By OCHEREOME NNANNA
THE late Chief Anthony Okotako Enahoro had a truly chequered political history that spanned well over sixty years. During this period, he took off from the Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe political camp as a member of the nationalist National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC, (he edited some of the newspapers in the Zik Group, though he was never a registered member of the Zikist Movement) and moved to the pro_regionalist Action Group led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
His decamping followed the political tides of the early 1960’s in the West, where the Ishan group, to which Enahoro belonged, under MCK Orbih’s leadership, aligned with Awolowo’s AG while the Benin areas belonged to the NCNC.
Later on, when the army intervened in Nigerian politics, he followed Chief Awolowo into the cabinet of General Yakubu Gowon, who pardoned them from their treasonable felony conviction. That was the first and only time that Chief Awolowo tasted power at the Federal level as he was made the Minister of Finance during the civil war years, while Enahoro was named the Minister of Information.
When the war ended, Awolowo went back to his pursuits to govern Nigeria, but Enahoro seemed to have had enough of opposition politics because during the Second Republic he was a member of the conservative National Party of Nigeria, NPN.
However, by the early 1990’s Enahoro formed the Movement for National Reformation, MNR, which demonstrated a clear commitment to re_launching Awolowo’s model of federalism, the bottom_up model rooted along regional/ethnic lines (touted as “true federalism” by its proponents) as opposed to the strong centre upon which the federating states or units depended for nearly everything, which the military, with their Northern civilian backers, established. The MNR postulated that the nation should be divided into federating units conforming more or less to ethnic configurations, an idea that was inspired by the Swiss model of federalism. However, the group’s imperfect classification of ethnic groups drew a lot of controversy and gave its opponents room to argue that ethnicity could never provide a viable platform for division of Nigeria into federating units.
It was while Enahoro was leading the MNR that the electoral mandate of Chief Moshood Abiola was annulled. The MNR in May 1994 fused with the Council for Unity and Understanding, CUU, originally facilitated by retired Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe but later jointly led by Chief Adekunle Ajasin, Ukiwe and retired Lt General Theophilus Danjuma, who brought in his group from the Middle Belt.
See Photos of Pa Enahoro
The CUU was supposed to be a grand coalition against Northern hegemony. The MNR’s membership of what was to become the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, happened almost by accident. In April 1994, its members, including the late Chief Alfred Rewane and General Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, were scheduled to meet at the Sheraton Hotel Ikeja when they got wind of the CUU’s meeting somewhere in Victoria Island and decided to attend since the subject was the way forward after the annulment.
Like many Awoists, initially Enahoro was bluntly opposed to the meeting discussing the restoration of Abiola’s mandate. The Awoists were still grousing about the business mogul’s political activities during the Second Republic when he (Abiola) as a member of the NPN used his wealth and newspapers to try supplanting the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, in the West.
Front line activists
However, once the decision was reached to support Abiola and transform the two groups into NADECO, Enahoro, always the man of action, called for its institutionalisation. He became one of the front line activists, even at well over seventy years of age. He and the much older Ajasin were later detained by the General Sani Abacha regime.
As soon as he was released he proceed into self exile for the second time in his political career and did not return to Nigeria until well into the civilian regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo. His right hand man and financier of the MNR and NADECO, Chief Rewane, were not as lucky. He was assassinated in November 1995.
Until he died, Enahoro continued to argue for the decentralisation of Nigeria’s federalism. If the Adolor of Uromi was no longer active, it was because of the crippling consequences of advanced aging.
The Motion for Independence controversy
Ask any Nigerian what he would best remember Anthony Enahoro for, he or she is likely to tell you that Enahoro was the man who moved the motion for in the independence of Nigeria. The story itself is not as simple as that. The first person that called this fact to the attention of this reporter was Dr Victor Olunloyo in an interview in 1996 shortly after the detention of Enahoro. Olunloyo, an unapologetic non-Awoist intellectual from Ibadan made it clear that the Awoists have continued to arrogate that claim to themselves when it was actually a failed motion in the House of Representatives in 1953.
The Awolowo_led Action Group, AG, along with the NCNC were committed to the achievement of Nigeria’s independence as early as possible. The AG demonstrated this commitment by deciding at one of their meetings that Enahoro should move the motion, which he did. However, the motion was not passed. It was actually the second Premier of the Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola that moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence, which was passed and put to effect.
One of Akintola’s sons, V.L. Akintola, in an article entitled: “Between Akintola and Enahoro”, published in 2001 observed as follows: “In an interview conducted by Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu in 1964 and in response to the question “What would you consider as your greatest achievement?” Chief Akintola’s response was “The successful passage of my motion for Nigeria’s independence!”
Akintola (Jnr) went on later to sum it up thus: “Journalists were brought up to believe the axioms “…the truth shall set you free “and” Facts are sacred.” Why are so many people so bent on avoiding acceptance of proven fact?
Enahoro introduced a motion in 1953 as a member of a coalition government. It failed to be moved and carried: fact! S.L. Akintola introduced a motion making the same request as the Enahoro motion of 1953, as the leader of opposition and his motion succeeded in being unanimously moved and carried: fact! How is the education of Nigerians as to facts about our national history considered a slight against Chief Enahoro? The fact is that Chief Enahoro knows that Nigerians do not view him as a pioneer or revolutionary who introduced the first formal motion demanding self_government for Nigeria but as the individual whose motion led to the nation’s independence.”
The truth is that Enahoro’s motion nearly set Nigeria on fire. This writer put a call through to one of the surviving nationalists, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, and this was what he had to say of the entire issue, (and we are nto exactly quoting him): “In the NCNC, there was a slogan to drive home their desire for quick independence: “Self Governance for Nigeria Now (SGNN)”. When the Awoists got wind of it they decided to plant their feet on the sands of history by being the first to introduce the motion in the House; and Enahoro, due to his eloquence and can_do spirit towards all matters concerning nationalism, was chosen for the task. The motion failed.
“Northerners, who felt they were not yet prepared to compete favourably with their Southern counterparts in an independent Nigeria, threatened that if independence was granted before they were ready they would pull out of it. In fact, some prominent Northerners started sending their family members living in Lagos and West back to the North preparatory to secession if the motion was passed. The matter was one of the issues taken up at the Lancaster House conferences where Nigeria’s independence was negotiated by the leaders of the three regions and the British colonial masters. The North demanded, in addition, the post of Prime Minister at independence or they would boycott the event.
“The colonial masters ruled that independence in 1960 would only be granted if all the regions agreed to it. Otherwise it would be postponed indefinitely. Dr Azikiwe intervened and conceded the Premiership to the North if only to allow independence to hold as scheduled in 1960, even though the NCNC and its allies had won majority of the votes, while the NPC won majority of seats at the federal House of Representatives.”
After independence, the mutual suspicion that developed in the polity was apparent. When Nigeria signed the controversial Defence Pact with Britain and Nigerian students went on protests, some Northern students who were part of the protests were dismayed when they saw Enahoro receiving cheers from Southern students from a balcony in Lagos Island where Northern ministers were being booed as “Ministers for Gworo” due to their earlier foot_dragging on independence. The students obviously felt the Northern ministers were behind the Defence Pact. Northern students at the University of Ibadan formed their own Northern People’s Congress Club (NPC Club) and gave massive support to their northern ministers.
Whether it was during the pre_independence days when he went round the country drumming up support for early independence while he was yet in his middle twenties, or during the civil war when he spoke against Biafra and superintended the federal propaganda, or in his late eighties when he continued to push for true federalism, Chief Enahoro lived an active political life and it is on record that from this he never retired.