By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
When this reporter had an interview with Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro, on May 6, 2010, little did I know that it was going to be his last interview with Vanguard. And, my encounter with the chief for over two hours I spent with him at his GRA, Benin City, residence will always remain evergreen in my memory.
I met him enjoying a bottle of beer and after I introduced myself, he thundered: “This was not the future I saw when I moved for independence.” I told him that was why I came to actually know why he moved the first motion for Nigeria’s independence.
Rather than answering me, he went back memory lane to talk about how he met with the Queen of England and the British Parliament when they battled the British for the nation’s Independence. You could see the passion when he spoke about Nigeria and he expressed his disappointments with the present day leaders. He intermittently sipped his drink while the interview lasted.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that Chief Enahoro had been battling diabetes which was managed by his doctors in Nigeria and abroad. However, his condition worsened in September when he had an attack at home. His Nigerian doctor was called immediately and he was revived.
But after that incident, the family hardly allowed members of the public to see him because the doctor instructed that he should be on bed rest. But, some time in October, he had another attack; this time he went into coma and was rushed to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH).
That was when it was rumoured that he was dead. He spent over a month in the hospital and was discharged when he regained consciousness. Since then, he became stronger.
And, on Tuesday night when he went to bed, he was healthy and bidded the people at home good night before he went to bed. There was no sign of another attack. However, it was at about 4:30, early Wednesday morning, that the children heard a noise in his room. They rushed in and discovered that he was not breathing well. Sunday Vanguard was told that he knew perfectly that his time was up.
He was said to have clapped his hands like he was praying and informed the children that he wanted to sleep. He laid on the bed and died peacefully at about 5:30 a.m.
One of his house boys told Sunday Vanguard, “I was surprised because he told me good night, I did not know that he was deceiving me. There was no sign that he was going to die.” According to his eldest son, Ken Enahoro, “His passing away was very peaceful. There was no struggle, no pain, no anything like that. He just closed his eyes and said, `bye, bye; I am going’. Before you know it, he was on his way. He has gone.”
Asked what he would miss most about his late father, the young Enahoro said he would remember him as someone who was virtually stubborn for the cause that was right. According to him,“If he believed in something, he would not be compromised.
There was a former Head of State who once offered him an oil bloc. His response was that, ‘the oil you want to give to me does not belong to you, so, how can you give it to me? It never crossed his mind that this thing is worth millions of dollars, that was not what he lived for. It was, do what is right for the Nigerian people and he stubbornly held on to that throughout his years in prison; through all the statements he made regardless of the financial, opportunity cost or whatever.
You cannot equate money with what is right. His dying wish remain unchanged, he believed in progress, good governance, democracy and true federalism. Those were the basic things he believed in. And, the best way to immortalise the late elder statesman was for him to live in the minds of the people. If he can live in the minds of the people, that abiding memory is what we can look for.”
Young Enahoro said his father often said that he had done his best for Nigeria and Nigerians should continue from where he stopped.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that his last criticism of the happenings in Nigeria was when a member of the House of Representatives in the state, Mr. Patrick Obahiagbon, was asked to apologise three weeks ago on the floor of the House over his comments in a national daily. That was when Enahoro was said to be watching the proceedings on television.
The elder statesmen reportedly, thundered: “why must he apologise when he is representing a constituency? These people are not serious.”
Enahoro was one of thenationalists that fought for Nigeria’s independence from the British colonialists and attended many constitutional conferences in London to that effect as a member of the Action Group delegation in the 50s. Given the roles he played during his life, particularly for championing popular causes and his dogged fight for the unity of the country, his death was a shock to many Nigerians who have looked forward to his fatherly role as the country marches towards the 2011 general elections.
Born in 1923 to the Chief Okotako family of Uromi in the Esan North-East Local Government Area of Edo State, Enahoro came into limelight through journalism and became the youngest editor at the age of 21 in Nigeria when he edited ‘The Comet”, one of the newspapers in the Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe newspaper chain.
He moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1956, as an Action Group member of the House of Representatives representing the then Ishan Division of the then Western Region. An erudite, principled and brilliant parliamentarian, Enahoro, along with others, was part of those who worked tirelessly for the creation of Midwest Region from the then Western Region in 1963 through a plebiscite.
The movement was championed by the then Oba of Benin, Oba Akenzua 11, of blessed memory. With the advent of military regime in the 80s and 90s, Enahoro remained a dogged fighter on the side of the people and democracy. During the dark days of the Abacha military government, he and others on the platform of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) went into self-exile to campaign for the restoration of the mandate given to Chief M.K.O. Abiola by Nigerians during June 12,1993 presidential election.
He returned from self-exile in 1998 after the death of Abacha and joined in the process of returning the country to democratic rule in 1999. He and others formed the Movement for National Reformation (MNR), which transformed to the National Reformation Party (NRP), which had championed the division of Nigeria into eight political regions that would encompass the present 36 states structure. Besides, he fought doggedly for a return to parliamentary democracy as against the present presidential system considered by many as too expensive.
He was the NRP chairman until his death. He was actively involved in the attempt by politicians of the progressive inclination to form a mega-party which was intended to checkmate the vice-grip of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, on the nation’s polity. However, this was not achieved before the icing hand of death snatched him away Wednesday morning.
While playing his politics, Enahoro was more on the national front. His nephew, Eulbadus Enahoro, enthused, “I think the only time he was at the state level was when he was in the NPN. He has his party, so he was more on the national level. But, lately, his party was putting formidable structures on ground for the forthcoming elections. They have even got a Presidential candidate.”
Dreams he died with
He always advocated for a national conference where Nigerians would decide whether to continue with the presidential system of government or go back to the parliamentary system. It was obvious that he regretted the kind of leadership the nation has produced so far.
He told Sunday Vanguard in his last interview: “the founding fathers of the nation’s independence are not happy today wherever they are. Our dream was to have a nation greater than Britain and America because we have the wherewithal but it is shocking. But, we have done our own it is now left for the younger generation to take over from us and make this nation better. But, if you ask me, this was not what we envisaged; it was not what we fought for.”
The Okakuo-o of Edoland
He was a prominent title holder. The Adolor is an hereditary title he took from his father. Even at his age, he performed his traditional duties diligently.
He always met with the Onojie, and also had a close relationship with the palace of the Oba of Benin because of the title given to him as the Okakuo-O of Edoland by the then Oba of Benin, Oba Akenzua.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that it was as a result of this title that his body was not moved immediately to the mortuary until the palace of the Oba of Benin was informed by a delegation led by his eldest son, Ken. As a matter fact, a programme was being planned for December 28, 2011, where he was expected to be given an award.
According to Eubanus, who wrote a book on his uncle, titled: ”Nigeria and the dilemma of leadership’; An x-ray of Chief Anthony Enahoro’s perspective,” said: “now that he is dead, the award will be given post-humously and that of the Oba will be given to him.
These awards were as a result of their contributions to the growth of journalism in Nigeria.”
He spoke more about his uncle: “one thing prominent about him is that he was a very stubborn man when it comes to whatever he believes in.
That is why he has been very consistent in his politics unlike other Nigerian politicians. That is why he has been on his own, he does not compromise. He died not a very rich man but he was comfortable. He has made a name for himself but not money.
If you equate his name with the kind of money he has you will be shocked. In their time, money was not worshipped but only thinking about Nigeria. He spent 75 per cent of his life time working for Nigeria and 25 per cent for his family. He was either in jail or out of prison. He lived a fulfilled life and we are proud of him.”