Journalism in the service of society

Enahoro: Encounters with a media wizard

“Since his passing few days ago, tomes have been written documenting Pa Enahoro’s virtuoso exploits in Nigeria’s media space in years preceding and immediately following independence.”

HE was no digital native. That was the self-deprecating joke he often cracked — to lament a certain alienation from ever evolving technology — whenever we engaged in regular transatlantic chats via phone for almost a decade. Such self-depiction would, in fact, play out most practically just few weeks ago, under a rather desperate circumstance.

Pa Peter Enahoro (Peter Pan), one of the few surviving journalism titans, strangely needed help that morning when I picked his WhatApp call from London. His younger sibling was gravely ill in Nigeria. He thought I might be close by to help check on him.

Unfortunately, I was far away and instead suggested someone of power within the reach of his ailing sibling. Merely hearing the famous name of Enahoro, let alone the intimation of a senior citizen in extreme distress nearby, should, I reckoned, be enough to press this man of great power and authority to dispatch adequate help (ambulance and doctors) within the twinkling of an eye, at no personal cost whatsoever to the would-be helper.

Pa Enahoro welcomed the idea, though reluctantly. I got him the contacts.

The next challenge was transmitting the message. At 88, the aged master of the words now mostly depended on stylus pen to write on his tablet. Then, we broke the conversation, for him to make a draft. Now, despite the grave urgency of the moment, Pa Enahoro never lost his humour in a voice made faint by age but still retaining that ring of folksy warmth.

While waiting on him, I could not but be struck by the sheer display of the power of filial love: an octogenarian caring for another in a manner reminiscent of the matriarch instinct of a mother hen casting a protective wing over its chick.

“Louis,” he called back after several minutes and then broke into his habitual self-humour, “My problem now is how to get the draft on my little screen here to you first to see if you think my words are appropriate and then how to get the message to the person you mentioned.”

We both laughed at his difficulty at navigating the gadgetry of modern cellphone. He ended up reading the draft to me and resisted my suggesting he added “Peter Pan” (the monicker that established his legend in Nigeria’s media folklore) somewhere as additional prop in case the memory of the addressee needed any reviving. His dismissal was because “that might sound like self-glorification.”

Somehow, he managed to transmit the SOS as text to the WhatsApp of this man of power, after repeated calls were not picked. But the great man of power never as much returned Peter Pan’s calls, let alone acknowledged receipt of his courteously written text. In vain did he wait for two harrowing days before reporting to me his disappointment. Only then did it become apparent why Pa Enahoro was reluctant initially. It must be doubly hurtful to be contemned under the circumstance by someone to whom you had unreservedly confided your woes, exposed your frailty or vulnerability in anticipation of help.

Pa Enahoro sounded deeply hurt by that snub, but had pleaded firmly I should not bother to follow up again, lest the impression be created that he or any Enahoro had entered the condition of destitution or mendicancy. To my relief, he announced help eventually reached his younger sibling through a Good Samaritan.

To be sure, he had confirmed to me the text was delivered to the WhatsApp address of the man of power and read almost immediately (as affirmed by WhatApp’s customary double pass-marks switching from white to blue). Nor did the man of power have the courtesy or summon the humanity to return the call or text till the elder statesman drew his last breadth in London on Monday.

But now the supreme irony: no sooner had Pa Enahoro’s passing been announced Tuesday than this same man of power rushed out a long, saccharin-laden eulogy praise-singing the departed to high heaven! If only words could rouse the dead, this particular oration alone would undoubtedly be enough to summon Peter Pan back from beyond. Yet, the heart that praises so effusively now had denied the old man rather coldly in his hour of dire need.

It is quite reflective of the pervasive culture of hypocrisy in high and low places, glamorising the shedding of crocodile tears.

Since his passing few days ago, tomes have been written documenting Pa Enahoro’s virtuoso exploits in Nigeria’s media space in years preceding and immediately following independence. It is therefore pointless revisiting the form and content of his journalism. His equally illustrious contemporaries include the likes of “Uncle Sam” (Pa Sam Amuka, Vanguard publisher) and Chief Segun Osoba.

But beyond journalism, Pa Enahoro’s example could, in a way, be said to typify the often-stated aborted promise of Nigeria’s first two decades of independence. Prodigious talents were largely left untapped by a system adept at squandering human resource on industrial scale.

Little wonder then that the cultural promise of the 60s and the intellectual ferment of the 70s that birthed the Tunji Aboyades, Philip Asiodus, Bala Takayas among a constellation of luminaries failed to inaugurate Nigeria’s takeoff in any way. A frustration perhaps later best expressed in the epochal lamentation in 1984 of “a wasted generation” by Professor Wole Soyinka, widely acclaimed as Nigeria’s greatest intellectual figure ever.

My first encounter with Pa Enahoro was by phone call sometime in 2015 shortly after I resigned my political appointment in Edo State and returned to journalism. (He was of Esan stock while I am Bini from Edo State.) The first day he called from London and introduced himself, I was flattered when he, the great master, said he had followed my writings and considered yours sincerely “a younger version of myself in my active days”. Good journalism, he would say, is all about afflicting the affluent and discomforting the powerful.

Few days later, he directed his Nigerian publishers to deliver his last — and undoubtedly most definitive — book entitled “Then Spoke the Thunder” (2014 revised edition) to me. The 744-paged book is unarguably his testament. His earlier critically acclaimed works included satirical, “How To Be A Nigerian” (1966), “You Gotta Cry To Laugh” (1972) and “The Complete Nigerian” (1992).

That acquaintanceship would deepen into a father-son friendship thereafter. We chatted regularly, often on political developments in Nigeria. He never agreed with everything I wrote, but on pieces he differed he always complimented “I nonetheless respect your argument”. And on issues he felt strongly about, he would announce I should await his full thoughts in long essay. But the privilege of transmitting such was solely accorded his lifelong friend and comrade, “Uncle Sam”, who often published his articles exclusively in Vanguard.

About “Uncle Sam”, he writes in “Then Spoke the Thunder”: “Sam Amuka has been a rescuer and adoptive brother since we first met in boarding school. He has continued to be in my life in those roles, even as we settle into the winters years of our lives.”

He often spoke highly of Chief Osoba too and Professor Soyinka, the Nobel laureate, whom he often simply called “Wole” whenever we chatted. His other friends included Chief Tom Ikimi.

At his age, I could tell chatting offered him catharsis. At twilight, for most senior citizens, time surely becomes so flexible that day and night become almost contiguous. So, Pa Enahoro could call me very late, having realized I am a night bird. Banters with him were always engaging — a voyage of rich historical insights, unheard-of anecdotes and delirious humor.

For instance, he once told me the trouble his equally famous elder brother, Chief Tony Enahoro, had with General Murtala Mohammed (who toppled General Yakubu Gowon in 1975) started after a fellow cabinet member (who hailed from Kano like the dreaded General) gossiped to the new military head of state a snide remark his older sibling had made immediately the news of the coup was broken to Gowon and the entourage with him in Kampala, Uganda for OAU summit. That led to a witch-hunt and eventual confiscation of his landed properties in Nigeria by General Olusegun Obasanjo, out of pure vendetta.

He had an opportunity to pay Obasanjo back later in the 80s at an international gathering in Italy when Mrs. Ellen Sirleaf (future Liberian President) chose to praise-sing OBJ as “the African General who voluntarily relinquished power to civilian.” Before the applause could build to a crescendo that day, Pa Enahoro raised his hand for “point of information”. The hall immediately fell into curious silence.

“Mr. Chairman,” Pa Enahoro recalls in “Then Spoke the Thunder” (pg. 709), “I think I owe it to this august body, as the only other Nigerian here present, to point out — and I am sure General Obasanjo will confirm this — that once his colleagues, Generals Yar’Adua and Theophilus Danjuma, decided that the military would hand over power to civilians, General Obasanjo had the lesser say in the matter. I just thought I should give that helpful information.”

So, Obasanjo’s earlier broad smile understandably froze into a furious frown instantly.

Almost two decades later, Pa Enahoro listed that Italian episode among the grouses Obasanjo was nursing as newly elected civilian President. Obasanjo not only approved his removal as Daily Times Managing Director but also refused all entreaties to approve the reimbursement of the personal funds he used for the five years he was M.D. On top of that, he did not receive a single salary throughout his second coming to Nigeria’s then oldest newspaper.

Yet, in a way, his relationship with Tony was complicated. Tellingly, the older Enahoro died in 2011 at age 87, while the younger sibling made it to 88. Political differences certainly pitted them in fiercely different camps under a succession of military dictatorships over three decades.

Whereas the latter worked for Gowon as a “right hand man” between 1967 and 1975 while he was on self-exile abroad and became a major critic of the military regime, it was a role reversal between 1994 and 1999 as he took Daily Times job under Abacha while Tony was on exile abroad as a NADECO leader.

But when Tony’s personal interest was involved, the bond of brotherhood couldn’t be broken. Blood being thicker than water, as they say, the river of filial solidarity does runs deep in certain season. When the Buhari administration pronounced a “presidential amnesty” for Tony in 2020 (ostensibly in view of an indictment by an administrative panel set up under Obasanjo in the 70s that led to his assets’ confiscation), I can confirm the younger Enahoro scoffed at the idea “because Tony never committed any crime”.

Also, I can confirm his bitterness that the chieftaincy of “Adolo of Uromi that was bestowed on Tony in the 50s, gazetted and therefore meant to be hereditary was taken away illegally and awarded to another person”.

Incidentally, yours sincerely had weighed in on the matter with a piece syndicated in the Nigerian media in 2016. In a bizarre response, the referenced traditional ruler launched a “phone attack” on this writer which got reported by way of second installment of the series. Regardless of all the ensuing uproar in the civic space, his majesty however appeared far too enmeshed, far too committed to call off the chieftaincy transaction with a political client.

Another of Pa Enahoro’s bitter pains was the gross injustice he perceived the Nigerian state (under Obasanjo) did Tony by unjustly confiscating his properties through “a witch-hunt.” The same man who had entered national folklore as the one who first moved the motion for national independence in 1953. According to Peter Pan, Tony as chairman of Festac Committee had refused to give building contracts to Italian businessmen (Afalumaco) Obasanjo introduced.

He told me one of such properties seized at Ikoyi later passed through the hands of a former military administrator in Lagos and ended in the hands of a former head of state (from the north) who decided to demolish the original simple building and erected a glittering palace instead.

Worse still, before the properties were shared by covetous generals among themselves, further psychological violence was mindlessly unleashed on Tony by the Babangida administration. With pride, Peter Pan once recounted to me how Tony resolutely rebuffed an offer (through then Vice President Augustus Aikhomu, a fellow Esan man) that he broke ranks with MKO (following the annulment of June 12 in 1993) as a pre-condition to have his assets restored.

While the fraternity of the fourth estate of realm will, of course, have to decide what idea or monument to immortalize the illustrious memory of Peter Pan in the times ahead, for officialdom, a number of rites of closure clearly recommend themselves.

Perhaps the simplest of all will be the reimbursement of what Daily Times owed him, for which he agitated relentlessly throughout Obasanjo administration. In his grave, that should sooth the pain of the love he showed to country but never seemed requited.

*Odion is a public affairs analyst

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