early transmissions of WNTV had a strong bias for education. “Of the daily six and half broadcast hours, three were devoted to educational programmes transmitted ‘from 11. 00am to 2. 00pm to about one hundred schools equipped with television receivers in the region’”. Chief Anthony Enahoro was central to the vision and organizational work which led to the emergence of television, and as Lanre Idowu noted rightly, “the country owes Chief Anthony Enahoro a debt of gratitude. He was a trailblazer, who showed commendable courage and drive, an astute debater who projected his government’s interests with tact and wisdom; and a concerned professional who laid much emphasis on the finest attributes of professionalism”. The same fascination went for the piece written by veteran journalist, Ben Lawrence, titled “ADVOCATE JOURNALIST”, which told the remarkable journalistic tour-de-force of Anthony Enahoro.


Kehinde Bamigbetan’s “STRUGGLES OF THE FEDERALIST” analysed the three themes which he said have formed the pillars of Chief Anthony Enahoro’s politics, from January 1943; these are anti-colonialism, parliamentary democracy and federalism. Enahoro, the newspaper editor, strongly supported the agitations of the working people and their strikes for a Cost of Living Allowance, COLA. The support led to the censorship and banning of the COMET which he edited, while he was also arrested, tried for sedition and jailed for nine months. These were sacrifices in tune with his anti-colonial convictions. Furthermore, by the age of 25, Enahoro had concretized his views on democracy: “He had no doubt that the promotion of democratic tenets- the freedom of the press, representative government, an impartial judiciary and a constitution made by the indigenous people of Nigeria- would lead to a people’s republic in Nigeria. He has not changed his views on these salient elements of democracy since then”, according to Bamigbetan. Eventually, he was to become converted to the parliamentary system of government.  This was not surprising, because having been cultured within the British tradition, most of the early nationalists took it for granted that the appropriate system was the parliamentary system. Significantly, according to Bamigbetan, “it was taken for granted that parliamentarism facilitated the co-existence of different loci of power that would be the natural feature of post-independent Nigeria”.


Nigeria’s practice of the parliamentary system proved to be far more complex than the romantics like Chief Enahoro had envisaged. This was because the system’s strength was dependent upon the cohesion of the political parties; but the parties of that period were relatively young, and once a crisis emerged within a major party, the parliamentary system was automatically compromised. The Action Group which Chief Anthony Enahoro belonged to would become the locus of major schisms, which endangered not only the parliamentary system, but provided the basis for the eventual collapse of Nigeria’s First Republic by 1966. Bamigbetan wrote that “Enahoro was actively involved in this stressful process”. He gave a narration of these events that became known as the Western Region Crisis; they “exposed the obvious limitations of parliamentarism as an effective regulator of cut-throat competition for power and the rational assumption that politicians will always abide by its nuances even when they conflict with their self-interest”.


Nevertheless, it is argued that the bitter experiences of the 1960s leading to the first military coup, did not dampen Enahoro’s belief that the parliamentary system ‘has better inbuilt mechanism for checking arbitrariness than presidentialism which, by concentrating enormous powers in the hands of the Chief Executive, enthrones an incurable and unstoppable Leviathan’. It is significant that following the 1966 counter-coup, Enahoro and his other colleagues jailed in the Treasonable Felony trials were released, and in the context of the crisis which engulfed Nigeria, leading to the Civil War of 1966-1970, Enahoro was appointed the Federal Commissioner for Information, during which he helped to prosecute the propaganda offensive in favour of a united Nigeria, and the defeat of the Biafran secessionist bid. The man who moved a motion of self government, could not watch on the sidelines, as his country was poised on the edge of the precipice!


Bamigbetan locates Enahoro’s federalist sentiments within the circumstances of his birth: “the Ishan nationality is a minority…and suffers, alongside other minorities, the alleged oppression of the country’s big three nationalities”. Enahoro said of his ethnic group: “the unsophisticated Ishan mind has very little concept of the Federation of Nigeria. It recognizes the village, the clan, the sub-tribe, the old Benin kingdom and ‘the land of the Black man’”. This “alleged oppression”, has been a very central element of the thought and praxis of Anthony Enahoro’s politics, either in the lead to independence, when grievances were tabled before the Willinks Commission; the agitation for the creation of the Mid West Region and further. His thoughts on the future of Nigerian federalism had been set out in THE FUGITIVE OFFENDER, which Bamigbetan described as his Magnum Opus. We would have to wait over three decades later in the 1990s, for a resurgence of thoughts that are organically linked to the earlier assertions about the state of Nigeria. In that intervening period, a lot went wrong under military dictatorship and a collapse in the political economy, which the Structural adjustment Policies of the Babangida period epitomized. Chief Enahoro and a lot of the political elite, especially in the South, located the fundamental problems at the superstructural level of ethnicity and national contradictions. So in a lecture at the Yoruba Tennis Club, Bamigbetan quoted him as asking for “the creation of a Federal Union of Indigenous Peoples to replace the artificial state structures currently in place”. In my view, Chief Enahoro’s response was akin to lapsing back to the Ishan ‘State of Nature’ of decades earlier: “the unsophisticated Ishan mind…recognizes the village, the clan, the sub-tribe…”


Edwin Madunagu’s contribution to the book, A LIFELONG COMMITMENT pondered why Enahoro “held radically subversive views” even at the age of 77. How his family background contributed to his radicalization did not seem obvious, since royalty, wealth, education and radicalism “usually do not, in combination, produce radical offspring. But Enahoro became a brilliant and radical young man under British colonial occupation of Nigeria”. Of course this line of argument we have seen in other presentations in this book. Madunagu could not understand why despite his radicalism, Enahoro never joined the Zikist Movement, which was the epitome of militant youth nationalism of that epoch. And had come out of prison “disillusioned, not with militant nationalist politics, but with Zik’s leadership which he thought was losing its militancy”. He joined Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group as a founding member. The vicious struggle for power saw the move by the Federal Government to crush the Action Group, with the Treasonable Felony trials. Awolowo and his colleagues denied any plans to overthrow the Balewa regime (a denial which S. G. Ikoku pooh-poohed many years later!). Madunagu did not seem convinced they did not try to: “the party must have seriously and actively considered how to confront a post-independence government which they had suffered to bring into being, but which was becoming more and more undemocratic and repressive”. Madunagu felt they would have been justified to do so anyway: “I hold that the Azikiwe-Balewa Federal Government, at that point in time, deserved to be overthrown by the Action Group and its radical allies across the country”.


If Enahoro had moments of rupture with his radicalism and rebelliousness, especially when he joined the NPN during the Second Republic, it was because he was “in search of a party that was big, national and non-tribal in structure, control and horizon”. The effort was doomed and “by 1990, he had returned to what he was in the 1940s and early 50s, but now made more robust by experience”, in the words of Edwin Madunagu. Thus offering, in his life, “a beautiful demonstration of the Hegelian dialectics: thesis-antithesis-synthesis, where the third reflects the first moment but at a higher level”. By this point in his life, and this is the final stage, he committed himself to “the need for the geopolitical restructuring of Nigeria”, using as platform the Movement for National Reformation. Just to be sure, Madunagu, who does not hide his admiration for the grand old man, said Enahoro “saw ethno-linguistic autonomy and self determination within the federation of Nigeria, and hence, the geo-political restructuring of the country along ethno-linguistic lines as the dominant political question at that time”.


However, Madunagu continued to rescue his subject’s radicalism, because “the dogged fighter” convinces him “that he was also genuinely concerned with constitutional secular democracy, the rule of law, human rights, social welfarism and egalitarianism, full employment, peaceful coexistence, transparency and accountability in governance, decency in public affairs and modernization”. And who would dispute that these are essential ingredients of social life, long absent from the political process of Nigeria, especially since the institution of military dictatorship? There is a caveat though, because “Enahoro argued that without the geo-political restructuring of Nigeria along ethno-linguistic lines, carried out through a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), we cannot achieve the other desirables listed above”. Edwin Madunagu was honest to state that “many Nigerians may not agree with him for various reasons”; and this reviewer disagrees with his “geo-political restructuring of Nigeria along ethno-linguistic lines”.


If Madunagu’s Hegelian dialectics re-legitimized the radical credentials of Chief Anthony Enahoro, I believe he returned to his State of Nature of the “unsophisticated Ishan mind… [which] recognizes the village, the clan, the sub-tribe…” The “restructuring Chief Anthony Enahoro championed along ethno-linguistic lines, flies in the face of the history of most of the peoples and states which became Nigeria. We have had territorial states in most of our history and I personally find absurd the proposition of ethno-linguistic/geo-political restructuring. Again, I will be frank to admit along with Marx, that men make their history without choosing the conditions. I am not immune from the history I am heir of. I am a descendant of Fulbe scholars who have also been empire builders, with roots in the history of the Muslim states of West Africa. My understanding of Nigeria has necessarily been influenced by that historical root as well as my education and ideological development within the Marxist tradition, since the age of fifteen. I differ from those who argue for SNC as a means of achieving the restructuring that will be the magic wand to wish away the problems of Nigeria. I have no doubt in my mind that there are Ethno-national contradictions that we must confront, but in my view, the primary problems are located in the political economy. From the Economic Stabilization Act of the Shagari regime, in 1981, through to the SAP of Babangida/Olu Falae and the embrace of neo-liberal market fundamentals, since 1999, I think we have not sufficiently interrogated the economic basis of Nigeria’s problems. Factions of the elite have prioritized ethnic and national contradictions, because they are easy to manipulate and can be mobilized around. The nuanced and more sophisticated analysis of a neo-colonial/post-colonial capitalism that is not functioning is not in their interest. So while all of the different factions of the ruling class can find consensus to privatize national patrimony or resist payment of minimum wage, they will divide the people along ethno-national lines in the struggle for political power.


Ayo Olukotun’s “PRAGMATIC POLITICIAN” noted that Anthony Enahoro used his membership of the Action Group from inception, to mainstream his “struggle for ethnic justice and restructuring, which have remained consistent themes in his political career”. Olukotun also informed us that “Enahoro’s advocacy of a sovereign national conference and geo ethnic parity has its roots in the 1950s”. It was also part of the complex make up of Anthony Enahoro, that he advocated a West African Union under the auspices of the Action Group because in matters pertaining to foreign affairs in the Action Group, Enahoro was chiefly responsible. Olu Onagoruwa’s “ASTUTE PARLIAMENTARIAN” emphasized Enahoro’s intellectual attributes which “he readily employed in combative situations to demolish all weak tentacles of an argument”. There then followed very remarkable reminiscences from the parliamentary performances of Anthony Enahoro. According to Onagoruwa, Enahoro “possessed supreme knowledge of the rules of parliament”.


Ambassador Ignatius Olisemeka’s “AN ACCOMPLISHED GENTLEMAN” offers an insight away from the rough and tumble of politics. Enahoro struck him as “a relaxed, urbane patrician” who did not have the toughness and ruggedness of the African politician. Contrary to all other assessments, Olisemeka did not “decipher in him an inner burning zeal or passion for reform or revolution. On the contrary, he looked every inch a mild, gentle figure, who loved a life of cosy [cozy?] comfort”. Afred Ilenre’s “VICTORY IN DEATH” offered a narrative of the days of underground activities under the auspices of NADECO and the Chief’s escape to exile when information was received through the late Chief Olu Akinfosile that the military regime of General Abacha was after the Anthony Enahoro. Similarly, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu’s “THE PRONACO CHALLENGE” offered a rich history of the activist effort within PRONACO including the contradictions which engulfed the body. Uzoatu said “Enahoro used the instrumentality of PRONACO to set down ground rules for the co-existence in equity of all the ethnic nationalities and groups in Nigeria”.


Chief Anthony Enahoro comes alive as a many-sided individual in this book. Even his passion for golf, as analyzed by Jide Ayobolu in “SPORTING POLITICIAN” shows a man who understood how to be an all-round cultured individual. A man of the Twentieth Century who had the fortune to live into the new, Twenty First Century, we saw in him tremendous courage and sincere convictions and dedication to causes: anti-colonialism; democracy and federalism. There is a lot which the contemporary generation of leadership should learn from this really outstanding individual. If there is a criticism I have of the effort to achieve this book, it is that the editors could not find a single individual from Northern Nigeria to make a contribution to the work. It diminishes the man, that the largest part of Nigeria cannot make a contribution to measuring his greatness. Tony Iyare’s “THE CASE FOR RE-ENGINEERING NIGERIA” reproduced a 2007 interview with Chief Anthony Enahoro where the man emphatically stated that “I got on well with [the Sardauna, Ahmadu Bello] and the northern group in general”. That then takes me back to the first statement I made at the beginning of this review; not knowing why Lanre Idowu chose me to be a reviewer of this book. Maybe it was in recognition of the fact that Northern Nigeria was conspicuously absent in putting the book together. I hope my modest review would at least find a niche in your minds about this remarkable journalist; outstanding fighter against colonialism; an intrepid politician and parliamentary orator; a defender of the unity of our country during a tragic civil war; an opponent of military dictatorship even in old age; a sincere defender of a Federal Nigeria and advocate of its restructuring. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Chief Anthony Enahoro was truly a Master of his Age.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Don't Miss