By Bisi Lawrence
I knew Peter Enahoro enough to recognize him and speak to him in a familiar tone of voice, though I had little claim to any kind of familiarity more than the fact that 1 was working in the same office with his elder brother, Ben (or â€œBenito, for shortâ€, as we used to playfully call him – God rest him) and we met now and then when they lived in Yaba.
Later on, I became the Editor of Nigerian Newsreel, the Radio Nigeria news feature programme which was broadcast every night after the news. That made us less distant from each other since we met now and then at press conferences. It was on such an occasion that I really grew to admire Peter as a journalist and, what is more, as a man.
In January 1963, Sylvanus Olympio, the President of the Republic of Togo, was assassinated in a bloody coup dâ€™etat. The entire sub-region of West Africa was shocked.
It was the first of what was to become a recurring political phenomenon in West Africa President Olympio was a charismatic figure who spoke no less than five languages, including English, French, German and even Yoruba, not to count his own native Ewe language.
He was an orator in almost all of them. He had attended the Methodist Boysâ€™ High School in Lagos, and begun his working life in the UAC, also in Lagos. He still had many family members, personal friends and associates in what was then the National Capital, and so his death gave rise to a high sense of indignation, regret and resentment within the country.
It was in the passion of the moment, when emotions were still running high, that the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister, Jaja Wachukwu, gave vent to his feelings at a press conference which he called for the next day. He had the reputation of an orator that he had built up in his undergraduate days at Trinity College, Dublin.
There he won a medal for oratory, a commendable feat for a young, black colonial in a language that was not his mother tongue. He lived up to every strand of that reputation at that meeting with the world press, flinging out condemnation right and left, and delivering threats and warnings by the dozen. And then, as he neared the peroration of his speech, he seemed to go overboard with the stress of the moment, when he would have all and sundry to know that, stemming from that event of the assassination, the borders of Togo now ended in Seme-that is the boundary between Nigeria and Dahomey.
In one giant leap, Wachukwu had appropriated, or annexed, that West African country and merged her with Nigeria.
I was sitting right next to Peter Pan, to give him his professional nom de plume, and could sense a reaction spaced carefully between unbelief and mirth. There was hardly any emotion among the rest of us. Nigeria was less than three years independent as a nation, and diplomacy at any appreciably high level, was still alien to our grasp as journalists. Not so Peter Pan.
He waited patiently till the end of the External Affairs Ministerâ€™s briefing before casually asking him if he would kindly reconcile what he said about the sudden extension of Nigeriaâ€™s borders with the geographical facts, as we knew them. Peterâ€™s request was couched in such a mild tone, that it provoked a titter around the hall. But the Minster did not find it funny.
He knew the implications of his gaffe, and suspected that Peter also knew the score. He therefore went alter Peter, hammer and tongs, to our surprise.
â€œGeographical facts!â€ he burst out. What do you know about geographical facts? I can teach you geography…â€
All through the bluster, Peter sat absorbing everything with a bland countenance. And all through the tirade, my recording tape was rolling. That was what the Newsreel was all about – it was a recording and broadcast of the actuality in the news.
That happens simultaneously with the news output these days, but it was then a complementary feature to the news report.
When Wachukwu came to the end of his impassioned statements, Peter carefully packed his notes, collected his briefcase and left the press briefing without a backward glance.
His exit was not trailed by a roar of applause. Most of us just sat through it all, wondering what would happen next. We found out part of that on the pages of The Daily Times next day when Peter Pan reported it as it was. A flurry of retractions and explanations would soon follow, we were aware, but all evidence had to be subverted before that.
The only real evidence was the recorded statement on the Newsreel tape, which had, in fact, been broadcast the previous evening, and so Jaja Wachukwu came looking for it. He came to Broadcasting House personally, not trusting such a delicate mission to anyone else.
His arrival brought several people crowding on the balcony because the Minister of External Affairs traveled in style, in those days. He was driven around in a long, black Cadillac.
He went straight to the office of the Controller of Programmes, the Reverend Canon Yinka Olumide, a formidable gentleman from the pulpit to the tennis courts, and an Oxonian whose conduct in various encounters was the stuff of which legends were made. According to the Controllerâ€™s Secretary, Mrs. Emuchay (nee McEwen), who told us what happened, the Minister complained that he had been misquoted in the contents of the Newsreel. Whereupon the Controller, unflappable as ever, sent for the tape and played it back on the machine which he had in his office, Jaja Wachukwuâ€™s voice came out clean and unmistakable, when he described the limits of Nigeriaâ€™s borders, and Canon Olumide stopped the tape. And having debunked the Ministerâ€™s alleged â€œmisquotationâ€, he simply sent the man on his way. The expected denials and explanations were thus summarily quelled.
I wonder if that episode was part of what Peter Enahoro recounted in his book, â€œThen Spoke The â€œThunderâ€, which was launched recently. It should be full of such brave acts in the discharge of his professional duties.
He set a high standard of conscience in his calling for which has had to make open sacrifices. His career epitomised the most laudable features of what journalism should be in country such as ours, where expertise as well as moral courage is in high demand. I must find a copy of that book.
The Lagos Diocese of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria has been celebrating its 90th anniversary. The celebration of the Christ Church Cathedral Centenary was in 1967.
I wish enough care had been taken to distinguish the founding of the Cathedral parish from the inauguration of the diocese. It could be quite confusing.
But be that as it may, the celebration coincides with the appointment of a new Provost in the Cathedral.
He is the Venerable Akinpelu Johnson. His father, the Very Rev. Sope Johnson, was the third cleric to hold that position, the earlier being llie Right Rev. A. W. Howells, and the Right Rev F.O.Segun. Among the other former Provosts of the Cathedral are Archdeacon Akin Oluwole, the Right Rev. Segun Okubadejo, and Archdeacon Yinka Omololu.
One may add that Adelakun W.Howells, the first Provost ever, was the son of another Bishop Anderson W.Howells, and that Rev. Sope Johnsonâ€™s father, Archdeacon Nathaniel Johnson, and also his father, the Rev Canon Victor Johnson, had both served in the Lagos Diocese years ago.
Akinpelu is thus the fourth in an illustrious line of clerics who have been favoured by God to work in the diocese. Therefore, he may rightly be said only to be returning to the house in which he grew up.
Although the Provost is the vicar of the Cathedral, he is expected to be subservient to the Bishop.
That notwithstanding, he enjoys wide powers of administration. One issue that may confront the new Provost later – and, as a matter of fact – should confront him right now, is the question of the image within the Sanctuary of the Cathedral. It is installed in the Holy of Holies, sharing the area reserved for Godâ€™s presence.
Some call the effigy â€œThe Risen Christâ€, or â€˜The Ascending Christâ€. It is enough, anyway, that it is identified with Christ not merely as a representation, but pointedly in actuality. But those who are in control aver that it is not really an idol because it is not worshipped.
Now, I ask you: it is before this carving that the priests bow when they enter the church, it is before it that the congregation kneel when they come to the altar; it is installed in an area where the Almighty vowed to plant the sole of His feet; and, beyond all that, it is identified as Christ – as a presentation, not a mere representation (like a symbol) of deity. What more qualification does an image require to become an idol?
â€œYou shall not make a graven image unto thyself,â€ God commanded, … â€œin the likeness of anything in the heavens above, or on the earth beneath..â€ In plain terms, God even includes Himself since He is in the heavens. He commands that he should not be designated as, or in die manner., of an idol.
I welcome the Venerable Akinpelu Johnson, to the Cathedral of his fathers. He is a child of the cloisters, alright, and he should do well, but that is not for human beings to judge. Every Cathedral, going back even to the Vatican, has always been the scene of the most ardent piety, and a hotbed of the most abject pettiness.
1 have been having a wretched time at the hands of a vicious cough. When it sets off on me, which is more frequent than I care to relate, it shakes my entire being and makes my eyes water.
I have employed various kinds of medication, to little avail. It has even affected a temperamental blood pressure that I try to ignore. People say, â€œOh, itâ€™s the weatherâ€.
Well, with all the treat of an oncoming â€œArmageddonâ€ owing to the â€œgreenhouse effectâ€, and â€œemissionsâ€ and the â€œdrop in the ozone levelâ€, and more besides, one would have thought that he already had enough from the weather without massive headaches, and searing sore throats, said runny noses, and all these afflictions that take the joy out of daily life.
But they say the threats that seem to assail die earth on the whole are real enough. We can easily see some of the changes around, especially in Lagos at the beach. I remember that some sixty years ago, there was a solitary building at the Victoria Bar Beach which was supposed to be the property of Dr. Akinola Maja. Beyond it was a long stretch of beautiful sands about a kilometer long before the edge of the waves.
All that is gone now. The incursion of Hie lagoon, I suppose, is part of the effect of the Great Climate Change, which about 150 nations have gathered in the beautiful port of Copenhagen to consider.
The Change, everyone agrees, is caused mostly by the way human beings misuse the good earth God has given us. We pollute the environment in small measures that build up eventually to horrendous consequences, and do so little to correct our behaviour.
Most guilty in the act of this abuse are said to be the industrialized and wealthy nations of the world. But by a quirk of fortune, the less privileged and poor nations of the world bear the brunt. It all seems most unfair.
We shall see what they come back with from the â€œâ€˜Jewel of the Seaâ€, beautiful Copenhagen. I doubt if it would be much apart from the wonderful sights with which the delegates would definitely stuff their eyes.
In the meantime, we cannot relent in our efforts to keep the Victoria Beach away from the clutches of the Atlantic Ocean. That would be fatal.